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To the uninitiated at first glance, the subject can appear confusing! As a basic starting point:
FIRST Read the paragraph on pollination, so you can make sure that when you choose your varieties they will cross pollinate.
SECOND Choose the rootstock you require. This determines how big the trees will grow. There are different rootstocks for apple, pear, plum and cherry, each described at the beginning of each section.
THIRD Choose the varieties of each fruit you want, ordering them on the selected rootstock.
NOTE It is not necessary to choose a rootstock if you want supercolumns, cordons, fans, espaliers or any other trained tree as these are automatically sent out on the rootstock best suited to them.
– Introduction –
Why grow your own fruits?
This might seem a silly question as, having decided to read an article on growing fruit trees in the first place would suggest some pre-ordained interest in the subject or a desire to grow these delicious fruits for yourself. If any further impetus or inspiration were needed well, it’s not hard to find. There are any number of reasons why you might choose to grow fruit trees based on many factors, which could be financial, for health reasons, sentimentality, hobby-based or ecological.
1] The financial aspect
Perhaps the strongest signal of all is that of just how much money could be saved on your weekly grocery bill. Although the entire Grow-your-own industry often parlais facts about you can save-money-by-growing-this-or-that, often with short-term crops that are yielded only the once, the fact is it can be hard to see what you are really saving. But with a very long-term prospect such as a fruit tree that can prosper for 20 years or more, well the figures really do add up. Simply consider a normal dwarf Apple tree - Cox’s Orange Pippin. This variety is nothing special when it comes to performance, it’s certainly not the most heavy yielding variety yet even a Cox’s, on a dwarf M9 rotstock suitable for any garden, will yield 20-30ib’s of fruit per season with no special treatment. Now look at your supermarket price for dessert apples; roughly £1 or more per ib, right? Now once the initial purchase value has been paid [think about£20] thereafter the cost of upkeep amounts to little more than a handful of fertilizer and a pair of secateurs to prune with. That’s it. So a rough calculation based on at least 20 years of active service soon reveals a quite staggering profit. Multiply that over even a modest selection of fruit trees and it’s undeniable that even if your planting area is restricted, you can soon start to save a lot of money over the years.
2] Vastly improved flavour
This might make me sound incredibly old but I worry that some of the younger generation don’t actually really ‘know’ what a proper strawberry, or an apple, or a plum – actually tastes like. Until you have picked and eaten your own fruits, you don’t realise just how far removed from reality supermarket-bought samples actually are! There are a few reasons for this; variety, harvesting and cultivation methods, and freshness, all conspire to rob the fruit of it’s rightful flavour. Grow your own – have the choice of a vastly imcreased variety – pick and eat when it is at it’s peak and devour at once. Perfection has been achieved…..
3] Superior choice
You could buy maybe 4 or 5 varieties of apple at your supermarket right now yet there are over 2,000 varieties in existence, a great many of which you can still buy at specialist fruit tree nurseries. The deeper you dig [no pun intended] the greater the fascination with some old heritage varieties having complex flavour nuances of spice and nutmeg, aniseed, pineapple and wine. And when did you last see Mulberries available to buy? Or experience the wonderful full-on power of the Damson? Golden plums, Quinces; Medlars; or Asian Pears?
4] The save the earth bit
We have all been subject to the food miles debate in the press these last few years. The eco footprint of going and harvesting fruit from your own allotment, or back yard even, couldn’t be any smaller so you can enjoy the fruits of your labour smug in the knowledge that you’ve done your bit for the o-zone layer as well.
5] Back in the day….
Sentimentality can play a big part informing our choices and, for many of us, the gardens of our choldhood, or those of our parents or grandparents, become heavily imbued with nostalgia. Central to this is often a fruit tree - or 3 – which often tasted so much better than anything ever tasted since! So a hunt begins to track down this special old variety, or perhaps a desire is instilled to cultivate a small orchard of ones own that will recall those memories of days long since passed. Happily it is perfectly possible to re-claim this little piece of yesterday as so many of the very old traditional varieties do still exist and can be planted in modern gardens.
6] Health and traceable origins
One of the most common and important reasons for greowing your own fruit is that you have complete control over exactly what goes into the food that you eat. You know exactly where it has come from and you can be sure that is has been raised and cultivated to satisfy your own personal standards and priorities.
7] Because it’s satisfying and fun
All ages and all abilities can enjoy the unique experience and gain immense satisfaction of growing fruit trees. If you are new to this whole grow-your-own malarky, then just imagine the thrill of hand picking your first delectably ripe cherries, or plums from a tree in your own garden or patio. Nothing can beat the anticipation of watching and observing the slowly fattening fruits and waiting for them to colour and ripen. You can stand back and say – ‘I did that’.
Some things to know and understand about fruit trees
To many a casual observer, a fruit tree is just a ‘tree’ – an all-in-one fruiting unit that has its own roots and it’s own branches. Nothing could actually be further from the truth! The fruit trees you will buy and nurture in your garden or orchard are actually a crafty amalgamation of two entirely different trees! A fruit tree cultivar [be it a traditional Cox’s Orange Pippin Apple, a Victoria plum, or whatever] has, for various reasons that will be explained, to be joined with a rootstock and this rootstock will influence the tree in beneficial ways. On young trees [and sometimes even older ones] it is still visible you can actually still see this join a few inches above the root, if you look carefully.So what is a rootstock?
