Formative Winter Pruning on Mature Apples and Pears

apple tree - pruning blog

Hi all,

If you read my last blog you’ll know I was talking about the different types of gardeners we all are. Since then I’ve been doing some thinking and I’ve had my performance review at work and I’m now working towards becoming a fruit loop! I’d like to learn more about fruit growing, training and harvesting right through to the products we can make with the harvest.

I bought my self a steam juicer in the summer last year to have a go at doing grape juice. I can highly recommend it to anyone! Its so easy to use and all you have to do is stand and watch then pour it into sterilised bottles. I can’t wait to do more from the vineyard this year!

So, after my performance review it just so happened that there were some formative winter pruning workshops on apples and pears that we could go on. I jumped at the chance and four of us went last weekend to a scattered orchard near Ipswich to be taught how to do things properly.

Now being a trained horticulturalist doesn’t mean you know it all, it shows you how little you do actually know. I’ve always gone along the general rule of thumb of pruning no more than a third off a well-trained fruit tree in the winter and you have to get the perfect bowl shape from a neglected tree straight away. It was really interesting to find out that the process of gaining a bowl in your tree is much better to be done over successional years and not to take off more than 10% of the tree.

This is down to the levels of Auxin hormone in the tree balanced against the Abscissic acid levels. Auxin is the growth hormone stored in roots in winter and Abscissic acid is a growth inhibitor hormone mainly in the plant tips. If you take away more than 10% on a Bramley apple tree or other vigorously growing fruit or 20% of the growth of other trees, of the over all tree the amount of Abscissic acid is reduced enough that the Auxin rushes to the cut sight in spring causing a mass of water shoots to be produced because all the embryonic cells aren’t being inhibited by the stunting hormone that is in the growth tips. By hacking loads off your tree to ‘start again will actually do more harm than good and it could end up looking like an unwoven wicker basket.

apple tree - pruning blog

It was really interesting to find this out and it is only recently that it has been explored to reduce the tree little by little over a few years actually has a better overall impact on the tree and its production that attacking it and making it how we want it straight away. With all that in mind I will now try and tell you how to prune your trees. No tree is the same so I won’t be giving you any pictures to look at. It is recommended that you do a winter prune anytime between December and the end of March.

  1. Take a good look at your tree and walk around it several times assessing what you see. Don’t decide on what to cut yet just note the shape, size any damaged or diseased branches, anything that looks hazardous and try to figure out where your bowl is. (this relates more to a neglected tree)
  2. Now think about all the bits you think you need to do to your tree to get it to the perfect shape.
  3. Make a plan of action as to where your bowl is going to be and what you are going to prune. This can be useful to keep a note of (in most cases it’s likely to be over the 10% reduction if it’s a neglected tree) and come back to the notes next and subsequent years. If you have identified pieces this year that need to come off but are going to leave till next or following years then using a piece of string or material tied to that branch to ‘flag’ it will help to remind you next year along with your notes.
  4. Figure out what is most important to come off this year and try not to leave too big of open wounds as this allows more chance of disease to enter. If you have a big limb to come off it is better to reduce it gradually over a few years rather than in one go. This will only produce loads of water shoots as I mentioned earlier.
  5. Now once you have made your mind up on what needs to come off and when you can start pruning.

Take a little time to get to know your tree, it will definitely be worth it in the end. It’s really made a difference in how I’m looking at the trees we have at work rather than going full throttle straight into getting the perfect shape first off. Thinking about it, a couple of years to us seems a long while but when trees can live for hundreds of years, a couple of years is nothing to them.

If you have any questions please ask and I will do my best to help you.



It’s been a while.

Actually it’s been nearly a year since I last wrote a blog. This year has been an eventful one for me, not only in my home life but in my gardening life too.

In June this year I decided that my gardening business was no longer giving me the satisfaction (or the financial comfort) that I had when I first started. So after many attempts at job applications to anyone and everyone and kept being told I didn’t have what they were looking for or I had too many qualifications just not in the right areas I came across a job advert for a Gardener at my local, private residence hall on the North Norfolk Coast. It’s a place I’ve walked around many times and always admired the six acre walled garden but could only dream of working there. Needless to say I applied and I spent a long while writing a covering letter about how much I loved the gardens and the park and how I came to be in the Horticultural profession.

