Alex, Gardening, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting, Plants, Trees

Pruning a peach tree

Growing fruit is incredibly rewarding, as long as your trees or bushes are productive – but how do you get the best out of them? We have produced this guides with all the tips and tricks you need for the following fruits (click to jump to section)

Unlike many plant groups that you can care for generally, each fruit requires different treatment to get the best yields. Prune at the wrong time and you could be cutting off your crops or laying them open to disease.

At the very least, feed them well in spring, mulch and water during drought.

Apples & Pears

Apples and pears are generally easy to care for, although correct pruning is essential for the formation of flower buds.

Plants should be pruned every year to get the best crop, generally in summer for espalier, bushes, fans and pyramids and summer and winter for trees. The aim of pruning is to increase flower bud formation and restrict excessive growth. However, prune too hard and you’ll encourage excessive growth of water shoots, which bear no fruit buds, so never remove more than a quarter of the canopy in one season.

The Perfect Pruning Cut
The Perfect Pruning Cut

Feed trees in early spring with a balanced general fertiliser (such as Growmore) at 100g per square metre. It’s important not to overfeed, as a condition called bitter pit can occur – keep feeding and watering steady during the growing season.

Apples and pears thrive in a sunny, sheltered site, away from any frost pockets and poorly-drained or shallow soils.

Biennial bearing, or trees having a huge crop one year and next to nothing the next, can be a problem. It can be triggered by excessive feeding one year, or frost/drought killing off all blooms, so the plant has extra energy to form fruit buds for the next year. Once it has happened, it’s often hard to regulate the tree’s fruiting mechanism. However, try to avoid too much fertiliser, water regularly during dry spells, mulch and clear away competing plants and weeds.

Shop our selection of 150+ Apple Trees

Shop our selection of 40+ Pear Trees

Apricots

Apricots are a stone fruit, part of the Prunus family, which includes cherries, plums, nectarines, almonds and hybrids. Where other fruit trees are improved by winter pruning, avoid cutting them back then, as the tree can become infected by silver leaf disease. Members of the Prunus family don’t need much pruning but if you must cut a tree back, do it from the end of July to the end of August.

Apricot blossom forms very early in the season and can be ruined by frost. Plant them away from the morning sun (avoid east-facing) – this will destroy flowers. If a series of heavy frosts is forecast, cover the tree with fleece supported by canes so it doesn’t touch the tree but remove it during the day so insects can pollinate the flowers.

You can hand-pollinate for a bigger yield, using a soft artist’s paintbrush or cotton bud. Midday on a dry, sunny day is ideal, preferably for a few days in a row. Afterwards, mist the tree with water – the flowers should be dry by nightfall.

Apricots often set bigger crops than they can support and naturally shed some. However, to enable the fruit to develop to their full size and flavour, thin to about 8-10cm apart when they are the size of hazelnuts – remove any defective fruit first.

Apricot crop

In late February, feed with a general granular fertiliser such as Growmore at 70g per square metre, then mulch with a 5cm layer of well-rotted manure or compost, in March or early April.

Apricots are susceptible to drought, especially when newly-planted – they will drop their fruit in protest. Water frequently in the first spring and summer, and established trees may need watering when the fruit starts to swell.

Shop our selection of 20+ Apricot Trees

Blackberries

Blackberries and related hybrid berries (such as Tayberries) are an easy choice for beginners to achieve a successful crop. Thornless, compact varieties are attractive enough to be grown over obelisks in the flower border, as they have great autumn foliage colour.

Although, they will fruit in light shade, blackberries will bear the largest yields in a sunny, sheltered site, on moisture-retentive, but free-draining soil. On chalky, sandy, or heavy clay, add bulky organic matter.

After planting, cut down all canes to a healthy bud to encourage vigorous, healthy shoots. Regularly tie in these shoots to the plant’s support.

blackberry crop

Top-dress blackberries with 100g per square metre of general-purpose fertiliser (such as Growmore) in mid-spring. Cover with a 7cm mulch of well-rotted manure or compost but keep this clear of the crown to prevent new canes rotting.

Young plants will need watering every 7-10 days, after planting and during fruit formation, unless the weather is wet. Established plants shouldn’t need watering unless the summer is very dry, when a good drenching every 10-14 days will help fruit size.

Birds can wreck a crop, so it’s best to net canes to keep them off.

