PLANT AN APPLE TREE
There is an apple tree suitable for almost every garden today, no matter how small your garden is. Life keeps evolving and modern housing no longer caters for those wishing a large garden. Most people don’t need a garden to grow their fruit and vegetables as supermarkets can provide everything you want. However when it comes to full flavour and health benefits you are better to grow your own produce. Supermarkets require produce to be blemish free, evenly sized, good appearance and have a long shelf life. None of that is relevant to home grown produce, and we may well also find the odd caterpillar and greenfly, but that won’t put us off if the taste is fantastic and the apple is soft sweet and juicy.
Fruit tree breeders have been encouraged to rethink their strategy in light of the fact that there has been a movement to go back to growing the older heritage varieties that can still be found in old derelict orchards. Most of these older types are not commercial by today’s standards, so where they find outlets is likely to be your local green grocer or farmers markets. The goodness has not been bred out of them in favour of size and cropping potential. These older varieties still have a real apple taste and soft texture. Apart from Cox, there are too many apple varieties available with thick skin and hard tasteless flesh. So when looking for that special apple tree that you know your kids will be happy to eat make sure you get one with flavour and that will grow in your area.
A good heritage or even modern variety in the south of England may not be any good here. We are too far north for a good Cox, but we can grow Discovery, Falstaff, Scrumptious, Katy, Fiesta, Red Devil and for my first early in August a few Arbroath Pippins (The Oslin) are just fine. It does not keep and is prone to brown rot, but has a flavour to die for.
The best cooking apple in my opinion is still Bramley which keeps a long time in store.
Many garden centres hold apple open days where numerous varieties are available to sample usually in early October so you can decide which one to go for.
The next consideration will be how much space is available for a tree. Breeders and nurserymen have helped out the gardener with limited space by producing types aimed at those with limited space. All apples are grafted onto a root stock whose vigour determines its ultimate size.
The latest most dwarfing type is M27 used for columnar shapes, dwarf pyramids and stepover trees.
Then M9 is an old dwarfing type used for cordons, dwarf bush and spindle trees.
Apples grafted on this and M27 require permanent staking.
M26 and MM106 are still dwarfing but will give a bigger tree than the previous ones, growing up to ten to twelve feet. However for standard trees if you have the space look for trees grafted onto MM111 or M25, but they can grow up to fifteen feet tall.
The best forms of tree for limited space is cordons, fans and espaliers which can be grown against a wall or fence and spur pruned so they take up minimal space. In open areas stepover trees are very popular. These are like a single espalier branch trained a couple of feet above the ground and again spur pruned in summer by reducing growth to a few buds. Most apple varieties can be trained in these forms, but a new type becoming popular is the single stemmed columnar Starline range. There are five varieties, but as these are new only time will tell if they will be good up north. For me the orange red Firedance type looks good. These should all be summer pruned to keep shoots short (three buds) and will need permanent staking. They are said to be resistant to scab and mildew.
Wee Jobs to do this week
Check insulation of outdoor water taps and those in unheated greenhouses.
Continue with outstanding winter digging, incorporating manure and compost, but still leaving the soil surface rough to allow weathering.
Spike lawns with a garden fork to improve drainage, then brush in a lawn top dressing to improve the fertility and health of the sward.