Notes on growing apple trees



Rootstocks and Planting 

The rootstock will affect the eventual size of a tree and its cropping potential. 
The dwarfing rootstocks tend to fruit at a younger age as well as reaching full cropping sooner.
MM111 grows 18-25ft, yields from 160-360lb (75-160 kg)
MM106 grows 15-18ft, yields from 90-110lb (40-50kg)
M26 grows 10-12ft, yields from 65-75lb (30-35kg)
M27 grows 6-8ft, yields from 15-25lb (7-12kg)
These are averages. Some cultivars are more vigorous than others and thus will produce the higher yields. These heights are also dependent on the pruning in the tree's early years. How far apart apple trees should be planted will depend on the rootstock .
To allow trees to reach full potential in ideal soil conditions, planting distances are recommended as follows:
25ft apart for MM111,
20ft apart for MM106,
15ft apart for M26,
8ft apart for M27.
These distances should ensure that when the trees are mature they will get plenty of light and air around them. Trees can be planted a bit closer in poorer soil as they won't grow as big.
For espaliers, MM106 needs 12-14ft between trees, M26 needs upto 10ft.
For cordons, plant 2.5ft apart.
Ideally, prepare the planting hole a month in advance, removing perennial weeds. A good size hole would be 2ft by 2ft square to encourage outward root growth, and 18"deep. Any turf can be chopped up with a spade in the bottom of the hole. Dig in some sand if the soil is heavy, and the addition of well rotten organic material/compost can also help break up heavy soil. Peat substitute can be dug in as well. If you are removing a lot of stones you'll need to add more soil or compost to the mix to bring it up to ground level. You can also build up a mound to plant into, useful where soil depth is shallower.
Too much nitrogenous compost is not a good idea as it can lead to other problems.  
Bonemeal can also be added at this stage. Put the stake in on the windy side. Ensure the graft union is above the soil level.
Staking should be permanent for M27 trees.


Most varieties of apple require another that flowers at the same time, whilst a few others known as triploids are poor pollinators and thus require two other varieties for all three to set fruit. The different apples are classified into pollination groups. Within these groups, apples flower together. The basic grouping has four groups, representing early, mid-season, late mid-season and late season flowering. When selecting varieties, aim for having apples that are in the same group or the group immediately before or after. If you are only planting two or three trees, keeping within the same flowering group will ensure best pollination.
It should also be noted that some apples are prone to 'biennial bearing', setting flowers and fruit in alternate years. Thus if you were having only a few trees, a biennial bearer is not an appropriate choice. If  however your neighbours have apple trees, chances are it won't be a problem...examples of biennial bearers include Blenheim Orange, Early Victoria, Ellison's Orange, Elstar, Laxton's Superb, Newton Wonder, Rev W Wilkes and Tydeman's Late Orange. Thinning of heavy crops can reduce this tendency.


If you wish to prune your trees, here is a guide. In the tree’s early years, the main aim of pruning is to establish a framework that will hold the weight of fruit in years to come. Not pruning back long growth can result in thinner, weaker branches prone to breaking. Pruning should be just above a bud, and made with a cut sloping away from the bud
A one year old tree (maiden) can be pruned at 6ft for a standard (using MM111) 4-4.5ft for a ‘half-standard’ (using MM106) or at 2-2.5ft for a ‘bush’ (using M26 or MM106). This cut is known as a 'heading cut', and forces the plant to bush out from where the cut is made. This should be done between  November and March.
After the second year of growth, You should have four or five branches. The stronger branches are reduced by half, the weaker ones reduced to a third of their length.
After the third year of growth, new growth that is wanted as a part of the framework is reduced by half. New growth that is not wanted in the framework is reduced to above the fourth bud, and also any new growth heading towards the centre of the framework is removed, to keep the tree open in the middle, which will be of benefit in later years.

Pruning of other tree fruit

Pruning of Pear trees is the same as for apples, whilst pruning of stone fruits (apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums) should not be done between November and March. Wait until spring and the first leaves have appeared, in order to avoid silver leaf disease.


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