order to achieve maximum pollination, plant two trees of the same or adjacent
groups. Group 1 is the earliest to flower. Flowering times are rarely
consistent from year to year and the overlap in flowering duration is
wide, so it is usually possible to have good pollination with a variety
two groups away. Often a neighbour's tree can assist with pollination
but, as a general indication, aim to have another tree within 50 yards
(though further will probably still result in pollination). This is simply
to ensure that a bee, or other pollinating insect, is likely to visit
both trees. The later the tree flowers, and the warmer the weather, the
more pollinating insects there will be.
Those with small gardens are sometimes tempted to plant a 'family' tree,
where several varieties are grafted on to one rootstock, each pollinating
the other. From those that provide them, the availability of varieties
is often restricted to the more common ones. We do not grow family trees
and suggest that, with a little imagination, the customer can get several
varieties in a small space. It is better to plant two trees on dwarfing
rootstocks (see below), or one standard tree and one dwarf. Training,
as espaliers or cordons, allows several trees in a relatively small space.
If you do have room for only two trees, and there are no other apple trees
(or native crab apple trees) nearby to help with pollination, avoid triploid
trees - see below.
Cropping and Triploid Trees Most trees will give a good
crop every year, subject to good pollination and no frost damage. A few
tend to be light croppers, or erratic croppers. Biennial trees tend to
have a bumper crop one year and a light crop the next. (This is a problem
that can be cured -please enquire). Triploid trees are a genetically distinct
type which require special consideration. Triploids have an extra set
of chromosomes, with the result that they are poor generators of viable
pollen for pollinating diploid trees. It is therefore safest to plant
triploids along with two other trees of the same or adjacent flowering
period, to ensure good pollination for each. On the plus side, triploids
are usually very vigorous trees, with excellent crops.
Choosing Rootstocks Apple trees are grafted because they
do not root well from cuttings and they cannot be grown from seed as ‘true
varieties’. Those which can be grown from cuttings tend to become
very large trees. Grafting on to different rootstocks can control vigour,
so that apples can be grown as bushes, cordons, fans and espaliers, as
well as standards. Using dwarf rootstocks allows several trees to be grown
in the same area as a large one, and the dwarfer rootstocks tend to bear
fruit earlier. This is important for those who are impatient or who have
limited space. The rootstocks we use, from the dwarfest to the most vigorous,
M27 The dwarfest, for bushes, espaliers, fans and cordons. Needs staking.
Height usually to 8ft-2.5m
M26 Dwarfing. Good for large bushes, cordons, espaliers or compact standards.
Height up to 10ft-3m
MM106 Semi-dwarfing. Good for large bushes, large cordon and espalier
or half-standards. Up to 15ft-4.5m.
MM111 Vigorous, for large standard trees. Height variable from 16-25ft,
5-8m, after many years.
The dwarfest rootstocks will start bearing fruit after 2-3 years and after
4-5 years will have a good crop. M26 will start after 3-4 years and reach
good capacity after 5-6. The vigorous rootstocks take longer to reach
capacity, though they will bear crops along the way. The more vigorous
the rootstock, the greater the yield, but the higher you have to go to
pick. When choosing the rootstock, it is worth bearing a few other points
in mind. The rootstock does control growth, but some varieties will still
be more vigorous than others. The vigour of the variety can be traded
against the vigour of the rootstock. The shape of the tree will also vary;
some are more upright, others more spreading. Trees and fruit also vary
with the soil. Rich loam will always make apple trees - or any trees -
grow faster than heavy clay or shallow chalk. The ideal soil for growing
apples is neutral or slightly acid, with reasonably-drained loam at least
2ft deep. In practice, this is not always possible and they will grow
reasonably well in heavy soil, with lime and less depth, though it is
a good idea to condition the soil by digging in quantities of organic
matter. (In moderation and not fresh manure). Shallow topsoils on hard
chalk cause problems because of lime chlorosis and poor root anchorage.
If the soil is poor, it is best to avoid the dwarfest rootstock, M27,
as it tends to be shallow rooting, and a more vigorous rootstock will
be 'dwarfed ' anyway by the poorer soil.
Trained shapes For those that cannot eat large quantities of apples and
prefer a few of a larger number of varieties, it is worth thinking about
cordons and espaliers. Several different trees can be accomodated in a
restricted space. If planting these closely there will be root competition
that will reduce the effective vigour of the rootstock. Consider, also,
that unwanted vigour can be taken sideways. A wider espalier will take
up the vigour where height is limited and a double cordon will halve the
vigour of a single stem cordon. Really, the shape of an apple tree is
only limited by the imagination of the owner. Be adventurous. Unlike plums
and cherries, apples and pears are very suited to growing in two dimensions.
