Managing & Keeping Healthy Fruit Trees

Do you want to take better care of your fruit trees? Learn about many of the aspects of caring for fruit trees here, such as choosing trees to suit your garden, feeding and pruning.

© Craig Castree

About Keeping Fruit Trees


You know when I was growing up nearly everyone I know had at the very least a Lemon tree in their backyard, and quite often 5 or 6 other different types of fruit trees, it is a shame that people are not growing them so much these days and of course people think that the don't have the room as our House blocks are being ever dwindled in size. Can I tell you that we all have room for fruit trees and through this workshop I will demonstrate just that, I will show you how you can fit them in at your place. We all should be planting more trees to be honest to help our climate out.

As this is a very big topic I will briefly cover enough areas to have you well on your way to growing and managing your own productive and healthy fruit trees. There are a number of ways in which you will obtain your fruit trees and most will buy them from a Plant Nursery or Werribee Heritage Park Orchard, so you need to look at the aspect of where you are going to plant your new fruit tree. Most fruit trees are grafted so that they remain true to type. For instance if you ate a flavourcrest Peach and decided to plant the stone and grow a tree from it, you will find that it wont grow or produce the same type of fruit as the grafted one. The other reasons that trees are grafted is that some varieties are not strong trees, some are susceptible to disease and mildews that when grafted onto strong rootstock's alleviate the problems and avoid the problems when grown on their own.


Aspect-Space: You need to know a few things before you go off on the hunt for your fruit trees! You need to know if the spot you have set aside for it faces North,South,East or West?, how much sunlight the area gets 6-8 hours is best for most fruit trees. You also need to know how big the tree grows to ensure that you have the appropriate space for it to grow.

You will find that as we live in a temperate climate here in the Melbourne Suburbs we are very lucky to have the selection of a vast array of varieties that can grow in our climate. From Avocados to Black Sapote, and from Miniature Nectarines to Fruit salad Citrus trees there is certainly a lot to choose from. You will find that there are quite a lot of sub tropical fruit that will grow here but for the most part they need a north facing aspect with a brick wall close by that will radiate the heat from the days Sun, so yes it is even possible to grow Banana's here.

Tree Selection: When choosing particularly deciduous trees you are best to buy them in their dormancy in winter without leaves and soil around the roots. Look at the the root end of the plant and make sure that the roots aren't damaged with splits or rough looking cuts, they should be cleanly cut, next look at the graft about 150mm up from the roots look to see that the grafted top part of the tree is not larger in girth than the rootstock, and that there is also no evidence of splitting. The graft should look like a smooth union of the two timbers and be entire. Next look at the shape of the tree, does it look uniform, is it going to be able to be pruned into the shape you are looking for? Is the tree labeled? and does it need a pollinator? For instance for an Angelina plum to bare fruit, it needs to be pollinated from insects that have been on a King Billy plum, Green Gage, or President, and if you or your neighbors don't have one of these? you will struggle to get any fruit from your Angelina Plum. Sometimes you can buy a double or triple grafted tree that has the pollinator grafted onto it, so look out for those. If you are buying a Citrus tree like a Lemon, many of the same things apply regarding the inspection of the graft, and the shape, only this time you want to keep an eye out for little raised bumps on the stems of the Lemon, this would indicate that the young tree has citrus gall wasp and I would select another that didn't have it, but let the person selling them know what you found.

Planting: The hole you dig does not need to be like the grand canyon but it does need to be a bit bigger that the roots or root ball of the plant, and of course the same soil that came out needs to go back in, please don't think that getting a bad of potting mix would be better so that it gets good drainage as you will just create a bucket situation and it will all end in tears. A good dose of soil conditioner like Seasol or Worm Wee watered down about 9:1 ratio should be watered in after planting.

When planting a young fruit tree especially a deciduous tree an inspection of the roots is needed and secateurs used to sharpen up and breaks or bad cuts so that they heal properly when planted. The branches also need to be pruned back around about by a third and of course in keeping with the style or shape you have decided to produce. The young tree needs to be staked so that the graft and the rootstock get a good hold on the ground. It is best to use three stakes in a triangular fashion so as to hold the tree in the centre of the stakes it will also keep humans with lawn mowers and wheelbarrows away from the graft until it is a couple of years old. Care must also be taken to ensure that grass and or weeds do not grow up to the trunk of the tree as this will cause it to become more susceptible to rots mildews and other moisture related diseases.

Soil and Mulching: You need to know a little about the soil in the space you have set aside for your tree. Is it clay soil? is it sandy, heavy, light, open, a wet area or a dry area? You need to know this because for instance Citrus/Lime/Orange/Mandarin/Cumquat's hate wet feet so you wouldn't plant them in a boggy spot as it would die. You can always alter your soil by adding to it, like leaf matter, well rotted compost, straw, mulch, and the list is endless but please resist the temptation to export your clay out and import lots of soil in, you will do yourself an in justice. Make the soil what you need it to be for the type of tree your going to plant, there. Generally good well drained well composted soil is ideal and a slight mound to the base of the tree so that you ensure good drainage. Make sure when you plant your tree that the same level of where the soil was is consistent in your garden about 150mm from the graft that is about the soil level. If you bury the graft you will kill the fruit tree.

