Although the orchards in this area can look very different they share a number of common features. In general, they are old, privately owned, and most are planted on the slopes of the valley. Old maps and local records indicate that many of them have occupied the same plot of ground for hundreds of years. They are also spaces for wildlife and may include less common or local varieties of fruit trees. These characteristics throw up some important questions to be considered when managing the orchards.
- How do the valley soils effect planting & management?
- How does the location of the orchard effect cultivation and harvesting, e.g. the slope, height, exposure?
- Which old trees should be kept and which replaced?
- Are the fruit varieties suited to today’s windier and wetter climate?
- What are the best fruit trees for your needs, e.g. flavour, disease resistance, ease of harvesting?
The information below highlights some of the main considerations for orchard management.
We have prepared a pdf document as a reference to assist with your fruit tree pruning. This can be downloaded here, “A short guide to Apple Tree pruning“
Before spending time and money on planting or restoring an orchard think about what you want to achieve, where you are going to make changes, and how. Mapping out your orchard and making notes and sketches can help clarify what you are going to do and where. This is particularly important if you intend to divide the site for different purposes, but mapping features such as frost prone or waterlogged areas can also be useful. Consider the time you will need to devote to the work over time – a Year Planner is good for this.
- Site conditions for planting
Find out about your soil. A simple soil testing kit can be bought from most garden centres. Most fruit trees prefer a reasonably neutral soil (around pH 6.5). Sandy soils should have plenty of organic matter incorporated to increase the water and nutrient retention. For clay soils, incorporate plenty of grit and organic matter to improve aeration and drainage.
Shade: Trees will grow towards that light and become lopsided.
Slope:Any new planting should minimize disturbance to surface soils as this can lead to erosion, loss of topsoils, and flooding on the lower slopes. Steep slopes may also cause difficulties of access during management and harvesting
Wind: Consider planting a windbreak such as a wildlife hedge but ensure there is enough space between trees and the windbreak to allow light and access (including machinery). Southwest facing sites can be at risk from prevailing winds.
Frost: Look for frost pockets; for example, on a slope do not plant a hedge on the down slope side of the fruit trees, as this will prevent frost from clearing down the slope.
- Purchasing and planting trees
Buy from a reputable dealer or nursery and get advice on the right rootstock and suitable planting distances for your situation (with allowance for grass cutting machinery, if used). Plant in winter if possible
Planting: Dig a hole to a depth that will allow the tree to sit in the soil at the same height as it did before purchase (usually indicated by colour change at the base of the stem). Place the soil to one side. Loosen the bottom of the pit with a fork to assist root penetration. Plant the stake on the windward side to hold the tree firmly against wind and prevent the tree rubbing against it. The stake should be long enough to penetrate 50cm into the base of the pit and extend around 18″ above ground. Put the tree in position next to the planted stake but not touching it. Back fill with the original soil (best not to add compost as the roots need to grow down into the soil in search of nutrients). Place a plastic rabbit guard around the stem then tie the tree to the stake using a tree tie and spacer. Pour a bucket of water over the planted area to help drive out any air pockets and moisten the soil. Mulch an area 1m square around the base of the tree, using well rotted manure, compost or a ‘mulch matt’.
Aftercare: Keep well watered, especially during the first summer. Slacken ties as the tree matures and remove the stake when the tree is strong enough to support itself. Keep an area of 1m square around the tree free from vegetation for around 5 years. In addition, keep the grass short for a further 1-2 metres to reduce problems with voles.
Choose fruit varieties that grow well in the climate and soil conditions of the Clyde Valley. Also consider the taste and, if possible, try the fruit before you buy a particular variety. Consider the ability of the trees to pollinate each other, i.e. the flowering period for one tree should coincide with that of trees nearby. The F-number given to each variety will help you to match them. For more information on the varieties found in the Clyde Valley and on Scottish varieties of fruit see the Varieties and Further Information sections of this website.
- Common Pests & Diseases
Main pests include aphids, moths, voles, rabbits and deer. Insect pests are rarely a problem in Scotland to date.Common fungal and bacterial diseases of orchard fruit include powdery mildew, canker, scab, brown rot and silver leaf and honey fungus. Scab and Canker, plus bacterial canker on plums, are by far the most prevalent diseases.
The GLASU leaflet ‘Maintaining a Healthy Orchard’ provides an illustrated guide to dealing with these problems (see link at bottom of page).
- Pruning and Thinning
Reasons for pruning
- To remove dead or diseased wood
- To form the desired shape of a young tree
- To open up the tree, allowing better airflow and light that will help the tree develop and fruit ripen
- To increase fruit production
- To reduce damage from wind and rubbing branches
- To rejuvenate and re-shape an old tree
- To remove cross branches and make it easier to pick the fruit.
Prune apples & pears in winter (except trained trees such as cordons and espaliers)
Prune plums in June when they are growing strong to avoid silver leaf disease.
