This page should teach you all you need to know about the factors that come into choosing particular apple trees. It will deal with :
- Pollination
- Rootstocks
- Vigour
- Different trained shapes
- Siting and soil
- The different natures of varieties
If you have further questions after reading this, please telephone and we will try to assist you.
The printed catalogue, which can be ordered from the 'Catalogue' button (above, left), gives all the information on this page and much more. While we are adding information to this new website please rely on the catalogue or re-visit the site later.

For prices and ordering information, please click the 'How to Order' option on the left.
For basic planting instructions, please click on the 'Read More' button.
 
 
 
 
 

 

Pollination An apple flower must be pollinated, and remain undamaged by frost if it is to produce an apple. The earlier the tree flowers, the greater the chance of frost damage, though this will depend on the area and the location of the tree. Do not avoid early flowering varieties automatically. They will tend to flower later in colder areas anyway.
An apple tree ideally needs different apple varieties nearby, for cross pollination. No apple tree is wholly self-fertile, though many will set some apples by themselves. In order to get a good crop it is advisable to plant more than one variety so that they can pollinate each other. Their flowering times need to overlap. Historically recorded flowering time observations, along with our own, allow us to group the trees we sell according to flowering time. The pollination groups are given along with the individual descriptions of apples - click on List of Varieties.

 

In order to achieve maximum pollination, plant two trees of the same or adjacent groups. Group 1 is the earliest to flower. Flowering times are rarely consistent from year to year and the overlap in flowering duration is wide, so it is usually possible to have good pollination with a variety two groups away. Often a neighbour's tree can assist with pollination but, as a general indication, aim to have another tree within 50 yards (though further will probably still result in pollination). This is simply to ensure that a bee, or other pollinating insect, is likely to visit both trees. The later the tree flowers, and the warmer the weather, the more pollinating insects there will be.
Those with small gardens are sometimes tempted to plant a 'family' tree, where several varieties are grafted on to one rootstock, each pollinating the other. From those that provide them, the availability of varieties is often restricted to the more common ones. We do not grow family trees and suggest that, with a little imagination, the customer can get several varieties in a small space. It is better to plant two trees on dwarfing rootstocks (see below), or one standard tree and one dwarf. Training, as espaliers or cordons, allows several trees in a relatively small space. If you do have room for only two trees, and there are no other apple trees (or native crab apple trees) nearby to help with pollination, avoid triploid trees - see below.


Cropping and Triploid Trees Most trees will give a good crop every year, subject to good pollination and no frost damage. A few tend to be light croppers, or erratic croppers. Biennial trees tend to have a bumper crop one year and a light crop the next. (This is a problem that can be cured -please enquire). Triploid trees are a genetically distinct type which require special consideration. Triploids have an extra set of chromosomes, with the result that they are poor generators of viable pollen for pollinating diploid trees. It is therefore safest to plant triploids along with two other trees of the same or adjacent flowering period, to ensure good pollination for each. On the plus side, triploids are usually very vigorous trees, with excellent crops.


Choosing Rootstocks Apple trees are grafted because they do not root well from cuttings and they cannot be grown from seed as ‘true varieties’. Those which can be grown from cuttings tend to become very large trees. Grafting on to different rootstocks can control vigour, so that apples can be grown as bushes, cordons, fans and espaliers, as well as standards. Using dwarf rootstocks allows several trees to be grown in the same area as a large one, and the dwarfer rootstocks tend to bear fruit earlier. This is important for those who are impatient or who have limited space. The rootstocks we use, from the dwarfest to the most vigorous, are;
M27 The dwarfest, for bushes, espaliers, fans and cordons. Needs staking. Height usually to 8ft-2.5m
M26 Dwarfing. Good for large bushes, cordons, espaliers or compact standards. Height up to 10ft-3m
MM106 Semi-dwarfing. Good for large bushes, large cordon and espalier or half-standards. Up to 15ft-4.5m.
MM111 Vigorous, for large standard trees. Height variable from 16-25ft, 5-8m, after many years.
The dwarfest rootstocks will start bearing fruit after 2-3 years and after 4-5 years will have a good crop. M26 will start after 3-4 years and reach good capacity after 5-6. The vigorous rootstocks take longer to reach capacity, though they will bear crops along the way. The more vigorous the rootstock, the greater the yield, but the higher you have to go to pick. When choosing the rootstock, it is worth bearing a few other points in mind. The rootstock does control growth, but some varieties will still be more vigorous than others. The vigour of the variety can be traded against the vigour of the rootstock. The shape of the tree will also vary; some are more upright, others more spreading. Trees and fruit also vary with the soil. Rich loam will always make apple trees - or any trees - grow faster than heavy clay or shallow chalk. The ideal soil for growing apples is neutral or slightly acid, with reasonably-drained loam at least 2ft deep. In practice, this is not always possible and they will grow reasonably well in heavy soil, with lime and less depth, though it is a good idea to condition the soil by digging in quantities of organic matter. (In moderation and not fresh manure). Shallow topsoils on hard chalk cause problems because of lime chlorosis and poor root anchorage. If the soil is poor, it is best to avoid the dwarfest rootstock, M27, as it tends to be shallow rooting, and a more vigorous rootstock will be 'dwarfed ' anyway by the poorer soil.
Trained shapes For those that cannot eat large quantities of apples and prefer a few of a larger number of varieties, it is worth thinking about cordons and espaliers. Several different trees can be accomodated in a restricted space. If planting these closely there will be root competition that will reduce the effective vigour of the rootstock. Consider, also, that unwanted vigour can be taken sideways. A wider espalier will take up the vigour where height is limited and a double cordon will halve the vigour of a single stem cordon. Really, the shape of an apple tree is only limited by the imagination of the owner. Be adventurous. Unlike plums and cherries, apples and pears are very suited to growing in two dimensions. If you opt for closely trained forms, you need to be aware of the difference between tip- and spur-bearing varieties.
Some varieties tend to produce mostly fruiting ‘spurs’ which will then break into blossom and set fruit on the spurs. Others will produce blossom buds at the ends of the last season’s growth. The former are called ‘spur-bearing’ and the latter ‘tip-bearing’. Many varieties will be both, to one degree or another. These are called ‘part tip-bearing’. This issue becomes important when considering what to prune and when. It is also vital if the tree is to be grown as a cordon or espalier. The extra close pruning of these forms makes it essential that they should not be wholly tip-bearing. Most are spur bearing. Even part tip-bearing trees will have spurs and can be encouraged to form sufficient spurs for restricted form training. Please enquire if in doubt and you do not have the catalogue.

