Autumn – don’t prune, paint!

Autumn has arrived, lots of yellow and gold leaves on the trees and the station forecourt is littered with dried dead leaves. It’s been unusually dry. We had rain last Tuesday (of course, on our workday, but it led to comfy conversations in the conservatory on plans for 2017).

We did a good job of tidying the edible plot the Tuesday before last, and we cleared a lot of straggly plants from the poor old shady triangle. This area has really suffered from the dry conditions this summer. It’s shaded by sycamore trees but the base of the soil is some horrible claggy hardcore-and-chalk, so despite adding year upon year of compost, it still dries out quickly. Given the pressures on watering this last summer, I deliberately ignored the shady plot. I knew we just couldn’t get enough water into the soil to keep lush growth going, and we needed to concentrate our energies and water on other areas. So it will need reconditioning (with our compost – now) and probably replanting (shrubs and bulbs now).

Which brings me to timing and pruning … As the garden becomes dormant, I have such an urge to start cutting everything back, a kind of Autumn ‘spring-clean’ as we retreat into winter. And it seems this urge is shared by others. My neighbours engaged me in conversation about pruning their apple cordons the other day, and next door’s plum trees seem to be crying out for a chop. BUT … Now is NOT the best time to prune established fruit trees, particularly dwarf varieties and cordons. For APPLES AND PEARS = AUGUST, for PLUMS = JUNE.

Minor pruning of apples and pears, particularly to shape a tree, can take place during winter, but pruning of plums should only be done when the tree is growing (not dormant) and when weather conditions are not soggy (as though one can predict the English weather!). During the dormant season, plums are more susceptible to insect and fungal infections, and in particular silver leaf.

So the straggly branches of my plum trees will have to stay, unless the winter gales really start and mean that a compromise prune to stop the tree rocking has to take place. The station garden plum hardly fruited this year – all the more reason to leave well alone until late spring. What we will do is PAINT THE TREE TRUNKS WITH GREASE to lessen invasion by aphids, ants and other insects. That does need to be done NOW!

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