Rootstocks have been developed over many years by horticultural institutions worldwide and are generally raised from closely allied species of the fruit concerned. To begin with they look rather like the host – an apple rootstock looks much like an apple tree itself. It’s flowers are like appleblossom but they seldom have fruits that are worthwhile. Apple rootstocks are usually selected forms of Malus sylvestris crab apples. Rootstocks for Pears will have been derived from Pyrus communis [a type of wild Pear] or Cydonia Quinces which are closely related. And so on. All the different fruits will have rootstocks specific to them so you can’t have an apple grafted onto a Pear rootstock because the union between two unrelated fruits would be unsuccessful.
So why are fruit trees grafted in this way? It’s a complicated and expensive procedure that has to be fulfilled by skilled nurserymen which are very experienced in their work. People that can graft fruit trees successfully tend to be a very select few and because of this it adds greatly to the cost of the tree. So why do we bother? The reason fruit trees are grafted is because if a fruit tree is grown on it’s own roots, it will take forever to fruit. It will spend lots and lots of years merrily growing away and looking fabulously healthy and full of promise, but many Springs will come and go with a tedious lack of any real progression. It can be 20 years before any fruit is seen by which time the tree itself will probably be as big as your house! This is where the rootstock itself comes in. It actually encourages the production of fruit much, much earlier in life and the ‘parasite’ it is supporting [i.e. the actual fruit tree variety itself] will usually yield within 5 years and often sooner, depending on the rootstock concerned [more of that later] In addition to this, rootstocks are developed with different growth tendencies. Some have a vigorous attribute; others will be more compact or even dwarfing. So, by choosing an appropriate rootstock you can have a tree suitable for your needs, whether you are growing a traditional large orchard, or, at the other end of the scale, growing miniature little trees in pots on your patio. There is sure to be a ready and willing rootstock able to deliver your needs!
The second most important aspect of your selection, after that of rootstock, is pollination. Most varieties of fruit tree are not self fertile, that is if they are grown on their own they may never bare fruit or if they do it will be few and of poor quality. That is why so many disappointing purchases have arisen through buying trees from non-specialist nurseries that did not advise the hapless client that his or her tree needed a pollinator!
To help in identifying which trees will ‘go’ together pollination groups have been devised. This basically seperates the varieties into flowering seasons; the main criteria for good polination is that the flowers should be open at the same time. Although to the causal observer apple trees may look like they all blossom at the same, time, but this isn’t actually true. During the brief but glorious blossom-time in our English orchards, varieties will start and finish flowering at different times. If you select two trees with different flowering periods they may miss each other like long lost lovers in the night….. If this all sounds too comlicated don’t worry. The system is easy to understand and if you’re still a bit lost a specialist nursery in fruit trees can quide you in your choice and make sure you haven’t made any clangers when it comes to selection. Here’s the way it works:
Varieties have a letter or number prefix and are classed in A,B,C or D pollination groups, or 1,2,3 or 4. All you need to do is make sure that the varieties you have chosen are in the same or adjacent groups. As there is some overlap in flowering period you can for example choose 2 ‘B’ polination group or an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ together or a ‘B’ and a ‘C’ and it will still work. What you can’t do is break the chain and miss one out – an ‘A’ and a ‘C’ for example would miss one another and no fruit would be borne.
Self fertile varieties
There are also a few varieties that are known as self-pollinating and these are ideal for those of you who can only grow one or apple, or one pear, because they will still fruit on their own. However if you are planting a mixture of varieties it’s best to do a little homework on pollination, make an informed selection and get a diverse mix of pollinating partners.
Some basic tree forms explained
Of course a fruit tree isn’t just a ‘tree’ and over the years countless training methods and shapes have evolved or been invented. Don’t be too disheartened if your preconception that a fruit tree should look like, well – a ‘tree’ because this diversification is a good thing. It has enabled fruit trees to be incorporated into any and every garden and there are forms and growing systems suitable for most applications. So whatever your circumstances, ability and dreams, you can grow fruit trees.
The Bush tree
By far the most commonly grown tree is the bush tree. A traditional ‘tree’ shape which comes in many different sizes according to the vigour of the rootstock it is grown on. Bush trees can therefore be sub-divided into miniature bush, dwarf bush, semi dwarf bush, vigorous bush & so on. All will have the same basic shape – a straight trunk with the branch canopy on top. This method is suitable for all the different fruit types and has the advantage that is can be mown under. It is the most productive method of all and the planting distance is the same as the height of the tree so if you are choosing a rootstock that grows 2 metres in height you will need to allow not less than 2 metres in width.
The Cordon tree
Mastered centuries ago, this growth form is second in popularity only to the bush tree. The reason it became so popular is because it can be incorporated into small spaces – a tree only needs about 18” in which to grow yet an established cordon can yield up to 10ibs of fruit. The length of the trunk can be quite accomodating and reduced to around 180cm’s in height, or allowed to grow higher. The fruits are borne on short side spurs which are kept trimmed back to just a few inches. Cordons were traditionally planted at a 45 degree angle but these days they are more usually grown vertically. It is very easy to understand how to prune a cordon tree as it is quite a simple method so this type of tree is recommended to beginners who want quick and uncomplicated results. Cordon growing is normally associated with apples, pears and plums. Plant 24” apart, in sheltered locations the trees can be grown with just a simple stout bamboo cane as support, or they can be grown against a fence or wall with rubber coated straining wires on which to tie them.
Cordon trees will normally start to yield more quickly than the other growing methods.
The espalier trained tree
A classic for wall-training, but can also be grown against a fence-post and wire support system. The outline of the tree consists of one main trunk with orderly ‘tiered’ horizontal branches. Normally there are two or three tiers, the side laterals can be trained out to a minimum of 90cm’s each side but can be allowed to grow longer if required. A minimum spacing of 180-200cm’s should be allocated for each tree, with the same in height. Once the main framework has been achieved, espaliers are easy to maintain. The espalier form is used only for apples and pears.
