Post category: Tree Fruit


Plum and cherry varieties 


Plums and cherries are closely related, have similar requirements and similar problems. Both kinds flower early; plums a little early before cherries. This means that they must have a warm site. Do not plant where cold winds might damage the blossoms, or where cold, frosty air might collect. Plums and sour cherries can be grown on a west, south or north-facing wall.


’Victoria’ plums


Both plums and cherries like fairly heavy, limy soil, but it must be well drained. Acid soils should have lime applied before planting these fruits. Remove all weeds from the planting site and dig over an area of about one square metre before digging out a hole and planting to the level of the soil mark on the stem.


A heavy set of plums thinned


The best sour cherry variety is ‘Morello’ which can be grown as a tree or a wall-trained fan. The only variety of sweet cherry suitable for gardens is ‘Stella’ a recent introduction. Other sweet cherries are too large, and need pollinators. Both ‘Morello’ and ‘Stella’ can be grown on their own, usually grafted on the ‘Colt’ rootstock, which is quite vigorous.

There are lots of plum varieties but the outstanding variety for garden use is still ‘Victoria’, which has been grown for over a century. Generally only one plum tree is planted and this is the one to plant. It is self-fertile and less prone to frost damage to its flowers than other varieties. The red-flushed yellow-orange fruit is of good flavour, sweet and juicy, in late August.

If you are planning to plant more than one tree, the variety ‘Opal’ crops earlier in August and it is reliable, smaller than ‘Victoria’ but similar in appearance. For a late variety, try ‘Coe’s Golden Drop’, which has excellent flavour but needs a warm summer and early autumn to ripen fully, and would be more likely to ripen when wall-trained. This one is not self-fertile and needs a pollinator such as ‘Dennistion’s Superb’, which is self-fertile and crops in mid-August. Greengages are a form of plum with smaller fruit but need more summer sunshine than is usually available in this country. Plum varieties are grafted onto a rootstock. The Pixy rootstock is somewhat more dwarfing than the former standard rootstock St Julien A.


Training and pruning


Plums and cherries can be grown as trees or wall-trained fans. Of the restricted shapes only the radiating fan shape is suitable for the growth habit of plums and cherries. Train wall trees into a fan shape by tying in the young shoots as they grow and pruning out badly-placed shoots.

‘Victoria’ is too vigorous as a wall tree, unless there is a lot of space available. Train plums and cherries as free-standing trees by shortening the young shoots by about one-third of the length, each April for the first few years, letting the trees take their own shape.

Plums or cherries must not be pruned in winter because there is a good chance of diseases getting in through the wounds. Prune plums in spring in the early years and , once established, prune after fruiting. Plums fruit on wood of all ages, and so, some thinning, and the removal of dead, damaged and diseased wood is all that is necessary.

Sour cherries fruit on the previous year’s wood so, each year, some old shoots should be removed in late spring, to encourage new growth. Sweet cherries fruit on spurs on old wood. Little or no pruning of free-standing trees is necessary. Wall trees should have new shoots shortened to 10 centimetres in July, once the branch framework is established.




If the trees are growing vigorously and failing to crop, they need no feeding for a year or two. After the fist two years, give 30 grams of sulphate of potash per square metre in March. If the trees have cropped heavily or growth is not good, give 70 grams of general fertiliser per square metre. Well rotted compost or manure could be used on poorly growing trees too. On very acid soils, apply some lime every three or four years.


Thinning and picking


Plum trees, especially ‘Victoria’, often set too many fruits – even to the point of breaking branches. If too much fruit is allowed to develop, it tends to be small and of poor quality. Thin out plums to about 5 centimetres apart in late June. Wait until the natural fall is complete. No thinning is needed for cherries.

Pick plums and cherries ripe off the tree and use them within a few days, they keep for only a short time. Remove all the fruit from plum trees, because the old, withered fruit can be a source of disease the following year.


Weeds, pests and diseases


Use Roundup to kill off weeds under plums and cherries. Hoeing may damage the surface roots. Established plum trees and sweet cherries grow happily in grass.

Greenflies usually attack plums and blackfly attacks cherries, each year. Keep a close watch and spray if numbers begin to build up. Plum sawfly grubs bore into the fruit making them fall early. Treatment is to destroy the early ripening, affected fruits and destroy fallen fruits. Spraying with a contact with Malathion or similar can be carried out in June and early July.

