An almost frost-free spring has lead to promising fruit crops, so I have a few tips on getting the best out of them. I'm also recommending some dead heading, checking for root suckers and having a go at rooting softwood cuttings. There's lots to do in the garden at this time of the year!
Focus on fruit
- If trained as fan or cordon shapes, new shoots can be pinched back to encourage more branching. Tie and support new shoots to fill in gaps but avoid crowding. For conventional trees, it's best to use a saw to cut a few big branches out to let light and air into the centre.
- Make sure that newly planted fruit canes and bushes are really well watered. It's not too late to add a mulch to trap in that moisture.
- Earliest gooseberries will be ready now. Thin them out to leave some fruits to ripen, as they will grow larger and taste sweeter.
- Fresh fig shoots will benefit from being pinched back to about 4-6”. If trained against a wall, tie in the best shoots to fill any gaps.
- Mulch strawberry fruits as they develop. Straw is good if you can get it. Remove unwanted new runners or ‘lay’ some of them into the rows to root to form a continuous row. NB. It's best to buy new, disease-free runners every third year.
- Protect soft fruit from bird damage.
- Prune out the first ‘primary infection’ powdery mildew shoots on apple trees. This over-wintering infection can easily spread to the rest of the tree.
- You can spray your apples with 'Sprayday' Greenfly Killer or similar to stop codling moth grubs boring into your fruit. Pheromone traps, now widely available, give good non-pesticide control but need to be installed early.
- Stop harvesting forced rhubarb crowns and give them time to recover. Unforced ones can still be harvested for a few weeks yet.
- Check blackcurrants for big bud mite damage (swollen buds). There is no control, and the mites may have infected your plants with reversion virus, so destroy the plants and replant. Tip: infected plants will have no fruit on them.
- If pests appear, consider using natural predators before you automatically reach for the sprayer. They are especially effective if you introduce them early, and you can buy them online.
- An extensive range of softwood cuttings can be rooted now. You can do it without a propagator - but it' will be easier with one. Cover with thin polythene or horticultural fleece - aka "floating mulch". Difficult to root varieties could be propagated by layering a half-cut through shoot into a pot of compost.
- Sow winter flowering pansies, but keep them cool as this improves germination.
- Make sure that you have a plan in place for watering if you are going away for a few days.
- Prune grapevines regularly. Cut shoots back to leave just two leaves beyond the flowers and immature grape cluster. Cut subsequent side-shoots back to just two leaves also.
- Cut flower stems off of Euphorbia as they become straw coloured. Take care to cover your skin against the sap of this plant as it can cause irritation. Leave non-flowering shoots as they will bloom next year.
- Check grafted plants for suckers growing from the rootstock. If left, they rapidly outgrow the top of the plant. Check roses, fruit trees, Viburnum, lilacs, maples and most ornamental trees. Remove suckers as close to the roots as possible so that there is no stump left. More suckers can grow from stumps.
- Make certain that newly planted trees and shrubs are getting enough water and that it's reaching the roots! Trees need a minimum of two gallons a week.