Friday, 3 October 2014

The fruiting hedge described

When anyone mentions a fruiting hedge, first thoughts often turn to the bold bramble barrier. For many years a good mature hedge of ‘Himalayan Giant’ has been the ideal answer for the larger garden that wanted to keep out the local farmers cows or next doors unwanted children. By planting a vigorous thorny variety such as this a permanent impenetrable barrier is quickly formed in a short time. For fast results plant 6’apart . By planting at this closer distance, the plants tend to grow upward rather than lope along the ground which is their natural tendency and they give a good height more quickly. This system is however really only for those with large gardens since there is a tendency for the hedge to try and spread and colonise other areas.
Todays fruiting hedge is rather different, it can be grown anywhere, even in the smallest gardens. An impressive barrier is formed at 6’ in height, yet with a width of just 20” or so. Maintenance is very easy and the hedge will not be invasive, for several weeks in Spring the blossom is an ornamental delight beyond compare and in the Summer and Autumn the sun kissed fruits hang in abundance with a mouthwatering display. Too good to be true? Not with the modern fruiting hedge.
The uses for a fruiting hedge are numerous, not just the obvious but to highlight a boundary, as privacy or a screen, or to segregate distinct areas of the garden. Just imagine the wonderful effect this has used around the vegetable or fruit plot. It creates an area just like a walled garden, but much more beautiful, a living, breathing productive wall.
The idea of this modern fruiting hedge came from the Institute of Horticultural Research East Malling some years ago. During an experimental orchard system for mechanical harvesting by over-row machines and pruning by tractor mounted shears. The potential was soon obvious and the idea has been recently refined and adapted by modern fruit farms.
By using upright cordons on dwarf stock, or any of the modern columnar trees available, the system is very simple and the potential almost endless. You must only use trees grafted onto dwarfing stock but the choice of variety is up to you. If you choose a wide ranging succession of varieties you will get a very long season of fruits and also gain a good pollinating mix. You can be harvesting fruits from July to November, and there will be apples and pears that can be stored well beyond that period too.
The effect from using so many different varieties can be very beautiful with an amazing array of colour combinations. From the bright reds of Apples such as Katy and Spartan, and the luscious sweet cherries, the golden of Limelight and Greensleeves apple or Oullins Golden Gage, olive green Pears and rosy purple and red Plums ripening slowly on the trees. The combinations are endless and you can also incorporate varieties for cooking and culinary purposes as well as those you can pick and eat fresh as you pass by!
Try to avoid extremes of varieties, especially Triploids which are more vigorous in growth and result in an uneven effect especially in the early years as these types will grow much more quickly, even on a dwarfing stock. Varieties like Bramleys Seedling and Jupiter can grow quite quickly especially in comparison to very compact varieties like Redsleeves and Limelight.
Before planting the soil must be thoroughly prepared. These trees like good conditions if they are to grow at their best. Your fruiting hedge is going to be there for a long time so good soil preparation brings it’s rewards for many years.
The first essential is to remove all perennial weeds by forking out and burning or composting. The soil should then be dug at least a full spades depth and well broken up, adding well rotted manure or compost which will promote healthy growth. Bonemeal at 2oz’s per square yard can also be added at this time.
When planting it is essential to keep a straight line, place your guide string firmly tied before you start. The young trees should be set 20” apart, planting to the same depth as they were at the nursery with the grafting point 3-4 inches or so above soil level. Remember to firm the soil very well after planting so there are no air pockets around the roots. More trees are lost due to loose planting than any other reason.
Support the trees at first, either individually with a strong bamboo cane to avoid wind rock, or by the construction of a post and wire system. Both can be removed when the trees are established in 3 years. The hedge by then will have made dense interconnecting growth and will be able to support itself.
Pruning should be done on an annual basis and is very simple. In the first few years the trees are pruned in Winter, cutting back the side branches to about 6”. This is a little longer than the method employed for individual column trees. When the desired height is achieved, usually about 6’, the leader is shortened back to the desired height each August and the side shoots are cut back to a good fruiting bud, at this stage there is no more Winter pruning. So you see, a very simple and effective growing method.
You now have the fruiting hedge. The only problem is, once you have seen and enjoyed the high quality fruits produced in such a practical way, you will soon be looking for other areas where you can plant another fruiting hedge! It really is very ornamental, and the fruits a delicious delight.

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