Gardening: Keen on fruit: Cherries, plums and peaches

IT IS hard to understand why people choose sterile forms of fruiting trees for small gardens. A pink hybrid cherry such as Kanzan provides a spring fix of colour, but a white Morello has a second season of beauty in summer. After the blossom, bunches of red fruit hang from the tree; the cherries that go into Swiss jam and Black Forest gateau. Too sour for the birds, they do not need to be netted. Morellos can be grown as small trees or trained against a north wall (there is a smaller form called 'Stella').

Early and cooking plums will also fruit on a cold wall, but a warm one is better for greengages and dessert plums. In places where frost might damage their blossom, they can be protected with fleece on a wall. Southern gardeners with room to spare can grow plums as trees and will find that they need no pruning to make them crop. Given plenty of water and manure, they may even need to have their fruit thinned or the branches propped - many plums are lavish fruiters. The popular Victoria needs no cross-pollinator, nor does Oullins Golden Cage; but the most delicious of all greengages, Coe's Golden Drop, will need a companion plum like Victoria if it is to be fertile.

Plums can be bought ready trained as small fans. Keeping them in shape is not difficult. All shoots growing out from the wall or in towards it are removed, and all side shoots off the main stems are shortened to six leaves, unless they are needed to extend the fan. After they have fruited, the side shoots should be shortened again to three leaves. It is better to prune in spring and summer when the trees are growing strongly, as they are susceptible to a die- back disease called silver leaf, which is more likely to strike through pruning cuts and wounds when resistance is low.

Peaches are choosier than cherries or plums. They prefer a slightly acid soil to a limey one; they need a place in the sun, and a lot of mulching and watering. The foot of any wall tends to dry out, so constant draughts of water are important throughout the summer. Peaches, like cherries, fruit on the wood made in the previous year, so pruning involves a routine cutting out of old wood and tying in of the new. Wall-trained cherries are pruned in the same way. Early in the year you select a replacement bud or side shoot to grow into the place of the shoot that is going to fruit (growing buds are thin and pointed, fruiting ones short and fat). Replacement buds should be as low down the stem as possible and pointing upwards. During the summer the new shoot will need to be tied in next to the old one as it grows. Shorten its side shoots as they appear and discourage any that grow too close together, as well as those which grow back into the wall. Peach leaf curl is always a danger but this disease can be controlled by winter protection. A temporary roof, or rather ledge, of glass or polythene should be fixed to the wall above the tree to keep the rain away. This seems to work, but if it fails, spraying with a copper fungicide after Christmas and again in autumn should deal with the problem. Peregrine is probably the easiest, most delicious white-fleshed peach for amateurs.

(Photograph omitted)

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