17 May 2014

Tree Following: Plums, aphids and nature lending a hand


~ Plum fruitlet and curly leaves ~

I've chosen to follow all the fruit trees that I'm growing here in the garden; in the past month, the trees that have been causing the most concern are the plum trees.  The new leaves have been targeted by aphids whose sap-sucking activities cause the new leaves to twist, curl and, ultimately, die. Squishing is not an option with a 10 foot tall tree but I have been reading up organic measures that I can put in place for the future.  I haven't seen many lacewings in the past few years and these, as well as ladybirds, love to dine on aphids. Apparently tying rolls of cardboard to the tree will provide a daytime shelter for them and planting tansy, fennel, marguerites and cosmos nearby will also help.  No problem there - I'd love to see my fruit trees surrounded by flowers and, luckily, I have seed trays full of cosmos and marguerites.

I also read that an anti-aphid spray can be made by boiling up rhubarb leaves and using a dilution of the liquid to spray the insects. The oxalic acid content (which makes the leaves poisonous to all, even people) causes the heart to stop and so the insects die. It sounds good but I don't know if this will also affect the fruit (or me!) so have decided against this. Last year I was told by fruit growers at a local nature reserve that a squirt of Ecover washing up liquid in water used as a spray was what they found effective. (I'd forgotten about that until I re-read this posting!)

By working in the garden on my own during a quiet day, I realised that a much better alternative was being provided by nature.  The tiniest of birds in the garden, the Blue Tits, are flying in and pecking off the aphids (well, okay, probably the leaves as well but I don't mind.)  I've seen them doing the same to the rose bushes at the other end of the garden but then they'd been very timid. One of these little birds became less timid during the day as he flew back and forth but I worked very quietly just in case!


I'm keeping a careful eye on the trees as they're looking a bit the worse for wear now; the affected leaves are going brown which will reduce photosynthesis. Apparently once the aphids fly off (to another host plant), the tree should recover.  So, how to help this recovery? Bob Flowerdew, the organic gardener, advises that all fruit trees benefit from a nitrogen boost in the soil; beans and peas return nitrogen to the soil. Nasturtiums are also a good companion plant as aphids are drawn to their succulent leaves (although do I want more aphids around my trees? No.)  I think the answer is to use the trees as climbing frames for tall beans and see how that works out. Also to water well so that the tree isn't stressed and to remember to mulch the roots (but not the trunk) in early winter.

The good news is that, so far (but we still have the famous 'June drop' to get through), the fruitlets seem to be holding on and there are a few growing...


...Unlike the pear trees where the leaves are unaffected and looking very healthy but I've only found one fruit spike left from all that earlier blossom - and I think that's since dropped off!



The cherry trees are also promisingly dripping with fruitlets. I'm expecting quite a few of these to drop because that's what has happened in past years although there were loads left to pick!  I've also had to remove a small branch from the corner cherry tree as it had died but the rest of the tree seems okay.


The apple trees are also looking really good, with just one leaf (that I could find) having a few woolly aphids; lots of ladybirds on the apple trees should keep this in check but I'll keep an eye on it.  There was just a hint of blossom remaining on 29th April when I took these photos but, again, lots of tiny fruitlets have developed which have withstood the funnelling winds we had last week. I have strawberries, pelargoniums and borage planted around these trees and seen lots of bees buzzing around so I'm guessing this all helped with pollination!


And, finally, I have to give a big thank you to Victoriana Nurseries for the wonderful quince tree (Cydonia oblonga 'Champion') that they delivered earlier this year. It's established really well and makes me feel happy every time I stop to look at it!


22 comments:

  1. A most enjoyable, and informative, tree following post and photos. Blue Tits are such lovely, busy little birds. Flighty xx

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    1. Thank you, Flighty - and, yes, aren't they just! They've been very fleeting in their appearances in previous years although I used to see them from my flat windows as from there I'm above hedge height. I've spotted a goldfinch a couple of times this year; I'm hoping I'll see more of him too! C xx

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  2. I usually get all of those problems every year! Growing fruit trees is a lot more difficult than growing veg.
    BTW , I've just seen the good news about you winning the trip to Chelsea. Well done! We expect a full report, of course...

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    1. :) Good to know that we're all in it together, Mark! It can sometimes feel as though I've missed something but I guess it's all part of being a pesticide free zone. It was quite nice when I knew nothing and just chucked seeds into the ground and hoped for the best!!
      Yes, I AM going to Chelsea after all! Entirely down to the well-wishes of readers of this blog, I'm sure! And of course you know I'll be taking my camera and reporting back!