I was lucky enough to land myself an interview and a week later I went back for a second interview as they had whittled it down to two of us. I was really doubting myself that I would get the job because the other candidate was a lot older than me and had already been working on other estates of a similar nature. Luckily though they couldn’t choose between the two of us and they ended up taking both of us on. I started late July this year and I have loved every minute of it! It has taught me many new things already. Not just about gardening but about gardeners ourselves.

There are 7 of us on our team, myself being the only female and rather lacking in height compared to the lads, but each of us has a different strength. My boss, DW, the head gardener, is a veg man. Like me, he got his love for gardening from his grandfather. He showed him how to grow veg and DW told me a story of how he helped his grandad one day tying his runner beans up. His grandad said to him ‘you’re doing it wrong’ to which DW asked why. He had twisted the stem the wrong way around the cane and beans, as many of you will know, wrap themselves a certain way around the cane because of geotropism. An invaluable piece of knowledge to be passed down.

Then there’s the manager of the walled garden. He ran a nursery with his parents before moving to the hall and he is a people person. He doesn’t have any interest in veg because ‘why would you want to put all that effort into growing something that another animal is going to eat?’ (we have a slight problem with pigeons, pheasants, and rabbits not to mention the cabbage white on the brassicas). But S loves nothing more than to get stuck in with our volunteers and re-shape the future of the garden and seeing plants thrive in the beds.

T is a more organic gardener and this winter is going to be implementing a ‘no-dig’ bed using his own compost made from the shredded plant material from the walled garden and leaves off the estate. He grows veg too and has had a very successful year with onions, carrot, chard and varieties of squash, with the latter three still producing good crops. He knows his stuff about ornamentals too and always has a thirst for more knowledge.

We also have DB on the team who loves nothing else but grass. He doesn’t really care for flowering plants (only in his own garden but shhh that’s a secret) and has had an amazing time this last month with a vertislitter aerating all the lawn areas on the estate. I drew a classic picture of a clump of grass with a seed head one day on the bottom of his mug and he said I had drawn annual rye grass (Poa annua). DB has been asked by members of the public if the lawns he maintains by the corporate function room are in fact real or astro turf because they look too good!

DH likes to do the mowing and care in the other public areas of the estate such as the village, industrial complex and the pub. He takes great pride in what he does and is even re-instating the bowling green in the village with his favourite piece of machinery being a flail mower that is used on the steep hill to cut the meadow like grass up at the estate church.

Now P (the other new employee alongside my self) doesn’t know much about flowers but is a machinery guy. He and DB share the mowing and they also have a mutual love of mole hunting (another pesky pest problem). He knows a bit about trees too but also shares one of DB’s passions of creating foods and drinks with the produce that comes from nature.

Lastly onto me. You already know a little bit of my gardening preferences but I generally love all things gardening. I get excited when cuttings I’ve taken have shot, I love the idea of producing my own food, I always want to know more about any plant that is a bit quirky and will try my hand at any different gardening techniques such as Bonsai (not very successful), topiary, landscaping and making my own juice from fruits. I do also enjoy a good grass cut every now and again. Seeing those perfectly alternating lines in the grass gives me huge satisfaction.

My new job has made me realise that us gardeners are much like plants – no two are the same yet we all have a common interest. So what type of gardener are you?




P.s. I’ve been given the task of learning about all things Fig and how to get them to fruit so if you have any tips or secrets please let me know!

Time to heat things up a bit

Hello, it’s not been very long from my last blog but I felt I needed to write this one while it’s fresh in my mind.

I have been searching the internet for the past few years for recycled ideas for the garden and home. I have been using an online pin board to save my ideas and I’m glad I did. Mum has been having a few problems with the boiler in our family home and we had our plumber out to fix it temporarily till they could get the bit but about an hour after they had left it went completely kaput. We have no heating. Luckily the water is heated through an electric immersion heater and we have a few oil filled radiators and fan heaters (but I’m not taking the one out of my greenhouse, I’d rather be cold than let my plants die!)

