A reader recently posed a question regarding growing fruit trees, in particular apple trees, near to the coast in Scotland. Whilst some problems are common it is entirely possible to successfully grow fruit near the sea. Usually problems stem from the humid conditions, strong winds and sea spray which will have a very high salt content these factors combine to cause a variety of issues, all of which can be avoided if you plan correctly.
First of all lets take a look at the question which comes from Liz who lives near the cost of Ayrshire in Scotland, an area of the world notorious for difficult weather:
“We want to grow apples, pears, soft fruit in a garden on the SW coast of Ayrshire. The sea is only a few tens of metres away and so there are frequent storms bringing winds and salt spray. The back garden has a wall and hedge to moderate the weather.
Is there any hope of establishing fruit trees and bushes and getting good crops? “
So to begin with lets talk about exactly why living near the coast can cause problems, wind and salt from the sea can cause serious damage to the tree this can include but is not limited to discoloured, misshaped and flagging leaves, lack-lustre stems and a lack of swelling in the fruit. This may indicate that a variety is not hardy enough to survive in these conditions and should be avoided in the future, because this varies so much across the UK we can’t advise what’s best for everyone but there are ways to avoid problems.
If the tree is provided with plenty of sunlight in an area sheltered from the harsh coastal winds the chances of successful growth will be dramatically increased. Our reader mentions that her garden includes a wall and hedges which shelter the area from the wind which will seriously increase the chance of success, planting relative to this shelter in the areas which capture the best sunlight will give you the best chance.
You can further increase yield by ensuring the area is irrigated properly using rainwater (collected in an area with less salty see spray would be ideal) or you can use tap water, which should be left to stand overnight to allow any chemicals to evaporate before use. This isn’t always necessary for fruit trees but it’s worth considering if you find the plant is often dry or if you can see ANY visible build up of sea salt in the soil or surrounding areas.
When it comes to planting the fruit tree we recommend you always water thoroughly as this will help the roots establish quickly. Additional watering may also be required as the fruit comes to harvest, producing apples takes a lot of water, and so as they begin to increase in size the tree’s use of water will also increase, you should account for this.
Any fruit tree growing on the coast is likely to have a lower yield when compared to trees growing inland, as we have already discussed wind can play a major factor in this. You can help minimise wind damage by following some golden rules:
1. The tree should be planted as young as possible – older more established trees will have greater difficulty in rooting properly, this can lead to them being unstable in regular windy conditions which will lead to further growth problems and an early loss on not yet ripe fruit.
2. Stake the tree properly – You should carefully tie the tree to a stable firmly secured stake which is inserted into the ground before the tree has established, this helps reduce root damage during installation process. If the tree is facing regular winds then you need to consider this to prevent the tree bark rubbing against the stake, this will cause damage to the trunk which may never heal.
3. Provide shelter and windbreaks – Reducing the impact of the wind is a key factor in success, our reader has access to a wall and hedges, plus possibly some protection from her home and any other outbuildings. These existing “defences” should be consider when choosing the ideal place to plant your new tree. If you use this shelter to it’s best you can reduce fruit drop in autumn and it will provide protection to pollinating insects during spring.
Choosing a variety which fruits in late summer/early autumn will help reduce the damage from autumn storms and should allow you to pick the fruit when conditions are relatively calm before you’ve lost too much to the wind.
4. Reduce the chance of disease – It’s important to monitor and treat canker disease and scab. These diseases are more common in the humid conditions often found near the sea. Scab damages the leaves and branches of your plant as well as ruining the appearance of your fruit, unfortunately the organic treatment of for Scab is difficult to use in coastal conditions, you need to spray the tree using Neem oil.
You should spray the fruit tree using Neem oil (or if you prefer a sulphur based fungicide). However, you need to apply this weekly and unfortunately immediately after each rain. This can make it difficult in sea spray conditions and if regular storms bring dramatic downpours.
However, if you start from the time the first buds begin to break and continue this regime for 3 to 4 weeks after petals drop there is a good chance you can avoid spraying again until after the harvest. As if all disease and infection prevention is much better than cure, if you want to avoid using Neem oil then following our next advice is a must.
Good garden hygiene is important, remove ANY infected fruit during annual thinning around June time, removing and shredding fallen leaves during autumn will also help remove spores which can cause a problem during the next growing season.
Cultural control is also an important part of the overall approach and you should remove and destroy any leaves or fruits which remain on the tree at the on-set of winter. Prune and burn any diseased twigs or branches which show signs of infection. Under normal conditions you can maintain an open centre in the tree using pruning techniques which improves air circulation around the growth causing it to dry more easily after it’s rained, however if the air contains sea spray this will not be as effective as it would be inland, however it may still help and doesn’t take much to implement.
Choosing resistant varieties can also help to reduce the chances of infections, we would recommend the following varieties of apple for scab resistance, you should check each to make sure it also matches your other needs, for example your ideal growing period:
- Ashmead’s Kernel
- Ellison’s Orange
- Lord Derby
- Red Devil
- Winter Gem
Finally if you have a sun facing wall which is quite well sheltered why not consider growing the fruit on the side of your home, you can train fruit trees to grow very well against a structure, however as your home may also shield the trees from summer rain you will need to ensure they are properly watered during the summer months.
We hope you find this helpful and we would love to hear how you get on Liz please keep us informed!