Shop our selection of 15+ Blackberry Bushes

Blueberries

Blueberries are tricky to grow well if you have alkaline soil. They’re lime haters and need an acid soil of pH 5.5 or lower to remain healthy. Even if your soil is on the acid side, check the pH each spring and add sulphur chips if it needs lowering.

If your soil has a higher pH (check with a pH test kit or meter), it’s best to grow blueberries in containers using ericaceous compost. Pick one that is at least 30cm wide initially, moving up eventually to a 50cm pot.

Blueberries need moist compost, but not soaking, and don’t tolerate drought well, so don’t let them dry out. Water with rainwater, not tap water, unless you have no alternative (this will raise the pH level).

Blueberries

Choose your varieties with care – some are self-fertile, some need a different type of blueberry to bear fruit – even self-fertile types will give heavier crops with another bush nearby.

Plant in a sunny, sheltered spot for the biggest crops – while tolerant of shade, your yield will suffer. Add bulky, acidic organic matter to the planting hole, such as pine needles or composted conifer clippings – avoid farmyard manure.

Once the basics are right, boost yields by feeding container plants every month during the growing season using an ericaceous liquid fertiliser or add slow-release fertiliser in spring (again for lime-hating plants).

After the first couple of years, plants should be pruned in late winter, removing a small amount of old wood to encourage new growth.

Birds can decimate crops, so cover bushes with netting or fleece.

Shop our selection of 20+ Blueberry Bushes

Cherry

Cherries are part of the Prunus family, which includes plums, apricots, nectarines, almonds and hybrids. Where other fruit trees are improved by winter pruning, avoid cutting them back at all costs, as the tree can become infected by silver leaf disease. Members of the Prunus family don’t need much pruning (make sure to choose one on a dwarfing rootstock) but if you must cut a tree back, do it in midsummer.

Many cherries are self-fertile and will fruit happily on their own but the yield will be even better if a different variety is planted nearby so bees, etc, can increase the chance of cross-pollination.

A common problem is that their early blossom is ruined by frost. You can solve this problem by planting trees where they don’t get the morning sun (avoid east-facing) – this will destroy flowers. If a series of heavy frosts is forecast, cover the tree with fleece but remove it during the day so insects can pollinate the flowers.

Pruned cherry

Cherries like deep, fertile and well-drained soil – avoid if your garden has shallow, sandy or badly-drained soil. However, some varieties are suitable for growing in a large container.

Feeding cherries is very important – start with a mulch of well-rotted compost or manure in late February, followed by a granular all-purpose fertiliser like Growmore in March at a rate of 100g per square metre. If fruiting was poor last year, add sulphate of potash at 15g per square metre at the same time. Top up the general fertiliser in mid-spring and keep well watered during fruit formation – drought or waterlogging can cause fruit to drop.

Finally, birds are very keen on cherries – you can net smaller trees or cordons but it may be impractical to cover a large tree.

Shop our selection of 60+ Cherry Trees

Figs

Figs can be grown outdoors in the UK but only successfully in milder regions. It’s better to grow them in large containers and move them to a sunny location outside after overwintering indoor once all danger of frost is past.

Figs are unusual, as flowers develop from fruitlets, which plants can produce from spring to late summer. Only the pea-sized fruitlets produced in late summer survive winter and are advanced enough to flower the next summer. However, fruitlets produced in spring may ripen in greenhouses, giving two crops a year.

To fruit well, figs like to have compact roots, which is why they perform well in pots – start in 30cm containers, repotting every other year, using a pot 5cm larger each time. If you are planting outside, line the planting hole with concrete slabs or similar to restrict root growth. Every other year, dig around the outside of the slabs to trim roots.

Big Fig crop

For the best yields, in spring, apply a general-purpose granular feed (such as Growmore) and mulch with well-rotted manure or compost.

Once you see young figs, feed plants with liquid tomato fertiliser every two or three weeks, until they start to ripen. Figs also require lots of water during summer but make sure it is free draining – they don’t like to sit in water.

To save the plant’s energy, remove larger fruits that are not mature enough to ripen at the end of the season, leaving the tiny embryo fruits at the shoot tips for the following year.

Shop our selection of 20+ Fig Trees

Grapes

Grapes require patience – and knowledge – to fruit correctly but by following some basic rules, you can enjoy growing your own bunches.

Firstly, consider where you live. While it’s quite possible to get a decent crop on good garden soil in a sunny spot in southern Britain, your best bet further north (or at altitude) is to grow under glass.

Dessert grapes need to be grown in a greenhouse to ripen properly, while wine varieties are hardier, ripening on a sheltered, sunny, south- or southwest-facing wall or fence.

