With the prospect of hosepipe bans and drought in much of southern England, what can you do if you want to grow fruit trees and water is increasingly scarce?
- Plant new trees in the autumn rather than leaving it until spring. This gives the tree more time to establish its roots over the winter, when there is more likely to be rainfall.
- Choose 1-year bare-root trees rather than 2-year or 3-year trees. These young trees might take a bit longer to reach full-size, but young trees establish better than older ones.
- Consider using more vigorous rootstocks. Their more extensive root systems are better able to find water than more dwarfing rootstocks. If you are planting a new apple tree the MM111 rootstock is perhaps the best for drought conditions. Alternatively the less vigorous M26 rootstock produces a smaller tree and copes fairly well with short periods of drought.
- Give the trees a good watering once a week, rather than dribbling in smaller quantities more frequently.
- Use a very thick mulch to preserve moisture around the base of the tree, and extend it to a 1m radius if possible (2m diameter). If you thicken the mulch near the edge it will encourage water to flow inwards towards the tree. Keep the mulch layer thinner around the stem of the tree so that it does not cover the graft union.
- Make sure nothing else is competing with the tree, by removing grass, weeds, or other nearby shrubs.
- Make sure you keep the tree well-watered during its first spring. Install water butts to collect water over the winter to ensure you have enough. The first spring is crucial for the establishment of your new fruit trees and it is worth prioritising new trees at this point even if you have to let older trees run short of water.