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Grow your own - Dig for Victory - looking after your apple trees.

So who wants to know some fruity facts?

  1. Apple trees are the most popular fruit tree that's grown in the UK.

  2. There are over 2,500 varieties of apple tree in the UK.

  3. Over 156 of them are thought to have a connection with Somerset.

  4. However over 50% of Somerset's orchards have disappeared in the last 50 years.

  5. Glastonbury - the place where you can find crystals and listen to an annual music extravaganza - used to be called Avalon, The Isle of Apples by our Iron Age predecessors.

  6. Talking of Mr Eavis, Somerset, orchards and cider production we were once told that he feeds - or fed - his dairy cattle some of the pomace - the crushed apple pulp that's left after the juice has been extracted.

We talked about fruit trees last year. You can read what we said here:

and here:

Now if you decided to have a go at growing your own now is the time you might be needing to think about a little maintenance - particularly if next year you want to avoid some of the more common issues you might now be experiencing!

This is the orchard in the grounds of a large house in Somerset that keeps us busy - very busy at this time of the year - 3 days every week. A couple of years ago - before our time - an orchard of apples, plums and pears was planted up.

All of the trees are doing well - some could do with some judicious pruning later in the autumn - but on the whole the orchard is doing rather well. Of all the trees that were planted only one seems to have died - and we'll be removing that and replanting it again later in the year.

Some of the more common problems that we see at this time of year are however evident here:

Apple canker

This is what it looks like:

It's a disease that is caused by a fungus called Neonectria ditissima. The fungus attacks the bark of apples and some other trees that causes a sunken area of dead bark. This can eventually lead to the death of the branch if it's not treated in time.

New cankers form from mid-spring, and once formed are present all year. Sadly for us, apple trees are most often affected.

If you see this then this is what you need to do:

  1. Improve the soil around your tree. Canker often occurs on wet, or heavy or acidic soils. If that's true of your soil then try and improve the drainage and increase the soil pH. The second and third photographs are of our very own Katy - a variety that is said to be less susceptible to canker. The thing is we know that the drainage in that part of our garden is poor so as part of our redesign this year that's something we'll be addressing!

  2. Cut out all affected areas. Smaller branches and spurs can be cut off and larger branches can have all of the infected material cut back to fresh green tissue. But here's an interesting point - the RHS recommends sealing the wound with an appropriate protective wound paint. However that's not what Charles Dowding recommends here:

Question is though what do we do? Whilst we enjoy reading the book and respect a lot of what he says we seal. Sorry Charles.

Powdery mildew

This is what it looks like:

Again powdery mildew is a fungal disease that can affect the leaves, stems and flowers and fruit and again it likes apples!

You might initially spot white, powdery patches of fungus that will spread along the upper or lower surfaces of the leaves, flowers and fruit. Then you might see that the leaves start to curl at the edges, or that they become stunted or distorted.

If you see this then this is what you need to do:

  1. Manage the soil. Make sure that the area around your tree enjoys good drainage, water your trees regularly during dry weather and apply a good mulch to help water retention. Don't add too much fertiliser - particularly nitrogen - as new growth is particularly susceptible to the disease.

  2. Manage humidity. Try and improve air circulation in and around your tree. Prune them at the appropriate time to create a "goblet" style framework and an open structure. Avoid watering early in the morning or in the evening if you can and try and avoid the leaves from remaining wet as this can encourage other diseases.

  3. Act quickly. Collect and destroy all fallen infected leaves in autumn as this will reduce the amount of infectious spores next spring. Prune out infected shoots as soon as you see them as this should reduce further infection.

  4. Use a fungicide to spray the infected area. Ideally this should be the last resort. Patience and following the first three tips should go a long way to improving the growing conditions and preventing a reoccurrence the following season.


This is what it looks like:

It's often as a result of either problems with the roots - root decay due to something like honey fungus or water logging around the roots - or as a result of canker or another fungal disease.

To identify the possible cause of dieback is something we'll look at another time. This photo shows dieback on an apple tree where the branch has snapped and was then left on the tree - rather than being cleanly removed and the wound being treated - see Point 2 under Canker above.

For now all that we'll do with this is prune that part of the branch that has died back to healthy wood and treat it with that protective wound paint.


Now this might seem like a waste but believe it or not now is the time to think about removing some of the fruit that's on your tree. The fruit will have developed from the buds that will have turned into flowers and as we know both buds and flowers need less space to grow than the actual fruit.

Some of our fruit will have dropped off the tree naturally - either at the bud or flower stage, or as immature fruits, but hopefully those that have survived the winds, rain and frosts will now be hanging on and starting to swell by the day.

Now as they grow they'll need some attention - they'll need space to develop into healthy fruit and space to enable sunlight to reach them so that they can ripen evenly. The branch of the tree will also thank you for removing some of the fruit as it will reduce the amount of weight that it has to take. A fully laden branch will often snap if it's too young to support the weight of the fruit that's growing on it - and then if that happens we're looking at the possibility of canker and dieback........

Here's a candidate for some thinning:

And it's easy to do. Simply identify the middle fruit of a cluster - commonly referred to as the "king fruit" - and gently twist it so that it comes away and leaves it's royal subjects to develop into fully fledged members of it's own Royal Family!

Most healthy trees will drop fruit at around now - something known as "June Drop" - but it's a good idea to take a look at your trees and give them a helping hand - or thumb and forefinger twist - if some of that "king fruit" is still hanging on.

There are a few other things that we need to consider when we look at our apple trees - scab and codling moths - but at the moment I don't have any evidence of either! Lucky me I hear you say!

Scab is another example of a fungal disease. It causes spots and scabs on our tree's fruit and leaves and it can reduce the number of edible apples a tree produces because many of them will be too damaged to eat. When - as I'm sure we will - we see scab on our trees we'll take a photograph and talk about what we should have done to prevent it!

And I'm also pleased to say that we've seen no evidence this year of codling moths either! The thing is though we won't really know whether they're hanging around until it's too late and we're either picking our fruit - or worse still - have taken a bite out of one!

That's because they are still waiting to pounce and eat into the fruits of our apple and pear trees. The codling moth is a small moth whose caterpillars tend to be active during the mid to late summer. If they've paid your trees a visit this is what you might see:

  • Where the caterpillar leaves your fruit you might see a hole in the side of the ripe fruit or at the opposite end to the stalk

  • When you cut the fruit open there might be a tunnel and feeding damage inside it

  • Damaged fruits often ripen and drop early

  • And if you're really lucky you might actually see the small white, brown-headed caterpillar in your fruit!

Again when - sadly I doubt it will be if - we suffer from a visit from the codling moth's caterpillar - we'll take a photograph and update this article with how to prevent a visit next season!

That's about it. Give your apple and fruit trees a quick check and get in touch if you need any further information, or have any photos of anything you'd like us to take a look at!

You can contact us through our facebook page, at or on 07734 365028

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