Category Archives: Fruit trees

Mulching gooseberry and currant bushes

Last year our gooseberry bushes suffered serious American gooseberry mildew, but I made a plan to tackle it. This February, RB and I each took our masakuni shears and cut back all the old wood in both our currant and gooseberry bushes. The result was nice, open, goblet shaped bushes, ready for production.

With spring here, the area has suddenly burst to life with grass and perennial weeds, which reminded me it was time to mulch. You can barely see the bushes in these photos!

The competition from the grass and weeds is no good, as the bushes will be fighting a losing battle for water – in the image above the gooseberry bush is totally obscured by weeds.

So we gave the area a good trim, and then mulched with our big heap of composted leaves. Mulching provides 3 key functions: it suppresses weeds, helps retain moisture, and provides a dose of nutrients to the plants.

I am hopeful that this will help give us an abundant currant and gooseberry crop this year. And if the American gooseberry mildew comes back, then I will resort to pulling them all up and planting more resistant varieties.

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Pruning a mature apple or pear tree

Pruning our mature and neglected pear tree has been on the to do list for ages. Having done a bit of research, we decided now is the time.

I stumbled upon a super fact sheet created by the Ohio State University Extension programme – they allow their material to be copied given appropriate credit. And credit is indeed due! I paraphrase their suggestions here.

—    A good fruit tree should not make a good shade tree!
—    Prune late in the dormant season to minimize cold injury.
—    Prune heavily on neglected/vigorous trees, less so on less vigorous cultivars.
—    Make all heading back cuts just beyond a bud or branch.
—    Make all thinning cuts just beyond the base of the branch being removed.
—    Avoid pruning too close (See Figure 1.)
—    Don’t prune a “shade tree” back to a fruit tree in one year. Do it over a few.
—    Wound dressings are unnecessary for trees pruned in dormant season.
—    Match pruning tools to the size wood being removed. Shears for twigs, loppers for branches, and a saw for larger limbs.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 1. Flesh cuts heal slowly; so leave the collar.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 2. Pictured from above, space scaffold branches to allow access.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 3. The suggested pruning cuts.

And finally they add: backyard trees are rarely over-pruned, but inexperienced growers often procrastinate on pruning for fear of damaging trees. ‘Topping’ or shearing a fruit tree is about the worst thing that can be done, but even that may result in better fruit for a year or two. Ultimately shearing will produce a dense crown that inhibits access for sunlight, sprays, and harvest, and invites weak structure and breakage. As long as pruning cuts are made to remove, head back, or thin as the examples illustrated and discussed, no nightmares are necessary. Don’t use hedge shears. ‘Just do it.’

And with those final words of encouragement, we went for it. Here is the tree first thing in the morning:

Pruning mature pear tree - before and after

And here is the result, a bit obscured by the trees in background.

Pruning mature pear tree - before and after

And now to tidy up the mess we’ve made.

Gooseberry mildew

When we moved in to our new house we were delighted to inherit dozens of currant and gooseberry bushes. I should have taken more heed of my vintage gardening book, How to Prune Fruit Trees, as the gooseberry bushes were in no fit shape to render mature fruits. They have developed a furry white powder mildew, also known as American gooseberry mildew.

gooseberry_mildew

These bushes are very old and seem to have remained unpruned for a few years. We will tackle the mildew in a number of steps:

– Remove infected branches now
– In winter, remove all old wood branches down to the ground
– Keep this year’s branches, as they will provide fruit next year
– Aim for goblet shaped bush with ample circulation between branches
– Resist temptation to leave branches, resulting in more but smaller fruit
– In Spring remove all but 3 strongest shoots, removing others
– Keep ground free of weeds and well mulched
– If all else fails, re-plant with resistant varieties like Invicta

gooseberry_mildew_2

Have you had any experience with white furry mildew on your gooseberries?