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Plant Growing - Growing Apples

There are three main points to consider when choosing an apple tree:

Type of Apple

eater, cooker or ornamental

Apple Varieties

Flavour, yield, ease of pollination, resistance to pest and disease and how long will it last after being picked

Tree Size

The size of the apple tree and how quickly it comes into fruiting is determined by the rootstock on which it is grown. This enables a tree to be grown in a pot, small garden, large garden and orchards. It allows for the trees to be grown in different ways depending on how it is trained.


Apple Varieties

There are many apple varieties to choose from and it is easy to be overwhelmed by the lists that can be found on a tree nursery website. After all, we only ever see a few varieties in our food shops.

An apple tree lasts for many years so it is worth taking your time over choosing the correct variety:

  1. Eater or cooker (dessert or culinary), maybe dual purpose or for appearance.
  2. Shelf-life – How long will they last after picking?  Early season varieties – need eating almost straight away after picking but some varieties will keep for up to 2-3 weeks. Mid-late season varieties will last for up to 2-3 months if picked at the correct time and stored correctly.
  3. Resistance to diseases or pests. For instance, apple scab can be an immense problem with some varieties especially in wet summers, such as Cox and Egremont Russet. Unfortunately, there are not the fungicides available for the gardener in the UK that there used to be that would control the diseases.
  4. Where do you live? The weather in your area, such as how wet or cold the growing season is will determine the varieties you can grow. Your soil type will also have an influence on your choice.
  5. How big you want the tree to grow and how you want to train it will determine which rootstock you need to use. Rootstocks will be discussed in a separate section.
  6. Pollination – Apples require cross-pollination from other varieties with a similar flowering period. This can be recognised in the catalogues by a number from 1 to 4 next to the variety. Varieties with the same number will pollinate each other. In most situations, you need a minimum of 2 varieties. If the variety also has triploid next to it then 3 varieties of the same flowering period will be required. This is because the triploid variety cannot fertilise another variety, therefore to ensure full fertilisation of all the trees you need three different varieties. I know it sounds complicated but the advantage of some of the triploid varieties is that they have more disease resistance. In urban areas where there may well be sufficient crab apples that will pollinate your apples.

Below are some varieties that a colleague and I have put together that you might wish to consider with an explanation of why we think they are good:

Discovery
Early Season Eater

Worcester Permain x Beauty of Bath
first bred in 1949

General: Excellent pollinator. One of the earliest picked apples which can also be used as a cooker.
Colour & flavour: Skin red and white with white flesh with pink tinges. Flavour is crisp and juicy when first picked.
Picking date: Mid-August
Shelf-life: Does not keep.  Not suitable for freezing
Resistance to pest & disease:  Little problem with scab and powdery mildew
Where to grow:  Anywhere in the UK
Flowering group:  3
Pollinated by:  Very good pollinator

Grenadier
Early Season Cooker

Originated in Buckinghamshire
in 19th Century

General: Easy to grow and compact making it a lovely tree for the garden.  Good early season cooker.
Colour & flavour: Cooks to a creamy puree with a bit of a bite. Ideal base for apple jam and sauce.
Picking date: Mid to end  August
Shelf-life:  Will last for several weeks on the tree. Does not keep once picked.
Resistance to pest & disease:  fairly resistant to disease
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK
Flowering group: 3
Pollinated by: Self-fertile. Good pollinator for Bramley.

Katy Early-mid
Season Eater

James Grieve x Worcester Pearmain
Originated Sweden 1947

General:  Easy to grow. Heavy cropper.
Colour & flavour: Bright red fruit with firm flesh. Sweet and juicy with a hint of acid. Not only good as an eater but also makes a good flavoured juice.
Picking date: End of August to early September
Shelf-life: Does not keep
Resistance to pest & disease:  Fairly resistant to disease
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK
Flowering group: 3
Pollinated by: Very good pollinator

 

 

 

Scrumptious*
Early-mid Season Eater

Strakspur Golden
Delicious x Discovery

General:  The name says it all. Superb in any UK garden. Unlike most apple varieties is it frost hardy when in flower.
Colour & flavour: Bright red fruit with a thin skin. Flavour is fresh, delicate, crisp and sweet all at the same time. Once you have tasted this apple you will love it
Picking date: Early-mid September.
Shelf-life: Stores until October. Will keep on the tree without dropping.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance.
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK
Flowering group: 3
Pollinated by: Self-fertile and is also a very good pollinator

