It’s officially Autumn, and that’s my favourite time of year – apples to eat, and trees to plant. Now is the perfect time to plan an orchard of your very own, but what to look for?
Down in your local garden centre, any time about now (in the UK) you will find lots of fruit trees. These days most of them will be ‘container grown’ – that just means they’ve spent their whole life in a pot. If you order online from a nursery, you may receive ‘bare root’ trees, which means that they have been grown out in a field, pulled up, the roots wrapped up to stop them drying, and put in the post to you. If you’re planning an orchard I’d go for bare root, and if you are looking for a couple of trees for your garden, container grown trees are nice and strong, and you don’t have to put them in the ground the minute you get them.
With apple trees, as with so much in life, it’s all a question of size. I can rattle off various M numbers for rootstocks, and you can look these up (our friends at Orange Pippin have a really useful chart here) But in most garden centres, and buying online, what you have to look for is the word ‘dwarfing’. If a tree is grown on a dwarfing rootstock, it means it will not grow very tall. The rootstock gives the height and vigour of the tree. This means that you can grow a tree in a pot, on a sheltered balcony or patio or wherever you like, as long as the pollinating insects can find it. If you want a tree for your garden, choose one on a ‘semi dwarfing’ rootstock, that will give you a nice sized tree where you can reach all the apples.
There are now self fertile trees (Scrumptious is a very good variety), which means you will only need the one, but most trees need another one reasonably close by so that they can cross pollinate.
Armed with all this knowledge, what should you look for when you choose a tree? Look for one that is nice and upright, and where the union between the tree and the rootstock is clean and even. Some of the leaves may be brown or dried, that’s fine. As long as you can see healthy leaves too, and no injuries, the main concern is the shape. Walk past any that have, for example, one really long branch leaning one way, and one short one the other way. Although these things can be corrected with pruning, start off with the best shape you can get.
Bare root trees will usually be only a year old, and look like one upright twig. Don’t let the rootball dry out before you plant them – get them in the ground as quickly as you can (have the holes dug before the van turns up!) and be prepared for a couple of failures.
Happy planting! And if you have any questions visit our Facebook page and post your questions and photos there. We’d love to see your new trees.