Grapevines grow on any soil, as long as it is relatively deep and well drained. Once established, outdoor vines are relatively drought-tolerant but will need watering in their first year.

Grape crop

Mulch with 5-7cm of gravel in spring – don’t use manure. During the growing season, water well and feed with a liquid tomato fertiliser.

Pruning correctly is vital for high yields and here’s where the patience comes in. Remove all flowers for the first two years after planting, then allow just three bunches on three-year-old vines. A four-year-old will support about five bunches – allow full cropping from the fifth year.

Indoors, pollination needs a dry atmosphere and gently shaking branches helps. One the grapes are forming, use special grape-thinning scissors to thin the bunches, which will improve ripening, although outdoor wine grapes don’t need this.

Shop our selection of 20+ Grape Vines

Plums

Plums, gages and damsons are part of the Prunus family, which includes cherries, apricots, nectarines, almonds and hybrids. Where other fruit trees are improved by winter pruning, avoid cutting them back at this time, as the tree can become infected by silver leaf disease. Members of the Prunus family don’t need much pruning (make sure to choose one on a dwarfing rootstock) but if you must cut a tree back, do it in midsummer and make pruning cuts as small as possible.

Some plum varieties can bear huge crops one year, followed by much smaller yields the next – basically, the tree exhausts itself and needs to build up its strength.

Increase yearly yields by watering and feeding at the right times. On established trees, top-dress with sulphate of potash in February. In mid-spring, mulch with well-rotted manure or compost to retain soil moisture and provide much-needed nitrogen. For an extra boost, add a top-dressing of organic dried poultry manure pellets or non-organic sulphate of ammonia.

Bumper crop of plums

Plums are one of the earliest flowering of the stone fruits and their early blossom can be ruined by frost. You can solve this problem by planting them where they don’t get the morning sun (avoid east-facing) – this will destroy flowers. If a series of heavy frosts is forecast, cover the tree with fleece but remove it during the day so insects can pollinate the flowers.

Plums require a lot of water so like loamy or clay soils but hate being waterlogged – add lots of bulky organic matter if you have shallow or sandy soil. If growing in a container, make sure it is large enough so the tree isn’t short of water.

Shop our selection of 70+ Plum Trees

Raspberries

Raspberries are an easy-to-grow cane fruit, fruiting either in summer or autumn.

They love moisture-retentive, fertile, slightly acidic soils, which are well-drained. Avoid waterlogged and chalky soils.

The canes do best in a sheltered, sunny position – they will tolerate part shade. Raspberries are self-fertile and pollinated by insects, so avoid a windy site.

Yields depend very much on pruning. For summer-fruiting raspberries, cut back fruited canes to ground level after harvesting. Choose six to eight strong canes per plant, and remove the rest at ground level.

Autumn-fruiting raspberries are even easier – simply cut back all canes to ground level in February, reducing the number in summer if they are overcrowded.

In mid-spring, sprinkle a granular fertiliser (such as Growmore or blood, fish and bone) around plants at 35g per square metre, then add a mulch of garden compost – avoid mushroom compost or very rich manure as it may burn new shoots. If last year’s crop was poor, add dried poultry manure pellets at 100 per square metre.

Feed monthly with a liquid general-purpose fertiliser during the growing season.

Shop our selection of 30+ Raspberry Bushes

Raspberries

AlexAlex works in the Primrose buying team, sourcing exciting new varieties of plants.

As a psychology graduate it is ironic that he understands plants better than people but a benefit for the purpose of writing this blog.

An enthusiastic gardener, all he needs now is a garden and he’ll be on the path to greatness. Alex’s special talents include superior planter knowledge and the ability to put a gardening twist on any current affairs story.

See all of Alex’s posts.

Alex, Current Issues, Gardening Year, Plants

how to deal with frost

2017 has seen unprecedented weather challenges for growers. An extremely dry winter was followed by an unseasonably warm early spring. This encouraged plants to start throwing out shoots very early. We were then hit by very hard, very late frosts. To make it worse, the frosts were quite unexpected, coming during clear nights in late April off the back of good weather. The mercury plummeted to -6℃ in some rural areas and across the country, crops and gardens alike were hit hard.

