Apple tree. cultivation guide

The most popular, and probably the most valuable of all the top fruits,the storing capabilities of the apple ensure that even bountiful yields find a ready use. With careful variety selection & storing it is possible to have apples in season from late July right through to the following May.
Ideally apples prefer a well drained laom in which to grow. However they are very adaptable and will thrive on most soils except thin chalk and that which is probe to waterlogging. In general difficult conditions will suit cooking varieties better than dessert - these tend to be hardier and more adaptable. If there is a choice, always choose a site that recieves maximum sunlight; this results in better yields of more highly coloured and flavoursome fruits. You may notice that fruits on the shadier side of the tree are always duller than those that get more sun. Again, if the area is predominantly shaded choose culinary varieties.
By far the most important aspect in the development of a good crop is that of pollination. Only a few varieties are self fertile [see list later] the majority requiring at least one pollinating partner. The flowering season of all apples is divided into groups and the catalogue or website of any fruit tree specialist will tell you which 'group' a variety belongs to. It is necessary to choose those in the same or adjacent groups to make sure they flower at the same time and that pollen is available for the bees to pass from flower to flower.
Rootstock selection
By far the most important decision you will make in your apple selection is that of rootstock. The rootstock on which the variety is grafted determines how big the tree will grow. You need to make the right choice in relation to available space and also the form you wish the trees to take. There are many, many apple rootstocks in commerce - these are the most common and satisfactory that will cover all aplications. In all cases the spread is usually roughly the same as the height and therein lies the planting distance.
M27 is miniature and ideal for very small gardens, grown in a border amongst flowers or herbs, or ina 20" container on the patio. Trees are precocious, often fruiting the following year, the fruit size is large and crops heavy considering these trees grow to just 5-6' in height. These trees require little pruning and are ideal for beginners & those with small patches and allotments. Also suited to stepover training.
M9 stock is dwarf, growing to 6-8'. It has large fruits, is precocious and actually the preferred choice for commercial plantations because it can be harvested without a ladder. This rootstock needs good soil to do well and is unsuitable for poor or thin soils but when it does well it is very heavy cropping and tends to promote a high garde of class 1 fruits. Ideal for intensive orchard, border or lawn planting. The best stock for cordon growing.
M26 stock is semi vigorous. Suitable for alrger lawn or grassland. Matures to 10-12', sometimes a little slowt o get off but a good intermediate sized tree.
MM106 is vigorous and the stocl preferred for half standards, larger orchard sized bush trees, as well as fan and espalier training. As a bush trees will reach 12-15'. Goods for paddock.
M25 is super-vigorous and only for large or exposed areas. 15-20'+. Very seldom used these days.

General cultivation notes
SOIL PREPARATION. Tree fruits are long lived, so to achieve the best results it is important to prepare the ground before planting. The first essential is to remove all perennial weeds by forking out and burning. The soil should then be dug a full spade depth and broken up. It is beneficial at this time to add well rotted manure or compost etc., to the soil as the promotes healthy growth, about every 25 square feet, should receive one barrow load on average. Light hungry soils, more, and good fertile soils less. Bonemeal at 2oz per square yard may be forked in at this time if required.

PLANTING. 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.

MULCHING. The tree can be mulched after planting to improve conditions further but be sure not to place the mulch next to the trunk of the tree as this can cause fungal disease. A gap of approximately 2 inches should be left clear at the base. An 18 inch area can be mulched to a depth of up to 3 inches using well rotted compost, manure or peat etc.

PRUNING. Most pruning of all trained trees is very simple, but read through the following carefully, study the tree, and the meaning will become clear. Once the object of pruning is understood the basic principles are clearly explained. The main objectives are to make sure that branches are well spread to allow in air and light, to build the shape of the tree you require and in later years to remove any dead or diseased wood. Pruning should be carried out in the Winter months between November and February but preferably not when air temperatures are below freezing. The trained shapes known as bush, pyramid and cordons are the most convenient types for normal gardens and these three are listed accordingly.

PRUNING THE BUSH TREE. The best natural shape of a tree is a bush. The branches spread from a 2 or 3 foot stem and are easy to pick from and prune.

FIRST WINTER. Immediately after planting, if the tree is a maiden, the main stem should be cut just above a bud at approximately 3 feet from the ground and any side shoots cut back to just 2 or 3 buds from the main stem. These young side shoots are called feathers, any that are closer to the ground than 2 feet should be removed.

SECOND WINTER. Or after planting if the tree is two years old. . There will now be 3 or 4 good wide angled shoots which will become the main branches. Cut each of these back to an outward facing bud, removing about half the length of the shoot.

THIRD WINTER. All of the shoots pruned the previous Winter should have grown a further 2 or 3 good shoots. These should be pruned to a well placed bud removing about a third of the new growth, any shoots that have developed and may cause overcrowding should be removed to maintain the bush shape of your tree. The main framework should now consist of about 8 main branches.

