The speaker for our October meeting was Michael Abel, a former commercial fruit grower and lecturer at Writtle College.
The size of a fruit tree depends on the rootstock on which it is grafted; fruit trees on their own roots will grow too large for most gardens. Dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock will produce trees varying from a height of 2m up to 6m. Family trees, where different varieties are grafted onto the rootstock, are becoming popular as patio container plants.
Pruning reduces tree size and promotes vigour for fruit production. Vigorous vertical growth and downward growth should be pruned out as horizontal growth is the most productive. Use winter pruning to promote vigour, and prune in summer to reduce it.
Pruning also controls diseases by cutting out dead wood and fungal infections. It lets in air and light which reduces scab and promotes bud formation and good fruit colour. It is essential to understand the difference between fruit buds which are fat, and vegetative buds which are more pointed.
Fruit size can be improved by generous thinning of fruit in the early stages of growth. Pest control using grease bands, barrier glue, and pheromone traps was discussed and the promotion of beneficial insects such as ladybirds, earwigs, hoverflies and lacewings was recommended. Birds devour vast numbers of caterpillars and should be encouraged.
A lively discussion followed.