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The perfect time to plant apple trees – but where to start?

Saturday 27th January 2024

A is for Apples

When choosing which apple variety to grow, besides thinking about what you enjoy eating, consider pollination requirements, how well the fruit keeps, which varieties will suit your growing conditions if your garden is prone to late frosts or your soil is not great, and the reliability of cropping.

Please visit this page for a list of the fruit trees we stock.

All the trees we sell are English grown and most come in ‘bare root’ and heeled into the ground, this is a cheaper way to buy trees but they need to be planted straight away and by the end of March at the latest. Here is a quick guide to pruning, thinning, picking and storing:

Pollination

A few apples are self-fertile and do not need a pollinator to fruit.  Most need another apple of a different variety to pollinate them.  A few need two different pollinators.  In order to set fruit both trees must flower at the same time.  Flowering time is given by the pollination group number, group 1 flowering earliest and 5 last.  If two varieties have the same group number, or a difference of one then they should cross-pollinate.  A few varieties may only flower in alternate years so are not reliable pollinators.  Crab apples can pollinate culinary apples e.g. ‘Evereste’ or ‘Red Sentinel’  Pollinators do not need to grow immediately next to each other, so a neighbour’s tree may be enough.  Here is a list of some of the most popular varieties and the pollination groups they fall in:

Discovery            Red apples with crisp juicy flesh, good flavour.  Partial tip bearer, blossom has good frost tolerance.  Young trees crop only lightly, mature ones heavily.  Pick mid August, keeps until mid September.  Pollination group 3.

James Grieve             Yellow apple speckled orange and red, good sweet yet acid flavour.  Spur bearer.  Pick early September, keeps until Christmas though becoming soft.  Pollination group 3.

Katja (Katy)              Bright red apples, slightly acid refreshing taste.  Spur bearer. Pick early September, keeps until early October.  Pollination group 3, a good pollinator.

Ellison’s Orange        Yellow apples flushed brownish-red, rich distinctive aniseed flavour.  Prone to canker but resistant to scab, hardy.  Prone to bearing only in alternate years.  Spur bearer.  Pick mid September, keeps until October.  Pollination group 4.

Fiesta                          Brightly coloured apples with rich tangy sweet flavour, consistent cropper.  Flowers withstand low temperatures.  Spur bearer.  Pick mid September, keeps until January.  Spur bearer.  Pollination group 3, somewhat self fertile.

Egremont Russet       Sweet nutty apples with a russet skin which can be rather tough.  Trees are hardy and fairly vigorous, bear well when young, mature trees may bear in alternate years.  Spur bearer.  Pick late September, keeps until December.  Pollination group 2

Cox self fertile           Yellow apples flushed orange-red, good flavour.  Prefers good soil conditions and a warm climate, prone to disease in cold wet areas.  Spur bearer.  Pick early to mid October, keeps until January.  Self fertile, as a pollinator falls into group 3.

Ashmead’s Kernel    Apples sweet yet slightly acid, highly aromatic, juicy, russet skin.  Good scab resistance but cropping can be erratic.  Spur bearer.  Pick mid October, keeps until February.  Pollination group 4.

Falstaff                       Apples flushed red, fruity and crisp. Crops heavily. Spur bearer.  Pick late October, keeps until December.  Self fertile. Pollinator group 3.

Blenheim Orange      Eater or cooker. Large yellowish green apples, distinctive dry flavour.  Cooks to a stiff puree or keeps its shape.  Trees are vigorous but young trees bear shyly.  Partial tip bearer.  Pick early October, keeps until January.  Pollination group 3, needs two pollinators.

Bramley’s Seedling   Large greenish yellow apples, acid yet sweet with good flavour, cooks to a pale cream fluff.  Very vigorous tree, may crop only alternate years, susceptible to spring frosts.  Partial tip bearer.  Pick mid October, keeps until March.  Pollination group 3, needs two pollinators.

Other fruit trees worth considering:

Cherry – several varieties most are self-fertile

Damsons – several varieties most are self-fertile

Fig trees – these are container grown in pots and can be planted all year around

Medlar – Nottingham – self fertile

Pear – several varieties:

–          Concorde – self-fertile and group 4

–          Conference – self-fertile and group 3

–          Doyenne du Comice – group 4 needs a good pollinater

Plum

Czar – self fertile

Opal – self fertile

Victoria  – self fertile

Quince – several varieties all self-fertile

Soft fruit

We also offer a range of soft fruit including raspberry canes, currants, gooseberries, blueberries, rhubarb and strawberries.

Fan-trained fruit – we also sell a selection of young trees already formatively prunes.

Not only will your fruit trees give you lovely spring blossom but you will be rewarded in years to come with your own fruit.

Pruning

Training helps the tree form fruit buds, and ensures that the apples get enough light to ripen.  You want a standard tree to develop around 8-10 main branches growing out from the centre, with enough space between branches to allow good air circulation.  Identify the main branches and in winter reduce them by about one third, cutting to a bud pointing outwards and upwards.  If you need extra main branches to fill gaps in the crown choose suitably placed side branches and prune to a bud pointing in the right direction to fill the gap.  Winter pruning stimulates further growth of the tree including the development of side branches.  Allow side branches to develop where there is room for them.  As with all pruning, remove crossing and rubbing branches, and remove branches from the centre of the tree to keep it open.

Most apples are ‘spur bearers’, meaning that the fruits are carried on short fruiting spurs off the main and side branches.  The twigs that will form the fruiting spurs can be pruned quite hard, to leave 3 to 6 buds.  Some varieties are ‘tip bearers’ meaning they carry apples on the branch tips, and only the longest side twigs of these over 23cm(9”) should be reduced.  ‘Partial tip bearers’ carry apples on the branch tips and on spurs, and for these only reduce the longest side twigs.

Espalier trees are pruned in late summer to avoid stimulating unwanted growth.  Reduce the length of the side growths off the main horizontal branches.  To add tiers choose two buds at the right position on the main stem to form the new tier, and as they grow tie the branches to a wire.

Thinning

It is normal for trees to drop some apples in June so that the remainder can develop properly.  After the drop thin the remainder to around 12cm (5”) apart or one to two apples per cluster, so that they reach a decent size.  If the tree is allowed to crop too heavily it may not crop the next year.

Picking and storing

Apples are ready to pick when the fruit comes away readily in your hand.  The earliest eating apples are best straight from the tree, while the later varieties keep better.  Apples for store must not be bruised, blemished or dirty.  Pick on a dry day, store in a dark place, cool but frost-free.  They keep longer if individually wrapped in paper or you can use plastic bags with plenty of ventilation holes.  Do not store early and late varieties together.  Apples can be frozen as puree or dried as slices in a cool oven.

If you visit we can give you advice to help you choose your tree and plant it the same day.  Remember to stake your tree against the wind and not to plant too deep and don’t forget rabbit guards!  Please visit our blog on tips on tree planting.

                  

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