Growing apples is satisfying and rewarding. If there’s space for only one apple tree in your garden, decide whether you’d rather go for a ‘dessert’ apple type or a ‘cooking’ type. At one time, there were a number of considerations to bear in mind to get good harvests, but with recent breeding growing apples is a less complicated and time-consuming affair these days – great news for gardeners short on time.
Some apple tree varieties need another apple tree variety to be planted nearby for successful fruiting to take place. Check with the label; if the apple variety is ‘self-fertile’ you need not worry about this.
Self-fertile varieties include;
For non self-fertile varieties the label on the apple tree will stipulate which flowering group the variety belongs. Here are the flowering groups. You’ll want to plant apple varieties that are in the same flowering group nearby.
Flowering Group 2
Egremont Russet, Idared, Vista Bella
Planting Apple Trees
Apples trees are normally available as bare rooted or containerised plants that are young (up to five years old) and trained by the growers to grow well and develop maximum harvests. Depending on how you receive your plant will determine in which season to plant it.
Choose a site which is well-drained and in a position which benefits from good sunlight. Avoid planting in a part of the garden that is a frost pocket - opened flowers and fruitlets are susceptible to frost damage. Also, avoid planting in an exposed or windy position as this will both discourage pollinating insects and cause crop damage.
Avoid planting near larger or overhanging trees. To reduce the possibility of carrying over any dormant disease, do not plant where an old fruit tree has recently been removed. If your garden or allotment is visited by rabbits, then adequate protection must be given to the tree trunks using wire netting or plastic tree guards.
Planting Bare-rooted Apple Trees
Planting time: November to March
Preparing the soil: The soil should be thoroughly dug and, at the same time, incorporate some bulky compost or Organic Extra Manure, and a feed of Fish, Blood & Bone or Light & Easy garden compost. Make sure any deep rooted perennial weeds are removed with a fork, or shallow-rooted weeds which you can remove with a hoe.
Most top fruit varieties will tolerate a wide range of soil types, especially when you incorporate manure into the soil to increase its fertility and improve its texture.
Planting method: Dig a planting hole 15cm (6in) wider than the root system once it has been spread out, and to a depth whereby the soil mark from the nursery on the stem of the young tree will be just covered. This should mean that the graft union (the knobbly part at the base of the stem) is about is 12-15cm (5-6in) above soil level when you have finished planting.
Fork into the sides of the hole which will encourage the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil and establish well.
If you want to add a tree-stake for stabilising the tree in a windy site, bang it into the hole before the tree is planted, so you don’t damage roots by tapping in the stake after the young tree has been planted.
After placing the tree in the hole, spread out the roots and add layers of soil, firming down with your foot. Repeat until you’ve filled the hole with soil. The tree should be firm enough in the soil that it does not up-root when you pull the main stem and it shows resistance.
Water the area generously after planting and add a layer of warming and moisture-locking mulch around the tree, making sure that the mulch does not come into direct contact with the main stem.
If you have added a stake, tie to the tree by means of a tree tie ensuring that it’s firmly attached but allows a small degree of movement.
Planting Containerised Apple Trees
Instructions (see bare-rooted, but note the following).
Planting time: All year round (though avoid high-summer and deep winter)
Planting method: Remove any weeds that may be growing on top of the container, and tease out some of the roots that are circling around the root ball. This will encourage the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil and establish well.
Feeding Apple Trees
Incorporating bulky compost and/ or manure into the soil before planting will increase nutrient levels in the soil and give the young apple tree a good start.
Apple trees will produce flowers and fruit any time up to five years. Until they flower, feed with a general purpose fertiliser that you can add to water. Once the tree starts to flower, change this to a feed high in potash, like tomato food, which encourages good flowering and fruiting.
Watering Apple Trees
In the first year of planting, water generously. A good rule of thumb is to water to the point of creating a small pool around the stem. Let this absorb into the ground and repeat. Water morning and evening in times of drought, and one or the other during wet periods.
It’s good to add a mulch after planting which conserves water in the soil.
Training Apple Trees
As the tree grows, you’ll want to keep it healthy and free from disease. Just prune out dead, damaged or diseased stems as you notice them, and once the tree has grown more than five or six main stems from the central trunk you can remove any stems that cross over others or are growing into the centre of the tree.
You want to attain an overall framework of branches that are outward growing so the centre of the tree is nice and airy. This prevents diseases building up.
Harvesting and Storing Apples
Don’t be alarmed if you notice some of the fruitlets (baby apples) dropping in June. This is nature’s way of shedding excess fruit so that the remaining fruit on the tree can get maximum light, nutrition and water. This remaining fruit will then grow larger and taste more flavorsome.
Harvest a number of apples daily, rather than a glut less often, picking the fullest and most coloured fruits. Remove by twisting the apple first and then tugging gently. Pulling apples off the tree forcefully may damage remaining stems, and buds that will develop fruit next year.
Early varieties (including varieties in pollination group A) don’t store well. Use straight away after harvesting.
Otherwise store apples in plastic bags with small holes for air in a well-ventilated cool dry place. Or wrap apples individually in paper in crates. If storing crates one on top of another, be sure air can get inbetween crates.
Inspect apples regularly and remove apples that are rotten or rotting, to avoid spread.
Best Varieties of Apples
Pests and Diseases of Apples - Greenfly, Caterpillar, Sawfly, Brown rot