Bullfinches often strip out the flower buds on plums and cherries in rural areas. The crop can be badly affected. Netting may be necessary. Blackbirds and starlings may attack ripe cherries. Netting can be considered.

Silver leaf causes a silvering of the leaves, and a dark stain in the wood of the affected twigs. If the stain is not present, feeding usually restores the tree. If it is present, remove the affected branches completely as soon as they are noticed, as the disease is a killer.

Bacterial canker affects the trunk and main branches, causing off-colour, shothole of the leaves, wilting and death of the tree, often during winter. Copious amounts of gum usually oozes from an infected tree. There is no cure. Both silver leaf and bacterial canker attack through wounds and pruning cuts. Do not prune in winter. Apply Liquid Copper, Dithane or Bordeaux Mixture at leaf-fall as a precaution – especially in wet localities.

Brown rot attacks plums and, occasionally, cherries. The fruit turns brown, with creamy white spots. Do not leave any old fruit on the trees over winter as it will be a source of infection the following year.


Pear varieties and planting 


Pears need a good site to succeed. They flower earlier than apples and so they are more vulnerable to frost. Fruit quality, too, is better in a warm situation. Pears will not be a success if there is too much exposure to wind. The best results are got by growing pear trees on a wall facing south, or west, to provide shelter and extra warmth.


’Conference’ pears


Ideally, the soil should be deep, free-draining, moisture-retentive and fertile. Pears tolerate heavy soil better than apples and dislike dry conditions at the roots. If the soil is poor, for wall trees it is worthwhile removing the top 50 centimetres of soil over an area of one square metre, and replacing it with good soil mixed with well-rotted manure, compost or peat.


’Concorde’ pears


November to March is the planting period and November is the best month. Remove, or spray off, the existing grass or weeds and dig the soil over a square metre or so. Incorporate a couple of bucketfuls of well-rotted manure or compost at the site for each tree.

Buy the trees and soak the roots before planting. Dig holes 45 centimetres wide and 30 centimetres deep. Drive a stake in each hole to support the young trees. Trim any damaged roots. Test the tree in the hole for depth, and plant at the same depth as the soil mark on the stem. Fill in and firm gently. Tie each tree to its stake.

Space cordon trees about 150 centimetres apart; fan, espaliers and spindle bushes about 240 centimetres apart; and free-standing pyramid trees about 4 metres apart.

Wild pear trees can be large, fifteen metres or so, and cultivated varieties are grafted onto dwarfing quince rootstocks. Quince is related to pear and can be grafted onto it. Quince A is a moderately dwarfing rootstock and Quince C is more dwarfing. Most varieties are offered on Quince C, often double-grafted to get over the problem of incompatibility of some varieties with the quince rootstock.

Pear trees are usually three or four years old when they are offered for sale and already of fairly good size, and, very often, they can be brought into fruiting within a year or two of planting. The varieties of pear on sale are mostly the traditional three kinds, ‘Williams Bon Chretien’, ‘Conference’ and ‘Doyenné du Comice’. The first is a fairly early sort and the other two are midseason. Late varieties often run out of growing season and fail to mature. All three varieties are compatible for cross-pollination as there is an adequate overlap of flowering. ‘Concorde’ is a newer variety but has not surpassed the older ‘Conference’. ‘Packham’s Triumph’ is also quite a good variety. ‘Beurre Hardy’ is reputed to have some resistance to scab disease but can be slow to begin cropping. It is essential to plant at least two of these as none is self-fertile, although ‘Conference’ will sometimes make seedless fruits, elonagated and narrow. Place a soild stake with each tree because the quince rootstock does not provide good anchorage and it is common for trees to lean over if inadequately supported.


Training pear trees


The restricted shapes – cordon, fan and espalier – suit pear trees well. They can be trained as cordons on wires, or as espaliers or fans on a wall or fence. Train them to shape, tying in young shoots in the correct position and removing surplus.  


Fan-trained pear tree on a sunny wall


As free-standing bushes, pears quite naturally take on a pyramidal shape. Tie in a central stem to the stake and allow side branches to develop to form the pyramidal shape. Remove badly placed branches. Pears can be slow to bear fruit and often take between three and seven years to begin. Much depends on the site and soil conditions and the size of the tree when planted.