The fan trained tree
Similar in use to the espalier tree, but with a more graceful ‘fan’ shape. Requires the same spacing, suitable for all fruit trees so a good alternative to those that won’t grow well as espalier where a wall trained tree is required.
Although relatively obscure until recently, these tiny little trees have recently exploded in popularity. Stepover trees are the very smallest of all growing systems and are mostly applied to uses such as border edging, along a path, the allotment, kitchen garden or to divide the productive and ornamental area’s of the garden. With a top height of just 15-18” you can literally ‘step over’ them, the side laterals grow out to form a tree of around 120-150cm’s in length. The outline of the tree is rather like a capital ‘T’. Because of the restricted size, stepovers can’t be expected to produce heavy yields but they are both novel and attractive, and the fruits that are produced can be very large. Space 150cm’s apart; a top straining wire is required. Apples and Pears are traditionally the fruits grown as stepovers, but you can also try plums and cherries too. Stepovers are only ever grown on the smallest possible rootstocks – M27 for apples, Quince C for pears, Pixy for plums or Gisele 5 for cherries. The nursery will automatically have grown the stepover trees on the most appropriate rootstock.
Along with Ballerina and Minarette trees which are of similar application, this is the most popular form of tree for todays smaller gardens. Like a more restrained cordon, they are very easy to grow and train with little pruning inbolved and can be spaced just 60cm’s apart. Ideal for garden growing, in a line as a superb fruiting ‘hedge’, against a fence or wall, spaced as free standing trees through a border – they have many uses in the garden and are immensely productive, especially given the limited head room they actually take up. An apple can produce 30 or more large apples. You can underplant these elegant columnar type fruit trees with strawberries or herbs to further maximise space. All varieties of apple, pear, plum, gage, damson and cherry are suitable for columnar growing. Column trees are very precocious and quick to reach fruiting maturity, infact sometimes maiden trees will yield the first summer.
Dwarf Pyramid trees
Somewhat superceded with the advent of dwarfing rootstocks and difficult to train well. The idea is to grow a nice upright tree with lower branches that are wider than those at the top, this lets all the branches receive the maximum amount of sunlight. You must start with a maiden tree which is cut back to 120-150cm’s, from which a new leader will then emerge. Side laterals will be formed by the next summer and the side shoots from these should be shortened, as should the growth extensions on the laterals themselves with the aim of perfecting a’pyramid’ shape. Not a project for the beginner but a well grown specimen is a most beautiful and practical tree.
Choosing the site
Of course it is possible, probable even, that you do not have a choice when it comes to deciding where your fruit trees are to be planted. But understanding a few variables, and making the most of what you have got, can help enormously in getting the most from your investment.
The ‘ideal’ is a southerly facing aspect with a good loamy soil, protected from strong winds and late frosts. Alas not many of us have that! There isn’t much you can do to alter the aspect or prevailing weather patterns, but judicious variety choice can overcome colder or less promising conditions. If the site is windy and exposed you can plant a windbreak hedge or in larger areas, a shelterbelt of trees such as willow or alder. Either is an ideal solution, filtering the wind and making conditions within much more promising.
Soil extremes, be it in water retention or ph – can be altered when planting.
Clay soils should be improved by double digging making sure to break up the hard ‘pan’ that usually forms a few inches down. Add organic matter or coarse grit. If you can prepare the soil in early Auutmn and leave it for winter frosts to do it’s work before planting then this is an advantage.
Chalky and light soils
The ph can be redressed by adding lots of plain peat and organic rich matter and manure. These have the benefits of reducing the soil’s alkalinity, but they also help improve the structure of the soil too.
Peaty acidic soils
Are usually fairly good to work with, a top dressing annually of lime easily counteracts any imbalance.
Waterlogged soils or soils that may be prone to waterlogging, are much less easy to deal with and may be regarded as fundamentally unsuited to fruit tree growing as they are. One [expensive] option is to install drains beneath the soil but this is hardly practical unless the planting is an extensive or commercially importat one. More practical for smaller endeavours is to plant the trees on raised mounds of good earth, or to build a simple raised bed of around 24” leaving the soil beneath uncovered to give greater depth of soil for the roots to go down into.
These suggestions are appropriate to larger or independently sited area’s but they can also be tailored to a smaller garden setting. And once again, even in a small garden setting, try to observe micro climate conditions and sunlight length for a while before deciding where to plant.
What to plant
Now comes the exciting part! You can start trawling the catalogues and websites salivating over all that you could plant. It is probable that you do not have the space or resources to grow everything you desire so to help in your choice, observing some practicalities such as the tips on growing conditions above, will help inform your decisions. There are also many other factors inbolved in making the right choices.
What sort of fruits do you prefer? In the case of apples, or other fruits where there is great variation and variety, try narrowing down your preferences still further by type – sweet, sharp, russet etc. Good fruit tree websites will have a filter section where you can home in on specifics like this.
Do you have an interest in older/heritage varieties or would you rather plant the best modern varieties that may have better disease resistance, or be more reliable? Deciding on priorities such as this will help you in your choice.
Which type of fruit do you use most of and will you realistically have a use for them in years of glut? Remember the preferences too of family as you may not be eating them all yourself.
How will you be using the spoils of your endeavours? Do you have a home wine maker in the family, are you an ardent cook, baker or jam maker? Do you have a freezer with spare space? Or do you prefer simply to eat them all fresh?
Taking into account suitability for your area is also important. If you live in the North, or in a frost pocket it does not make practical sense to devote 70% of your planting to sweet cherries or peaches for example, that will not crop reliably there. And space too will play a part, as you may be forced to plant only those trees that can be bought on dwarfing rootstocks, or those that are suited to intensive growing methods.