Shaping a young tree
People often make the mistake of planting a fruit tree and not thinking of pruning until it gets much larger and is bearing fruit. Yet careful attention to pruning when young will help determine a trees productivity, longevity, and also prevent susceptibility to damage and disease.
Requirements for pruning a young tree are variable according to age, amount of growth, fruit variety, and the desired tree form. Fruit trees bought from tree nurseries or good garden centres will generally come with some guidance on early stage pruning and there are many publications available that cover the subject more generally. For some good on-line sources of information see ‘More on Pruning’ below.
Restoring old trees
Consider restoring a tree if it is safe, still growing a little and cropping well. Fruit trees are very resilient and even when completely hollow they may be perfectly healthy. Attempts to restore an old tree should be done gradual by pruning over a few years to avoid shocking the tree. In the first year, use a saw to cut out the larger branches of dead, diseased and damaged wood. It is often easier to do this when there are still some leaves on the tree to help you identify the dead wood (which also gives a ‘hollow’ sound when tapped). The next year, start pruning out the unwanted living growth such as high or low branches or those that are too spreading or overcrowding.
Spur and renewal pruning
These methods of pruning were developed to increase fruit production. For a detailed description see Natural England Technical Information Note TIN017 via the link at the bottom of this page.
More on pruning
The following information has been produced by Gardenaction and is reproduced here with their kind permission.
New trees can grow from seed, suckers or from grafted fruit, but in most cases, not from cuttings. The surest and quickest way of achieving the variety you desire is by planting a grafted tree. Planting a seed (pips) is of course, much slower, and will not grow to be the same as the parent as this is determined by the source of the pollen. It is very rare for the characteristics of the seeds to be as good as that of the parent and trees grown from both seeds and suckers tend to be more vigorous so that the trees produce a lot of wood at the expense of the fruit.
Grafting. The purpose of grafting is to combine one plants qualities of flowering or fruiting (the scion plant) with another plants qualities of vigour and resistance (the rootstock). Plant nurseries supply varieties grown on a range of rootstock to give different plant characteristics. By buying from a reputable dealer you can therefore be fairly certain of how the tree is going to turn out. However, grafting your own stock can be fun and is a practice that is increasingly carried out by individuals and groups concerned with conserving old local varieties. The most important thing to remember is to use healthy plant material, a sharp and regularly sterilised knife, and to make sure that cuts are clean and straight so that surfaces meet flush. The best way to learn is by participating in a short practical course but there is also plenty of literature available on the subject.
Weeds reduce the growth of fruit trees particularly in the early years, by competing for moisture, space and nutrients. For this reason it is important to keep 1m square around the tree free from vegetation for the first 5 years and the grass should be kept short for at least 1 metre further to dissuade voles which can damage the tree. Older trees can also be affected by weed competition, and rampant weed growth (especially perennial weeds) should be controlled. To restore an overgrown area, first remove the weeds by hand or mechanical means and then control any re-growth by grazing, by hand, machine, or as a last resort, by chemical means.
For young trees, protect the area with mulch. Organic mulch is fine for small areas or gardens but fabric mulch is more practicable for orchards. This is a black weed control fabric that allows water to pass through but does not allow weed growth. It can be bought as individual squares or by the roll (see Further Information Tools & Equipment).
- Picking & Storing
Picking. It is common for apples, pears and plums to shed small fruit in early summer (June Drop). This thins out the crop allowing the remaining fruit to mature properly. It is an important stage in the development of fruit but does not indicate that the fruit is ready for picking. A poor June Drop can occur for various reasons and can result in a glut of small, unmarketable fruit.
The fruit is ready to be picked when you can cup it in your hand and gently lift the fruit upwards so that it snaps at the joint with the branch. This is called ‘palming’. Fruit varieties mature at different times but you can get an idea of the right time for picking when you see the odd, unblemished fruit drop from the tree. Take care not to bruise the fruit when picking and handling. All apples should be picked by late October, due to the threat of frosts and high winds. Plums have a much shorter season and quickly deteriorate after picking so that, if not eaten within a day or two, should be preserved by freezing or jam making.
Storing. Store apples in cardboard or wooden boxes or crates, segregating the fruit so that the skins do not touch and allow the spread of the fungal disease brown rot. Use twisted newspaper to separate the apples in the storage boxes. Keep in the dark, cool but frost-free environment such as an unheated shed or garage and check frequently.
Most varieties of pear should not be left to ripen on the tree but picked when a little hard and have just started to turn yellow. Store unwrapped in a dark, cool place. They don’t take long to ripen so check regularly.
Further Information Links
The following orchard leaflets have been produced by the “Orchard Doctors” and are reproduced here by kind permission of Glasu.
Natural England Information Notes An excellent series of detailed notes on management of traditional orchards can be accesses by typing in the work ‘Orchards’ in the search box.