Are you really prepared to look after fruit trees?

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A red lure to trap insect pests.

What with pruning, fertilising, battling pests and not having enough space, perhaps it’s easier to buy fruit fresh from an orchard, says gardening writer CEDRIC BRYANT.

FOR many years, almost every garden in Canberra had its own veggie patch and fruit trees.

Cedric Bryant.

Government inspectors would regularly check fruit trees in private gardens to ascertain they were properly maintained, including making sure the owners controlled pests and diseases. 

The next few months is the ideal time to plant fruit trees and bushes. In Canberra, it’s possible to grow a greater variety of fruit, including raspberries, currants, blueberries and gooseberries, than in the tropics. Berry bushes can be grown in a relatively small space or a container.

However, when growing fruit trees at home, such as apples, pears, nectarines, peaches and plums, consider the space required – with the ever-decreasing size of new blocks, there’s barely space for any trees, let alone fruit trees. 

Does your tree have apples to rival an orchard crop?

Plums will grow to about four metres squared; apples four to five metres. One exception is the “Ballerina” variety of apple cultivars, of which I was involved with its first release in England in the 1980s. These are columnar in growth of 3.5 metres tall x 0.6 metres wide, with six varieties currently available. 

Even if the space is available, are you really prepared to devote the time and attention needed to properly look after fruit trees?

They require regular pruning, some in summer as well as winter. Fruit trees generally require a fairly generous amount of water on a very regular basis, especially when fruit starts to develop. 

It’s important to spray regularly to control pests like codling moth or fruit fly. Pest control is getting harder as an increasing number of pesticides are being withdrawn from sale, and more emphasis is being placed on certified organic products to help protect the environment. 

On our farm in England we planted all our apple trees in the yards of our free-range chickens. The chook poo provided regular fertiliser and the chickens took care of the insect pests. 

A picking guide at Beltana Orchard, Pialligo.

How to keep birds or possums from stripping the trees? Those who net the trees will know it’s almost impossible to cover the tree effectively and it’s even worse getting it off at the end of the season.

We’re fortunate in the Canberra region to have numerous orchards and farmers markets. “Beltana Grange” orchard in Pialligo is one of Canberra’s oldest apple and pear orchards, established in the early 1960s by Bert Hauptmann, now approaching his 99th year. 

The alternative to growing fruit trees is easy – buy fresh off the branches from an orchard, or take advantage of farmers markets.

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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