Pruning and feeding


Pear trees carry most of their fruit on short spurs on older branches. Once pears settle down to fruiting they need very little pruning; just remove dead, damaged or diseased branches, and an old branch here and there if there is crowding or the tree is getting too big. Remove some of the old fruiting spurs on restricted trees to improve fruit size.

However, if a pear tree does not carry a crop, its vigour goes into producing branches instead. Summer prune the surplus strong young growth by removing about half of the number of shoots and shortening the remainder to about 10 centimetres during late summer. Wall-trained trees are most likely to need this treatment.

Pear trees should be given 70 grams of general fertiliser per square metre in March if they are carrying a good crop. If the trees are over-vigorous, apple sulphate of potash at a rate of 30 grams per square metre instead. A mulch of rotted compost every few years is beneficial by conserving moisture in summer, but should not be applied to over-vigorous trees. Feed and mulch old trees to get them growing again.


Thinning and picking


Thinning is not usually necessary, but sometimes the variety ‘Conference’ produces too many fruits. Reduce the fruit to one per spur, or two if many of the spurs have no fruit. Early July is the time to thin.

Pears do not ripen on the tree. They mature, then fall off and ripen on the ground. Pick the fruit when it looks mature, and put it in a cool place, indoors. Pears will soften for eating within a few days or a few weeks, depending on variety, but do not continue to store them once they have softened.

September-ripening kinds, such as ‘William’s Bon Chretien’ ripen after a week or so off the tree. ‘Conference’ matures later and can take a few weeks to soften. If pears are picked too soon, they tend to simply dry up and wither without softening. If they are picked too late, the fruit softens quite quickly but soon develops brown mushy flesh at the centre.


Weeds, pests and diseases


Keep the ground free of weeds by hoeing. A mulch will help to keep down weeds. Pear trees crop better when not grown in grass, even when established.

Greenflies may attack, and may need to be controlled. Pear midge is a little fly whose maggots bore within the fruit, hollowing it out and causing it to fall early. Though not very common, this pest can be troublesome. Destroy all the early fallen pears. Birds may attack both fruit and buds.

Pear scab is the most common disease and causes black spots and cracking on the fruit. Though it is not as widespread as apple scab, precautions may be necessary in wet seasons and in wet, cool localities. Cracking can also be caused by sudden changes in the weather or by drought.


Apple varieties


Apples will not crop well on exposed sites; near the coast, or over 200 metres above sea level. Do not plant on a north-facing slope, or at the bottom of any slope where frost might gather.


Apple blossom awaiting pollination


Choose a warm, sheltered spot, not shaded in any way – especially by large trees that would rob the apple trees of food, water and light. Too much shelter, on the other hand, increases the risk of disease attack, because the foliage stays damp longer.

The ideal soil is deep, fertile, well-drained but moisture-retentive, and slightly acidic. But apple trees grow well on most soils, as long as they are well-drained. They can suffer potash deficiency on dry limy soils and, by contrast, tend to be over vigorous and prone to disease on heavy, limy soils.

Peaty soils are too generally too wet and infertile for apples. Replace poor soil, if necessary, to a depth of about 30 centimetres.

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of apple varieties, and a wider range is probably available now that at any time in the past, because many old varieties have been revived. It is worth trying some of these if the space is available. But if you have space for only a few trees, then the choice will be far more restricted.

Apple varieties divide into cooking apples and dessert apples. Cooking apples are acidic to taste and their crumbles when cooked. Although the flesh of dessert varieties stays intact, they can be used for cooking too. It may be decided not to bother with a cooking variety, if space is limited. If it is desired to have cooking apples, ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ is the only variety to consider, as it crops and stores well.

Of dessert apples, the early-fruiting ‘Discovery’ is excellent, and disease resistant, with luscious red fruit that can be eaten from the third week of August. ‘Scrumptious’ is a new early variety, bred from ‘Discovery’, that is showing promise. ‘Lord Lambourne’ is an old variety for September, very reliable, with some self-fertility, disease-resistant and grows well in less favoured areas in the west and north.