Greensleeves
Mid-Season Eater

James Grieve x Golden Delicious.
Kent 1966

General:  Reliable mid-season eater
Colour & flavour: Pale, greenish-yellow skin and creamy flesh. Crisp and juicy with a tang to it.
Picking date: Mid September.
Shelf-life: Stores until October.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance.
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK
Flowering group: 3
Pollinated by: Self-fertile and is also a very good pollinator

Red Windsor
Mid Season Eater

A sport of Alkmene, related to Cox’s Orange Pippin

General:  Heavy cropper. An ideal garden variety which has some frost resistance at blossom time. Easy to grow. Suitable as a patio tree as has compact growth
Colour & flavour: Red fruit with a similar flavour to Cox. Therefore firm, juicy and sweet with a tang to it.
Picking date: Mid-September
Shelf-life: Stores until October.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance.
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK
Flowering group: 2
Pollinated by: Self-fertile and is also a very good pollinator

 

 

Red Falstaff*
Mid-late Season Eater

A select red sport of Falstaff.
Originated in Norfolk in 1983

General:  Good for the garden as easy to grow and is frost resistant. Good storer so can be eaten well into the winter. Heavy yielder with compact habit so is also suitable for the patio
Colour & flavour: Red fruit and is crisp and juicy with true apple flavour.
Picking date: Early October
Shelf-life: Stores until March.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance.
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK
Flowering group: 2
Pollinated by: Self-fertile and is also a very good pollinator

 

Ribston Pippin
Mid-late Season Eater

Related to Cox.
North Yorkshire in 18th century

General:  Traditional apple flavour and growth. The growth habit does not suit small gardens. Suitable for juicing.
Colour & flavour: Green with an orange-tinged skin. It is a crisp sweet flavour with a tang to it with a creamy and firm flesh.
Picking date: Early October
Shelf-life: Stores until January.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance.
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK. Ideal for the north.
Flowering group: 2
Pollinated by: Triploid, therefore needs 2 pollinators one of which can be in group 3 if necessary.

Spartan
Mid-late Season Eater

McIntosh x Yellow Newton Pippin
Originated Canada 1926

General:  Easy to grow. Popular variety
Colour & flavour: Dark red skin with white flesh. Sweet, crisp and juicy
Picking date: Early October
Shelf-life: Stores until January.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance.
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK.
Flowering group: 3
Pollinated by: Very good pollinator

Bramley's Seedling
Late Season Cooker

Nottingham 
19th Century

General:  Heavy cropper
Colour & flavour: Green skin with white flesh and excellent cooker with strong apple flavour.
Picking date: Early October
Shelf-life: Stores until March.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance.
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK.
Flowering group: 3
Pollinated by: Triploid. Requires two pollinators (not of Bramley heritage)

Bramley 20
Late Season Cooker

Compact version of Bramley’s Seedling, Bristol 1970

General:  Ideal for the garden. Less vigorous than other Bramley’s but still with heavy yields
Colour & flavour: Has the same flavour and texture as Bramley’s Seedling
Picking date: Early October
Shelf-life: Stores until March.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance.
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK.
Flowering group: 3
Pollinated by: Triploid, Requires 2 pollinators (not of Bramley heritage)

Egremont Russet
Late Season Eater

Originated Sussex
19th Century

General:  The most common russet variety in the UK.
Colour & flavour: The skin is light green and the flesh is yellow creamy colour and firm. It is sweet with a distinctive rich nutty flavour
Picking date: Early October
Shelf-life: Stores until December.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Can be vulnerable to mildew and scab
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK.
Flowering group: 2
Pollinated by: Very good pollinator

Fiesta
Late Season Eater

Cox’s Orange Pippin x Idared,
Kent 1972

General:  Excellent garden variety similar to Cox and much easier to grow. Suitable for patio growing.
Colour & flavour: Light green with orange tinges. Crisp texture with a rich and sweet flavour.
Picking date: Early October
Shelf-life: Stores until January.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK. Very good for northern areas
Flowering group: 3
Pollinated by: Very good pollinator

 

Hereford Russet*
Late Season Eater

Cox’s Orange Pippin x Idared,
Hugh Ermen 2002

General:  Excellent garden variety similar to Cox and much easier to grow with a russet type skin. Suitable for patio growing.
Colour & flavour: Light green with orange tinges. Crisp texture with a rich and sweet flavour.
Picking date: Early October
Shelf-life: Stores until January.
Resistance to pest & disease:  Disease resistance
Where to grow: Anywhere in the UK. Very good for northern areas
Flowering group: 3
Pollinated by: Very good pollinator

 

Suppliers of Apple Trees

There are many good growers of fruit trees and one of the well-known growers and suppliers to both the commercial growers and to the retail trade is F P Mathews who grow over half a million fruit and ornamental trees a year. They do not supply direct to a gardener but if you look on their website you can find out where you can buy their product. Just go to www.frankpmatthews.com for your nearest stockist in the garden centre or nursery plus a list of online stores.

