How To Grow - Apples

Apple trees will give you fruit for over forty years, and a productive tree will provide you with a store of apples to last right through until March. They can be bought as bare roots – or you could try growing a tree from seed! You don’t necessarily need space for a fully grown tree or a whole orchard, as apples are ideal for growing along a wall or fence as espalier trees. We’ve put together this step by step guide to all things apple tree related.

When And Where

Apple trees are ideally planted between October and December. A position in full sun is best, although some shade can be tolerated. The soil should be relatively free-draining – avoid areas which waterlog easily and which are prone to frost settling. Soil condition is not crucial – a medium soil, slightly acidic, with a medium level of fertility would be the ideal, though all you need to do is ensure that extremes of acid and alkaline are avoided.

Choose the variety of apple tree you plant carefully – consider the size of tree you want to grow, and the taste and usefulness of the apples (cooking or dessert, soft or crisp, how long-lasting. . .) You can also grow a full size tree, a bush, a cordon or an espalier tree, according to the space available. Take the time to choose which variety will suit, otherwise you may have a tree too big for your garden producing hundreds of apples you don’t really want!

How To Plant

In general, the advice is to plant two trees to ensure pollination. However, in a reasonably populated area a single apple tree will be pollinated as bees will move from one tree to another over a wide area. To plant a bare root, prepare the soil around one month ahead. Dig a hole 50 to 60 cm deep and 1 metre wide. Mix in plenty of well-rotted organic material. Remember that the soil needs to be at a medium level of fertility otherwise the tree will grow too much and fruit too little, and fertiliser may also burn the roots. If the location you have chosen is in the middle of a lawn, mix in a long-lasting fertiliser such as bonemeal. Place the tree in position and fill in with soil, with the soil surface at the same level as the soil mark on the trunk – ensure that the noticeable grafting ‘joint’ between the rootstock and the scion is above the soil level by 5 cm or more. Firm down the soil with your feet and water in thoroughly. Some varieties of tree will need staking out – tie the trunk of the tree to the stake, which should be placed 8 to 10 cm away. Use plastic ties instead of metal, as these will not damage the tree’s trunk – check them as the tree grows and readjust as necessary to avoid ties cutting in.

If you intend to train a tree to grow along a supporting fence or wall, choose a south-facing location and ensure that the supporting structure is not going to collapse when the tree bears fruit. A framework of horizontal wires will train the tree in position while also allowing it to support much of its own weight. In addition to bare roots, you can also acquire already espaliered trees in pots. The distance of the wires in the framework should match the distance between the branches or ‘arms’ of the tree – usually around 35 to 50 cm apart. Plant out roots as above, digging the planting hole out from the side of the wall or fence.

Harvesting

If you suspect your apples are ripe, take a bite and try one! Alternatively, apples which twist off easily from the tree are ripe. Different varieties fruit at varying times – you can prolong the harvest season by planting out a selection which will provide a staggered crop. Take care not to damage or knock apples when harvesting as they bruise relatively easily, and the bruise will rot quickly. The sunnier the position of the tree, the more time the fruit has to ripen. Each variety of fruit tree produces fruit at a slightly different time of the year, so check the individual product pages for harvesting times: if choosing a selection of trees you can create a staggered fruiting period to give you fresh apples over a longer time. Fruit which ripens later in the season will tend to be more suitable for winter storage.

Keep your apples in a cool, dark, well-ventilated environment – a shed or garage is often used.

Through the year

Pruning your trees is vital. Pruning at different times of the year will produce different effects. Winter pruning during the tree’s period of dormancy will cause greater growth in the forthcoming season; summer pruning causes growth to slow; spring pruning produces a combined effect. If you have planted out a one year old bare root trunk, cut off the top half of the trunk with a pair of secateurs soon after planting. A two, three or four year old tree should have its black coloured side shoots pruned by a third between December and February – pink coloured growth from the previous year should be left untouched. Prune above an outward facing bud. Pink growth should only be cut away if it has become diseased. Trees which are five years old are now mature, having established their shape: – prune these trees to keep the centre clear, removing also growth which is weak or diseased. Try to maintain an equal balance between growth produced in the last year – on which apples will grow – and older growth. Cordons need to be pruned in August, with side shoots pruned back to three leaves. Tie down new growth to keep a trained tree growing sideways.

To stop any over-wintering pests, use a horticultural oil-based winter wash in December or January. During the growing season you can use a lighter summer oil, and also protect from moths by applying a grease band at 50 cm above soil level. This is a sticky paper which will stop wingless moths from reaching up into the branches where they will mate and leave caterpillars to eat leaves and fruit.

Handy tips

Thin out the fruit on your tree before harvest time, removing misshapen or small apples. This will give you a fuller, more even harvest without the risk of hundreds of tiny apples


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