For a late variety, to use from October to December, but not to store much longer, ‘Red Devil’ is red with pink-stained flesh, disease resistant, and self-fertile. ‘Elstar’ is a good cropper to use until January and ‘Idared’ has scab resistance and stores until early spring. ‘Winston’ is very disease resistant, self-fertile, green flushed red and stores very well until March, the colour and flavour developing. Trees with several varieties grafted on, called ‘family trees’, are available.




 While the rootstock on which the tree is grafted will affect the size to which it will grow, most trees are sold on the dwarfing rootstocks M9, or M26 which is somewhat more vigorous. MM106 is more vigorous again and makes a tree that will grow to three metres or more in width. Least vigorous of all are trees on M27, which is suitable for very small spaces and trees to grow in large pots.


A nice set of apples on a young tree


Choosing tree shape


Tree shape should be chosen to suit the garden. If space is very limited, the restricted tree shapes – cordon, fan and espalier – are ideal. Cordons are grown on wires between posts. Use four wires, each 30 centimetres apart, the first at 45 centimetres above ground level. Support the wires on strong wooden or steel posts, about 5 metres apart.

Fans and espaliers can also be grown on wires, or on walls or fences. The restricted tree shapes take up little space – trees will be only about 45 centimetres deep and about 180 centimetres high. These shapes are suitable only for dessert varieties.

Where there is a little more space, free-standing spindle–bush trees can be grown. These are supported only by a strong 180 centimetres stake. Spindle bush trees are kept to about 200 centimetres high and about 150-200 centimetres wide. Both spindle-bush trees and restricted trees must have dwarfing rootstocks to keep them small.

If there is plenty of space, open-centre bush trees can be grown. Kept to about 3 metres high and about 3 metres in spread, these trees should have semi-dwarfing rootstocks. Some old orchards have large trees, up to 8 metres high, grown on vigorous rootstocks, which are no longer used, but these old trees are very difficult to prune, spray and pick fruit from.




November is the best month for planting but apple trees can be planted until the end of March. Decide on the planting site, tree shape and varieties. Remove, or spray off, the existing grass or weeds and dig the soil over a square metre or so. Incorporate a couple of bucketfuls of well-rotted manure or compost at the site for each tree.

Buy the trees and soak the roots before planting. Dig holes 45 centimetres wide and 30 centimetres deep. Drive a stake in each hole to support the young trees. Trim any damaged roots. Test the tree in the hole for depth, and plant at the same depth as the soil mark on the stem. Fill in and firm gently. Tie each tree to its stake.

Space cordon trees about 150 centimetres apart; fan, espaliers and spindle bushes about 240 centimetres apart; and open-centre bushes about 4 metres apart. The quickest to bear fruit are cordons and spindle bushes – often in the season after planting. The more vigorous cooking varieties, trained as open-centre bushes, may take up to ten years to crop well – especially on heavy soils.




The training procedure used will depend on which tree shape has been chosen. Restricted trees – cordons, espaliers and fans – are often bought with the initial training done. Simply tie the shoots into position to hold the existing shape. Surplus shoots, and those that are badly placed and cannot be tied into position, should be removed.

To train trees from scratch, they should be no more than two years old. The wood is still pliable and the young shoots can be tied into position as they grow. Bare-root trees are usually only two years old, but container-grown trees can be several years old and may already have bad shape that is difficult to correct.

For spindle bush trees, tie-in the main leader to the stake. Allow both the leader and the side shoots to develop. In July, tie the side-shoots down into a horizontal position to induce early cropping.

In the winter after planting, release the ties and shorten the first year’s growth by about one-third – both leader and side-shoots. Repeat this procedure in subsequent years until the spindle bush shape develops. Maintain the central stem from which the horizontal side branches arise. Do not allow rival leaders to develop.

For open centre bush trees, shorten the main shoot to about 75 centimetres above ground level. Select four or five of the side shoots that develop, if these are not already present. Shorten these to half their length each year, allowing them to become the main framework branches.

Do not allow a central main leader to develop. Remove branches that tend to grow toward the centre of the tree. This is kept open to let in light and air.




When all the young apple trees have been given their initial training for four or five years to form their shape, annual pruning will be necessary to maintain the desired shape and to promote the production of good quality fruit.

Apple trees carry the largest, sweetest fruit on branches between two and five years old. To maintain a fair proportion of branches of this age, some of the oldest branches in the tree are pruned out each year and younger ones allowed to take their place. The idea of replacement is the key to pruning apple trees.

