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Growing Apples - Choosing, Planting, Rootstocks, Pollination, Pruning and Harvesting
Choosing which apple to grow depends entirely on where it will be planted. Large gardens means you can choose a variety that will grow very tall and have lots of produce. Maintenance on large trees is quite big though and pruning will involve the use of ladders.

For pots and containers etc dwarf varieties are the best option. They will still give you a harvest albeit not as large as a fully grown tree, but you will be able to place more varieties next to each other. Pots containing apple trees are extremely decorative too and will brighten up a patio area.


Once you have decided where your tree will go you need to pick a rootstock that suits where you have chosen. Apple trees rarely grow from seed they need to be grown from rootstock. Your local nursery or stockist will be able to guide you with choosing a rootstock. Below is a general rule:

M27 very dwarfing 1.5m - 1.8m
M9 dwarfing 1.8m - 2.7m
M7 & M26 semi dwarfing 2.4m - 3.6m
M4 & MM106 semi vigorous 4m - 4.5m
MM104 & M2 & MM111 & MM109 & M1 vigorous 4.5m - 6m

Buy apple trees online

If you have decided to buy just one tree ensure it is a self fertile one like 'Queen Cox'.

When growing more than one apple tree there is much more variety as these need to be pollinated. Apple trees cross pollinate with other apple trees that flower at the same time so if you are buying more than one ensure they are compatible. For example grow 'Discovery' with 'Fiesta' as they both flower at the same time (Pollination Group B).

Planting apple trees

Planting is possible at any time of year but is best done between late autumn and early spring approx November to March. If you are putting your tree in the garden you must prepare the soil. Whilst preparing your soil the roots of your tree need to be wrapped in damp straw or cloth and not allowed to dry out. The soil must not be waterlogged simply moist. Dig a trench that is deep enough to keep the roots frost free and work in manure or compost ensuring no large bits are left. Remove all perennial weeds as once the tree is established they will be harder to remove. Drainage is key to growing fruit trees as they do not like waterlogged soil. If your soil is not free draining it may be necessary to add sharp sand. Plant your tree to the same depth as the pot it came in. When planting in the garden it is necessary to stake the plant and it is easier to do this before you put the tree in. Push the stake into the soil so that the top is below the branches of the tree. Tie it to the tree with a layer of foam in between to stop friction.

When planting apple trees in pots care is also needed with the soil. The container needs to have a hole at the base, it needs to be approx 30cm in diameter, and it needs to be plastic to prevent damage. Plant in winter using soil based compost. Hold the tree upright and put the compost around the roots firming as you go. Ensure the join of the rootstock and the top growth is above the level of compost in the pot otherwise the top growth may root and grow vigorously. Add a fertiliser such as potassium rich tomato liquid feed and water well. Apple trees like sunny sheltered spots out of the wind. If they are placed in a corner they will require turning and will need constant watering especially during the growing season when they may need it twice a day. During the winter months they will need watering less but do not allow them to dry out completely. Add fertiliser weekly or add controlled release tablets in the compost from mid spring to late summer. Pots will need a new layer of compost annually and the trees will need to be repotted every couple of years. Do not allow your trees to become pot bound, take away any loose material and cut away any thick roots.

Pruning apple trees

Apple trees fall into three separate categories, spur bearers, tip bearers and partial tip bearers. To prune your tree correctly to enhance harvest and maintain health it is crucial you know which cultivar your tree is. The tree should have a code on the label stating which cultivar it is, if not it is fairly easy to distinguish between them. Spur bearers look compact and tidy and they produce fruit buds on two year old wood. Tip bearers produce fruit buds on the tips of the previous years' shoots. They have an untidy appearance as their branches are bare. Partial tip bearers produce fruit buds on the tips of the previous years' shoots and also have spurs. Growth buds are much smaller than fruit buds and can easily be noticed as different. Tip bearers must have their shoots cut back in spring to allow more fruit to be produced. Large trees are pruned in winter, trained trees are pruned in late summer.

Training your apple trees..
The Cordon

The cordon is a way of keeping apple trees in a limited space. It will sit nicely along a path and take up minimal room. Horizontal wires are needed to form the basic structure upon which the tree will grow. Cordon trees must be maiden (one year old) in order to be trained or 2-3 year olds that have already been trained.  It consists of a single stem at a 45 degree angle, this is held with a bamboo can approx 2.4m length. The bottom wire should be 75cm above soil level, and a spacing of 60cm in between the other wires reaching a height of 1.9m. The cordon should be placed in the ground with the rootstock and top growth (scion) above ground level with the scion on top to avoid breakage. After planting water well and tie it to the bamboo cane with string, this must be checked regularly to prevent any friction damage. All sideshoots longer than 10cm should be shortened to 3 buds in winter. Pruning takes place annually in summer. Removal of leaves in summer maintains good growth which is vital for these confined trees. Cut back all mature shoots growing directly from the main stem to 3 leaves. Mature shoots have hard woody bases, are 9in or longer and have dark leaves. Immature shoots should be left till September and then cut back the same. If a side shoot from the stem has a side shoot of its own it must be cut back to 1 leaf above the cluster of leaves where the two sideshoots meet.