There are many other good growers such as Blackmoor Nursery who grow fruit trees and soft fruit. They also have commercial orchards.

Wherever you buy from ensure they have a guarantee.

Rootstocks

When purchasing a tree make sure it is on a rootstock suitable for your garden and situation. Rootstocks have been developed so that the apple tree will grow to the requirements of the grower and gardener.  See Rootstock section below to give you an idea of what to look for.

Planting

FP Matthews has an extremely good section on how to plant a tree in the ground or container. How to plant

I would also recommend adding Rootgrow into the planting hole. Rootgrow contains mycorrhizal fungi which help root development. Rootgrow can be purchased from our shop.


Rootstocks

Traditionally before there were rootstocks the apple trees would grow to an extremely large size. Apple rootstocks were developed so that trees could be grown for all different situations Apple rootstocks are important as they determine the size of the tree. The young wood of the cropping apple is grafted onto the rootstock, usually just above the ground level, in the tree nursery.

Crab apples are sometimes grown on malus seedlings whereby very large trees are required such as in parks, but generally, they are not suitable for gardens, therefore ensure they are grown on a rootstock as for other apple trees.

In some situations, it may be desirable to keep the roots from spreading and Rootex bags are very effective means of control. See Root control with Rootex

When buying an apple tree it will always tell you which rootstock it is grown on. Below are the most common ones to consider and where they might be used:

 M27 - Very Dwarf

Mature Height:  1.5 -2m (5-6ft)

Spread/spacing:  1.2m (4ft)

Tree form:  Small centre leader in a pyramid shape.

Where to grow: Ideal for patio containers or in the ground in small gardens and allotments

Soil conditions:  Suitable in most free draining soils. Does not like wet soils.

First crop:  2-3 years

Full size:  2-3 years.

After Care:  Requires permanent staking in the ground. If planted in a container then shelter from winds

M9 - Dwarf

Mature Height:  1.8-2.5m (6-8ft)

Spread/spacing:  2.5m (8ft)

Tree form:  Small centre leader as a spindle bush. Cordons

Where to grow: Ideal in the ground for small to medium gardens and allotments. Great to use when planting several varieties in a confined area. Suitable for most areas of the UK and is widely used in orchards.

Soil conditions:  Suitable in most free draining soils. Does not like wet soils

First crop:  2-3 years. Produces good yield and fruit size.

Full size:  5 years

After Care:  Staking required until mature.

M26 - Semi Dwarf

Mature Height:  2.2-3m (7-9ft)

Spread/spacing:  3m (9ft)

Tree form: Good for bush and cordons

Where to grow: medium size gardens

Soil conditions:  Suitable in most free draining soils. Not suitable for wet soils may be susceptible to disease such as collar rot. Can be susceptible to woolly aphid.

First crop:  3-4 years

Full size:  8-9 years

After Care: Requires staking until maturity

MM116 - Medium Vigour

Mature Height:  2.5-4m (8-12ft)

Spread/spacing:  4m (12ft)

Tree form:  Tree bush. Less vigour than M106 but gives a good crop

Where to grow: For large gardens and small orchards. Newish to the market.  Resistant to replant disease.

Soil conditions:  Suitable for most soils. Has the benefit of being resistant to collar rot and woolly aphid.

First crop:  3-4 years

Full size:  6-7 years

After Care: Stake until established

MM106 - Semi-Vigorous

Mature Height:  2.5-4m (8-12ft)

Spread/spacing:  4m (12ft)

Tree form:  Bush

Where to grow: Large gardens/orchards where you just want to leave it. Height may make it difficult to harvest fruit

Soil conditions:  Suitable in most free draining soils. Susceptible to collar rot on wet sites  but resistant to woolly aphid

First crop:  3-4 years

Full size:  8-9 years

After Care: Needs staking for up to 4 -5 years

MM111 & M25 - Very Large

Mature Height:  4-6 (12-18ft)

Spread/spacing:  5m (16ft)

Tree form: Usually allowed to grow to natural size as a fully formed tree.

Where to grow: Not suitable for gardens. Not really grown very much as the tree becomes too large for most situations.  Suitable for parks and other large areas

Soil conditions: Most soils but not waterlogged

First crop:  8-9years

Full size:  15 years

After Care:  Benefits from staking for up to 4 years