There are two periods for pruning – December/January and July/August. Winter pruning encourages growth of new shoots. Summer pruning discourages growth.


Winter pruning


This is the main pruning period for the free-standing, open centre bush and spindle-bush trees. Start by removing all dead, damaged or diseased branches. Next, select two or three fairly sizeable branches from among the oldest on the tree.

Make the choice by reference to their position, bearing in mind the correct shape of the tree and the existence of a younger replacement branch. Usually the choice is easy, because an old branch may be crowding a younger one.

Having removed some old wood, then remove, or shorten, all weak and spindly shoots. The remaining strong, young shoots will eventually make good fruiting wood. Shorten these by about one-third of their length. These general guidelines suit all types of bush trees.

For the restricted trees, such as cordons, espaliers or fans, less winter pruning is practised. Heavy pruning in winter would encourage them to grow away from their restricted shapes. In winter, just prune out a few old branches, exhausted old fruit spurs and weak, spindly shoots.


Summer pruning


Restricted trees produce young shoots each summer. About mid-July, begin shortening back the stronger shoots to four or five leaves, at the rate of a few each week or so, until September. Do not bother shortening weak shoots – these can be removed in winter.


Removing some of the current year’s growth


Bush trees that are very vigorous, but unfruitful, should get summer pruning, and no winter pruning for a few years – until cropping starts.


Feeding apple trees


Apple trees should get 70 grams of general fertiliser, or Fruit Fertiliser, per square metre in February or March each year. The area of the spread of the branches should be used to calculate the quantity. Even quite small trees will need at least 300 grams each on this basis. Fertiliser is essential for good growth and cropping.

If the trees have tended to be vigorous and not produce much fruit, apply 35 grams of sulphate of potash per square metre each year for three years instead, especially on heavy, limy soils.


Unfruitful and neglected trees


Old, over-grown trees can be brought back into production by pruning, feeding and spraying. Prune out some of the old wood and thin out the branches. Feed and spray as normal. Old trees that have deteriorated too much, or are of a bad variety, can be grafted with a new variety.

Apple trees can be unfruitful for a variety of reasons, usually the site is wrong, the soil is poor, or there is no cross-pollination. If these reasons are eliminated and the trees have grown very strongly, producing wood and leaves but few flowers or fruit, the problem is over-vigorous growth. This may have been caused by too-severe winter pruning, or by wrong feeding, and it is a tendency of vigorous varieties planted in heavy, fertile soils.

Bark-ringing can be used as a remedy. This involves removing a 1 centimetre strip of bark from around the stem at blossom time. Seal the cut surface with tape or pruning paint. The restriction in the flow of sap encourages the production of flower buds, and fruit eventually.

Root pruning is another remedy for over-vigorous growth and poor cropping. This involves finding three or four major roots, removing the soil and cutting through the roots.


Fruit thinning


Established apple trees often produce too many small fruits of poor flavour because the tree has not the vigour to swell them all. A certain amount of natural thinning takes place. Only those apples with several seeds actually develop to maturity. Many just drop off after initial development. This usually happens in early July, although it is called the ‘June drop’.

Wait until mid-July when the ‘June drop’ is past. If surplus fruit remains, thin it out to leave one apple for every 10 centimetres of branch length. The apples may not be spaced evenly along the branch, but this ratio can be used as a guide to numbers.




Apples ripen on the tree and should not be allowed to fall. Pick the fruit when the stalk parts easily. Some varieties must be used quickly – ‘James Grieve’, ‘Worcester Pearmain’, for instance. Others keep for a few weeks – ‘Laxton’s Superb’ and ‘Jonathan’. Some varieties keep well up to March/April – ‘Golden Delicious’, ‘Bramley’s Seedling’. ‘Crispin’, ‘Idared’ and ‘Queen Cox’.


‘Lord Lambourne’ apples


The keeping varieties can be stored in polythene bags with the top left untied and with a few small holes in the bag to allow air exchange. Store only clean, unbruised fruit of varieties known for their keeping qualities. If a refrigerator is available, the fruit can be stored at a low setting.


