Plum/Damson Orchard Renovation

I was recently called to a farm in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, to renovate a very neglected Plum and Damson orchard.

The site looked much more like a woodland than an orchard, with suckers shooting up all over the place.

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As a result of such dense growth, the trees were very tall with the fruit growing only at the very top of the canopy, completely out of picking reach.

It was only at the edge of this wood/thicket that branches were able to grow at a reasonable picking height.

The farm is under a HLS plan and the idea with this orchard was to return it to somewhere near it’s original state of an ‘orchard’ rather than a ‘woodland’.

The trees were thinned out to an average spacing of 10-15 foot.


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Many of the oldest trees were left for their wildlife value. Some of them being fantastically gnarly, full of holes and cracks.







Other trees were severely ‘pruned’ to a height of 3 footvarious 324 in order to encourage a new head at half standard height. This tree in the picture has a diameter of 3 inches were it has been ‘pruned’, yet it was around 25-30 feet high!

I will follow up from this first session over next few years by pruning trees such as the one pictured to create well shaped crowns and by selectively thinning out more trees to allow the younger trees to mature with plenty of space for good light penetration and air circulation.

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This is how I left the first year’s thinning.

Work experience at Frank Matthews

I have spent the last two days working at Frank Matthews nursery in Tenbury Wells.

I went with the intention of learning how to propagate trees by budding. I very quickly learnt how to bud and came away with a great insight into nursery management. (I think I now have more questions than when I started!)

The nursery is enormous, over 400 acres in total, not all of which is down to trees at any one given moment. Some of the land is ‘inbetween’ planting, usually with a grass and clover mix which is ploughed in as a green manure.

At the moment I propagate my trees by bench grafting in the winter and have never had a go at budding.

Compared to grafting, chip budding is a lot easier and quicker (although I will never be as quick as the lads there who regularly bud around 2,000 trees a day!!!)

I think from now on I will bud the majority of my trees.

 I was about to put some photos of the nursery on this post but as I went to get my camera from my car I discovered it has been stolen, along with all my power tools!!


One of the biggest expenses at the nursery is in combating replant disease. This is a problem with all plants from the Rosaceae family, but apples, pears and sorbus are the most susceptable.

Once an area of trees (in the Rosaceas family) has been lifted, this ground is then sterilised in order to kill  the disease.

This is a very expensive process involving outside contractors to apply the sterilisation chemical, which then needs rotovating into the ground, followed by watering followed by covering with plastic to keep everything contained.

When I asked about an alternative approach I got three different answers from three different people.

One was ‘not to grow bloody apples’!

Another was to continually move from plot to plot, always using fresh land.

And the third (and organic approach) was to use mustard plants as a green manure.

Composted plants from the mustard family have been shown to kill off whatever it is that causes replant disease. This sounds great for all of us interested in managing land organically. It does, however, take a massive amount of plant material to have any beneficial effect.

It may be possible to obtain a pellet form of the plant which can then be applied to the ground using a tractor mounted fertiliser spreader.

Trials at Frank Matthews are being carried out at the moment, the results of which won’t be known for a few years.