Siting and Soil In cold areas, frost pockets, or exposed sites, there is a real danger that frost will kill the flowers once they have opened and that the entire crop will be lost. To minimise this danger, gardeners in cold spots should aim for trees in the later flowering groups. Even this is not always successful; sometimes a harsh frost late in May can wreck an apple crop. For this reason it is best to give some attention to where the tree is to be planted. Avoid frost pockets; sites at the bottom of a slope where cold air accumulates and cannot escape. In a cold garden, it will help to choose a site against a wall - especially a south wall - or higher up a slope so that cold air will slip away. Victorian gardeners were known to leave gaps in walls or other barriers so cold air could escape downhill. Staking is essential in windy sites for all rootstocks for a number of years. For M26 it should be several, for M27 it might be for many. For the larger more vigorous rootstocks stakes can be removed when good anchorage is achieved.
Apples are not particularly fussy about soil but do not like excessive lime and will be slow to grow on dense clay. Waterlogged soil, over an extended period in winter can cause failure. Observe the site options well, before choosing. It might not help to condition the soil if water cannot escape sideways. The water will just collect in different soil, making a sump.


The Different Natures of Varieties Early season apples do not keep long and should be eaten fresh or within a week or two of picking. Some are delicious, with unusual, fresh flavours which do not appear in later fruit. Mid-season apples, picked in September and early October, will keep for one or two months, depending upon the variety. Late apples often need to be kept for the full flavour to develop; they will often last over the winter, and sometimes as late as April or May.
Our main reason for collecting and disseminating apple trees is to ensure that the traditional varieties are preserved and that people have the opportunity to taste fruit from their own gardens which they cannot buy in the supermarket. When choosing a tree many people would automatically choose a variety which they know; Cox's Orange Pippin or Braeburn, for example, or Bramley for cooking. This is not necessarily the best idea. Cox's Orange Pippin is prone to growing problems and Braeburn, originally from New Zealand, will not grow well in the English climate. Bramleys are available everywhere, anyway. It is well worth being more adventurous. The old varieties offer a vast range of tastes, textures and uses, so long forgotten they are now well outside public consciousness. There are so many it is possible to choose 'horses for courses'. It has never been necessary to accept a single ubiquitous variety, such as a Bramley, -merely a choice. Would you not rather have separate cookers for purees, pies, tarts and baking? If you are not buying organic fruit, your apples are very likely to be picked too early to avoid bruising, gassed to keep their storage qualities up, basted in toxic chemicals to control pests and to make the fruit thin itself and probably transported 10,000 air miles. It is time we woke up to our long heritage of varieties that have evolved and been honed and selected over a thousand years, all within the perfect climate for releasing those rich flavours and life enhancing complex nutrients.
It is worth considering other matters, such as when the tree flowers (if you experience late spring frosts), whether the fruit stores etc. Other points may also be relevant; some varieties have particularly attractive blossom and decorative fruit, probably far more showy than most garden shrubs.
One last point - since some of our customers say they like russets and will choose a variety with russet in the name. A ‘russet’ apple is not limited to a particular flavour. Usually these customers will be thinking of Egremont Russet, since this has been just about the only russet available in shops for nearly half a century. In fact, russet is merely the brown furry coating that partly or wholly covers the skin on some varieties and it does not have any relationship with the flavour of the apple flesh beneath. Different russets have different flavours and there is no reason to include or exclude russets when choosing varieties on the basis of flavour
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