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  3. That quince tree is lovely, it's doing really well. I had an apple tree in a pot a couple of years ago that got really badly attacked by aphids, two years in a row. In the end I used some Ecover washing-up liquid (it's the brand I use anyway) and it did reduce them very substantially, allowing the tree to grow and strengthen. The tree's in the ground now and looking a lot stronger anyway. I used the washing-up liquid on a rose this week, I'll let you know whether it's been effective. Enjoy the rest of the weekend Caro. CJ xx

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    1. It seems that liquid soap in water is the way to go, CJ. I picked up a power sprayer (woo hoo!) in Sainsbury's yesterday so will be spraying the trees today once they're in shade (don't want to scorch the leaves). Will be interested to know how you and your rose get on. Hope the weather is as nice in the West of UK as it is in London. Looks like it will be wet when I go to Chelsea, never mind!

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  4. Fabulous news that you are going to Chelsea hope you have fantastic time. I am so, so reluctant to spray anything on the fruit trees because of the birds. I would love to know if the Ecvover trick works & if there is any effect on the birds eating the bugs. It is blinking hard growing your own fruit isn't it, so many problems!

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    1. Ah thanks, Joanne - needless to say, I'm thrilled to be going - there's a big emphasis on allotments this year - yayy! I'll be doing the Ecover trick today and will report back. The people who told me about it work in a nature reserve where wildlife is given priority and wouldn't use it if it caused harm.

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  5. Seeing your cherry tree dripping with fruit makes me very envious, you have to look very closely at my tree to see any fruit, just the odd cherry here and there. There wasn't very much blossom this year so I wasn't really expecting a huge harvest. Blue Tits are such lovely little birds, we also have Great Tits and Coal Tits.

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    1. I'm not good on bird identification, just the ones that I see regularly in the gardens here- although I did see several parakeets on the Heath the other day! I've been very lucky with the cherry trees here, they've been good producers from the get-go - unlike my pear trees! And, as we gardeners like to say, there's always next year!

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  6. I remember my plot neighbours recommending a diluted Ecover washing up liquid spray when my goosegogs were covered with sawflies last summer. I didn't have any to hand though at the plot so had to resort to the squidging method of pest control. It looks unsightly but at least your fruit seems unaffected. Well done on the competition win Caro :)

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    1. Yes, I tend to agree with you Anna - if the fruit is okay then let the aphids be. Although, having said that, I bought a 'pressure pump' squirter at the weekend. Very cheap so worth trying out the Ecover theory. If nothing else, it takes the strain off my hands from the constant pumping of regular squirters!

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  7. Oh what a shame about the aphids....lets hope those blue tits gorge on them. I've tried the washing up liquid on the roses but it hasn't done anything to deter the blighters, my new buds are nibbled away....heartbreaking it is. I think it's going to be a good year for the fruit, but as you say we have to get past June.xxx

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    1. I think the Ecover trick probably does work in the right dilution but there are just so many bugs this year that they quickly multiplied to carry on annihilating your roses! Yes, let's hope June is a kind month, although May is not too bad!

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  8. Blue and Great Tits are a gardeners friend, they clean up all the greenfly here, I never need to do anything. You have loads of cherries to enjoy in a few months, I have loads of pears on my minarette trees, but so far so signs of apples!

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    1. I imagine your beautiful garden has developed a fantastic eco-system over the years, Pauline. How lovely to have lots of little birds - and lucky for them that there's plenty to eat! I hope some apples will develop on your trees, I love freshly picked apples in the late summer, they're so much better than shop bought!

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  9. Hurrah, you get to go to Chelsea! Congratulations! I love the idea of growing beans up fruit trees, and I shall also try growing dwarf beans round my currants, why not. Ecover works well, on aphids, as does garlic spray, but I shall also plant a fennel near the greenhouse.

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    1. It's taken me ages to get round to replying to comments so I've now been to Chelsea - hurrah, indeed! I'm really going to a good old mix up in the garden this year. Beds earmarked for beans will now be interplanted with strawberries, peas will share with sweetcorn and flowers will be dotted throughout. Hopefully this companion planting will bring benefits, if nothing else it will look pretty!

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  10. I'm glad the blue tits have come to your rescue with the aphids. I glad you managed to get to Chelsea too, I have been enjoying watching it on TV this week too. Sarah x

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    1. The Chelsea coverage has been wonderful! I've watched some and saved some for later - it helps to understand what you're looking at!!

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  11. I didn't know birds eat aphids - I would have expected their beaks to be too clumpy. Imagine there would need to be an enormous number of aphids per meal. Greenfly are supposed not to like garlic.

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    1. Neither did I, Lucy, until I saw it with my own eyes this year - but then there are an enormous number of aphids around this year which might make them attractive to the birds. Who knows? I was just glad of the company!

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Caro x

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