PRUNING THE ESTABLISHED TREE. Your tree is now established and will begin to fruit, from now on the pruning is much more flexible. It is simply a matter of removing any unwanted wood that is overcrowding your tree or restricting light and air to too great an extent. In general, the tips of the braches should not now be pruned unless a branch is growing in an undesirable direction. Every year some side shoots should be left un-pruned to bear fruit, cutting out only those that fruited the previous year to a two inch stump. You will now be understanding the growth of your tree and the results of previous pruning and be in a position to cultivate your fruiting tree to provide your requirements.

PRUNING THE DWARF PYRAMID. The dwarf pyramid is the ideal easy way of growing apples and pears if room is restricted in the smaller garden or a very intensive system is required. Trees are planted just 5 feet apart for M9 and 6 feet apart for M26 and pears. If more that one row is required the rows should be 7 feet apart. As the name suggests the aim of pruning a dwarf pyramid is to have a central stem of about 7 feet high and a total branch spread of about 4 feet which tapers to the top to form a pyramid shape. This shape is achieved easily with a combination of Winter and Summer pruning. Do not grow dwarf pyramids against a wall, but in the open garden. After planting, the stems should be cut back to about 20 inches from the ground and any side shoots cut to leave 4 or 5 buds, shorter if necessary. During the first Summer, 4 or 5 strong shoots will be produced, no pruning is required at this time.

THE SECOND WINTER. Cut back the central leader to leave approximately 9 inches of new growth, ensuring that you prune at a bud that points in the opposite direction to the last pruning. This ensures that the central stem will remain as straight and upright as possible. The side branches should be pruned to a downward pointing bud to leave approximately 8 inches of the new seasons growth.

THE FOLLOWING SUMMER, JULY TO AUGUST. Leave all the leaders un-pruned but all the laterals (the current season’s growth) that have grown from trees should be pruned back to about 3 or 4 inches or 3 leaves. Any that are immature leave and prune in September in the same way.

THE THIRD WINTER AND SUBSEQUENT PRUNING. Once again cut back the central leader to about 9 inches ensuring you prune to a bud on the opposite side to the previous Winter. Once the tree has reached the required height of about 7 feet, the leader should not be pruned in Winter but cut back to its origin in Summer. If the growth is vigorous, this can be done in May and further shortened in August.
Every Summer the branch leaders should be pruned to approximately 5 inches and all side laterals to 3 or 4 leaves. Any sub laterals (those growing from the side laterals) should be pruned to 2 leaves.
From now the intention should be to retain the pyramid shape by close pruning and removal of any over vigorous shoots. Dwarf pyramids are easy to manage and all pruning is at a convenient height. The best form for the smaller modern gardens.

CORDONS. Growing apples as cordons is ideal for the less experienced and the smaller garden and is probably the most productive of all growing systems. Cordons are in fruit the second season after planting and in heavy crop in 4 years. It is possible to grow a large range of varieties in a very small space to ensure excellent pollination and a full season long crop.

PLANTING AND SUPPORT. Space the cordons 2 feet 6 inches apart when planting in rows 6 feet apart with the rows running north to south, if possible but this is not essential. A wall or fence is suitable for growing cordons or they be grown in the open garden on a wire fence. Drive in the posts to about 2ft deep every 12ft, to hold the support wires. These should be spaced 2ft, 4ft and 6ft high using gauge 10 to 12 wire. Bamboo canes 8ft long should then be tied to the wires at an angle of 45 degrees with the tops pointing towards the north if grown north/south or the east if growing east/west. Space the canes at one for each tree planted, when planting the trees they should be planted 9 inches away from the structure to allow room for trunk growth. Plant an angle 45 degrees with the scion above ground and facing upwards, the trees should then be tied securely to the cane using thick, soft string or chain lock plastic ties.

PRUNING. After planting cut the main stem to a bud removing about one third, this will often have been done at the nursery, prior to despatch. At planting it is easier to tie the bamboo cane to the support and then tie the stem of the tree to the bamboo cane.

THE FIRST SUMMER. As the main stem grows this should be tied to the supporting bamboo to keep it in a straight line, do not prune this main stem. In July or August prune the laterals which have grown from the main stem leaving 3 or 4 leaves on each. Ignore the ring or cluster of leaves at the base of each stem, count from this cluster and cut close to the selected leaves. It is easy to see when your cordon is ready for Summer pruning, the side shoots have grown out to 9 inches or more long, the leaves have become darker and lost their early brightness and the whole shoots have stiffened and begun to look more mature at the base end near the stem.

FOLLOWING WINTERLS PRUNING. Each Winter prune the new growth of the main stem as before until it has reached the required height at the top of the wires. Each year cut at a bud on opposite sides so that the main stem keeps growing as straight as possible. When the main stem has reached the top of the wire, it should no longer be pruned in Winter but cut back in Summer to the required height.