Re-grafting old apple trees


In December or January, collect young shoots of the new variety. These should be about 30 centimetres long. Tie them into a bundle and place it in a cool corner of the garden with the bottom 7.5 centimetres in the soil. In mid-April, cut down the main branches of the old trees, leaving them about 90 centimetres long. Remove any small branches.

Make a sloping cut on one of the young shoots above the soil mark where the bunch was in the ground. Trim the top end to leave the piece about 15 centimetres long. Make a slit in the bark of a branch stump of the old tree. Insert the prepared shoot, making sure the cut surface is in good contact with the wood beneath the bark of the old branch.

Tie the grafted shoot tightly in place and seal all the cut surfaces with grafting wax, such as Tenax, or wrap thin strips of polythene around to make a seal. Cut the ties as soon as the buds break. Train the new shoots to replace those removed. The first fruit will be produced two years later.


Weeds, pests and diseases


For at least the first few years after planting, keep the ground around the trees free of weeds and grass. Dwarf trees compete poorly with grass and may need to be kept weed free for one metre diameter at least.  As the trees get bigger, grass can be grown underneath, but it should be kept short.


Codling moth larva in an apple


Codling moth grubs hatch from eggs laid on the young fruit and bore in through the ‘eye’. Feeding and growing inside, they eventually eat their way out. Affected apples ripen prematurely and fall off. The pest is very common in town gardens and precautions are often necessary.

Greenflies cause stunting of shoots and fruit. A kind of greenflies – woolly aphid – produces woolly masses on the branches, and severely weakens the tree. Control is usually necessary.

Caterpillars may attack the leaves, but damage is usually slight. Red spider mites may attack in warm summers, causing the leaves to go bronze. If damage is severe, control might be necessary. Bullfinches may attack buds. Netting might be necessary in rural areas.

Apple scab disease attacks leaves, young shoots and fruit – causing black or brown scabs on the latter which sometimes crack. Spraying will be necessary, especially in wet years and wet localities.

Use resistant varieties such as ‘Discovery’, ‘Katy’ and ‘Lord Lambourne’. Spray susceptible varieties at bud-burst, in late March or early April, with Captan or Systemic Fungicide Control or Fungus Clear 2. Repeat the spray at least three times between then and the end of June. In a wet year, and in wet localities, more applications can be necessary.


Apple scab disease


Apple canker is a serious disease causing sunken cankers on branches and trunk. Branches may die. Avoid injury and control apple scab which creates an entry for canker on young shots. Prune out affected branches.

Powdery mildew causes whitish discoloration of young leaves and shoots. A bad attack weakens the tree. Prune out affected shoots when noticed in May and June.


Figs are certainly one of the more unusual fruits to be found in Irish gardens. Native to North Africa where it grows on rocky hillsides, Ireland is at the very limit of its range. Given its origin, figs require plenty of sun and warmth and are best planted against a sunny south facing wall. Many of the old walled gardens featured figs and, where they survive, these crop with reasonably regularity, even when neglected.

In warm countries fig trees have the potential to produce two crops of fruit each year but this is not possible in Ireland unless grown with protection where warm temperatures can be artificially maintained from January onwards.

There are only a small number of varieties of figs available, some of which are more suited to glasshouse production while others can be grown outdoors with only a small amount of protection. ‘Brown Turkey’ has been the number one choice for many years. It is a reliable cropper giving oval red fleshed fruit of excellent flavour in August and September. ‘Brunswick’ is a good second choice as it produces large oval shaped fruit some two weeks earlier than ‘Brown Turkey’.

The fig is one of the few fruits that is grown on its own roots. Old trees self-layer where low branches touch the ground and these layers can be used as new trees. When sold in garden centres the young plants will normally have been grown from cuttings and will be two or three years old.

Root restriction is an important element of the management of the fig tree. This can be achieved by planting into a narrow border or in a trough, open at the bottom, made of stone or slate to restrict the extension growth of surface roots. The soil must be free draining in winter but must retain water during periods of drought in summer. It should not be overly rich, quite ordinary soil will do. The tree can be grown in a greenhouse, but it is a large tree and space is required. It can also be grown in a large pot and kept small by pruning.

After planting, tree growth should be encouraged by liquid feeding every month in summer for about two years. During this time the tree will produce long growths that are tied back to the wall in a fan shape, spaced about 50 centimetres apart. If the tree is lanky to start with, it should be pruned to induce the growth of branches lower down. These shoots form the basis of the permanent branch system.