If you opt for closely trained forms, you need to be aware of the difference
between tip- and spur-bearing varieties.
Some varieties tend to produce mostly fruiting ‘spurs’ which
will then break into blossom and set fruit on the spurs. Others will produce
blossom buds at the ends of the last season’s growth. The former
are called ‘spur-bearing’ and the latter ‘tip-bearing’.
Many varieties will be both, to one degree or another. These are called
‘part tip-bearing’. This issue becomes important when considering
what to prune and when. It is also vital if the tree is to be grown as
a cordon or espalier. The extra close pruning of these forms makes it
essential that they should not be wholly tip-bearing. Most are spur bearing.
Even part tip-bearing trees will have spurs and can be encouraged to form
sufficient spurs for restricted form training. Please enquire if in doubt
and you do not have the catalogue.
and Soil In cold areas, frost pockets, or exposed sites, there
is a real danger that frost will kill the flowers once they have opened
and that the entire crop will be lost. To minimise this danger, gardeners
in cold spots should aim for trees in the later flowering groups. Even
this is not always successful; sometimes a harsh frost late in May can
wreck an apple crop. For this reason it is best to give some attention
to where the tree is to be planted. Avoid frost pockets; sites at the
bottom of a slope where cold air accumulates and cannot escape. In a cold
garden, it will help to choose a site against a wall - especially a south
wall - or higher up a slope so that cold air will slip away. Victorian
gardeners were known to leave gaps in walls or other barriers so cold
air could escape downhill. Staking is essential in windy sites for all
rootstocks for a number of years. For M26 it should be several, for M27
it might be for many. For the larger more vigorous rootstocks stakes can
be removed when good anchorage is achieved.
Apples are not particularly fussy about soil but do not like excessive
lime and will be slow to grow on dense clay. Waterlogged soil, over an
extended period in winter can cause failure. Observe the site options
well, before choosing. It might not help to condition the soil if water
cannot escape sideways. The water will just collect in different soil,
making a sump.
The Different Natures of Varieties Early season apples
do not keep long and should be eaten fresh or within a week or two of
picking. Some are delicious, with unusual, fresh flavours which do not
appear in later fruit. Mid-season apples, picked in September and early
October, will keep for one or two months, depending upon the variety.
Late apples often need to be kept for the full flavour to develop; they
will often last over the winter, and sometimes as late as April or May.
Our main reason for collecting and disseminating apple trees is to ensure
that the traditional varieties are preserved and that people have the
opportunity to taste fruit from their own gardens which they cannot buy
in the supermarket. When choosing a tree many people would automatically
choose a variety which they know; Cox's Orange Pippin or Braeburn, for
example, or Bramley for cooking. This is not necessarily the best idea.
Cox's Orange Pippin is prone to growing problems and Braeburn, originally
from New Zealand, will not grow well in the English climate. Bramleys
are available everywhere, anyway. It is well worth being more adventurous.
The old varieties offer a vast range of tastes, textures and uses, so
long forgotten they are now well outside public consciousness. There are
so many it is possible to choose 'horses for courses'. It has never been
necessary to accept a single ubiquitous variety, such as a Bramley, -merely
a choice. Would you not rather have separate cookers for purees, pies,
tarts and baking? If you are not buying organic fruit, your apples are
very likely to be picked too early to avoid bruising, gassed to keep their
storage qualities up, basted in toxic chemicals to control pests and to
make the fruit thin itself and probably transported 10,000 air miles.
It is time we woke up to our long heritage of varieties that have evolved
and been honed and selected over a thousand years, all within the perfect
climate for releasing those rich flavours and life enhancing complex nutrients.
It is worth considering other matters, such as when the tree flowers (if
you experience late spring frosts), whether the fruit stores etc. Other
points may also be relevant; some varieties have particularly attractive
blossom and decorative fruit, probably far more showy than most garden
One last point - since some of our customers say they like russets and
will choose a variety with russet in the name. A ‘russet’
apple is not limited to a particular flavour. Usually these customers
will be thinking of Egremont Russet, since this has been just about the
only russet available in shops for nearly half a century. In fact, russet
is merely the brown furry coating that partly or wholly covers the skin
on some varieties and it does not have any relationship with the flavour
of the apple flesh beneath. Different russets have different flavours
and there is no reason to include or exclude russets when choosing varieties
on the basis of flavour.