Guidance on considering when to order trees and shrubs

Please read this in conjunction with the associated chart which you can download by clicking here: The Forest Garden tree availability guide

I find myself writing this item in the February / March period, unusually with 75mm of snow on the ground, as this is the time when I usually get a flurry of enquiries from people trying to fulfil their tree and shrub requirements for the forthcoming growing season.  Just as I did some years ago when I started out, potential customers can get a little frustrated when the plant of their choice is no longer available due to it being already sold out or in the case of e.g. Japanese plum and Almond trees, they can no longer be lifted because they are flowering (as is the case at this very moment).  Hence, I have produced the chart (referred to above) to help prevent you being frustrated during this process.

By studying the chart, you will note that it is not advisable to use the long winter evenings to decide which trees and shrubs you require during the approaching season. Instead, winter is the time to consider which annual plants you will require, though they do not feature in this particular chart. This chart encourages you to make your selection of trees and shrubs in the summer when you might like to obtain a species seen in someone else’s garden.

You can pre-order now for the autumn but the optimum month to order them and to ensure availability, in most cases, is August when the nurseries are organising their stock for the winter.  Please see the chart for clarification.

You can still order after the optimum months (indicated by the darker shades in the chart) but the lighter shading indicates the period when you risk the stock being no longer available for the above reasons.

Note that within the industry there are many variables so the chart is written as a guide for the majority of species and does not cover every method of propagation or size of tree or shrub available.

‘Liners’ refers to plants that are usually in a 7 to 11 cm pot (as a guide a 9cm pot is referred to as a P9) and, for all species, they are ideal for mail order as each container is of minimum weight, which is particularly helpful for ground cover plants where large quantities can be required.

After the plant has outgrown the liner size pot it will be in its second year and, most likely, be in a 1 – 2 litre pot.

Cell grown plants are seeds germinated or cuttings rooted and grown in what looks like a very deep egg tray with a typical cell being 30mm across and 100mm deep.

Young bare rooted native trees 1 to 2 rears old like wild cherry and hazel are usually known as whips or in the case of fruit trees the term ‘maiden’ is used.

The term ‘year old’ refers to a growing season.

Hardwood cuttings are usually bare root or like the seeds can be grown in cells in their first year. However many species don’t make enough size in their first year to sell but can be either bare root or containerised for the second year when most of those species are usually saleable.

It’s worth noting that due to various diseases like Ash dieback there is less movement of native species from Europe and in some nurseries demand has outstripped supply.

A future diary note will include guidance on deciding whether to order ‘Pot Grown’ or ‘Bare Root’ options.

Simon Miles NCH RHS 07/03/2018

Cornish Apple Varieties

Below are a few of the apple tree names known as Cornish varieties. In truth, alas, there are no native named varieties of Malus domestica, the productive apple. Originating from Kazakhstan and Southern Asia, Apple trees dribbled into the British Isles most likely through trading routes. These named varieties have proved to be tolerant of the damp weather and are productive within Cornwall and most likely would do well on the west side of this country within the Marine temperate zone 7 climate. There are other national varieties that will do well in Cornwall too, but there is a far greater list of them that are poor performers away from the dry regions of the south eastern parts of the UK where the climate is classified as Temperate zone 7, without the word ‘marine’ included.

The Cornish apples listed below cover eating, cooking, dual purpose and cider varieties.

