Planting apple trees is very satisfying, whether it’s a few espaliers or cordons or a whole orchard. Not only does it provide you with a supply of fruit for your family, but you will also be creating a fantastic habitat providing a home and food source for a broad range of insects, birds and other wildlife. So looking after your fruit trees is very important.
Now is the perfect time to take action to reduce the chances of problems next year from the apple scab fungus, which is not visible to the naked eye but will love nothing better than to over-winter on the orchard floor.
Apple scab needs to be managed as it reduces productivity, produces smaller fruit and the scab lesions allow weak spots for the establishment of other diseases such as brown rot. In addition it creates unattractive scaring on the skin of the fruit so they look less appetising to eat or make juice or cider from. It has a long term effect on trees by putting them under additional stress, which can shorten their life as they become weaker and more prone to other pests and diseases.
Scab loves damp conditions and spreads from spores. These are transferred from one season to the next from the floor of the orchards and the area under individual fruit trees. In the spring, when the ground temperature warms up, the spores spread by exploding and travel from the base of the trunk working their way up the tree to the leaves and ultimately the new fruit as it forms next year.
Who doesn’t love walking through a pile of crunchy crisp leaves, kicking them as you go, or the sight of them dancing around in the wind. However after the heavy rains of recent weeks the reality is that they are more likely to be a pile of wet soggy, slippery leaves potentially storing harmful diseases such as apple scab. So get outside for just half an hour and tackle the leaves under your fruit trees, gathering them without spreading them around and disposing of them , ideally burning them if you can. After your labours why not sit by the fire and tuck into a slice of home-made apple pie washed down with a glass of good cider, safe in the knowledge that you can look forward to a great apple harvest next year and for many years to come.
Gilly Pollock is the Orchard Network Manager for the National Association of Cider Makers