Thursday, 17 January 2013

an apple tree is for life not just for Christmas...

The cold weather has finally arrived and the muckheap I have been spreading onto the freshly dug veg beds has frozen into a giant poopsicle.  So I have retreated to the shelter of the potting shed to organise the tools and dream up plans for spring.  This time of year seems impossibly far from the warm soil and lengthening days needed for seed sowing, but it does have its own opportunities.  If you want to plant any fruit trees or bushes this year – now is the time to buy them ‘bare root’ from specialist fruit nurseries at a fraction of the price of container grown stock available all year round from garden centres.  The natural dormancy of the plants between November and March means they can be transplanted with minimal disturbance, just give the roots a good soak and protect them from cold winds until the ground thaws and you can get them in. If you dream of planting your own orchard there’s some basic stuff to know about fruit trees that will help get you started:

Size matters: Most fruit trees are grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks, this means you know what size your mature tree is going to turn out.  Remember that fruit for eating needs to be picked from the tree – the bruise it gets as it thuds to the ground means it won’t keep. So don’t get too ambitious with the size unless you’re very happy dancing around on the top of a ladder.  Also, make sure you plant your trees far enough apart – there will be advice on the label.  It’s tempting to cram them in when they just look like tiny sticks but they will reward you if you give them the room they need to grow.
Read the instructions: Although in our house reading the instructions is considered to be ‘for girls’, it really is worth studying the info about your new trees.  Reputable nurseries should be able to help you choose your trees and their catalogues are full of handy tips.  It’s going to be a good few years before you get your first decent crop so it’s worth investing the time to do your research up front.  As well as advice on size and variety, the label or catalogue will give you a number between one and five that relates to the pollination group, (don’t panic), of the tree.  Which brings me to my next point….
The birds and the bees:  Most trees can’t pollinate themselves – they need a friend.  Pollination groups relate to flowering time and the numbers divide the varieties into groups from early to late flowerers. For pollination to happen the trees need to be in bloom at the same time so the bees can do their work. Trees from the same group or one number either side will be good together: ie  a 2 is good with a 1,2 or 3 but not with a 5.
Growing from seed: Since we’re on the subject of the birds and the bees – the seed inside an apple is the product of sexual reproduction, (I know!).  The fruit of the plant that grows from that seed will have characteristics from both of its parents – and not necessarily the desirable ones! To get the same apple you need to take a cutting from the parent tree and graft it (life’s too short – spend the money).

So when you find an apple that you love the taste of, instead of coming over all Johnny Appleseed, write down the name of the variety and order it in the size you want from a good supplier.


  1. Very informative with just the right amount of horticultural innuendo (I'm going nowhere near Johnny Appleseed). Looking forward to more.

    1. Cheers Ears - thanks for the support! Looking forward to getting my head round all this and fancying it up a bit soon