Summer has arrived along with the promise of a bumper fruit harvest from now until autumn. Is yours as good as usual?

A walk round my fruit trees sadly hasn’t been too hopeful.

The trees bear some dead stems and twigs, leaves are fewer and further apart and there’s a much smaller fruit set than I’d expect. Living at 200m on a partly sheltered spot, I’m probably faring much less well than you, but I’d be surprised if spring’s prolonged cold spell hasn’t affected you too.

The Met Office tells us April and May have been the coldest for many years so this must have direly affected our fruit crop.

In the orchard, the apple harvest relies on good pollination in the spring. The pollen needs warm temperatures, ideally 20-25C. It’s still perfectly viable at around 15C but at or below 10C pollen grains cannot germinate and fertilise the female ovules.

Even when the blossom looks perfectly healthy, the female parts of flowers may be badly damaged and unable to be fertilised. Trees had little chance this spring and early summer.

With plums, it’s still difficult to get a reliable picture, but they do seem to have had little successful pollination. It’s estimated that the rate of germination falls below 25% when temperatures are lower than 5C.

Pollinators seem few and far between this year. During April, I could only see 2 bumblebees at once and this only rose to 3 during brief sunny spells in May. Many queens possibly emerged and were killed off by the frosts.

Many other pollinators, like queen wasps, also got going later than usual. They’ve only recently appeared in numbers.

Fortunately, if you live in a town you’ll be more sheltered, but you should still be braced for a poorer set on exposed parts of trees.

So what’s to be done? I’ve found the frost frizzled leaves on several branches and twigs.

Nip out with secateurs, loppers or a pruning saw. Don’t worry: the trees will grow replacements. Summer pruning is an important job in late June/early July.

This entails cutting fresh shoots back to 2 new buds, forcing a tree to put its energy into growing fruit, not a mass of fresh foliage as is happening just now.

But don’t start pruning earlier than usual because of this. When pruned too early, tree will sprout several shoots from each pruned stem.

Unlike apples and pears where you do major pruning in winter, plums, peaches and apricots need this now, as well as removing new growth. They must be pruned when the sap is active, from late spring till early autumn.

I remove any dead stems just now, with major pruning after harvest to avoid knocking off any of the fruit.

But like pears and apples, a reduced crop results in far too much leaf growth. As a result, my peach has gone mad and needs a major prune to let light ripen what fruit there is.

With top fruit, whatever the size of a crop, we must harden our hearts and thin the fruit to get fine big apples or peaches.

A crop grows from fruiting spurs. Each produces clusters of tiny fruit and in what’s called the ‘June drop’, start discarding some later this month and into early July. But each cluster would still produce up to 3 or 4 small apples, so we must remove all but one per spur.

Wait till you see some tiny wizened fruit, gently tap them off and use secateurs to remove all but the best specimen. This applies throughout the tree, even when there’s a small crop. So thin every spur.

Plant of the week

SWEET PEA ‘ROUTE 66’ has flowers in my favourite sweet pea combination of pink and white.

They are nearly as fragrant as the wonderful old ‘Painted Lady’ but twice the size.