Stakes and ties
Stakes and ties are applied to immature and developing fruit species to control the direction and patterns of growth and to ensure strong root and trunk development. After planting outdoors, most juvenile fruit trees will benefit from some individual support to help them establish a healthy and well distributed root system. Inexpensive and reusable wooden stakes can be purchased from most organic nurseries and garden supply centres. Alternatively, it may be feasible to cut and shape suitable tree stakes from narrow lengths of hardwood moulding.
Stakes should be inserted securely into the ground before the tree is planted on the most protected side. In a site affected by strong winds, it is good practice to encircle juvenile trees with three stakes. Each stake can be lashed with a section of garden twine which loops through a single tie around the trunk to provide maximum support and stability. An appropriate height for the introductory stake is roughly a third of the trees total height above the ground. This enables the top section of the tree to move easily, and encourages the lower trunk to thicken and develop along with the supporting root system. Towards the end of the first seasons growth, these low stake can be carefully removed and replaced with taller ones which support the trunk around the halfway point of the trees current above ground height.
When securing young fruit trees to their supporting stakes, it is important to avoid inflexible materials such as plastic ties, nylon cord, and wire. At certain stages in their development, immature trees can double their proportions in several months. If the trunk continues to expand in the presence of such physical restriction, there can be serious structural distortion and damage to young bark and the underlying vessels it protects. Reputable organic distributors sell high quality tree and plant ties made from strong but reasonably pliable materials such as elastic, rubber, or hemp. The best ones to purchase are those which encircle both tree and stake in a figure of eight loop. This configuration prevents the trunk from rubbing against the stake. For those with an enthusiasm for recycling, the best materials to use are discarded elastic tights and old bicycle inner tubes. Once attached to their stakes, young fruit trees should be routinely inspected, to ensure healthy growth and to initiate the replacement of any worn or damaged ties.
In order to produce a consistent and accessible crop, most species of vine and hybrid cane fruit need to be supported on a trellis or wire framework. These can be elaborate and detailed creations or constructed simply from permanent materials such as galvanised fencing wire and hardwood stakes or posts. Once the dimensions of each row are calculated, a simple framework can be erected with modest physical effort and a couple of spare hours. Begin by driving a two metre post approximately five hundred millimetres into the ground at each end of the row. These leading upright posts should both be attached by heavy nails to another post which braces the upright at a forty five degree angle. The purpose of the bracing post is to support the leading uprights and to apply tension to wires running between these. Once the leading uprights are braced, a series of intermediate posts can be positioned at regular intervals of approximately two metres, and driven down to a similar depth as the leaders.
Depending on the anticipated height and density of the vine, up to six rows of galvanised fencing wire can be tensioned between the upright posts. Beginning with a leading post, use eye bolts or galvanised nail clasps to secure the first wire approximately four hundred millimetres above the ground. Continuing to the first intermediate post, carefully tension the wire with pliers, secure then proceed to the next and remaining posts. Repeat this sequence to install the upper and remaining rows of wire, ensuring that each row is spaced approximately three hundred millimetres from its nearest counterpart. When the structure is completed, new fruit vines or cane cuttings can be loosely attached to these wires. In a very short time, the plants will climb and expand naturally around the framework, without the need for additional support.
When growing space is limited, there is an old fashioned yet useful technique known as espalier which can improve the yield and quality of fruit from a range of trees including apple, citrus, fig, pear, and plum. The espalier technique has also been applied successfully with kiwifruit vines. The miniature varieties of fruit tree available today are usually more amenable to espalier techniques than the larger and slow maturing varieties. These suitable plants are usually supported by a wall, fence, or trellis. Based on the cultivation practice which originated in France and Italy during the seventeenth century, espalier is highly valued for its decorative and aesthetic appeal. When executed to a high standard, espalier provides additional charm to historical dwellings and is also well suited for the sunny courtyards of city apartments.
To prepare for espalier, run at least three horizontal lines of galvanised fencing wire across a fence or wall, ensuring that the lowest is four hundred millimetres above the ground and that subsequent lines are separated by approximately similar intervals. A bare root whip is the cheapest and most convenient form of tree to start with. Plant this alongside the supporting structure then carefully cut the stem just above the height of the first and lowest wire. This should activate new growth buds below the cut. Select three of these to develop and rub the remaining buds away.
During the first summer, tie the soft shoots from two of the buds onto the wire, making sure they are travelling in opposite directions. The remaining shoot is encouraged to climb vertically upwards, tied to a higher line of wire; it will eventually develop into the central trunk. Aside from the three designated shoots, continue to remove any additional buds before they develop into shoots. At the beginning of the next winter, cut the developing trunk just below the second wire. Once again, new growth buds will soon emerge below the cut. Select three of these and allow them to develop into shoots.
Next summer attach two shoots to the second wire, ensuring they travel in opposite directions. Encourage the third shoot to grow vertically upwards and once sufficient height is reached, tie this to the third line. This process should be repeated each year, cutting the trunk in winter, removing all but three selected growth buds, and then securing their shoots in summer. Continue until the highest wire supports two developing branches and a vertical shoot continuing as the uppermost extension of the trunk.