John's Garden Newsletters

John Bodycoat works for Conservation & Land management as a lecturer in the advanced diploma in agriculture and horticulture courses. He writes a Newsletter most months which is printed in Mandurah area newspapers. He has agreed to share the articles on our website.

May in the Suburban Orchard

The quarter acre block or suburban garden can be an ideal place to live. It's a place where city dwellers can always stay in touch with their neighbours, and still have contact with that most precious stuff called soil and grow whatever they fancy. I believe you feed the soil not the plant, and it's fun to experiment and make your soil more fertile. Do you improve what you have and make your own compost?

Most of us are backyard fruit growers and we need to make sure our fruit trees are looked after at all times. I mean not only watering and admiring them all, but to manage them so we can control pests and diseases that so often appear every year at different times.

I have always advised people to keep a diary of what they are doing or have done in their garden and this will help you remember when to do all the above next year. Or depending on the results obtained last time round, to make some appropriate changes to hopefully improve the next crop.

Starting an orchard

What species and varieties of fruit trees are you going to plant in your backyard, and are they suitable for the climate you live in? Will they grow in your soil and how big do they want to be? This is what you as a backyard gardener will need to ask yourself as you prepare your yard ready to be planted out. At any of our Rare Fruit Club site meetings it is very important to ask other people at these sessions what fruit variety they grow and where they live in the city. Remember, although Perth lies on the poorest soils in Australia, we are very capable of growing nearly all fruit known to mankind. How come?

Well, we have a great sub-tropical/temperate climate and are very conscious about reducing our impact on the environment, and we also know how poor our soils are to start with so we manage our garden by adding compost and manures. We have water restrictions in Perth and all of us are becoming better backyard gardeners using less chemicals, fertilisers and water. Remember all fruit trees need sun and fertile soil which we can make happen with old animal manures and composts and organic matter prior to planting. Also remember most fruit trees don't like to have dry feet.

May is very important to start looking at your stone fruit, especially your nectarines and peaches. As their leaves fall off, May is the time to begin to spray for the leaf curl fungus that will attack your trees if you don't use a copper spray. I like to use Bordeaux mix purchased from all good nurseries. Leaf curl is normally only a big problem with nectarines and peaches, although sometimes it can be found in almonds and apricots. This foliage disease causes distorted crinkled, often red, leaves and often kills young leaves soon after they emerge. Even though the tree will produce new foliage, the crop will suffer and the tree can become weakened and die. The timing of sprays is very important. In May of 2014 my nectarines had their first flowers forming so I didn't have a chance to use my copper-based sprays and the early nectarines suffered. The key management steps to keep in mind are:

  1. Once the buds have opened, it's too late, as the fungus has already entered the leaves.
  2. Spray Bordeaux or copper sprays at bud swell.
  3. If leaf curl has been difficult to control in past years, apply as may as 2-3 sprays over a few weeks before the buds turn into flowers.

I have put together a few varieties of peaches and nectarines that you can grow in the Perth, Peel and Bunbury regions of WA. If you have another variety that you grow and it is successful please tell me, as I would like to put together a pamphlet of tree varieties for the RFC. Remember that peach and nectarine cultivars are self-fertile, so it's possible to grow fruit from only one tree in your garden.

VarietySeasonFlesh colourChilling req'ts FruitComments
AnzacEarlyYellowMediumMedium size fruit with red skin.Juicy clingstone
ElbertaMid to late.YellowMedium Large red blush on yellowClingstone and good flavour.
O'HenryLateYellowMedium Large and has a tough skin.Excellent flavour
Shermans earlyEarlyWhiteLowSmall fruitGood tasty fruit.
Golden QueenLateYellowMedium Fruit all yellow.Good for bottling
SuncrestLateYellowMediumLarge red firm fleshSmall tree and excellent flavour
Florda GoldEarlyYellowNeeds about 300 chill hoursLarge fruit with mostly red on yellow background.Suitable for Perth and Hills areas
Tropic SnowEarlyWhiteLowMedium-large yellowish skin with red blushProlific bearer, needs extensive thinning, freestone

I have had fun sampling these varieties and grow Elberta and O'Henry in pots.

Suitable nectarine varieties

VarietySeasonFlesh colourChilling req'ts FruitComments
GoldmineLateWhiteLowMedium sized Freestone fruitThink one of the best for the back yard.
FantasiaMid to lateYellowLowClingstone. Very redGood flavour and keeps well.
Snow QueenMidWhiteLowLarge Red freestone fruit.Good flavour
IndependenceEarlyYellowLowRed blush FreestoneGreat flavour.

Other problems and diseases in peaches and nectarines include aphids, red spider mite, fruit splitting and birds.

Aphids: When plants are attacked by aphids the insects can reduce leaf growth and cause leaf distortion. Upper leaf surfaces are often very sticky with the honey dew excreted from the aphids, and this often becomes infested with black sooty mould. Control this by using pyrethrum and insecticidal soaps.

Red spider mite: These are plant sucking insects which can kill off some of the plant tissue, leaving a whitish appearance on leaves. I've found the best treatment is to use a sulphur spray which is an alternative organic approach, or you can go to your local nursery and ask for advice on a chemical spray. Sometimes in your backyard orchard you may be lucky enough to have sufficient natural predators for control.

Fruit Splitting: This normally comes from an erratic supply of water - a Jack and Jill effect of too much water followed by too little. Also a nutrient deficiency such as insufficient calcium may be the cause of the problem. Check your irrigation system and mulch around your plants to prevent moisture loss. if you have split fruit on the tree, remove them as they'll rot and cause further infection.

Birds: Purchase netting and place over your trees to prevent them from damaging or eating your fruit.


Peaches and nectarines usually grow quite vigorously at first, so it's vital to train shoots early on to establish a good framework. You should start by removing all vertical or near vertical shoots in the centre as these can dominate. Fruit thinning is also very important to obtain good-sized fruit. This also avoids stressing the tree with too many fruit. Peaches and Nectarines can be espaliered.

Mulch annually with well-rotted animal or chicken manure, I use a citrus fertiliser with an N:P:K: ratio of 10:4:6: or a complete plant food around the drip line in winter to early spring.

Check for pH levels and these will need to be about 6.0-6.5. If under these levels add dolomite to your soil as dolomite contains magnesium and calcium.

Remember: All stone fruit have a very short season and will spoil quickly if not harvested. And don't let your fruit rot on the ground as this can attract diseases and fruit fly.

John Bodycoat

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