Pruning - Shaping: Deciduous fruit trees require pruning and shaping to maximise fruit production, if you want to ensure a good size crop and keep healthy trees. Most people think that it is late winter that they are pruned but in fact in Summer as well after fruit has been picked the trees also need to be pruned. If you are growing espaliers the tress are pruned more often. Some fruit trees like Peaches and Nectarines should be pruned to produce one year old timber as this is the wood that produces fruit. Apples and pears on the other hand need to be pruned to encourage fruit spurs for this is where the fruit is produced and the age of the timber is not important. There are many types of pruning shapes you can choose but the one that is most used in backyard situations is the open vase shape if the tree is going to be grown in a lawn area or as a feature tree.


I on the other hand recommend that you consider Espalier as they lend themselves to be grown in front of our fences/brick walls etc and make a very good space saving solution to our ever decreasing house block. Some examples of open vase

Side elevation open vase shape Over head shot of open vase shape

Side elevation of open vase shape Over head shot of open vase shape

As you can see by the examples above the tree is pruned so that it maximises the amount of sun and air circulation, hence better fruit production and ripening. Other shapes can be adopted some will choose central leader where there is very little pruning done at all however this is the least productive and I would discourage it, the one I believe that best lends
itself to the backyard is the espalier tree.

Espaliered Fruit Trees


Espalier is the horticultural and ancient agricultural practice of controlling woody plant growth originally for the production of fruit,by pruning and tying branches to a frame so that they grow into a flat plane, frequently in formal patterns, against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis, and also plants which have been shaped in this way.


Espalier, trained into flat two-dimensional forms, are ideal not only for decorative purposes, but also for gardens in which space is limited. In a temperate climate, they may be planted next to a wall that can reflect more sunlight and retain heat overnight or planted so that they absorb maximum sunlight by training them parallel to the equator. These two facts allow the season to beextended so that fruit matures over a longer period.
A restricted form of training consists of a central stem and a number of paired horizontal branches all trained in the same plane. The most important advantage is that of being able to increase the growth of a branch by training it vertically. Later, one can decrease growth while increasing fruit production by training it horizontally.

There are many different forms of espalier to suit nearly any or every space around the perimeter of ones garden.

Wall vine fruit tree Flowering wall vine


Fruit vine


So as you can see they really can fit well in our backyards against walls and fences, give some thought to how easy it is to net these trees, and the amount of fruit you get from them is incredible as most fruit trees produce fruit on lateral growth and that is something that these trees encourage. Pruning is easy as you already know that to keep these two dimensional anything that protrudes to the front or the rear must be removed. The other thing with this type of pruning method is that it gets done throughout the year not just twice once in July, and once in summer, I personally have all of my fruit trees like this and would never go back to any other shapes.

Pests and Diseases


I will go through a couple of the most common pests and diseases and their remedies but for the rest I suggest you either take an affected leaf fruit or branch what ever is affected and show it to someone like myself whom is qualified to diagnose and recommend a solution for you, your local Nurseryman would be a good start. If you intend to stick with organics ensure you tell them that so that their recommendations are in line with your practices. As I have a bee hive I do not spray anything so I use companion planting extensively and use natural remedies always.

Curly Leaf on Nectarines and Peaches. This is a soil born disease and can be kept to a minimum as there really is no cure by doing a few things and they as follows;

  1. When leaves fall from these trees rake them up and dispose of them into the rubbish bin, do not compost them.
  2. At leaf fall spray with a Bordeaux spray, (Add 10 to 15 litres of water to 1 cup of copper sulphate and 1 dessert spoon of lime, and stir well. The mixture actually prevents fungus from entering the plant,) spray this again in mid winter and again at Bud swell in Spring, do not spray if buds are opening that is bud burst and too late. The following year you need to use an alternate copper spray.
  3. In June mix hydrated lime to the consistency of white paint and paint the first 2 feet or 600mm of the trunk this assist to keep the fungal spores when rain splashes up the trunk at bay.
  4. Ensure that the lower branches of the tree are also kept 2 feet or 600mm from the soil level.

Codling moth: Codling moth on apples can be kept away by planting garlic at the base of your trees as the emerging nymph of the moth comes from eggs laid 
in the soil and then hatches and makes its way up your tree and into your apples, if Garlic is planted the nymph does not like the smell and the chemical that it give off and goes elsewhere.

Pear and Cherry slug: This tiny black slug like insect also emerges for the surrounding soil under the tree, this can be controlled by dusting the leaves once you see the slug with ash from a fire so if you don't have an open fire or BBQ that uses timber or coal put your feelers out for someone that does and ask them to save you a bag full.

Heritage Fruit Trees


I am a Volunteer at the Werribee Heritage Park Orchard and the 2014 President. The Orchard is situated behind the Mansion down in the farm precinct of the property, down on the river flats. The Orchard is open every day and entry is free. The Orchard has lots of old trees from the original Orchard and lots of new trees that are Heritage trees, these are the fruit that Supermarkets wont stock because of one or another reason, and for the most part these apples are far tastier than what it commercially available today. We are always looking for Volunteers and that is a great way to work beside others that will teach you how to look after your trees, membership is free, also subscribe to our newsletter and get the up to date information about the Orchard and when are grafting and budding days are open again for you to come and purchase a heritage tree or learn how to graft. We have grafting days in July where you can buy freshly grafted trees and get advice or learn how to graft, come and taste some of our heritage apples on the day.