Autumn is the perfect time to plant fruit trees and once you have tasted your own apples in season you'll realise how much tastier they are compared to that from a supermarket. Even if you have a relatively small garden, David Hall thinks there I still space for a tree if you choose carefully and manage correctly.
Free standing apple and other fruit trees grow in different forms or shapes. A 'standard' apple tree will grow to well over 20ft with branches spread over the same width. A 'bush' tree will mature at between 10 – 20ft while a 'dwarf pyramid' has a pleasing shape but can be difficult to manage and will grow to 8ft with a 5ft spread.
Other forms are fan, cordon, espalier, stepover and festoon, these need careful training against walls or the use of posts and wires.
The 'rootstock', onto which a tree is grafted, decides the eventual size of a tree, while the grafted variety (or scion), such as Discovery or James Grieve, determines the type of fruit produced.
For apples, the most common rootstocks include 'M27' which is very dwarfing, meaning that the tree will grow up to 6ft tall and is therefore suitable for tub grown or stepover trees. 'M9' is a very common commercial dwarfing rootstock (up to 10ft) and is right for small gardens and cordons and 'MM106' produces a tree that is between 10 and 12 ft and ideal for fans, cordons and espaliers.
The root stock not only influences growth vigour but also imparts some pest and disease resistance and has suitability for different types of soils. The final height of a tree will also depend on variants such as climatic conditions, the application of fertiliser and pruning techniques.
Eating apples can be split into early, mid or late flowering varieties and, for the best crop, these must be pollinated by a different type. So it is sensible, if there are not apple trees in adjacent gardens, to choose at least two trees that flower at the same time. The ordinary man in the street will be most familiar with the mid flowering varieties. Here's a selection:
Early: George Cave, Egremont Russet, Lord Lambourne,
Mid: Cox's Orange Pippin, Discovery, Ellison's Orange, James Grieve, Laxton's Superb,
Late: Lord Derby, Newton Wonder
(If you want cooking apples, Bramley and Grenadier are suitable cross-polinating varieties)
The choice of variety largely depends on personal preference in terms of flavour and texture but difficulty of growing may also be an influence. For example Cox's Orange Pippin is extremely popular but won't succeed in colder parts of the country and needs good management to prevent mildew and canker.
Plant bare rooted trees when they are dormant, for example during the winter. You'll need to dig a hole about 3ft wide. If you suffer from poor soil add orgnanic matter and fertiliser to the discarded top soil. Locate a robust 2in stake in the hole, the top of which should be lower than the planted tree's bottom branch. Place the tree next to the stake and re-fill the hole with the top soil up to the same level as before, making sure there are no air pockets. Then firm the soil and tie to the stake before mulching.
Trees that have been grown in a container can be planted throughout the year. If you have good soil, dig a hole that is just a bit larger than the root ball. For areas with poor soil, the hole should be larger so that fertiliser and organic matter can be added. Once watered and out of the container make sure the roots aren't pot bound and plant in the hole to the original level. After firming the soil, use two short stakes and a cross bar to secure the tree, throughly water and lay a mulch.
Apples will benefit from a well balanced spring feed and organic mulch. Keep well watered especially when the fruit is developing. Prune each year.