An insight into tree care by Oliver Dowding

With the UK frozen and snowed under, I’ve been using the opportunity while the apple trees are “dormant” to prune them and more.

The “new” trees are now heading into their third year. Many have grown strongly, but these early years are vital for formation pruning to ensure one ends up with trees that are shaped correctly, have branches going where one wants and not a higgledy-piggledy mess! The next three years will see more need for annual winter attention. After that I hope we will have nice shaped trees, but they too will also need annual trims to keep them from becoming unwieldly, and to deliver quality fruit every year, which we can easily pick.

Besides the natural growth needing trimming there are a large number of damaged trees. We have too many deer here! Recently I saw seven in a line wandering across a nearby field. They have selectively grazed out the tops of many trees, and then seriously chewed the bark on others. Those trees if left to their do their own thing would form really poor trees.

There are also other trees where voles or other small nibblers have wrecked the trunk near the base, even though they were fully guarded. We needed better guards than spirals.

A further 120 have had a severe cut-down to what I hope is just a dormant bud, from where it will sprout and go again. This time they will have a full-blown guard. To further their prospects, and the newly planted ones, they will also get a jute mat to keep all weeds and grass down, pus protect against drying out.

About 40 trees need replacing, out of 520. Where possible these will be with the same varieties to ensure the map isn’t too crazy and that when harvesting there is a pattern of maturity dates and varietal separation. I think it was just location that determined that some varieties were more attacked than others. Red Falstaff, Lord Lambourne and Topaz suffered most.

Then there are those healthy ones which have just had a decent prune! These will grow nicely this year and I hope avoid the attention of wild teeth!

The internet helped enormously with various guides and tips. I particularly liked one by permaculture designer Chuck Marsh which is worth a watch. Search it out if you wish.

Now we need warmth and kind weather when the blossom comes out. It won’t be long, and hopefully it won’t be greeted by frosts!

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