Remember too to consider the greenhouse or conservatory as a valuable additional environment for growing less hardy fruits.
Disease resistance is an important consideration and may play a role if you live in the south or a warmer more humid environment. This is because diseases are more rife under such circumstances so try to avoid known bug hotels such as Cox’s Orange Pippin and go for more resistant varieties. It may seem a contradiction at first, but varieties prone to catching diseases are actually better suited to the North and or drier localities.
Timing too can be a critical consideration, if you are often away for example in the second half of August it is wise to avoid varieties that may produce the bulk of their crop at a time when you’re not around to enjoy it. On a similar note, if possible try to split your planting into varieties that crop over the widest season possible so, for apples, choose both early, mid-late and storing varieties, so that you have fruit available for the longest possible period.
Preparation & Planting
Thorough preparation of the ground in advance will bring rich rewards and also save time when it comes to planting. If you are preparing to put in bare root stock during the dormant season then if you can double dig the ground in September time then this will be in ample time for it to settle. How you till the soil will depend on the size of the area you are planting. A hand spade is ample for garden conditions, a rotovator is a handy soil for the larger allotment. If you intend planting even a modestly sized orchard, then a mini tractor or orchartd tractor would be very labour-saving and it is sometimes possible to rent such machines if you are lucky.
In any case the soil should be turned to at least two spits. If the ground had previously been grassland or pasture, take care to make sure that beneath this depth the ground has also been turned somewhat, or pricked over by a fork, because it can have become very hard under such circumstances. The same applies to clay soils which can form a ‘pan’ a few inches down into which tree roots will find it impossible to penetrate.
It is sometimes tempting to plant the trees in a hole which is not really deep enough to take the roots, whichj become bent around in order to accommodate them. An adequate cultivated depth prepared in advance will prevent this temptation.
When to plant
Traditionally fruit trees and fruit stocks are planted as bare-root stock whilst dormant in the winter time. This is a convenient and easy way to plant, the trees experience little shock and there isn’t usually any need for watering afterward unless the spring following is a dry one. To the unitiated it might seem strange to plant during the winter but frost and snow does no harm at all as long as the trees arer in the ground.
These days you can plant all year round but if it is during the growing season – from April to October – then you musty only plant container grown trees. These trees are a perfectly acceptable means of getting your trees in when you want to but remember they will need constant watering until established.
A good dressing of bonemeal, a high nitrogen fertilizer or growmore will provide adequate nutrients initially. These types of fertilizer encourage growth which is the aim in the early stages so the tree can build a good framework of branches. In subsequent seasons a top dressing of potash should be applied annually in late winter. This encourages the production of flowers and fruit.
This should be raked in lightly over the entire planting area so that it does not leach away in heavy rain. Remember the root area is the sae as the canopy of the tree so if possible, distribute the fertilizer of an area equivalent to this.
Can I dig the holes in advance?
A common question, surprisingly. And the answer is a definite no! When the trees arrive, the root size may vary quite a bit from one tree to another, if they are of different varieties so you can’t really guage how big to make the holes until you actually have the trees. And in any case, digging holes in advance will likely have two consequences. The holes will either dry out completely, or fill with water. Neither is a very goood thing!
Do you have an easy irrigation source?
Having a garden hose nearby will greatly alleviate the trecking backwards and forwards with a watering can that may arise during dry springs after planting. Is the hose long enough to reach the trees easily? In which case, if it is not, invest in some extra hose-pipe and extend it to within easy reach. Another benefit of an easy water source such as this is that you will be more likely to water adequately than under-water which can sometimes be the temptation when you simply can’t face another long treck with a watering can!
These days, even urban area’s are under siege by rabbits and deer. Be prepared; eitherstock up on spiral tree guards, or better still for more significant area’s, invest in fencing made from galvanized chicken wire. It should be not less than 48” in height and should be dug into the ground as rabbits particularly will burrow underneath if it is not meticulously buried. Attention to detail now will save a lot of heartache later on, for young trees that have had their bark chewed by these furry menaces seldom recover.
How to plant
If on arrival of the trees the soil conditions are not suitable the trees should be heeled into a sheltered part of the garden. If this is not possible keep the tree in an unheated frost-free area and keep the roots moist with damp straw or a similar material until planting. Mark out the position for planting and drive in the stake which is to support your tree, This will normally be driven 18 inches into the soil or deeper on very light soils. The top of the stake should be 2 inches to 3 inches below the bottom branches of the tree after planting to avoid chafing. If the roots of the tree are at all dry, soak for 1 hour before planting. The next stage is the most important of all and must be correct to ensure the best results. A hole, deep and wide enough to take all of the roots of the tree when fully spread out, must first be dug. Dig into the base of the hole a bucket of compost, peat, well rotted manure or turf etc., and this will leave a slight mound in the centre of the hole. Place the tree on the mound with the stem approximately 2 to 3 inches away from the stake you have previously driven in, ensuring that the lowest tree branches are clear of the top of the stake. Plant the tree to the same depth as it was when in the nursery, which can be seen by the soil mark on the tree. The scion where the tree is budded or grafted onto the rootstock should be at least 4 inches above the soil surface after planting. Sprinkle the most fertile soil over the roots and occasionally shake the tree gently so that the soil falls among the roots. This process is continued until the hole is nearly full and the soil should then be firmed. Fill the remainder of the hole and firm again. Planting is now completed and the tree should be tied to the stake using a propriety tree tie.
A very worthwhile practice, you can use any organice material, well rotted compost, leafmould, peat etc and this should be spread around the tree to a depth of about 3” but take care to leave the area imediately around the actual trunk clear. This is so there is a good air circulation around the trunk, which prevents mould and fungal spores settling on the trunk itself. Mulching helps conserve moisture, stops weeds from growing around the tree, and also helps protect the roots against severe frosts.
