Voles, in particular, like to gnaw the roots of young fruit trees and can cause severe damage. The tunnels are usually flat and just below the surface of the ground. The overlying soil is slightly broken upwards.
A good way to combat voles is by setting a vole trap. Bait the trap with carrot, apple or celery and place this inside the tunnel.
A particularly convenient method of combating voles is to use granulated bait. Ask at your garden centre for a suitable product.
Garden birds help to keep the number of pests down. Welcome birds to your garden by hanging up nesting boxes. There are different types of nesting box for the different kinds of birds. Make a note of this when you are building or buying a nesting box. Hang a nesting box with the opening facing the east as this makes it more likely to be accepted by birds. Do not clean old nesting boxes in winter as dormice our other animals may be hibernating in them.
Plant fruit trees as long as the ground is not frozen. Consider using a soil improver with good, peat-free planting soil. When choosing what variety of fruit tree to plant, also think about its resistance to diseases as well as the harvesting time and fruit characteristics. It is particularly important to consider diseases that are difficult to control or that cannot be tackled with pesticides. Check with your local nursery for suitable varieties. For example, the “Idared” variety is less susceptible to apple scab. “Discovery” and “Alkmene” varieties are also relatively less susceptible to powdery mildew. The varieties “Rolanda”, “Rokula” and “Invicta” are resistant to American gooseberry mildew.
Perform winter pruning now as this is key to tackling gooseberry mildew. The fungus overwinters on the tips and within the bud scales of gooseberries. By removing the tips during winter pruning, a large part of the gooseberry mildew is also removed so that an infection is likely to be less severe and easier to prevent in the spring.
Irregular, swollen and distorted, light-green or reddish leaves on peach trees are a sign of infestation with peach leaf curl. Healthy, well-nourished plants are less susceptible to fungal disease. When buds start to form, repeatedly apply Organic Multipurpose Plant Food as this gives the plants an optimum supply of nutrients.
Remove fruit mummies that are still hanging on the tree. This is extremely important for plums because of diseases such as bladder plum or plum pocket disease or Monilia fructigena. By summer at the latest, this disease otherwise threatens to spread further.
Now is the time for winter pruning of fruit trees. Airier crowns help foliage to dry more quickly after a downpour. This reduces the risk of fungal diseases such as apple scab and Monilia fructigena. Always make sure you use good tools when pruning trees. Tree saws and knives should be sharp so that you can achieve a smoother cut. After cutting a branch, first use a knife to smooth the surface and encourage rapid healing.
On frost-free days, examine the branches of junipers in the garden for canker-like swellings. This can be a sign of a pear rust infestation. This fungus shows up as orange coloured spots on the leaves of pear trees in summer, it overwinters in various types of juniper and uses these as the host plant. Spores also appear on the branches of junipers in spring as an orange, rubbery outgrowth. Generously cut back infested areas and dispose of the cuttings via the household waste. To prevent this from occurring, either do not have juniper in the garden or plant resistant or more robust varieties.
Another tip: have a word with your neighbour if you spot juniper in his garden. Pear rust spores do not stop at the garden gate!