In your fruit garden in March 2014
Fruit crops may fail due to lack of pollination. Bad weather at flowering time is often the cause, or perhaps a shortage of bees and other pollinating insects.
Gardening organically is the ‘bee friendly’ way to grow. Garden Organic’s Organic Gardening Guidelines explain just what we mean by ‘organic’ and how to encourage and increase our pollinating insects in the garden.
Signs of spring in the orchard at Garden Organic Ryton
Things to do in the fruit garden
Without bees there would be no fruit. These vital creatures are struggling in the modern world, so it pays to make your garden bee friendly.
Grow clumps of flowering plants that attract bees in sunny spots. There are lots of annuals you can sow now including borage, California poppy, echium, and poached egg plant. Or why not try creating the Garden Organic Bee Border in your own garden?
- Finish all planting of bare-rooted trees and bushes early in the month. If you have not managed to plant fruit in your garden yet,nurseries and garden centres will have a range of container grown plants that can be planted throughout the spring.
- Firm newly planted fruit trees and bushes if the frost has lifted them over the winter, but allow the ground to thaw first.
- As the soil warms up apply a mulch. The most common materials used for mulching fruit are straw and hay. Newspaper, cardboard, well rotted manure or compost can also be used. Apply the mulch up to 10cm deep, keeping a clear area of around 15 cm diameter around the tree trunk to deter mice. Before mulching hoe carefully (avoiding roots) under the canopy to expose pests to predators.
- Start weeding around fruit trees and bushes while there are few weeds. This will make weeding easier later on in the year.
Poached egg plant
Frosted strawberry flowers
have a blackened centre.
- Sow Limnanthes douglasii (poached egg plant) around well established fruit bushes. It is low growing and quickly covers the soil. The bright flowers attracting beneficial insects for pollination and pest control of currant aphids.
- Plant out new strawberry plants.
Strawberry plants can be purchased from the Organic Gardening Catalogue
- Cover strawberries with polythene tunnels or glass cloches for an early crop. Remember to open the covers on warm days, especially around flowering time to allow access for pollinating insects; replace covers at night.
- Sow alpine strawberries undercover, lightly covering the seeds with sharp sand. Keep at 18-24°C. Germination can be slow and erratic, when the seedlings are large enough to handle pot up into individual pots.
- The best time to prune an established fan trained fig is early spring, after the worst of the frost has passed and just before growth starts. Prune out all diseased, dead and frost damaged wood. On an established fan, tie in the young shoots 15-30cm apart and cut surplus shoots back to one bud.
- Cobnuts and filberts should be pruned when catkins are releasing pollen if not already done in February.
- Protect peach flowers from frost.
- Pollinate peach flowers, which open in early spring. There is often a shortage of pollinating insects at this time of year. You can help out by transferring pollen from one flower to another with a fine soft brush.
- Protect wall trained peach, cherry, almond and apricot trees from both frost and peach leaf curl with a covering.
Frost protection Peach leaf curl protectionBracken fronds pushed in behind removable garden netting (left); polythene sheeting on a removable frame (right).
- Apples in store may be rotting now. Put them out for the birds to enjoy, or add them to a runner bean trench. If you have lots of leftovers, make an ‘apple worm compost heap’. Simply alternate layers of apples and autumn leaves (or rough old compost or old straw) in a compost box and let the worms move in.
- Apricots are getting easier to grow. Both Tomcot and Flavourcot are relatively new varieties that are self-fertile and are hardy enough to withstand the British climate. They are late flowering so the blossoms miss the frosts.
- Prune blueberries. Remove one or two unproductive branches once flower buds are visible. Cut close to ground level to encourage new shoots from the base.
- Keep a check on the soil/compost pH where blueberries are growing. As a guide, aim for pH 4 - 5. Pine needles can help to acidify soil. You can also add sulphur chips. They are slow acting, lasting for 2-3 years and are available from the Organic Gardening Catalogue.
- Untie and retrain canes of blackberries and related fruits that have been bundled together against winter damage. Train on to wires before buds burst.
- Cut down autumn fruiting raspberry canes to ground level. Take care not to damage any emerging new shoot tips. If the plants are strong, free of pest and disease, and the soil very fertile you can try ‘double-cropping’ autumn raspberries. Rather than cutting canes down to the ground, leave the lower portion, below the part where the fruits were produced last autumn. These will then produce an early crop, followed by another in autumn.
- Prune gooseberries now if they were left unpruned over winter. All the sideshoots can be pruned to two or three buds from the main stems and the leading shoots pruned by one-third to half, depending on the vigour of the shoot (prune weaker shoots harder). Cut out whole branches if the bush is overcrowded. This will make picking less painful. After pruning apply a mulch of garden compost.
- Know your problem. Roughly similar symptoms can occur on leaves of peaches (and nectarines), pears and currants at this time of year – but they are caused by very different organisms. Correct identification is important so you can get the control methods right.
|Peach leaf curl – caused by a fungal disease Taphrina deformans||Pear leaf blister mite damage – caused by a tiny mite Eriopyes pyri||Currant blister aphid damage – caused by an aphid feeding on the leaves.|
- Look out for powdery mildews on apples and gooseberries. Mildew symptoms show up most clearly in spring on blossoms and young shoots. Cut back to healthy wood and dispose of diseased material to avoid spreading the spores to healthy wood.
Useful Garden Organic factsheets, available on line to members;
Apple powdery mildew
Gooseberry powdery mildew
Gooseberry sawfly larvae
- In spring it is the Gooseberry sawfly larva that does the most damage to both gooseberry and redcurrant bushes. The newly hatched larvae make pin prick holes in the leaf and prefer to feed from the heart of the plant, so this is what you should initially be vigilant for. Destroy all larvae seen. Cultivate the soil around bushes now to give predators a chance to feed on the adult cocoons that overwinter in the soil.
- See our factsheet Gooseberry sawfly for more information
- Winter moth - continue to check that grease bands have not been breached or become loose. Do not remove them until the end of the month.