Of all the orchard fruit trees it is apples that are by far the most popular. Part of this popularity is undoubtedly the keeping qualities of the fruit. With a little planning, you can have apples in your store from late July until April or even longer, so they represent a valuable fresh fruit source for much of the year. For this reason apples should represent the biggest percentage of your planting plan.
Apples are the hardiest of all the fruit trees so they are suited to most areas and localities. For very frosty or cold area’s it should be noted that cooking and culinary apples are generally hardier still than dessert.
Rootstocks for apple trees
As mentioned previously, the rootstock will control the height of the tree so you need to choose the correct rootstock for your specific requirements. The more dwarfing trees require better soil, the more vigorous/larger growing trees are usually more tolerant of poor soil. Listed in order of size, smallest first.
M27 Rootstock This is a superb miniature stock that is ideal for the very smallest garden and is also the rootstock of choice for container growing on the patio. Trees mature to a height of 160-180cm’s and the spread is the same, with the shape and habit of a true traditional apple tree, only much scaled down in size. The fruits produced are large and plentiful and precocious too, often yielding the first year. This rootstock can still yield at 20ibs or more per tree. M27 is also used for mini cordons and stepovers.
M9 Rootstock Is an excellent dwarfing rootstock, a step up from the M27 with a size approximately 240cm’s in height and spread. Crops of 30ibs or more per tree. Great for an intensive orchard, lawn planting, etc, or larger containers. Really does like good soil whereupon the results are superb. Often crops the first year, also the standard choice for cordon growing.
M26 Rootstock Is often described as semi-dwarfing but this does not mean it is a dwarfing tree, far from it, but it is a good intermediate choice with trees remaining easily managed with a height of 300-360cm’s and a spread the same. Heavily cropping when established and good on lighter soils.
Rootstock MM106 Can be used to make a half standard tree with a trunk clearance of 120cm’s so good for grassy areas that need to be mown beneath. Ideal as an orchard tree with heavy crops in excess of 50ibs per tree when mature. Tolerant of indifferent soils. Height 400cm’s plus, spread the same. Good for espalier or fan training.
Rootstock M111 More vigorous still than MM106 and good on poor soils but not quick to come into bearing.
Rootstock M25 Too vigorous for general applications but suitable for those who want an apple tree as big as you’re average house! Slow to reach fruiting maturity but makes a hardy tree.
There are actually a great many more rootstocks for apples in existence but these are the ones you will most commonly be presented with an offers a good assortment of tree sizes suited to all purposes and applications.
With such enormous variety it is difficult to make suggestions as to ‘good’ varieties so for easier reference these have been subdivided into categories and types.
Early apple cultivars
‘Early’ are those that ripen from the end of July and into September, representing a valuable season extending yield before the main apple times begin.
Beauty of Bath is an old variety that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. It has a juicy, refreshing flavour and is amongst the very earliest to ripen, in late July and early August. Eat straight from the tree for the best flavour.
Discovery Hardly needing introduction, being one of the ‘famous names’ in apple growing history. Season is throughout August, excellent taste.
Katy Slightly later and usually ready from mid-late August, you will sometimes see this variety listed under the originators name which is ‘Katja’ It comes from northern Europe and is really food for coler, frosty area’s. The fruits are heavily flushed red, most attractive.
Redsleeves Redsleeves is unusual in that is keeps quite well, which the earlies often don’t. It’s only a small to medium sized tree but has a lovely sweet taste and is a vivid red flushed apple, great for lunchboxes or snacking. The tree is naturally compact and heavy yielding.
Good for organic growing as it is very disease resistant, and also deserves mention because it is self fertile – good for the one tree garden.
Mid season apple varieties
This is where the bulk of the varieties are and it’s difficult to choose recommendations as there are so many but after much deliberation, these make our shortlist. Season is mostly October to Christmas.
Gavin Although never a mainstay surely deserves wider appeal. It has natural scab and disease resistance and always seems to do well. The orange flushed fruits have a really good well balanced flavour.
Red Falstaff A newcomer that has quickly leapt onto the bestseller lists. Handily self fertile so you don’t need other trees to go with it, Red Falstaff has branches that can literally be weighed down with the profusion of it’s fruits. Excellent dense, crispy texture and a sweet flavour. Top class variety which should be considered as part of any fruit tree planting programme.
Charles Ross Often described as being like a big Cox’s. Charles Ross is suitable even for northern locations and has a sumptuous taste.
Greensleeves One of the best performing varieties each season. Greensleeves is self-pollinating and very heavily cropping. The fruits have a refreshing, juicy but not too tart flavour. Very easy to grow so good for beginners.
Jupiter Jupiter makes a vigorous tree that can yield very heavily indeed. It’s flavour is top class, akin to a Cox’s but a much better grower with good disease resistance. Stored well.
Red Windsor Raised from Cox’s itself but with better colour, the handsome apples are almost entirely dark gleaming red with a startling white inner flesh. Superb taste, easy to grow, self fertile.
Spartan A very heavy cropping and easy to grow variety suited to all area’s. Fruits are almost entirely a stunning dark mahogany red and have a very sweet taste which often features on popularity polls. One of the best of all varieties.
Saturn Good for organic growing as it is very disease resistant, and also deserves mention because it is self fertile – good for the one tree garden.
At the tail end of the season it’s good to have these varieties that go on well after most others, providing good quality fruits from your shed, garage, or ‘fridge well into Springtime.
Winter Gem An English raised variety with a lovely intense flavour and prettily pink blushed skin.
