Flowers, Gardening, Grow Your Own, How To, Insects, Liam, Pest Advice, Planting, Plants

Apples are the nation’s favourite fruit; we grow it more than any other kind. Unlike many other fruits the apple is at home here. Yet despite this, for those who grow apples there is always risk of having a disappointing year.

Weather plays its part and so there may be anguish across different parts of the country but even a fellow gardener down the road may be having some trouble which tells us there are things we can do to ensure a bumper crop of delicious and ripe apples.

Symptoms

The typical signs of a poor harvest may be that you only have a few, or even no apples at all.

Sometimes an apple tree can fall into a biennial harvest cycle, which means it only produces fruit every two or more years. This is typically because the tree has exhausted itself the year prior or isn’t receiving all the essentials.

Equally having a large amount of apples, but all of them being very small and poorly developed defines a thin crop. Surprisingly then, having too many apples as well as too few are signs of a failing tree. These symptoms lead to some different and some similar remedies.

Weather

Before I mention the different issues we do have some control over, it is worth mentioning the one critical factor over which we have less power; the weather.

  • Periods of extended heat and the resulting drought can be particularly catastrophic for young apple trees trying to establish themselves. With underdeveloped leaves and roots they are far more susceptible to losing water and being damaged by hot temperatures.
  • Drought aside, periods of long extended rain throughout the summer will prevent pollinating insects coming out which can be devastating. In 2012 Britain faced the worst apple harvest for several decades with orchards losing up to 70% of their entire expected crop for this very reason.
  • Frost, however, is potentially the most damaging force against fruit everywhere. With the ability to destroy blossoms and fruitlets it can severely diminish a tree’s ability to bear fruit. If the country experiences warm weather in the early spring, instigating blossom, followed by a late and harsh frost a tree may struggle to bear any fruit at all. This is something British wine growers are struggling with this year.
Apples Lost to a Late Frost

To help improve your chance of seeing fruit it is important to make sure your tree is well watered, especially if it has been planted within the last 2 years. You can also use a horticultural fleece if there are late extended cold periods. Importantly it is a good idea to have a range of trees which blossom at different times of year to maximise your chances of pollination. See the ‘Pollination’ section for more details.

Thinning

The Problem

The main cause of an abundance of small, poorly developed apples and biennial harvest cycles is a tree which has exhausted itself in trying to produce a bulk load of apples.

Naturally the tree wants to make as many seeds as possible but this process requires incredible amounts of nitrogen. So if you want an annual supply of fully developed and ripe apples it may be necessary to thin your tree early in the fruiting period.

The tree may try to do this naturally in what is known as the ‘June Drop’ but it doesn’t hurt to give mother nature a helping hand. It may be traumatising to waste so many fruitlets but when it comes to human consumption quality certainly beats quantity.

The Solution

  • First of all rid the tree of any diseased, rotting or malformed fruitlets.
  • After this simply remove the remaining apples until you are left with one apple per 4-6in for dessert (eating) varieties and one apple per 6-9in for cooking varieties.
  • When choosing between apples it is always better to rid those on the underside of branches which may not receive as much light or air.

Pollination

The Problem

Pollination is usually the critical factor in how well your tree fruits. If your tree lacks a pollinating partner or the beneficial pollinating insects, cross pollination may not occur, resulting in a poor crop.

The Solution

  • An apple tree typically needs a pollinating partner within a proximity of around 50ft. This partner must also be an apple tree but of a different variety; very few apple trees are self-pollinating.
  • Apple trees are categorised in pollination groups (1-6) based on when they come into bloom (1 being the earliest in the year). An apple tree such as ‘Red Devil’s Dessert’ (group 3) may pollinate a ‘Gala’ (group 4) however a tree such as ‘Bountiful’ (group 2) may have finished flowering before ‘Lord Derby’ (group 5) comes into bloom.
  • In more rural settings, ensure your apple tree has the right pollinating partners nearby if you are to expect fruit. Ensure there are two different varieties with similar pollination groups. You can even plant a Crab-Apple tree, which makes a fantastic ornamental tree, to act as a pollination partner.
  • Some apple trees such as ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ are triploid trees meaning they require two different pollinating partners.
  • Make your garden attractive to pollinating insects. Lavender, Chamomile and Daffodils are all great plants for getting these welcome visitors into the garden early on in the year while also deterring the pests. See our guide to companion plants for fruit trees for fantastic tips on how to bring beneficial pollinators into your garden!

