By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe authors of ‘Growing healthy fruit in Spain’ ISBN 978-84-89954-62-5
Most gardens in Spain have at least a few fruit trees and an increasing number of apartment owners also grow them in containers on a terrace or roof garden. However as our talk at a recent meeting of the Costa Blanca Gardeners Circle/Mediterranean Gardening Society highlighted many expatriates find it is not always achieve good crops year after year especially from young trees. We therefore expend on a checklist used in our talk for a wider audience. Our book expands on the issues raised for over seventy fruits.
Some important success factors for fruit growing in Spain
Whenever you are buying new fruit trees, bushes or plants for your garden or wondering why the ones that exist are doing well or badly recognise that the success factors include the following.
- Location – chose the types of fruit that are best grown in your area. What will grow down by the sea may struggle on a frosty inland valley and vice versa. For instance mangos don’t like heavy frosts and cherries need winter frosts for good crops.
- Garden microclimate – If you want to grow subtropical/tropical fruits first ensure that you have developed warm sheltered places in the garden during each season of the year.
- Plant what the family likes to eat – both in terms of type and quantity.
- Choice of types and varieties – especially important with oranges and mandarins where there are early, mid season and late varieties to chose from.
- Selection of trees, bushes and plants – ensure that they are healthy and have good root balls especially if you purchase maiden one year trees.
- Information on labels – Look out for trees. bushes and plants that tell you something. Too often labels just say orange or pear.
- Plant in garden, orchard or containers – Fruit trees, bushes and plants can be grown in a wide variety of situations ranging from containers on apartment terraces, to anywhere in a cottage style garden to a dedicated orchard.
- Preparation of soil in planting areas – Improve a metre wide and 50 centimetre deep area of soil before you plant a fruit tree in the centre. This will help ensure that the roots will grow outwards and downwards rather than being constrained within a small hole in solid clay!
- Planting – Ensure that the roots are spread out, the graft above the soil level and that trees are supported by sturdy posts .
- Plant fruit trees five to seven metres apart – unless growing as a hedge when a metre apart is possible. Recognise that the roots of a large tree next door might spread into your property and compete with the roots of a young tree planted against your fence.
- Watering – Keep the deepest roots damp at all times and irrigate on drip line not against the trunk. Use watering tubes to get down to the depth of the lowest roots of planting mature trees.
- Feeding – If you have prepared the soil before planting trees by working in well rotted compost and natural fertilizers such as bagged dried manures you do not need to feed new trees for the first three years. Then give a spring feed each year. Autumn feeding will stimulate late over wintering new growth that is vulnerable to storm and frost damage.
- Pruning – Let trees grow naturally for a couple of years and then shape around the strongest branches. Then prune to shape, keep to desired height, stimulate flowering buds, let air into centre and increase size of fruit. Our book gives guidelines for the different types of fruit. If you have purchased 10,000 to 20,000 square metres of abandoned orchards find help fast via the local Agricultural Cooperative unless pruning is to become your major hobby!
- Prevention of pest and fungal attacks – Spray regularly throughout the year – preferably with ecological products..
- Treatment of pest and fungal attacks – Keep an eye open as you wander around the garden and act immediately.
- Distance from abandoned orchards or wild gardens – A growing problem. Regular spraying becomes doubly important. Offer to spray the trees of absentee neighbours.
- Luck with occurrence/timing of frosts, gales, storms and hail – There are good years and bad. It’s nature!
- Harvesting when ripe – tasty, juicy, aromatic and with good bite. Eat the real thing when at it’s best.
- Patience – The priority for a new tree is to develop a root structure that can support the growth of the tree and then develop fruit buds and fruit. So remove fruits for a couple of years.
- Processing and storage of what you can’t immediately eat – Freeze, make chutneys , jams, wines, and liquors and of course you can dry them for snacks and tapas.
- Timing of replacements – Good husbandry will prolong the productive life of your trees. If you inherit or create uncared for unproductive trees give them a last chance by doing a 60 to 80 % remedial pruning and giving the tree two or three years to recover. Remember that a healthy old tree has an incredible root structure that you can never buy. At the time of the major cutback you could also graft new blood onto the main branches or stump of the original trunk.
© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe December 2007