Winemakers have suffered badly in the UK and across the continent. Up to 75% of some crops have been ruined by the cold snaps, with vineyards filled with huge candles to ward off the chill. In France, temperatures have dropped below -7℃, harming the new growths brought on by previous warm weather. Champagne may be in shorter supply this year, despite attempts to save crops with the down-draught from helicopters.

frosty vineyards

The frost was even more damaging as there was a lot of young, tender new growth triggered by the early warm weather which was particularly vulnerable. With many plants, the freeze decimated the new growth, killing it right back, and leaving plants looking very sorry for themselves indeed.

This is particularly bad for those of us expecting fruit crops this year, like the winemakers, who reported up to 50% of their crops may be lost and the rest delayed significantly. Strawberries, young tomato plants and other less hardy varieties that may have been moved out of the greenhouse too early on the back of the good weather, have also been wiped out throughout the country.

Late frost 2017

So what can we do to save our plants from the late frost?

  • Be prepared for unpredictable weather in the UK. Keep a close eye on the forecasts, with mild early springs followed by sudden chills the real killer.
  • Check out our tips for protecting plants against frost, including cloches, fleeces and greenhouses.
  • When moving plants outside after winter, do so carefully in stages to harden them off.
  • Choose some hardy plants like lavender and holly to keep some colour going in the garden whatever the weather throws at it.

AlexAlex works in the Primrose buying team, sourcing exciting new varieties of plants.

As a psychology graduate it is ironic that he understands plants better than people but a benefit for the purpose of writing this blog.

An enthusiastic gardener, all he needs now is a garden and he’ll be on the path to greatness. Alex’s special talents include superior planter knowledge and the ability to put a gardening twist on any current affairs story.

See all of Alex’s posts.

Alex, How To, Outdoor Heating, Patio Heaters

winter patio heater

There is nothing better than the comforting warm rays of a patio heater as you get late into a summer evening and the temperature begins to drop and all of a sudden you begin to feel a bit chilly. Just when you get to the point where you begin to regret not bringing a jacket, or wearing those shorts you had on from earlier, someone reaches for the patio heater switch and your worries fade away.

This is great, but what we have found a lot of people have been asking is “Do they work in the winter”. So, in short, yes they do, although we wouldn’t recommend wearing shorts to a dinner party in February, for various reasons. We have written this article to give you some guidance on what to expect and how to get the most out of your patio heaters in winter months.

There are two main types of outdoor heaters commonly used: Gas and electric. Electric heaters have grown in popularity over recent years as improvements to the technology have been made with modern heaters now giving off a lot more heat without the glare that used to make them rather unattractive. Gas heaters offer a different experience however, and are often preferred as they can be seen more as a feature adding to the ambience of your outdoor space.

Gas heaters do transfer some heat to the air around them as the gas burns but the heat that is most useful for outdoor use is radiant heat. This is produced as the gas is burned and then directed by the reflecting element of the heater outwards in a specific direction. Radiant heaters transfer energy through an infrared wave to an object whilst losing minimal heat to the air in between. This is much like how the sun heats the earth and creates a pleasant warming feeling instead of the stuffy feeling created by warming the air itself.

Electric heaters transmit shorter wave lengths which make this energy transfer more effective resulting in less energy being wasted heating the air giving them a greater range and effectiveness outdoors. By relying more on infrared heat, it means the effect of air temperature and wind is on energy transfer reduced with electric heaters, meaning you get great results no matter what the weather.

By emitting radiant heat, patio heaters have the power to provide warmth throughout the winter even when the air is cold and the wind is blowing. Of course, they won’t shelter you from the wind, or offer any protection from the rain, but they will provide some comfort in the colder months.

As I said before, you will still want to dress appropriately and the power of your heater will also have an impact on the warmth you feel. Although heaters with more power are often more expensive to run, they do offer greater range and warmth. It is worth investing in an efficient heater that may be more expensive initially, but provides greater heating efficiency for less electricity as energy waste through glare and transfer to air is limited by the technology.

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Alex

Alex works in the Primrose marketing team, mainly on online marketing.

As a psychology graduate it is ironic that he understands plants better than people but a benefit for the purpose of writing this blog.

An enthusiastic gardener, all he needs now is a garden and he’ll be on the path to greatness. Alex’s special talents include superior planter knowledge and the ability to put a gardening twist on any current affairs story.

See all of Alex’s posts.

Alex, Current Issues, Flowers, Garden Design, Garden Furniture, Gardening, Gardening Year, How To, News

Gardening has become increasingly influenced by trends over the last decade with styles and techniques seeming to vary on a similar frequency to that of clothing and it could be argued more frequently than that of the historically fluid field of interior design.

