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Core values; GARDEN RULES.

Byline: John Humphries

Although a consequence of British membership of the European Union has been the decline in commercial apple production, the apple remains the most widely cultivated garden fruit.

But it would take more than insipid gas-frozen French 'Golden Delicious' to dent the popularity of the apple which has been knocking around for almost as long as homo sapiens delivered the coup de grace to Neanderthal Man.

The rest, as they say, is history, the seed carried to all corners of the temperate world, the most famous of its distributors Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) who spent much of his life planting apple orchards from Ohio to Indiana.

An eccentric who wore a tin plate for a hat, Appleseed was an uncommonly kind and generous frontiersman often risking his life to warn backwoods settlements of imminent Indian attacks.

The apple has proved as enduring as the stories of Appleseed himself, the rules and regulations of the market place that impose shape, size and taste entirely ephemeral.

But because of the apple's resilience it is often neglected until the crop deteriorates, and the fruiting cycle is just every other year.

While overgrown standard trees are pruned in winter, summer is a good time to break a tree's biennial fruiting cycle.

An especially heavy crop, frost damage to buds, disease or under-feeding can all trigger biennial fruiting, a good crop alternating with a poor one or none at all.

The usual time to deal with this is in the winter after an 'off' summer by not pruning one-year-old shoots which then develop fruit buds for the next 'off' year.

Another cure is blossom pruning, a drastic remedy since I would grow an apple tree just for the spring blossom, but it is probably the surest way to break the biennial cycle.

Ten days after flowering remove nine out of 10 blossom trusses but leaving the rosette of leaves intact. On a very large tree thin one or two branches each year until the entire tree is blossom pruned.

Many older apple trees make excessive summer growth at the expense of flowers and fruit.

One answer is ring barking, the removal in winter of a half inch wide strip of wood encircling the trunk taking care not to cut into the cambium layer. Insulate the wound with tape without touching the cut surface until scar tissue forms.

And take care when removing the strip of bark - if the cambium is cut you'll kill the patient, which is one heck of a cure for biennial fruiting!

More formally trained apple trees such as espaliers are pruned in summer to restrict growth and encourage bud production.

Unless the new shoots growing from the main branches are pruned - cutting those more than 9in back to 2in - productivity will decline and too much foliage prevent fruit from ripening.

ASK JOHN Q: What can I do about ants? A: Ants are a nuisance rather than a damaging pest but if troublesome better to destroy their nests than spray individuals with insecticide since a new queen will arrive to set up home. Ant nests in lawns should be brushed on a dry day before the lawn is mown. A pathogenic nematode, Steinernema feltiae, is available usually by mail order for treating ant nests in lawns and flower beds. The microscopic worms are watered into the soil where ants are bringing soil up to the surface.

Q: How do I get rid of bindweed from the flower border? A: Bindweed twines around other plants, smothering them in the process, and is not easy to remove growing as it does from a perennial root system. White and brittle, the roots break easily and grow again from the smallest piece. By persistent digging and hoeing it is possible to eradicate in a couple of years. Glyphosate is a non-selective weed killer applied to the foliage, but it is essential to avoid spray drift onto neighbouring plants, and is usually most effective when the weed has reached the flowering stage.

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An apple tree in all its glory
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 7, 2012
Words:676
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