The first young figs will be produced after three or four years. These will not ripen. Any fruit produced on young growth from spring will not normally ripen under Irish conditions, drying up and falling off in winter. For this reason, it is essential to pinch out the spring growths at about five leaves during the month of June. These will then produce side growths which will carry tiny, pea-sized flower buds going into winter. Only the smallest buds will survive the winter and go on to ripen the following summer. Older trees often produce these late side-growths naturally and, for this reason, figs sometimes ripen on old neglected trees.

The fig flower becomes the fruit – it is actually made up of many small flowers internally. In the wild fig, the flowers must be pollinated by a small specialised wasp but the cultivated varieties are self-fertile. In colder areas, outdoor trees will require protection, such as horticultural fleece, in winter. Figs can grow very vigorously and regular pruning is needed in summer. This consists of thinning the number of unwanted growths. In late winter, any surplus older branches can be removed.

The fruit is not difficult to produce but the tree needs close attention to siting, training and pruning. A good summer helps, but there is no more delicious fruit than a ripe, sun-warmed, fresh fig.


There are probably enough south-facing garden walls and house walls in Ireland to supply the whole country’s wine needs if they were all planted with vines! To rewardingly grow grapevines outdoors in Ireland is by no means such an impossible idea as most people might assume.

Naturally, vines can be grown and cropped in any part of the country in a greenhouse or conservatory, but not all of us have the possibility of availing of such a facility. It should be an encouragement to any would-be vine enthusiast that in many parts of the country a vine grown against a sunny wall outside can be productive. The grapes, when fully ripe, are delicious to eat and can be of far better flavour than any you could buy, and, incidentally, quite a respectable wine can be made from them. In the warmest and sunniest areas there are a few varieties which can even be grown entirely in the open, and which can crop and ripen most years, enabling the serious enthusiast to even plant a small vineyard!

It is, however, absolutely essential that a suitable variety is planted. The notion prevailing among Irish gardeners that grapes cannot be grown outdoors, may be due partly to attempts at growing the variety ‘Black Hamburg’ outside – a venture almost certainly doomed to failure. Even for the greenhouse I would suggest that there are many varieties superior to this one, particularly if flavour is what you’re after.

Growing vines on a wall

Left to its own devices, the grapevine grows to be a sprawling, rambling affair, and its vigorous shoots can easily grow more than three metres in one year in Ireland. Its stems are equipped with tendrils, rather like clematis, enabling it to bind itself to the likes of twigs and wires, but it cannot clasp itself onto a wall the way ivy can. For these reasons it is most easily and rewardingly managed when it is trained on a wire trellis.

In Ireland, generally, vines start growing around April on a wall and around May in the open. They make their most vigorous growth from June to August, growing by up to an inch per day, and they flower around June on a wall and in July in the open. Depending on the variety and on the location, grapes are normally ripe in October. However some early varieties on a warm wall can be ripe in August, while later varieties are sometimes not ready for harvest until November.


Both sunshine and warmth are of course very important to grapevines and only sunny walls facing south, south-east, or west should be considered. Vines grow well in any ordinary, reasonably fertile soil, as long as it doesn’t get water-logged in the winter and isn’t allowed to get bone dry in the summer. Feeding, if any, should be just enough to maintain healthy vigorous growth, and it is very important that vines are not over-fed. A good rule of thumb would be to plant around 1.5 – 1.8 m apart, but they could go as close as 1.0 m apart if desired. Remember that the young vine shoots can be damaged by spring frosts, although a wall vine will invariably escape frost damage, as the wall itself offers protection and shelter.

Training vines

Vines produce their fruit along the bottom 40 cm or so of their current season’s shoots (each shoot producing usually two, sometimes three, bunches of grapes), and the various methods of pruning and training them are all based on this principle. Correct pruning of vines is very important, in order to encourage heavy and regular cropping, but there is no great mystery to it once their growth habit is understood. There are essentially two methods of pruning and training vines, spur pruning and cane pruning.

