Spring is upon us and the buds are bursting (Juliet’s Blog, March)

Fruiting buds of the apple variety Golden Spire just starting to burst, at the silver tip stage, 1st March 2024. Start to record flowering when you can see the pink of petals even though they haven’t unfurled yet.

Spring is upon us and the buds are bursting.

First off is the Prunus blossom – plums and the like – coming into bloom in my garden. Down the orchard most buds are still tight but the pear buds are swelling as are a few of the apple varieties.

One of the first apples in my collection to show pink is Golden Spire, about the 1st of April, and in full flower three weeks later. (I bought and planted it as the local variety Tom Matthews before DNA testing showed it to be a widely known kind.) This little tree blooms and fruits its socks off every year – very reliable – but it has never grown much, even though in theory it is on the same rootstock as everything else.

Early plum blossom, 3rd March 2024.

It is said to be important to have varieties in the same pollination group present. Some bloom earlier, some later. Most varieties are not self-fertile so you need two different kinds in blossom at the same time for pollination to occur and fruit to set. This matters if you only have two trees and one is very early – like Golden Spire – and the other is very late – Kernel Underleaf for example.

But I wonder how true this insistence on planting different varieties really is. For big commercial growers with extensive orchards, sure, but most of us probably have trees in domestic settings where the neighbour over the wall will have also have an apple tree or crab within an easy flight for a bumblebee.

I have for several years been making casual notes about timing of flowering, but this year I intend to make a concerted effort so that Gloucestershire Orchard Trust can publish details of the pollination groups of our varieties.

This is an exercise where other people’s observations would be very helpful. When you see your tree coming into bloom make some notes. There are a series of stages – tight bud, pink bud, king bloom, full bloom, petal fall, fruit set, though obviously on a big tree you are likely to have flowers at various stages, so go for the overall effect. We need to compare Gloucestershire fruit with better-known varieties, so records for your Bramley’s Seedling are valuable too.