The Espalier

The espalier technique also uses horizontal wires as a way of growing apple trees but in a vertical way. Arrange your wires with 15cm distances approx 4 or 5 tiers up. Fix your wires before you plant the tree as it will be easier than when the tree is already growing. Dig a hole and prepare the soil with compost, manure and fertiliser. Ensure it is deep enough to get all the roots in and allow them to spread out and so that when you put the plant in the soil mark on the stem is the same level as the soil.

Plant your tree and water well. If your tree is a maiden, the leader (main stem) should be trimmed to 30cm from the ground and the top three buds allowed to grow till spring. The top one is then tied vertically up a cane whilst the other two are tied at 45 degree angles to the main stem. In November the two diagonal stems can then be lowered until they are horizontal to the stem. The vertical stem must now be lightly pruned to encourage new leader and tier growth. Prune down to the next upward facing bud. When new shoots appear repeat the process as before of tying them to the canes. If the tree has been bought already two or three tiered the process of tying and training them can be started at planting. Any shoots that appear on the main stem after the arms are established should be pruned back to one leaf. All pruning on espalier trees should be done in summer.

Espalier Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw Espalier Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw Espalier Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw
1) For non espalier trees remove all side shoots after planting; shorten the main stem to 1 to 2 buds above the bottom wire. 2) Prune maiden trees back to 1-2 buds above bottom wire. It may be necessary to tie in your main stem. 3) In the following summer choose two shoots to form the bottom branches and remove any below them. Leave the main stem intact.
Espalier Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw Espalier Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw Espalier Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw
4) The following winter tie in lowest pair of branches to canes and shorten the central leader. 5) In the second summer choose your second pair of branches and main stem. Treat as above (fig 3 & 4). 6) The following winter train your bottom pair of branches into their final horizontal position. Shorten main stem again to 1-2 buds above third wire.
Espalier Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw

7) Continue this method until you reach your desired height. Side shoots can be cut back to 3-4 buds in winter.

The Fan

The fan technique is often used for pear trees but apple trees do very well using this too. Horizontal wires are needed 15cm apart approx 10 high if possible. Plant 15 - 25cm away from the wall with the stem leaning slightly towards it. In the winter cut back to a growth bud approx 64cm. Under this cut back all shoots to to one bud. Do not cut to a flower bud this will have no effect. In the summer pick two strong sideshoots at approx 23cm to 30cm above the ground. When these shoots are 46cm in length tie them to canes at a 45 degree angle and cut back the main stem to just above these two stems. Protect this wound with some tree paint. The next winter cut back the two sideshoots to between 30cm and 46cm. The following summer choose 3 further fan shoots on each side, two from above the original and one from below, that are strong to become the next bit of the display. Attach them to canes in a fan shape. You should now have four on each side. In winter cut back the 8 arms to a triple bud approx 60cm to 75cm of growth. Allow your tree to keep on growing and reaching out as far as you need it to. Pruning can now be done in summer as the tree is established.

The Dwarf Pyramid

The dwarf pyramid creates a Christmas tree look with your apple tree. Plant your maiden tree in winter and cut to 50 cm to a bud above the graft. Any sideshoots should be shortened to 5 good buds if they are over 15cm long. Immature sideshoots should be left. The first summer prune extension growth or any new laterals to 5 leaves to downward facing buds. The following winter cut back the leader stem to 25cm of new growth to a bud on the opposite side to the previous years' cutting. Each year following prune the leader to buds on alternate sides. Once the tree has reached the height you desire prune in late spring to one bud of new growth. After the initial framework is done all pruning should be carried out in summer.

The dwarf pyramid - 1st Year July Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw The dwarf pyramid - 1st Year Winter Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw The dwarf pyramid - 2nd Year July Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw The dwarf pyramid - 2nd Year Winter Pruning - ©Copyright T.A.Shaw
1st Year July Pruning 1st Year Winter Pruning 2nd Year July Pruning 2nd Year Winter Pruning
Harvesting your apples

Ensure to thin out the crop to stop the tree from getting overloaded and heavy. Leaving the crop on the tree may make the tree not produce any the following year. When harvesting the apples take care not to bruise them as this will lead to rot. Store the apples in a cool, dark, slightly humid area such as in a tray or rack in the garage. Ensure the bag has holes for ventilation. You can also freeze the apples for prolonged use.

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