I had seen an idea on the internet pin board where you can use terracotta pots and saucers to create a money saving and economic space heater. I thought this would be the perfect time to try it out!! I found the pin out and watched a quick video on how to make them. I didn’t waste any time. I went outside and found any smallish empty pots and cleaned them up. What I have made are very make shift as I didn’t have all the right gear to make them properly. Below shows you what pots I had.

I placed the saucer down and then 9 tea lights on the centre of the saucer and then the cooling rack on top. I didn’t light them straight away because I wanted to see how the pots sat on top first.

I added each pot on top carefully to see how they would sit on the cooling rack.

I had to wedge the largest pot on top of the two ‘legs’ of the cooling rack to give it enough gap around the base of the largest pot. I took them all off again and lit the candles and replaced the pots.

Mum and I had to do a little jiggling about with different candles because the tea lights unfortunately weren’t very good at staying a light and then when we did get candles that didn’t put themselves out, the smallest pot was still too wet from washing and not airy enough to let them get enough oxygen to keep lit. So, we decided to take the smallest pot out and leave the medium and large ones on there and it worked a treat!

Mum got our little pod barbecue out and put some candles in the bottom of that with one large pot on top of the griddle plate and that soon kicked out some heat ad we put another bell pot over a candle holder. The temperature raised by 0.5 degrees centigrade in about half an hour. It’s now 9 pm as I’m writing this and they have been lit for 5 hours and have been keeping our dining room warm.

I’m hoping to make some properly in the future to have as features and ornaments. They can be very effective and decorative if painted and hung properly. You could always use them as a greenhouse heater, providing CO2 and heat, if you don’t like the idea of using paraffin or having an electric supply put into your greenhouse or even as a gentle warmth on cool summers eve sat out in the garden after that delightful BBQ!

Lesley 

Fuchsia Berry Part 2

Hi again.

It’s been a rather busy six months for me. I can’t quite see where my time has gone. Well, I say that, I spent a lot of it working in my client gardens. Unfortunately, this meant that I wasn’t able to look after my own pots as much as I’d have liked to. It certainly put the Fuchsia Berry to the Test! It really grew lots over the summer and it bloomed lovely to my surprise.

Fuchsia Berry Plant

I had my first Berries from the plant in July. Albeit only a few. Never the less, I had berries and my first victims, umm I mean candidates, to try the berries and the flowers (along with myself) were my parents and my guinea pig. I wish I had been able to record my parent’s reactions, they were priceless! I did get a snap of Oscar trying his. He wasn’t too sure.

Guinea pig eating fuchsia flower

(I will apologise if you have been following me on twitter as I am using the same pictures in this blog as I have published on there!)

We all tried the flowers first. I ate each piece individually, which is probably best when you first try them as each bit tastes different. Mum on the other hand put the whole thing in in one go and then proceeded to proclaim, while screwing her face up ‘how could you give me something so foul! You evil child!’ All in jest of course. My dad had played the tactical game waiting for our responses before he would dare to try it. Now he was a little put off by mum’s reaction but I managed to get him to try a bit and after a few small bites he said he didn’t mind it but wouldn’t rush to have another one.
The berries were a different story. We all enjoyed them and I got my Grandad to try some when I had a few more and gave him some to take home to nanny for her to try. They never made it home. I don’t think they even made it out of the door!

fuchsia berries

The berries to me taste like a cross between a blueberry and a grape. The skin has a slightly bitter taste but that maybe because I was feeding my plant with Worm Tea from my wormery.
Over the next few months I trapped more people into trying my berries. Nearly everyone who I asked to try them were dubious whether I was trying to poison them. Ye of little faith! Of course, I promised the I wasn’t and I ate them in front of them to prove that I was going to be poisoned as much as they were. Their responses were much the same as mine. They either said blueberry or grape or a mix of the two.

