Fruit harvest may be affected

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is concerned that this year’s mild winter may lead to smaller fruit crops this autumn with a subsequent rise in prices.

Most hardy fruit plants need a period of chilling during winter in order to encourage flowering. Without this cold effect evidence from previous years shows that crops may be reduced. Blackcurrants, cherries and some apple cultivars have a particularly high chilling requirement.

The other potential problem is that if there is not a prolonged cold period plants will start growing earlier than normal and may flower early too. This could put them at a greater risk of damage if there is frost during April and early May. Early flowering may also mean less fruit being set as there may be fewer pollinating insects around. The current cold spell may help but RHS fruit experts suggest that a colder and longer spell of weeks would better ensure that any growth and flowering development is held back.

“We have already seen buds on the trees beginning to swell,” says Jim Arbury, RHS Fruit and Trials Specialist. “I noticed that two of our autumn-fruiting raspberries were flowering. This shouldn’t be a problem as the canes are cut to ground level in February.

More worrying is that our blackberry cultivar ‘Silvan’ is also flowering and is therefore likely to have a reduced crop.”

He went on to say, “If gardeners have only one or two fruit bushes that have started filling their buds these can be covered with some horticultural fleece or an old curtain if it looks like there is going to be frost overnight. But changing weather conditions is the challenge of gardening that gardeners have to accept. No matter how much we tend our plants and control pests and diseases we are still so dependent on the weather for abundant crops.”

Last year was ideal for fruiting crops. There were plenty of cold days over winter which helped encourage plants to set buds and then to flower profusely when it got warmer. There were also no late frosts so the buds were not damaged, and the warm summer helped fruits to develop.

RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey has around 2,000 apple trees of 700 cultivars and 200 fruit bushes of about 80 cultivars of black and red currents.

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