Most of us consider Autumn as the time when our fruit trees and plants begin to slowly loose leaf and generally shut down until the spring signalling the end of their year. Well, that’s true to some extent, but inside the tree, plenty is still happening. In fact, rather than being the end of their year, Autumn is the start of the next. The time when our fruit trees put all the leg work in to make sure they carry a crop of fruit for the year ahead and bring us all so much pleasure. The tree does of course manage all of this winter activity without our help, but there are some things that we can do which will take up the strain a little.
For deciduous trees; apples, pears, plums, cherry, peach, apricots, vines etc we need to ensure that the drainage holes in the pots are open and that they are not in a position to become waterlogged. That is the big killer! We usually lift the pots and place small blocks under the pots so that the water can easily drain away from the pot. You can buy fancy terracotta feet which are nice, but three pieces of wood about 3cms thick and 10cms long does just as well.
Keep cool (if possible)
Place the pot in the coolest part of the garden if you can - I will explain!
After the summer of the sun’s rays shining down on the leaves and buds, the stores of carbohydrates in the stem and branches are fully charged in readiness for winter.
The tree slowly draws on these reserves to maintain various functions throughout the dormant period. Their main use is the formation of the sexual parts of the flowers, so the larger the amount of reserves that can be applied to the flower buds then the bigger and more attractive the flowers will be to dear old buzzy bee. If the tree becomes too warm in the winter, root growth will occur and that takes loads and loads of energy leaving very little for the flower bud development.
I know that for some of you moving the potted trees to a cool spot might prove difficult (and it's not the end of the world by any means), but it will help to have bigger flowers...... and bigger flowers make bigger fruits.
Let’s start with the good stuff first. As late Autumn and Winter approach, the citrus that have growing all summer start to colour and ripen. Please do remember that the fruits do not need to be fully coloured for them to be ready to use so try some whilst still in their green state. They certainly will put a zing in things! Remember to buy in the sugar and scrub up the preserving pan as there is nothing, absolutely nothing that compares with home grown citrus making homemade marmalade. Paddington, eat your heart out!
Citrus plants (even more than deciduous fruit trees) loath wet and waterlogged soil around their roots so firstly, make certain that the drainage holes in the pots are open and working. If the roots become waterlogged, then they quickly succumb to attack by the fungus phytophthora and that is about the worst news that a citrus grower can receive. However, we have a cunning plan up our sleeve.
Citrus require very little water during the winter months so to prevent the soil from becoming too wet from winter downpours, cover the top of the pot with cling film to shed the rain away from the soil. I have used this method for years and it works a treat. You can put some stones on top of the clingfilm to make things look a bit more attractive.
Protect against low temperatures.
Most citrus, and certainly all the Terrace Fruits range, will withstand temperatures down to -4ºC or -5ºC for limited periods. Satsuma, for instance, will go much lower for much longer but let’s play safe with -5ºC for a few hours. At those temperatures it is almost impossible for the roots to freeze through a pot or tub so we should concentrate on keeping the stem, branches and leaves out of the very worst of the weather.
If you are lucky enough to have an unheated greenhouse or conservatory, then move the citrus into there - you and your citrus plants are most fortunate! If you have an unheated shed, garage or barn with windows you are almost as fortunate as your citrus will do very well indeed! If you have none of those things, then find the most sheltered spot in the garden (which may well be against a hedge or some thick shrubs) and cover the plant with horticultural fleece or even one of the very excellent protective plant bags designed to let in UV rays and at the same time, prevent frost damage.
Now let me stress the above precautions are for the very worst of the weather. If the weatherman is saying that temperatures will drop to +2ºC or +3ºC overnight and reach +8ºC or 9ºC during the day, then you have no need to take any of the above precautions. Your citrus will do far better out in the full daylight in the air than they ever will inside a protected environment. For those times when it is necessary to take precautions, make sure that just as soon as the cold spell finishes, bring those potted citrus out and back into the sunlight.
A word of warning. Should any of you feel the need to place your citrus plants in a centrally heated room or conservatory then beware of a visit by the RSPCC. I don’t need to tell you what that stands for do I!!