When it came to the flowers though a few really protested that you can’t eat Fuchsia flowers. Even with me eating them in front of them and explaining that Thompson and Morgan have tested it and verified it is safe they still wouldn’t. Those who did try them had a similar response to my dad. Although they did say that it wasn’t what they were expecting but they did taste ok and would eat them again if they were on their plate.

fuchsia flowers

I think the reason why the flowers got such a bad reaction from my mum and an alternative reaction from others that tried them was because they don’t taste anything like you expect them to. They trick you. Being the hot pink and purple that they are, you expect them to be sweet like most other things of their colouring are. But don’t be fooled. When in their prime picking season, mid-summer, the stamens have a fiery kick to them, like pepper crossed with chilli and the petals and bracts taste like rocket and red mustard leaves. If you want to give your salad an exotic twist this is certainly the thing to do it with.

It was my mum’s birthday in August so, being the good daughter that I am, I made her a birthday cake. Chocolate sponge with chocolate fudge icing and chocolate sprinkle and sugar flowers. Pretty eurgh if you ask me, but then I don’t really like chocolate. More of a tomato girl. Any way just before I lit the candles and we sung the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ I went out into the garden and picked some Flowers along with some of my home-grown strawberries to finish the cake off. I think they added that extra little bit of pizzazz! Although mum still wouldn’t eat them even with Chocolate fudge icing on them.


The Fuchsia Berry is certainly a good conversation starter and this year I hope to see if feeding it sugar water makes a difference to how it tastes. But for now, it is tucked up in fleece inside my heated greenhouse.

I wish you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous and plentiful growing season to come,



Wisteria’s wonderful comeback!

There is no greater sight than the eccentric trusses of soft, pale purple, hanging from a lime green cushioned background? (There probably is but I think it’s a pretty wondrous sight in the month of May). This is a little story of an old, worn out wisteria given a new lease of life in its later years.

19th September 2014
Another year has passed. Another year of feeling unloved. It’s been three years now since I’ve been pampered. I need a haircut badly and some support behind me to keep me going. But I guess you need it when you get to old age!

5th January 2015
Christmas has been and gone and spring has sprung again. The snow drops are hanging their shy heads in the borders and the hydrangeas have the first green shoots appearing. They all look so happy and content. It almost makes me feel energised again. I’ve given up hope on being tended to. I’m residing to just sprouting a few leaves. The bare minimum. That’s all I can just about manage to be able to survive.

Wisteria sinensis

Wisteria sinensis

9th February 2015
My human has been talking to another human who looks after my friends in the next garden. He seems so tentative to them. My human asked him if he could come and prune me. I was elated! She hasn’t forgotten me! That immediately changed to sadness when he said he doesn’t have the time to care for me too. Just my luck!

17th February 2015
Oh my goodness! I feel so ALIVE! There’s been a young human girl here today. She has given me a short bob cut. Three buds on each whip! It’s a month early in the year really but I’m being given a new lease of life! MY body has been tied to the supports on the wall I grow against. I’ve got more space to show off and I cannot wait.

14th May 2015
The human girl has been coming fortnightly looking after all my garden companions. Every time she walks through the gate she looks up at me. So I’ve put on a real show for her. All my best work. She seems so proud that she’s helped me and I am so grateful. I feel young again.

Wisteria sinensis

Wisteria sinensis

20th August 2015
She’s been again today. The human girl. I’ve had a long bob cut today. Six buds on all my new whips. She put some new wire supports on the wall as I’m spreading out and she has tied me up and wiggled me around the wire. I’m all set for winter. Happy and content.

Wisteria sinensis

Wisteria sinensis

10th March 2016
The short bob to three buds is back! It’s amazing what a good hair cut can do for you. Although I think I went a little over the top with my display last year.

5th May 2016
I’m in bloom. Showing off. Not quite as much as last year but my human in the house is still very happy to see my flowers.

12th August 2016
I’ve covered my body with leaves. The sun beats down on me all day. My roots are in the shade and I’m loving life that much that I decided to put on a second flush of flowers. The young human girl was surprised as I didn’t go all out in May. But still very happy to see all the effort she’s put into me going to good use.

Wisteria sinensis

Wisteria sinensis

I hope you like my take on looking after your wisteria. It’s based upon my experiences with a neglected Wisteria sinensis in a garden I care for, here in north Norfolk. If you want to add a little extra to your wisteria, use a liquid feed that will boost the foliage and blooms when you prune in May such as incredibloom® and a foliar and root builder in the later part of the year to help it through the winter.

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