A selection of Cornish Apple varieties Flowering group Use  Description
Bens Red 1 Eating Shrub like or compact tree in habit. Flat dark red or variably striped dark red on orange/ red flush. Ripens in September. Very variable in colour on site, influenced by soil and weather conditions.
Bread Fruit 2 Eating Fairly vigorous, spreading and reliable cropping; medium green with a brownish red to carmine flush and faint red broken stripes, with strawberry flavour when ripe. A second early/ mid season dessert apple.
Cornish Aromatic 4 Eating Said to be one of the finest Cornish late season apples. Keeping until Christmas and after, medium to large yellow with orange and red plus some russet colouring; sweet/ sub acid and aromatic.
Cornish Gilly flower 4 Eating Considered one of the finest flavours of all apples but needs favourable growing conditions, weather and skill of the grower. Tip bearing, whippy and if conditions prevail can be prone to scab, but said to be worth the challenge. Late to very late ripening.
Cornish mother 5 Dual Vigorous upright & spreading. Medium pale green with dull red flush and faint darker red stripes.
Lord of the Isles Cider A sub acid/acid taste closely related if not the same as to a national variety called Newton’s Wonder.
Manaccan Primrose 1-3 Dual While being sharp enough for cooking when the sugar content rises as the season progresses they can be eaten raw. There is a claim that its slight genetic mutation makes it moderately superior to The Rattler. It produces an overwhelming number of apples in late August/ early September
Pendragon 1 Eating Initially upright and weeping tree. Blossom is red; leaves are dark red/green. The fruit is small, red with dimpled skin. The flesh is deep red. Upon eating, your palate will register both bitter and sweet. Pink juice.
The Rattler See Manaccan Primrose
Tommy Knight 1-3 Cider The apples are small, red, hard and sweet on a densely twiggy tree. The fruit looks very attractive but late in arriving on the tree. Thought to originate in St Agnes before 1861. Most likely originally used for cider making or some sort of processed food but not for eating

Remember as a guide but not a hard and fast rule, the earlier the flowering, the earlier the harvest. However the later the flowering, the later the harvest but the better the fruit tends to be for keeping.  Some can, in the correct conditions, keep through till March of the following season.

The flowering time for apple trees can be very variable and for ease of guiding the grower,  it has been divided into 5 flowering groups in the above tables; progressing through the flowering season in incremental stages from group one to group five. There is a definite start and stop but the intermediate groups overlap one another as the season unfolds

Remember a variety of different flowering times within your collection will give you a variety of fruiting times without all the fruit coming at once.

Also you need to bear in mind that you will need at least two varieties of trees of the same or similar flowering group for pollination, as most apples are diploids (requiring two different flowers for pollination.) For example, to pollinate a tree in flowering group 2 you will need another tree from flowering group 1, 2 or 3 to achieve fruiting. Each flowering group period overlaps the adjacent one and some trees cover more than 1 or 2 flowering group periods.

Should you choose to have a Bramley in the mix as well, you will need at least 2 other trees flowering at the same time to achieve pollination as a Bramley is a triploid and requires three flowers to enable fruiting to take place.

Finally the performance of all apple trees can be affected by a variety of factors including the weather, soil, exposure and aspect. The majority of all fruiting plants require sun to enable growth and ripening.

I have observed that it is by far best to plant a smaller apple tree and allow the tree to grow into its environment than plant a larger tree and have to stake it only for the tree to fail after the stake has rotted and naturally failed.

Here comes Autumn

Its October 11th 2017, the late summer weather is fading and with the first of the leaves turning colour at the end of September and high wind today, the first of the serious leaf fall is commencing and autumn is creeping forward.

Plants of interest at the Forest Garden at this moment include; “Crab apple Rose hip” with its brilliant orange fruit which has been looking good for the last 5 weeks. Some of the fruit looks almost too good to be real. It serves as an excellent pollinator to other apple trees nearby and its fruit, as their sugar level continues to rise, is just about ready to eat and certainly could be included in a fruit salad. My instinct, from having previously tasted crab apple wine, tells me that these fruits would make a good wine too.

The last of the blackberry cultivars “Thorne free” are still managing to ripen some fruit, and as a recent visitor said of the 25mm diameter fruits, “These taste like red wine”.  These plants are primo canes meaning they will flower on the current year’s growth. Indeed last year’s growth was cut down in April and it has managed to grow 6 metres in length, flowered and have been fruiting since mid-September; simply amazing!

Finally, for now, the plant of the month is the “Chilean guava”. It’s the last of the summer/autumn soft fruits. This plant, now in its 4th year, has over 300 very tasty red berries of approximately 8mm in diameter on it. The taste is not dissimilar to that of a strawberry flavoured Opal fruit or Starburst. This was reputed to be Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit, allegedly grown in Cornwall and sent to London for her consumption. Some forms of this plant can make a good hedge up to a metre high.

Blackberry Thorn free

Chilean guava

Crab apple Rosehip