Winston Popular on the Continent and seems to do well everywhere, the smallish fruits are hood for lunchboxes and have a good, mildly sweet taste. Easy to grow variety.
Tydemans Late Orange A Cox type apple that lasts well into February/March in good condition. The trees feather and spur well ensuring a good crop; suites all growing applications and an experts favourite.
Good ‘green’ dessert varieties
For those who like their apples with a bit of crunch!
Crispin, Greensleeves, Limelight, Bountiful [dual purpose]
Good very-red apples
Sweet, mild, colourful and appetising.
Spartan, Lobo, Red Delicious, Redsleeves, Crimson Queening, Jonathan.
Good russet varieties
The characteristic ‘nutty’ and often aromatic taste of a russet has endeared them to many. Here are some good ones:
Brownleees Russet, Egremont Russet, Orleans Reinette, Princesse, Ashmeads Kernel.
Good Cox replacments
If Cox’s is your favourite apple but you don’t fancy mollycoddling and worreting over a Cox then here’s some excellent similar tasting varieties that won’t give you sleepless nights.
Tydemans Late Orange, Sunset, Charles Ross, Fiesta, Red Windsor, Kidds Orange Red.
Recommended Cooking varieties
Bountiful, Grenadier, Arthur Turner, Lord Derby, Howgate Wonder, Jumbo, Annie Elizabeth, Bramleys Seedling, Catshead, Newton Wonder.
Apple Problems, bugs and diseases
Apple Sawfly Easily identified as a brown ribbon-like spiral mark on the surface of the lower end of the fruits. This is caused by the sawfly larvae burrowing into the fruits to feed on the tissue just beneath the skin. Natural control can be effective – remove fallen fruits that show the symptoms promptly and destroy them, the developing larvae should still be inside. However some may have already left to pupate in the ground beneath the tree so by covering the soil with a plastic sheet will prevent this happening. Chemical solutions can be effective – pyrethrum applied as the flower petals are falling, and again 7-10 days later will work but timing is critical.
Codling Moth Often presents little sign outwardly but the small white grubs will become apparent inside the fruit when it is cut. You may then notice a small purple-brown hole where the larvae entered the fruit. Control can be by chemical means [pyrethrum] or natural – codling moth traps can be applied during June and July when the adults are active.
Aphids/Greenfly The most common probolem of apple trees and appears under several guises – rosy apple aphid, greenfly, whitefly and woolly aphid can all settle and make colonies. Biological controls are available or you can spray light infestations on small trees with soapy water which will often rid them. But heavier or larger infestations really need treating with a systemic insecticide such as Provado. Woolly aphid inm particular seems difficult to eradicate without a systemic insecticide.
Apple Scab The most prevalent fungal disease after mildew is apple scab. Symptoms are present on leaf and fruit; black-brown spots become bigger and bigger and can create whole patches that eat away at the leaf and discolour the fruits badly. Scab is more prevalent in wet area’s or during rainy seasons. Control by spraying can be sought by using sulphur or copper based fungicides. It has also been suggested that seaweed extract such as Maxicrop, applied as a foliar feed, has some effect. Encouraging healthy vigorous growth will help in avoiding scab and there are also some varieties that are largely resistant, such as Charles Ross, Gavin and Saturn.
Powdery Mildew Is a common problem and presents itself as a silvery dusting on the new leaves. It can be controlled with the use of a broad-spectrum fungicide but prevention is better than cure so if you have experienced this problem before start to spray at intervals early on in the season, soon after the leaves have opened.
Bitter Pit A physiological disorder which cases brown speckling within the fruit, usually not apparent until you cut it. Such fruits are normally unusuable for most general purposes. It is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil, or a trees inability to extract calcium from the soil caysed by dry conditions. To counteract this you can use a foliar spray of calcium chloride, applied during the summer months.
Canker A common disease of Apples & Pears is Canker which causes distinctive lesions on the trunk and branches themselves, these develop into sunken, flaking wounds. The disease is more troublesome in the wetter area’s of the country. The best course of action is to cut out infected wood, beyond the point of infection leaving only clean growth. If the canker is on the main trunk or a major limb then spraying with bordeaux mixture can help. Some varieties are more susceptable to canker than others.
In general Pear trees prefer a more favoured aspect than Apples and may be less satisfactory in colder or more exposed area’s. They like a good deal of sun and a reasonably fertile soil. If this is a problem then why not consider growing delicious Pears as cordon or supercolumn trees by sunny wall or patio, they do very well grown in this way. Unusually perhaps, Pears fare better on clay soils than apples do.
Rootstocks for Pears
There isn’t quite such a variety of rootstocks as there is for Apples but there is still an adequate selection to suit all needs. Listed in order of size, smallest first.
Pyrodwarf The smallest tree of all but not compatible with all varieties. Relatively new on the scene, it provides a tree of 180-240cm’s in height and spread. Requires good soil conditions. Precocious and quick to reach fruiting-agel ideal for intensive orchard, very small gardens and container work.
Quince C This is the most commonly grown rootstock for Pears and makes an easily managed, productive tree that grows well over widely varying soils. The best stock for cordon, column, fan/espalier or bush growing. 200-260cm’s on average height and spread, less if grown in a large container.
Quince A More vigorous than Quince ‘C’ and the choice for orchard or grassland/paddock planting. Easy to grow and hardy. Tree sizes of 300-380cm’s height and spread are normal. Can be grown on a trunk with sufficient clearance to be mown beneath. Suitable for bush and half standard trees.
Pyrus communis and BA29 Are both super-vigorous making large trees unsuitable for all except large areas; grass, orchard, paddock etc. They do tend to be hardy and more forgiving of soil and disease resistant but are difficult to harvest due to the fruit mostly being out of reach.