Perhaps this is influenced by the natural cycle that our gardens go through each year with every spring an opportunity to tweak, re-arrange or entirely redesign your outdoor space. This year will be no different so we have been looking into what’s going to be all the rage in the gardening world and have found some interesting trends that are going to be big in 2016.

Monochrome Palettes:

Minimalism is nothing new and has been synonymous with modern interior design since the turn of the century but 2016 is set to see this trend spread outdoors too with monochrome palettes being used to create simple, calm spaces. 50 shades of grey in your garden will mean something completely different this year with this technique working particularly well with stone water features, aged zinc, slate and subtle white flora.

Monochrome garden

See-through Fences

I found this to be an interesting concept. Fences are normally used to create privacy, so this seems kind of pointless at first. But after seeing how they can be used, I now understand. You can angle the slats so that it gives the illusion of being see-through, lets plenty of light in and inflicts a less enclosing feel on the boundary of your garden without giving you direct line of sight onto your neighbours garden, and vice versa. These now offer a modern alternative to the tradition boundary options of either A. A fence or B. A bush and also act as a real talking point.

See through fence

The Grottage

The Grottage is another idea that was previously unfamiliar to me. Grottage, a portmanteau of the words garage and cottage, is a new term used to describe what may previously have been described inelegantly as a garage conversion. I have seen some real good looking examples of these and the purpose of them can vary from a small, sun house like function to offer some shelter and comfort in the garden to more of a guest house with bed and small kitchenette. I think the former will be more popular with people choosing to transform disused garages from a storage place for tools that are seldom in action to a quaint feature where guests can relax and enjoy the garden out of the midday heat of the sun, or more likely; out of the rain.

Grottage

Turf-to-Order

A cool time saving concept for those who are trying to achieve the “untamed look” without having to wait for their garden to untame itself. With the untamed look set to be another hot trend this year, some clever gardenistas have come up with the idea of creating it for you, on rolls of turf, which you can then just install into your garden kind of like the horticultural version of Ikea furniture. You can order turf with a variety of wild flowers and grasses already prepared and instantly transform your neat, tidy garden into a wild, untamed all-natural experience.

turf to order

Pallet Style Furniture

This is one of my personal favourites; I enjoy the innovation behind this concept and I remember first seeing these in a bar a few years ago (they were obviously homemade) and thinking wow that’s not a bad idea! Now, companies will make them for you and you get a better quality product that still brings that intriguing bespoke feel to your garden as visitors have that eureka moment when they realise that your elegant sofa set has actually been innovatively crafted from a few humble pallets.

pallet furniture

Sustainable Features Integrated with Design

An area close to my heart – sustainable development may not interest everyone but it is something I have studied closely for a few years now and an area that is a bit more familiar to me. The sustainable trend is a trend that has threatened to take off each year for the last 5 or so but as of yet it has not hit the mainstream. Of course, there are still some wonderful examples to be found. Some real works of ingenuity and functional design creating spaces that are not just aesthetically pleasing but environmentally conscious and sustainable.

Over this time, however, ideas have been developed, products improved and now a sustainable garden is a more accessible goal. With more accessibility, and appetite seemingly as strong as ever, 2016 will hopefully be the year where this trend really takes hold.

Rain gardens have been popular in dryer parts of America for a few years now and are predicted to make an appearance over here this year. The idea is to create a shallow planted depression in your garden where rain water will run into and be held until it soaks into the soil. The advantages are that in dryer times this will help store any little bit of rain and keep your garden hydrated meaning you have to reach for the hose pipe less often. Secondly, this reduces rainwater run-off, a growing problem. As our once green land increasingly becomes concreted over or built on, rain now tends to run off along the ground much more without soaking in. This washes all the dust and other impurities along with it into the water system and can lead to sharp rises in river levels after short bursts of rain, often causing flooding.

rain garden

There are loads of other neat ideas on the web to make your garden more sustainable and a lot of these come at little or no cost (besides a bit of elbow grease).

Stay tuned to our blog as we run through other things to keep an eye on in 2016 to get the most out of your garden this year!

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Alex

Alex works in the Primrose marketing team, mainly on online marketing.

As a psychology graduate it is ironic that he understands plants better than people but a benefit for the purpose of writing this blog.

An enthusiastic gardener, all he needs now is a garden and he’ll be on the path to greatness. Alex’s special talents include superior planter knowledge and the ability to put a gardening twist on any current affairs story.

See all of Alex’s posts.