Pests and Disease

Apple ruined from Brown Rot
An Apple Lost to Brown Rot

The Problem

Unsurprisingly apples are a prime target for a whole host of pests and diseases. These biological annoyances can be the scourge of otherwise perfect fruit, causing ruin, rot and fruit drop. In particular apples suffer from ‘apple scab’, ‘codling moth’, ‘brown rot’ and ‘apple maggot’, among others.

The Solution for Disease

  • Maintaining sound horticultural practices is the best line of defence against pests and disease. Pruning, weeding and keeping your garden clean of fallen leaves and rotting fruit is a simple but effective way of eliminating all those places which harbour apple-destroying life. Equally cutting the grass around your tree and applying a mulch will further help protect it.
  • Most diseases such as Apple Scab and Brown rot are fungal and infect fruit through rotting material which may have been contaminated from last year. Burn infected leaves and fruit or bury at least 1ft under ground to prevent the spread of spores.
  • Regularly check your fruit for any sign of infection or any wounds. Be vigilant when pruning and always sterilise your pruning equipment when dealing with a diseased tree.
  • As the tree is budding in spring, certain fungicide sprays are available such as a copper based solution. This should be sprayed as the leaves emerge and then again 14 days later; this is, however, mainly preventative.

The Solution for Pests

  • For insects such as Apple Maggot and Codling Moth again you want to destroy any potential hiding spots and prune out any areas of congestion. Hiding spots may include plastic tree guards and so a metal mesh guard is recommended instead.
  • Nontoxic horticultural oils are a good way to kill dormant insects and their eggs which should be applied on the tree during spring. Sticky and pheromone traps can be used and should typically be set in early May before the insects mate.
Apple ruined by Codling Moth
A Codling Moth Caterpillar
  • There are several all-purpose bug sprays but these can deter the more beneficial pollinating insects and should only be used when there is a clear infestation.
  • Certain plants, such as chives provide a strong deterrent to pests including deer and rabbits as well as insects yet is attractive to many beneficial pollinating insects. Additionally dill, fennel and nasturtium all provide an organic solution to protect your fruit trees against pests. Again see our Companion Planting post for further details.

Hopefully I have helped to explain why your tree may be fruiting below par and you’ve found a remedy for this frustration.

Liam at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Composting, Flowers, Garden Design, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Liam, Pest Advice, Planting, Wildlife

For hundreds of years farmers have used companion planting as a method to help improve their yields and get the most out of their fruit trees. This organic solution does far more than simply prevent pests from eating your fruit. Certain plant combinations serve a whole host of benefits including increased pollination, weed prevention and improved soil nutrition. Additionally it is a great way to cover the space under a fruit tree offering more colour and variety to your garden!

The Basics

As fellow gardeners I’m sure you recognise it is important to try and keep a natural balance, even in your garden. A key premise to companion planting is trying to avoid monocultures by planting a variety of different plants together. Among other things, you make it difficult for pests to find their desired food and spread amongst your crop.

For the Love of Fruit

Many people believe that it is difficult to grow anything under a tree. However, there are a great variety of plants which naturally thrive in this space. With that being said it is important to remember that if your fruit tree is trying to establish itself it is important to water it regularly, especially if you plan on planting more plants around it.

Fruit trees constantly come under attack from various pests because of their delicious fruit. They also require extra levels of potassium to help stimulate bud and fruit growth. If you want to avoid using chemical fertilisers or pesticides here is an essential list of companion plants for your fruit tree:

