Growing Fruit In Small Gardens

It isn’t often realised how much fruit can be grown in quite a small garden. Trees can be trained as cordons or espaliers to make the very best use of available space. And one can buy apple or pear trees, known as family trees, which have grafted on them separate varieties which pollinate each other – a space-saver indeed! Gooseberries, red currants and various similar soft fruits can also be trained as cordons, while others can be trained against walls or fences, along wires, between posts – not one inch of space need be wasted.

Fruit falls into two categories – that which grows on trees – apples, pears, peaches, plums and the like – and those which grow on canes and bushes – raspberries, currants, strawberries, loganberries and so on. Let’s look at the tree fruits first.

There are varying types of tree. You can get apples, pears and plums on standards – that is, with the variety grafted on to a stem six feet tall; half-standards – about four feet; and bush trees – which have a stem of about three feet. The latter are best for small gardens, being easy to look after without ladders. A single standard tree, though, could look good, provided it is self-fertile – and what better place to sit and doze than in the shade of the old apple tree!

Apples and pears trained as cordons and espaliers need more attention. Because of their space-saving qualities a good deal of summer and winter pruning is required to prevent them getting out of hand, and over-vigorous growth must be checked or you’ll end up with lots of leaves and shoots and hardly any fruit. If this happens, bark ringing will put matters right. In May, when the sap is rising, take a very sharp knife and remove a ring of bark, or two semi-circular rings, about three-quarters of an inch wide near where the main stem begins to branch out.

It’s as well to seal the cut afterwards to keepout disease.This treatment is most effective and many fruit buds will form as a result. Don’t try it in the case of plums, though; when they fail to fruit satisfactorily they’re best root-pruned. This entails, a bit of work in late autumn. Dig a trench eighteen inches wide around the tree and cut away any thick, coarse roots. Tap roots, which go straight down under the root ball, must also be removed. Take two successive years over the process; halfway round one side of the trunk one year, and halfway round the other side the following year. Refill the trench firmly and spread manure or mulch over the top. Incidentally, young trees, up to six years or so, are best dug up to allow you to cut off all long, thick roots about three feet from the trunk. Then replant. With such a wide variety of trees available it’s best to take advice from your nurseryman, who will supply you with the types which suit your soil. When planting, dig out a hole large enough to enable the roots to spread out, a yard across if need be. Fill up the soil at the bottom of the hole so it forms a slight mound. Put in a strong supporting pole, then take the young tree and trim off any damaged roots, cut back any that look over-long or vigorous, stand it against its support, and cover its roots with soil or, better still, a mixture of moist peat and bonemeal. Add soil, moving the tree up and down just a little to make sure the soil gets well amongst the roots. Add more soil, stamping it down firmly as you go. Near the base of the stem you’ll see the join where your particular variety of tree was grafted on to its stock. Make sure this is left about four inches above the ground when you’ve finished planting. (Cordon trees should be planted against their framework at an angle of forty-five degrees.) Secure trees to their supports with adjustable plastic straps, but keep them fairly loose to allow for growth.

Trees must be pruned in order for them to produce their full quota of fruit. Generally speaking, this is done in winter up until early March. All crowding, broken or diseased shoots, or those growing in towards the trunk, must be removed. Summer pruning is an additional necessity for trees grown as cordons, fans, espaliers or bush trees. Side shoots should be shortened to about five leaves from the main stem, thus exposing the fruit to maximum sunshine.

Over-pruning encourages vigorous non-fruiting growth so you have to be careful to strike just the right note, shortening just the right amount of new growth to encourage good crops. Fruit trees do, of course, need deterrents against pests.

Now on to soft fruits, like blackberries or loganberries, which are planted against walls or fences with wires for support. These should be set about eight feet apart and cut back nine inches or so from the ground. New shoots will fruit the following year. Cut out canes after they’ve fruited and tie in the new canes in a fan shape, four to one side of the supporting wires and four to the other.

Blackcurrants need hard pruning to encourage new growth, while red and white currants, which are usually sold as two-year-olds, should be pruned, after planting, half way back each branch to just above an outward pointing bud. Gooseberries should be pruned in spring. Cut back main shoots by half and side shoots to three inches.

Plant raspberry canes eighteen inches apart and cut them back to one foot. A host of shoots will appear in their second year; restrict these to one every six inches and tie them to the wires, which must be arranged horizontally at two, four and six feet above ground.

And strawberries… Plant the ‘perpetual’ varieties in spring and you’ll get a fine crop the same year. Crowns should go in eighteen inches apart. Discard plants after three years, although you can take plantlets on runners from the old plants to keep the rotation going.


A run-down on the shaping of dwarf fruit trees is really something of a ‘must’! They’re so easy to manage, rarely exceeding six feet, and you can plant them fairly close together too. Illustrated is the pruning pattern to follow for Dwarf Bush, Dwarf Pyramid and Cordon trees, these being popular shapes for the small garden.

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