Self fertile varieties of Pear
Conference, Concorde, Invincible, Durondeau, Improved Fertility and, to a lesser extent, Beurre Hardy, can all ne planted alone for good crops. The first 3 are the best varieties for this purpose.
Recommended Pear varieties
It’s so difficult to choose, we love them all! But forced to make choices, these make our shortlist based on the merits of superb flavour, ease and reliability.
Williams bon Chretien, Glou Morceau, Concorde, Beth, Merton Pride, Dr Jules Guyot, Josephine de Malines, Invincible.
Good Pear varieties for colder and frosty area’s
Invinvinble, Cannock, Beurre Hardy, Concorde, Winter Nellis, Catillac.
Bugs, diseases and problems in Pear trees
Scab A very prevalent Pear disease. Symptoms are present on leaf and fruit; black-brown spots become bigger and bigger and can create whole patches that eat away at the leaf and discolour the fruits badly. Scab is more prevalent in wet area’s or during rainy seasons. Control by spraying can be sought by using sulphur or copper based fungicides. It has also been suggested that seaweed extract such as Maxicrop, applied as a foliar feed, has some effect. Encouraging healthy vigorous growth will help in avoiding scab and some varieties are more resistant than others.
Pear leaf blister mite If yellow to orange pink blisters appear on the leaves in early Summer then it is leaf blister mite. These develop into blackish blothces that may cause defoliation of the tree by late Summer. Although it is not generally though of as a serious pest but it is unsightly and can become entrenched. Raking and burning falled leaves will help, a systemic insecticide may also have some effect, sprayed at intervals throughout the growing season.
Canker A common disease of Apples & Pears is Canker which causes distinctive lesions on the trunk and branches themselves, these develop into sunken, flaking wounds. The disease is more troublesome in the wetter area’s of the country. The best course of action is to cut out infected wood, beyond the point of infection leaving only clean growth. If the canker is on the main trunk or a major limb then spraying with bordeaux mixture can help. Some varieties are more susceptable to canker than others.
Fireblight Pears are particularly susceptable to Fireblight. Sudden die-back, with blackened shoots that appear as if burnt, are the signs. There is no cure except for the removal of affected wood to clean, live growth. The cutting tool must be disinfected between each cut to prevent re-infecting. Affected wood should be burnt. In severe cases it is probbaly best to remove the tree.
PLUMS, GAGES & DAMSONS
Perhaps the most delectable of all the fruits, can you ever have too many Plums? Gages and Damsons are closely inter-related; the former generally require a warmer aspect than Plums, whilst the latter are hardier still and do well in Northern areas. All appreciate the same general cultivation rules and are grafted on to the same rootstocks.
Rootstocks for Plum, Gage & Damson trees
There is only a limited selection of rootstocks for these fruits, listed in order of size, smallest first.
Pixy Is by far the most popular tree and the most satisfactory for garden use. It is moderately dwarfing to semi vigorous and fairly adaptable in it’s size. It can be kept to just 190-200cm’s in height, or allowed to grow a bit more than that. Space 180cm’s apart. Suitable for growing in 20-24” containers, or as an intensive orchard or smaller grassy area. Heavy crops can be achieved. Pixy is ideal for small bush trees or cordon, column and stepover training. Generally more precocious than St Julien.
St Julien A Is a much more vigorous tree and ideal for a traditional orchard setting or the larger garden or paddock etc. Once established it’s yields will be greater than Pixy. St Julien A will mature into a tree of 360cm’s or more in height and perhaps a little less in width. It is used for larger bush tree, half standard and fan trained applications.
Brompton & Myrobalam stocks Super-vigorous, hardy trees suitable for poorer soil and very large area’s. Seldom recommended these days as the fruit is very difficult to pick as it is largely out of reach without a tall ladder.
Good varieties of Plum
Looking for failsafe, extra juicy and flavoursome Plums – then select from this list of recommended varieties.
Opal The first and most predominant early variety, Opal has red-purple fruits which are quite small but sweet and suitable for dessert use. A good growing tree, ripening late July.
Czar Czar [also known as ‘The Czar’ is such a hardy growing tree it is suitable for all areas and is self fertile too, as well as being a good pollinator for other varieties. Czar has deep purple fruits that are quite early, and may be used from late July. Mainly used for all culinary purposes, at which it excels, but does suit dessert use also. One of the classic varieties.
Rivers Early Prolific Dual purpose with oval dark blue purple fruits with green-yellow flesh. A hardy good-doer, early season and justifiably popular.
Violetta A new variety from Sweden that is already performing really well. This naturally compact and self fertile tree is super-hardy and prolific with a juicy golden flesh just ideal for eating flesh. Already highly regarded.
Pershore Yellow Egg If you are looking for a really sweet cooking Plum then Pershore Yellow Egg is the answer. This variety tends to do well no matter what and often survives today in old neglected orchards. The fruits cook to a very juicy deep yellow that needs little sugar. Jams made from this variety are wonderful!
Jubilee The newest variety on the block is also already the most hardy. Known for it’s ultra hardy durability, this very, very reliable variety bears fruits of a good quality that suit dessert first and foremost. Ripening 10 days before Victoria but exceeds that variety considerably in weight and quality of crop. The number one choice for garden growing. Self fertile.
Manns no 1 A relatively obscure variety, but worth mentioning as a form of Victoria that is more disease resistant and has the same sumpruous flavour.
Marjories Seedling Marjories is a late season extender that we always like to suggest. Its fruits are quite large and hang on the tree well into October giving valuable late fruits. They are a splendid dusky purple and have a juicy green-yellow interior that suits all purposes. Self pollinating.
