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.

Gardening, Jorge, Planting, Plants, Trees

For many, fast growing trees are a no brainer as they allow you to quickly achieve your dream garden or block out annoying eyesores. Although, it is not so simple as selecting a fast growing variety that you like the look of. It is important you choose a variety that is disease and pest free and suitable for your soil type and hardiness zone. You also need to consider whether you want an evergreen tree or a tree that will shed its leaves in winter. Often unconsidered factors include weak wood, invasive roots, short life spans, a tree’s width and interference – the effects of competition and allelopathy.

As with all trees, you will need to clip in order to keep it the size/shape you want. Growth can be staggering and certain varieties will be impossible to manage after a certain point. Hence, it is important to carry out formative pruning while the tree is still young. Fast-growing trees will need to be clipped at more often than their slower growing cousins with extra clipping in the warmer seasons.

With planting the usual advice still stands but for optimal growth a tree will need to be accustomed to the hardiness zone and fit the drainage profile of your soil type. Native trees are always a good bet, as well as trees from colder climates. Sandy soils tend to drain quickly, while clay soils hold moisture well, so thirsty trees in sandy soils will need frequent watering in the hottest months.

Often ignored, but important is the effects of interference – the effects of nearby plants – on tree growth. Unlike how tree roots are traditionally represented, most absorbing roots are in the upper few feet of soil and root systems tend to spread horizontally, often extending well beyond a tree’s circumference. It is here that a tree’s roots will come into contact with other plants roots, where they both will compete for nutrients and moisture.

Especially detrimental to trees is grass that is known to retard root growth. Hence, it is important to remove grass and mulch 4 inches deep 1 foot beyond the root ball when planting. (Make sure the mulch does not directly contact the tree trunk to prevent disease/pest problems.) Expand the radius of mulching 1-2 feet per year for 3 years that will allow the tree to establish its root system.

Now, without further ado, here are some fast growing tree suitable to the UK’s climate.

Eucalyptus gunnii

The Eucalyptus gunnii or cider tree is a beautiful tree with with peeling cream and brown bark and elliptic grey-green foliage. Originating from Tasmania, the gunnii is suitable to grow throughout the UK, being able to withstand temperatures of -15 Celsius for significant periods. Growing at a whopping 1.5-2m per year, the tree tends to take a columnar shape, reaching a maximum height of 25m. The tree is highly versatile and will flourish in all soil types.

Did you know? The gunnii produces a sugar-rich sweet sap that the aborigines ostensibly fermented into an alcoholic drink – the first of its kind in Australia.

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)


As a genus Salix trees (mostly willows) are all fast growing, but the weeping willow species is the most famous, known for its grace and often found on the banks of lakes and rivers. The tree is distinctive for its low, sweeping branches that droop to form a canopy. Commonly used as a shade tree, the babylonica will grow 1.2-2.4m per year, reaching about 15m high. Suitable for most soils, the tree will flourish in waterlogged soil and will even absorb standing water. Modern hybrids include the highly popular Golden Weeping Willow (Salix x sepulcralis), known for its ability to create luxurious curtains of gold light.

Saule pleureur (weeping willow) by Claude Monet (1918).

Did you know? Despite its name, the babylonica actually originates from China. It received its scientific alias from the botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who incorrectly believed it was the tree described in the bible in the opening of Psalm 137. In fact, the trees growing along the rivers of Babylon were the Euphrates poplar.

Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’)

Like the smaller Italian cypress, the Lombardy poplar is known for its dramatic upright form and is often planted in rows to form a screen and can be sometimes viewed lining roads. The Italica grows extremely quickly with reported yearly growth rates of 3.6m, although one can expect 2.4/3m. Reaching a maximum height of 20m, the tree is deciduous and is identifiable by its catkins that come in two forms: crimson red (male) and cottony white (female). Although, most trees sold will be male clones. It must be noted the plant is short lived (15 years) and susceptible to disease.

Did you know? While the Italica first spread around Europe in the 18th century, it exploded in popularity in the 19th. This was to the concern of Scottish horticulturist John Claudius Loudon who deemed it “a most dangerous tree”, due to its capacity to destroy the harmony of the landscape when left in the hands of the amateur landscaper.

Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

Native to the UK, the silver birch is instantly recognisable by its white peeling bark, triangular shaped leaves and various catkins. (The tree is monoecious and thus possesses male and female catkins with the former distinguishable by their greater length and appearance in clusters.) The tree is extremely hardy and grows as far north as Lapland, reaching a maximum height of 30m, although 15m can be expected. Paling in comparison to the previous trees, but certainly no slouch, the pendula will grow at an average rate of 40cm per year.  

A Silver Birch’s female catkins.

Did you know? While birch bark has long been used in construction, it actually contains substances that make it an extremely useful material. The compound betulin, for example, possesses fungicidal properties can help preserve food, making it perfect for storage containers. Currently, scientists are researching the bark’s various substances that may be of use in medicine.

Golden False Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’)

A favourite at Primrose, the Frisia produces fantastic colour throughout the year with its pinnate leaves and gorgeous white flowers. Bushy in appearance, its leaves emerge golden-yellow in Spring, before turning greenish-yellow in Summer and orange-yellow in Autumn. Wonderfully fragrant, the tree will grow between 30-45cm per year and is suitable for most soil types. Extremely hardy, the Frisia can expect to grow to a maximum height of 25m, although 15m can be expected.

Did you know? Due to the high concentration of flavonoid pigments in the heartwood, the False Acacia’s wood can endure for up to a hundred years, and is extremely resistant to rot. It is also extremely hard, making it perfect household furniture and flooring.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’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.

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