Gardening Tips > January > ‘How to’? Choose the right apple tree for your garden

‘How to’? Choose the right apple tree for your garden

If you have often longed to pick fresh fruit from your garden then now is the perfect time to get planting.

Out of all fruit trees, apples are easily the most popular. With beautiful pink and white blossom in spring and a tasty harvest, it’s easy to see why we grow more apples commercially and in our own gardens than any other fruit tree. Once established they are easy to grow and will quickly reward you with a glut of fruit at the end of summer into autumn.

Planting any fruit tree is going to be a long term investment and because of this it is important to choose the right tree for your garden.

The range of apples available in a supermarket will vary greatly from the varieties you can purchase as a tree. Take a gamble and plant something different or slightly less common as it will make your harvest more of a treat and you could discover a new favourite that you would not have had the chance to taste before.

Apples are typically classified as either dessert of culinary (cooking). Some varieties are often described as ‘dual-purpose’ and can be eaten straight from the tree and used for cooking as well. Examples include ‘Blenheim Orange’ and ‘James Grieve’.

One of the most important considerations when selecting any fruit tree is its eventual height. The fundamental factor that will determine a fruit trees height at maturity is the rootstock. Fruit trees left to grow on their own root systems can take many years to produce fruit and their ultimate size can be unpredictable.  As a result it is now common practice for fruit trees to be grafted onto a separate rootstock. The join of a rootstock is easy to spot a few inches above the ground where the scion (the trunk and branches you see above the ground) has been grafted onto the rootstock. These specific rootstocks will not only control the eventual size of the tree but will also affect other characteristics such as the age at which a tree will bear fruit and provide some disease resistance.

The system adopted to identify a specific rootstock is depicted by individual codes that are specific for each type of fruit.

Rootstock Final Tree Height
M27 5-6ft
M9 6-10ft
M26 8-12ft
MM106 12-18ft

The majority of our apple trees are sold on an MM106 rootstock; however we do have a selected range of trees on smaller, dwarfing rootstocks. This also includes a range of patio apple trees that would be perfect for planting into pots.

In order to set fruit, apple flowers must be pollinated. Unfortunately the majority of apples are unable to pollinate themselves. Instead apples depend upon insects carrying pollen from a neighbouring apple tree of another variety. A few apples are considered to be self-fertile, and a capable of setting fruit with their own pollen e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin. However, even those thought to be self-fertile will fruit better with the presence of an additional pollinator nearby. As a result it may be necessary to plant at least two apple trees in order to guarantee a good crop.

Apples are grouped together into four pollination groups according to when they flower. Pollination partners should be another variety of apple that flowers at approximately the same time, enabling cross-pollination to take place.  Using a pollination table a partner can be selected from the same group or one immediately before or after it. If you live in a well-populated area, the likelihood is that there may be a suitable apple tree nearby that can assist with population. Crab apples are particularly useful in this situation as they are considered to be good pollinators for all apples.

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