Burbanks Giant Prune Known under many seudonyms but none disguise the cast-iron constitution of this frost hardy variety. The fruits are very oval, a striking deep red and firmly textured, suitable for all cooking purposes. Great for the north., self fertile.
Good varieties of Greengage
Recommendations include Oullins Golden Gage, Cambridge Gage, Dennistons Superb and Stella’s Star.
Recommendations for Damson varieties
Merryweather and Shropshire Damson remain the classics to which all others are compared.
Bugs and diseases of Plum, Gage & Damson
Aphids/Greenfly The most common probolem of Plum Gage and Damson trees and appears under several guises –leaf curling and mealy aphid, greenfly, whitefly and woolly aphid can all settle and make colonies. Biological controls are available or you can spray light infestations on small trees with soapy water which will often rid them. But heavier or larger infestations really need treating with a systemic insecticide such as Provado. Woolly aphid inm particular seems difficult to eradicate without a systemic insecticide.
Canker Appears most commonly on the main trunks and branches as sap or sticky gum oozes from the bark.
The disease is more troublesome in the wetter area’s of the country. The best course of action is to cut out infected wood, beyond the point of infection leaving only clean growth. If the canker is on the main trunk or a major limb then spraying with bordeaux mixture can help. Some varieties are more susceptable to canker than others. Sticky sap can also be produced if the tree is stressed so don’t automatically assume it is canker.
Silverleaf is a name guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any would-be fruit grower but be aware that bad infestations of powdery mildew look similar. True Silverleaf is quite uncommon and after the silvering of individual branches, die back occurs. Cut pieces of wood show a dark brown stain.The only remedy is swift removal of affected branches, down to healthy wood and the wounds should then be sealed with a tree wound paint. The pruning saw should be kept srupulously clean as you work. Silverleaf can affect other trees as well but is most common on Plum.
Plum moth Is the culprit when you cut into a seemingly perfect Plum only to find it damaged inside and liberally sprinkled with fine grains of maggot faeces! This troublesom pest can be controlled by pheromone traps hung around the trees from June to August. A systemic insecticide may also be helpful applied to the young developing fruits.
The temptation of growing bunches of stunning-looking sweet and juicy cherries is definitely within the scope of all and they are generally easy to grow. One or two points to remember though:
Sweet cherries generally are less suited to Northern localities.
Wherever you grow them be prepared to give them protection from birds or our beaky friends will get there first! This is remedied most easily by growing smaller trees in containers, that can be readily netted, or grow them in a fruit cage or against a wall where you can again net them more easily..
Morello cooking Cherries are much hardier and can be grown well in the North, in less suitable gardens, and are one of the few fruits that enjoy life on a North facing wall!
Cherry trees are probably the most attractive of all our orchard trees, not only in blossom when there bows become thickly clustered with snowy white blossom, but also the burning gold and orange of the autumn leaf tints. They are also great for bees and wildlife.
Rootstocks for Cherries
There are really only two that are suited to general garden cultivation.
Colt Rootstock Remains the most prevalent and is fairly flexible. It may be grown as a semi-vigorous tree for orchard, lawn, or paddock use yet is quite easily contained by pruning so well suited to smaller area’s too. It is the only rootstock recommended for fan training. You can also festoon Colt rootstock, by pulling young branches down to the main stem and tieing them. This creates a lovely weeping tree with naturally suppressed vigour and is quite easy to do. Colt crops heavily and is suited to most soils. Height – anywhere from 220-400cm’s according to your wishes, spread much the same.
Gisela 5 The first genuinely dwarf rootstock for Cherries has understandably received a lot of attention. It is the only Cherry rootstock really suited to container growing and is easier to place inside a fruit cage. It crops early in life and has shown good compatibility with most varieties. Morello in particular produces stunning results on this rootstock. Gisela 5 can be maintained at just 160-180cm’s in height, or if allowed to grow will make a little more. Highly recommended but requires good soil that does not dry out too readily for the best results. Excels in containers but make sure watering is regular. Gisela 5 requires little pruning or upkeep. Suitable for small bush tree or column work, but not really suited to fan training.
Prunus avium and F121 These are both much more vigorous and have the capability of making substantial trees. They are not suited to garden growing but can be employed in a larger traditional orchard setting, or a paddock where a large hardy tree is required. It will be very difficult to protect the fruit from birds but they make handsome trees, especially when in blossom.
The self fertile varieties, aside from being convenient choices for the one cherry tree garden, also tend to be the most reliable performers. The following are all sweet black or dark red fruiting cherries that are the easiest to grow:
Sunburst, Stella, Summer Sun, Lapins, Sylvia.
Special mention should go to ‘Penny’ which has particularly large and impressive fruits [but which requires a pollinator] and also Petite Noir which is naturally very compact and almost dwarfing in habit, even on Colt stock. It is self fertile, sweet and dark red/black. Because grafting wood is produced only sparing, Petite Noir is often in short supply.
If you are looking for a ‘white’ Cherry [which are tremendously sweet with a white inner flesh] then our recommendation would be for Merton Glory. This variety requires a pollinating partner and there are no self fertile white cherry varieties.
Bugs, diseases and maladies of Cherry trees
Bacterial Canker Shows it’s presence when gum leaks from the bark. The disease is more troublesome in the wetter area’s of the country and is spread by rain and wind. The best course of action is to cut out infected wood, beyond the point of infection leaving only clean growth. If the canker is on the main trunk or a major limb then spraying with bordeaux mixture can help. Some varieties are more susceptable to canker than others. Cherry trees may also leak a sticky gum when stressed or in general poor health, so it may not automatically be canker.
Blackfly Will almost certainly infest the new growths in late Spring