What does healthy blossom look like?

At this time of year the fruit trees look absolutely gorgeous, with many of the apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums in flower. The early pears and some very early apple varieties have also started to show what we call ‘green tip’, which is the equivalent of budswell in stone fruit.

Because of the huge number of different types and varieties of fruit we grow, some trees are at full bloom, some haven’t started flowering at all, and others have now got tiny fruit – which is one of the most exciting (and slightly scary) times of the year!

The early apricot varieties (our early ones are called Earlicot, Poppicot and Katy) have almost finished flowering and look like this. 

Healthy apricot flowers with petals falling
Healthy apricot flowers with petals falling


This stage of flowering is called shuck-fall, when the petals have fallen off, then the last bit of the flower (the shuck) dries up and falls off, revealing….

A baby apricot emerging from the shuck
A baby apricot emerging from the shuck

…a baby piece of fruit! It’s the same process for all deciduous fruit, and it’s a very exciting transition from blossom to the beginning of the fruit season.

It’s also a good time to start diagnosing some of the common diseases like Blossom blight (common in apricots, but also seen in peaches and nectarines). Healthy flowers look like this when the petals are falling off:

Normal shuck fall
Normal shuck fall

Diseased flowers however will shrivel up, and the petals go brown, like the photo below (despite the best intentions to get all the sprays on at the right time, it’s often the case that there’s still a bit of disease in the orchard when there’s been rain around).

Blossom blight not shuck fall
Blossom blight not shuck fall

It can be hard to tell the difference, but you’ll soon know for sure, when you see if you get any fruit!

The photo below shows another disease symptom you might see, where the flowers have completely died back, and the twig has died back as well. The tree will usually prevent the disease from travelling back any further by producing a blob of gum to isolate the diseased patch (this is one of the causes for the condition called ‘gummosis’).

A bad case of Blossom blight - rotten flowers, and a dead lateral
A bad case of Blossom blight – rotten flowers, and a dead lateral

It’s a good idea to prune these diseased patches out of your fruit trees when you see them (when you’re doing your fruit thinning is a good time), as long as you can do so without sacrificing too much healthy wood or flowers.

Apricots are one of the hardest stone fruits to grow successfully, not just because of diseases like Blossom blight and the many other fungal diseases they are prone to, but also because they flower early and so are very susceptible to early frosts.

But they’re also one of the most rewarding crops for home growers because they’re so versatile and they’re so delicious! With that in mind, we created the Ample Apricots short course to show you how to encourage and nurture your apricot tree to actually bear fruit!

Earwigs – love them or hate them?

This week we’re talking about earwigs – should we hate them, or love them?

A nest of earwigs in a crack in a fruit tree
A nest of earwigs in a crack in a fruit tree

There’s nothing like finding a writhing nest of earwigs in a crack in a peach tree when you’re pruning (watch the video¬†here) to reminder you that it’s time to take some steps to prevent these apparently insignificant creatures from wreaking havoc in your stone fruit trees.

What other insects are in this category? The other main one that causes an issue for a lot of stone fruit growers is garden weevils, but there are lots of insects that can walk into your fruit tree and make a mess, such as harlequin bugs and many different types of weevils.

As we’ve mentioned in other blogs, the key to effective pest and disease management is to figure out how to protect your trees (or fruit, depending on the pest) from the pest, rather than trying to get rid of the pest (which is expensive, ineffective and may even be damaging to your ecosystem).

So, how to prevent them?

Using sticky tape for earwig control in a nectarine tree
Using sticky tape for earwig control in a nectarine tree

Using our first principles of pest control, first look at their life cycle. These pests overwinter in cracks in the bark in your tree, or in the soil or litter under the tree.

They also love fence lines, bits of wood, or in fact anything lying around on the ground that provides them with darkness and shelter.

In late winter/early spring, young hatch and they start moving and will often head up into your fruit trees as soon as there are buds or fresh new leaves to munch on, even before there’s any evidence of fruit.

The key to controlling them is understanding when they’re likely to be moving (Answer: in late winter/early spring), how they get where they’re going (Answer: they walk up the trunk) and what they do when they get there (Answer: hide in a dark place during the day and come out at night to eat your fruit! Some individuals may leave the tree to return to a nest elsewhere, but they may also just take up residence and stay in the tree, making it hard to get rid off them once they’re there.).

This is the approach we use with all our organic pest control, and the basis of our short course Protect Fruit Trees from Pesky Pests which not only covers earwigs, but also bugs, weevils and all the other common pests.

Once you know all that, figuring out how to prevent them becomes relatively easy – you just have to provide a barrier they can’t walk over, and you have to do it earlier rather than later.

On the farm we do this with double-sided barrier tape, but you can achieve the same result with anything sticky – horticultural glue, or even a layer of grease (but put a physical barrier such as plastic wrap around the trunk of your tree first so you don’t hurt the tree).

If you haven’t experienced earwig damage in your fruit before, here’s just one example (below) of what they can do.

Earwigs that have taken up residence inside a peach
Earwigs that have taken up residence inside a peach

If numbers build up enough, they can be as devastating to your crop as birds, and really need to be taken seriously. Having said that, as trees get older and larger and bear bigger crops, you may lose a smaller proportion of fruit and the damage is often confined to the lower branches, but it’s still a pest worth preventing.

An earwig inside an apricot
An earwig inside an apricot

So, having decided that earwigs and garden weevils are most definitely a pest, why ask the question about whether to love them or hate them? Surely we just hate them, right?

It’s never that simple! Turns out that earwigs are also a wonderful predator of aphids (particularly the very messy white Woolly Aphids that can appear in your apple trees), which is a great example of why it’s never a good idea to kill insects – just encourage them to hang out where they can do the most good and the least damage in your garden!

Fruit tree leaves: bonus or problem?

Here’s a question we were asked recently: as the leaves fall off your fruit trees, is it OK to let the leaves rot on the ground, or are you potentially creating a disease problem?

Autumn apricot leaves on the ground
Autumn apricot leaves on the ground

Issues like this are often decided by comparing the costs (in time, money or effort) of taking action, against the benefit.

Plus, you’ve got to consider what you’d do with the leaves if you collected them, and factor this into the equation. If they can go into an active compost system, or be fed to animals, and therefore returned to the soil, this is a very different outcome to filling up your greenwaste bin, or – horror of horrors – putting them in landfill!

In this case we’re weighing up the benefit of the lovely organic matter and nutrient provided by the leaves returning to the soil, versus the potential risk of fungal disease from any spores that are on the leaves, which may create disease in the tree next season, like Blossom blight, for example.

Blossom blight on apricot flowers
Blossom blight on apricot flowers

So, how to decide?

The rule of thumb is that it’s beneficial to let the leaves rot under the trees as long as they break down quickly (within a couple of months, and certainly before next spring).

Fruit tree leaves starting to break down
Fruit tree leaves starting to break down

If you have reasonably healthy soil with an active soil food web and plenty of worms, there should be no problem and the leaves will break down quickly. The soil food web and the key role it plays in the health of your garden is explained in detail in this short course.

If you find they’re not breaking down fast enough you can help them along by mowing them with the mower or slasher, and either sprinkle a bit of compost on top, or spray them with compost tea or worm juice to help them along.