  • Chives – The scent of chives provides a strong deterrent to pests including deer and rabbits as well as insects and yet is attractive to the more beneficial pollinators. Additionally chives have been known to prevent apple scrab which is a notorious scrounge of apple fruit. A cautionary note is that chives are aggressive growers and so they will require maintenance to stop them invading the entire bed.
  • Nasturtium – A real favourite in the world of companion planting. This is a great plant to lure away aphids and particular caterpillars from your trees. It is a sacrificial crop. Nasturtium requires minimal nutrients, sun or water and so is brilliant for diverting pests while keeping your fruit tree strong. It has also been known to repel codling moth, a particular scrounge of apples.
Companion Planting - Nasturtium
Nasturtium in bloom
  • Fennel – This plant is fantastic for attracting pollinating and predatory insects. Hoverflies, ladybirds and parasitic wasps all love fennel and they love aphids and caterpillars even more. Plant this in your garden to help wage a natural war against these pests. Fennel can of course also be used for cooking and has been known to carry medicinal properties.
  • Dill – Very similar advantages as fennel; it attracts a host of predatory and pollinating insects… and it can also be used in cooking. Win win!
Companion Planting - Dill
A Hoverfly resting on a Dill plant.
  • Comfrey – Not only has this plant been used medicinally by people for nearly 2,500 years it is an amazing miner of soil providing nutrients for your tree! Being a deep-rooted plant it draws nutrients from the soil and then can be cut back and the clippings used as an organic mulch. Comfrey is drought, frost and pest resistant and grows well in partial shade so is perfect for the space under your tree. I would recommend trying to plant the ‘Bocking 14’ variety developed by organic pioneer Lawrence Hills. ‘Bocking 14’ being sterile won’t self-pollinate and spread all over your garden.
  • Chamomile – This beautiful flower deters pests with its strong scent while drawing in pollinators. Being drought and frost resistant and also not afraid of a little shade makes it perfect to plant around a tree. If suffering from a pest infestation a triple strength chamomile tea can be brewed and used as a spray for the affected area.

    Companion Planting - Chamomile
    Chamomile
  • Daffodils – Flowering early in the season daffodils are perfect for bringing in and supporting those pollinating insects. For a splash of spring colour plant in a circle around your tree at around 1ft from the base.
  • Lavender – Truly a favourite amongst all pollinating insects, including and especially bees; it’s strong scent also confuses pests. Lavender not only looks great in your garden but can be used for various DIY product such as soaps or teas. Or you can simply pick it and put it into a bowl for around the home to create a calming aroma.
Companion Planting - Lavender Flowers
Some bees thoroughly enjoying the pollen rich Lavender flowers

Understandably when it comes to food, especially food you’ve devoted labour and love to, you are cautious about spraying it with potentially harmful pesticides or even using fertilisers. Companion planting therefore offers an age-old organic method to ensuring healthy fruit trees while adding a touch of vibrancy and colour to your garden. You may also end up with some extra herbs to liven up your dishes!

Jorge at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Celebrations And Holidays, Competitions, Current Issues, Decoration, Events, Flowers, Garden Design, Garden Furniture, Gardening, Gardening Year, Hampton Court Flower Show, Liam, News, Planters, Planting, Plants, Ponds, RHS, Water Features

The Primrose team attended this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show to catch up with and discuss the latest gardening trends as well as engage with some of the nation’s favourite horticultural festivities. We endured the sweltering heat and odd glass of champagne to hopefully bring you the inspiration for your perfect garden.

Tropical

On display at this year were a vibrant showcase of exotic landscapes seemingly plucked from some far-off jungle and dropped onto the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. However, tropical gardening is something which is growing in popularity in the UK and not just the odd palm tree.

Tropical plants are, in fact, surprisingly hardy and many of them can tough it out through a British winter. Creating a tropical aesthetic in your very own garden provides a sense of exotic escape in what can be an otherwise cold and stressful routine. More and more urban dwellers are looking to bamboos, ferns, sarracenias and zantedeschias to create these backyard get-aways.

Many of these tropical varieties are used to battling it out below the canopy for little light and nutrients and so can thrive even in the heart of the concrete jungle. For gardens everywhere tropical planting offers height, depth and an abundance of life. Water-features and lighting perfect the ambience offering various tones and sounds.

Prairie Planting

A major trend at this year’s show was Prairie Planting; the combination of wild flowers and grasses in a seemingly loose planting scheme. Pockets of meadow teeming with wildlife were a persistent feature offering a wholesome, wild but almost gentle beauty.

There are an abundance of prairie plants which are native to the UK all of which are hardy enough to thrive in poor soils in times of drought and frost. Therefore, they make a perfect low-maintenance garden with a more natural aesthetic. Eryngiums, Echinaceas, Achilleas and Salvias among others offer a rich pallet of colours while various grasses deliver height and texture.

The prairie garden is also a fantastic way for you to join the noble crusade of saving our native bee and butterfly populations. Already an incentive which is sweeping  the country, prairie patches are being planted in local initiatives to save our ecosystems. With some bordering and creative features thrown in prairie planting also helps make an award-winning garden too.