For spur pruning, a permanent ‘branch’, known as a ‘rod’ or ‘cordon’, is trained, usually horizontally along a wire. From this rod the fruiting shoots grow and are usually trained vertically and allowed to grow to around 1.0 – 1.5 metres long before being ‘pinched out’. These shoots, which are known as ‘canes’ once they are brown and have lost their leaves in autumn, are then pruned back during the winter to short ‘spurs’ consisting of two or three buds. The following year the fruiting shoots grow from these spurs.

With cane pruning, the fruiting shoots are allowed to grow from the buds along a whole cane from the previous year, rather than from spurs. The simplest form of this is called the ‘Guyot’ system. A Guyot trained vine consists basically of a short trunk and either one, or usually two horizontal ‘arms’, trained along a wire. Each winter all shoots are pruned away except two canes arising from suitably near the top of the trunk. These are pruned to around 70 cm long and are tied down to the wire, one cane either side of the trunk, in a ‘T’ shape. These two canes form the arms for the following season, and during the spring and summer, fruiting shoots then arise from all along these arms.

The Guyot system is the usual one adopted for vines grown in the open. Rows of vines would be planted, with plants around 1.2 – 1.5 metres apart in the row, and rows being 1.5 – 2.0 metres apart. The vines are trained on a wire trellis, consisting of a bottom wire for the Guyot arms about 50 cm above the ground, and several further wires up to a height of around 1.5 – 1.8 m to support the fruiting shoots. When the shoots are trimmed at the top wire of the trellis in summer, the rows of vines have the appearance of narrow hedges.


If your objective is to get abundant crops of ripe, tasty grapes from your wall vines, or even if you eventually wish to make a nice wine, then the choosing of a suitable variety is of paramount importance. It should be pointed out that the kinds of varieties best for growing outdoors do not produce big fleshy bland-tasting grapes like those from the local supermarket, but rather, quite small though sweeter, juicier and more flavoursome fruit. They are best eaten as one might eat a pomegranate, swallowing the seeds without chewing them, while savouring the rich juice! Without doubt the best variety for growing outdoors in Ireland generally, is ‘Madeleine d’Angevine’. Its bunches of small round grapes are relatively early ripening and are deliciously sweet and juicy when ripe. It can also make a pleasant white wine, though for warmer sunnier areas one could afford to go for a later ripening variety, such as ‘Bacchus’, ‘Schonburger’, ‘Phoenix’ or ‘Bianca’. These are all dual purpose vines, excellent both for eating and for wine-making.

‘Schonburger’ has a particularly appealing pinkish mauve colour when fully ripe, as does ‘Siegerrebe’, which is early-ripening and of quite exquisite flavour. ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Bianca’ are new mildew-resistant hybrid varieties, a boon to mildew-weary gardeners, who now have the possibility to grow healthy grapes, either in a greenhouse or on an outdoor wall without having to worry about spraying them.

It is certainly true that black grape varieties generally require more warmth and sunshine to produce ripe grapes consistently, but with a warm sunny wall, even black grapes can be grown outdoors. ‘Dornfelder’ is a new German vine which produces particularly large bunches of juicy grapes. ‘Dunkelfelder’ on the other hand yields very small, but intensely blue-black bunches, and this variety’s chief attraction is its spectacular scarlet-coloured autumn foliage, equally attractive in a conservatory or against a wall. There are also several good mildew-resistant black grapes: ‘Muscat Bleu’ is rather late-ripening for outdoor culture, but has very good autumn colour; for reliability in cropping and ripening, try ‘Regent’ or ‘Rondo’. All the above varieties are also suitable for wine-making, except ‘Muscat Bleu’.

There are of course many other varieties which one could attempt to grow, if one is lucky both to be living approximately south-east of a line drawn from Dublin to Cork, and to have a good sunny wall in a very warm sheltered locality. Grapes like ‘Riesling’, ‘Chardonnay’ or ‘Pinot Noir’ might even be attempted with some success.

For an established vine of a suitable variety trained on a suitable wall, one may expect a yearly yield of between 1.5 and 2.5 kg of grapes per metre length of rod or cane. A 10 m long wall, planted with about six vines 1.5 m apart, could therefore yield 15 to 25 kg of grapes from about the third year after planting. If one wishes to ‘drink’ one’s grapes rather than eat them, this would translate to around 10-20 bottles of wine per year, and in a good year possibly even more!

(article by David Llewellyn)