Updated: Oct 12, 2020
My orchard is a challenge. Actually it was my Dad’s and is now my Mum’s, unfortunately she can no longer battle a field to get to it, so for now I’m in charge of maintaining it, or rather limiting the march of time and nature.
The trees were thinned out 2 summers ago. At the time the orchard had not been tended for 15 years, due to Dad’s increasing age.
At the edge of the orchard there are trees which have plum leaves. They were not planted. They grew in a straight line of 7 trees hemmed in by elder. There were no plum trees originally, in this area of the orchard. There was one Green Gage, which we think has perished under too much competition from the elder and brambles which entangled it. As no one can quite remember which one it was, we are uncertain. There is nothing which has been previously pruned still standing with the right leaves.
I describe these trees as the prunus trees, as I have no more information than this. I have not managed to get high enough, to see what fruit they bare and the tops are so tightly grown, I cannot see the fruit from the ground. I would be very happy if they are Green Gage, I’m sure my daughter would too, we have happy memories of sneaking into the orchard with Dad to snack on lovely sweet fruit, so much nicer than plums. So much better picked sun warmed, from the tree.
Before we cleared some of the orchard these trees grew in lines of 7-10 trees, about 5’ apart and were everywhere around the edges of the orchard. They had what, on first glance, looked like bird’s nests in their branches. On closer inspection, they had masses of branches and twigs intermingled and entangled into balls of twigs. I have no idea what these are, but from research, I am aware they can appear on neglected plum trees.
There were 2 original plum trees at the far corner of the orchard. These were a mass of branches with one branch torn off one some years ago. The trees were so heavy with fruit, the fruit had mummified on the trees. They looked a bit spooky.
I read as many articles as I could on pruning plum trees and orchard management.
I was limited to using old fashioned tools for my task. I didn’t mind, this it gave me the option of venting steam and enjoying the noises and smells around me instead of screeching noises and petrol smells of power tools, but it was very time consuming when, I was very time poor.
The articles I read were very enlightening, but they assumed a level of knowledge, I, as a complete beginner did not have.
The articles designed for beginners appeared to be mostly around pruning saplings, my saplings were 12’ high and surrounded by 6’ high nettles. Brambles grew 3” in diameter in the branches, wrapping around everything high up in the canopies of the trees, and preventing us from seeing what went where.
My prunus trees were growing, close together and straight up to the sky. They were not a beautiful bowl shape, pictured in the articles I read. They were not tiny saplings like in the articles and I was going to need a ladder and large saw to shape them. I didn’t know if shaping would work now, or if chopping bits off them at their age would just cause disease and death. When we thinned them out, I picked the healthiest ones which I thought would be easiest to prune back and wide enough apart.
If I leave the trees as they are we will have no fruit and possibly have branches come down with their heavy weight. Productive trees were at risk. Ultimately if I to try to do something, I may have some rather eccentric trees with fruit in summer. If it doesn’t work, I suppose ultimately, I can chop them down and plant something else eventually.
I have read that the way to prune full grown trees is to cut back not more than a third. I will need to take out a third each year, to reduce the branches growing in the middle and reduce the weight, encouraging air in the centre and good fruiting. With any luck, now that there is space, I might be able to bring down the height too.
Ultimately, I need to mulch around the trees to prevent, or inhibit nettle and bramble growth. I have looked into mulching with bark, and articles tell me to feed the plants. I don’t have the time or energy to dig out such a large area of nettles successfully. I would just end up feeding the weeds. I considered using sheeting to deter weeds, but this could cut off water to the roots of the old fragile, trees, it could kill them. I have looked into permaculture. This interests me but I’m not sure what to grow which will deter nettles and not just get strangled. My research continues.
I started this gardening lark to help me manage stress and grief. I’m not sure, this might be avoidance. At the moment, considering my busy and emotionally challenging lifestyle, it feels like quite a healthy avoidance, long may it continue.