Reclaimed

Here is a trend which certainly taps into the prevalent vintage culture of today. Adding a certain character to outdoor spaces it creates a more relaxing atmosphere allowing the mind to wonder amongst the assortment of bizarre objects strewn across the flower beds.  Big concrete planters, weedy patios, even bits of recycled car parts and vintage furniture make an appearance.

Once the hardware is in the garden is certainly easier to manage than a pristine and strictly coordinated garden while keeping a sense of style and purpose. Ground covering and climbing plants are encouraged to grow over. One may find a bike wheel or an old Coca-Cola sign amongst the wild grasses. There is certainly space to let your imagination roam.

Along with prairie planting, Rust was a consistently strong contender throughout the show and the reclaimed aesthetic is a natural ally to both these features.

Jorge at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Flowers, Gardening, How To, Liam, Planting, Plants

With such an abundant variety of colour and fragrance there is a rose suited to any and everyone. Climbing roses allow you to use the boundaries and structures of your garden which in today’s modern, smaller, gardens actually can hold the greatest amount of space. A well-trained climbing rose can add height and elegance to any outdoor space making it the most timeless and perfect way to cover up a weathered wall or a colourless pergola.

If looked after correctly climbing roses can achieve heavy blooms throughout the summer season and into the autumn for several years. Therefore with this guide we’ll show you how to ensure your roses become a stylish staple feature of your garden for years to come.

Picking the Perfect Rose and Place

One of the great things I find about climbing Roses is their ability to flower year after year and respond well to heavy maintenance making them a strong investment for the future. However, dependent on the variety they can be somewhat needy, especially in their first years and so ensuring their basic needs are met is essential.

First of all, check the specific requirements of that Rose, mainly;

  • How much sunlight they need.
  • The kind of soil they require.
  • How much space it will need once it’s reached its eventual height.

Pick a spot in the garden which would suit the rose, considering these prerequisites.  

Planting Perfection

Step 1:

Ensure that all stones and weeds along with any other competition have been removed. This will help the roots to establish themselves in the first couple of years.

Step 2:

If you are training against a wall or fence leave 50cm between it and the base of the plant. This will give the roots more space to grow out.

Step 3:

If you are using a space where you previously used to grow roses then it is important to replace at least the first 6 inches of topsoil. Roses are susceptible to replant disease which can, in some cases, kill the plant. Simply use soil from elsewhere in your garden and for best results mix in manure or compost and leave to settle for 2 weeks.

Step 4:

Soak your rose before planting into the ground. You can either give the plant a generous watering if it is potted or leave to soak in a bucket of water for around 2 hours if it is bareroot.

Step 5:

When digging you want a hole roughly twice the width of the plant and also give an additional 5 inches of depth. With a fork break up the soil at the bottom giving the roots a chance to spread out. Here, fill in the extra depth with manure or quality compost.

Step 6:

Sprinkle any surface the roots will come into contact with lightly with Mycorrhizal Fungi (commonly know as Rootgrow). This will help stimulate and nurture root growth.

Step 7:

Backfill the remaining space and gently heel. Make sure your rose is well watered and is supported securely on your trellis or structure (see ‘training’) and you’ve made the perfect start towards a beautiful bloom.

Step 8:

Typically, a larger climbing rose will need two meters of space between it and any other rose. Standard roses will only need one meter.

Training

Preparation for the summer begins in the winter. For your first year the plant will require minimal pruning, simply remove anything dead or diseased. With this done the rose will be ready to train. Climbing roses once mature can be fairly heavy plants and so ensure that the support is sturdy and large enough to support the plant when mature.

The key to perfect climbing roses is training your main shoots as horizontally as possible. This will stimulate flowering shoots to grow up vertically in abundance giving you an orderly trail of beautiful rose flowers.

Rose training guide

When tying the plant to a trellis or structure I simply use old string provided it’s thick enough to hold the weight of the plant. You want to tie it tight enough so that it doesn’t get thrown around too much by the wind or rubs but also loose enough to give the stem space to grow.

If using a trellis utilise several horizontal supports for you branches or if training up a pillar simply wrap the shoot around in a spiral. 8-12 inches is a good distance to leave between ties. Tie the branches securely and you’re one step closer to a bountiful summer bloom.

Pruning

When?

Pruning should be carried out during the winter, making it easier for you and giving the plant time to grow during spring. When pruning cut at a 45° angle. This is a great way to prevent rot and fungal disease by letting the water slip off.