SUMMER PRUNING THE NOW ESTABLISHED TREE. Every Summer at the stage of growth previously described, all of the laterals that are growing from the main stem should be pruned to leave 3 to 4 leaves. Do not prune those less than 9 inches long as these may have fruit buds.
All sub laterals (shoots which grow from previous laterals) should be pruned back to two leaves. If secondary growth occurs in poor growing seasons, prune back to one bud from your earlier Summer pruning in September. All of this may sound drastic and complicated but it is not, it is essential and easy, so easy in fact that it has been known in large areas of professional trials to Summer prune with hedging shears. We ourselves still prefer the traditional method!

PRUNING MINI TREES ON ROOTSTOCK M27. Prune as with the larger rootstocks except that pruning should not be quite so hard. Light pruning with most varieties is sufficient.

PRUNING THE FAMIL TREE. Prune as you would a bush tree, treating each variety separately to ensure an even balance of the different varieties.


FEEDING. Fertilizer should be applied as a top dressing over the rooting area which is normally the same as the spread of the tree.

DESSERT APPLES. Every year in late January or February, apply Sulphate of Potash as 3/4oz per square yard. Every three years also apply Super Phosphate at 2oz per square yard and in late February, Sulphate of Ammonia (not if your soil is acid) or Nitro Chalk at 1oz per square yard.

COOKING APPLES. Exactly the same as dessert varieties except that Sulphate of Ammonia or Nitro Chalk should be applied at 2oz per square yard.

PEARS. Requirements are the same as cooking apples.

WATERING. Water well during drought periods, about 4 gallons per square yard every 10 days. Larger and better quality fruit are produced by regular watering during July, August and September.


APPLES. Lift the fruit in the palm of the hand and if it leaves the three easily with the stalk intact the fruit is ready for picking. Another sign is the first windfalls, the skin of the fruit becomes brighter coloured.

PEARS. Harder to assess than apples, but the colour of the skin often becomes paler. Lift the pear in the palm of the hand, twist slightly and tug, it should leave the tree with stalk intact.

GENERAL TIPS. The main difference between apples and pears is that the pear carries its fruit on spurs close to the main branches so more main branches can be left. With pears, aim to leave about 12 main branches whereas 8 main branches is more suitable for apples.

Espalier Training
Not as difficult as it might seem and generally it is preferable to buy a young tree and train it in situ rather than planting a ready trained tree. It is also much cheaper plus the availability of ready-trained trees can be erratic at best. It is essential you start with a young tree; the first thing to do for an espalier is prune the main[central] leader back by a third. This will encourage a lot of new growth from lower down. Depending on the variety there may already be some lower laterals which you can work with. For an espalier these would normally be spaced approximately 15" from the ground with the second tier roughly 18" above the first. However the great thing about training your own is that this can be flexible according to your own wishes. If your tree already has suitably placed laterals then tie these in to the wires and remove anything else. If not wait for new growth to appear and do this the second summer. Progress up the tree with a further one or two tiers until the process is complete. The leader can be kept trimmed. Trim back side spurs on the laterals when mature, to about 2". For a fain trained tree cut the tree back to about 18" preferably with a pair of opposite buds or already-growing laterals. When these branches grow out horizontally, several upright shoots will begin to grwo from these 2 horizontal laterals. These will begin to form the fan framework that you can work with. Simply remove excessive growth and concentrate on keeping that you want

Variety selection
Good self fertile varieties
Saturn, Greensleeves, Limelight, Red Windsor, Red Devil, Red Falstaff.
Good early varieties [late Jully-Sept eating]
Merton Knave
Beauty of Bath
Irish Peach
George Cave
Good mid season varieties [late Sept-Oct]
Charles Ross
Red Falstaff
Egremont Russet
Lord Lambourne
good late-storing varieties
Winter Gem
Christmas Pippin
Allington Pippin
The best cooking varieties
Bramleys Seedling
Annie Elizabeth
Howgate Wonder
The Queen
Arthur Turner
Lord Derby
Apples as column trees
The advent of the columnar type growing system has been of great value for small gardens and means even those with a balcony can grow their own top fruits. The classic simplicity of the elegant columnar form is very easy to maintain and the simplest pruning method for beginners - simply shorten all side growths to 3-4", at which time the leader can be reduced as well if wished. The trees will grow to 6-8' in height and an apple may produce 30 or more full sized fruits each year. The trees can be planted into pots or the open ground and used in applications such as archway, pillar, planted along a walkway or drive, or set at the optimum planting distance of 2' and grown as a wonderful fruiting 'hedge'. Many traditional and exciting varieties are available in this groth form which now ranks as the most popular growing method of all.

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