Why?

Climbing roses are vigorous growers and although they are great for framing a garden they can quickly become unkempt. Luckily they are not afraid of some heavy pruning if neglected for a while.

How Much?

Cut away any of the old and woody branches leaving just the new, fresh main shoots. Prune back to just above a bud which looks like its growth will be directed outward or in keeping with how you have trained the plant. You then want to prune any side-shoots by about ⅔ of their original length. Once this is done and you have a series of healthy and neat branches you can tie back into the support.  

How to make sense out of the mess

How Often?

Again what is most important to rid your rose of any dead, diseased or weak looking shoots. This only needs to be done once in the winter but also when in bloom don’t be afraid to deadhead; climbing roses repeat flower throughout summer and into autumn and it will keep the plant healthy and looking great.

Don’t Forget!

In the spring it is a good idea to feed your roses (they are an exceptionally hungry plant!) Simply sprinkle some rose fertiliser at the base and use manure or an organic mulch. Job done.  

Following spring your roses will have grown to a truly regal splendor. Rich colours and fragrance will fill your garden bringing with it all the warm delights of summer.

4 Secrets to Healthier Climbing Roses

  • Feed – With roses it is incredibly important to ensure they are well fed. This is why you want to avoid planting them in the same spot because they have consumed so much of the soils nutrients.
    Luckily there are specific fertilisers for roses. I would recommend using these over more general fertilisers because they contain more phosphorus which helps promote flower and root growth and less nitrogen which promotes more leaf growth. This directs energy into bigger blooms and can prevent disease and aphids from attacking your plant.
  • Mulch Mulching provides a whole host of benefits to a rose plant. Not only does it prevent competition from grass and weeds it also helps to regulate temperature, keeps the soil moist and provides food preventing disease. It is a good idea to add the mulch after you have fertilised the rose, so typically around April to May. A mulch is only ever complimentary and cannot be a substitute for your feed. Before mulching you should rid the soil of any stones or weeds and water if dry. A bulky organic material such as well decomposed manure, leaf mould or garden compost serves as a great mulch for rose plants.
  • Water – Due to their deep roots a rose plant may remain green and strong as other plants begin to wilt during dry periods. However, as I have experienced, without an adequate  amount of water rose plants will flower less for a shorter period of time. You will want to ensure that after a dry spell that you water the plant especially if; the plant is new, is trained against a wall, and if it is fully mature.
    Typically each climber will require 10-15l of water if the soil is clearly dry.
  • Garlic!Garlic, when planted near roses are a great way to deter aphids from attacking your plant.  For an organic solution for deterring pests, attracting pollinators and improving soil nutrition take a look at our companion planting guide here!

Disease prevention

Top 3 Tips

  • Water the soil, not the leaves
  • Prune to encourage good air circulation
  • Feed and water well early in the year, to ensure your rose is strong enough to fight off disease

Common diseases and how to fight them:

  • Mildew  
    Symptoms – The most common rose disease it leaves a white, light mould on the leaves and buds of rose plants.
    Prevention – Prevent fungal diseases and their spread by watering at the ground level during the morning so the top soil moisture can evaporate off before sitting over night. Pruning away any weak looking leaves and leaving space between your shoots encourages ventilation which will prevent the fungi from taking up residence. If pruning diseased shoots clean your pruning shears in a sterilizing solution before touching other parts of your plant .
    Treat – A fungicide spray can be used on the rose to help rid it of the disease.
A contaminated Rose – Mildew
  • Blackspot
    SymptomsA common disease, Blackspot can lead to dieback of the leaf, buds and stems. Black spots and yellow fringing becomes visible on the leaves.
    PreventionThe disease is waterborne and so the key to prevention is good air circulation and keeping the leaves dry. The same pruning and water techniques provide good protection. Additionally, ensuring the rose is well fed gives the plant a better chance of avoiding contamination.
    TreatSimilarly a fungicide spray can be used to treat a diseased plant along with removing any of the affected leaves.
A contaminated Rose – Blackspot
  • Rust
    Symptoms – Not as common but can be very harmful if it contracted. Orange and black spores can be found on the undersides of leaves and stems.
    Prevention – The key to prevention is ensuring the rose is well fed and is strong coming into the summer months.
    Treat – Again a fungicide spray is required if the plant is contaminated.
A contaminated Rose – Rust

Liam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

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