Today, 21st October, apple lovers all over the country are coming together to celebrate Apple Day. Garden and cookery writer Madeleine Cardozo has joined us as a guest blogger today to offer her juicy fruity advice on growing apple trees.
Growing Apple Trees
Plant from October to March
Harvest from July to November
Prune January to February
I have noticed that we get the most amazing apples from our two apple trees. This is because they are two trees of the same type; they blossom at the same time and pollinate each other. These are the ideal circumstances for apple trees, two of each. There is a lot that I could write about apple trees but I shall try to keep it simple. It may seem that I am contradicting myself on occasions too, that is because there are loads of rules you can break.
What kind of apple tree would you like? A cooking apple tree or an eating apple tree? Really you should have at least two apple trees within 30m of each other, they need to blossom at the same time and therefore pollinate each other in order to produce fruit. You can get varieties that are self pollinating but they are not so reliable e.g. Chiver’s Delight or Worcester Pearmain. As you can imagine they come in all shapes and sizes.
Option 1: Why not choose an early harvesting variety for eating e.g. Discovery , these are rubbish for storing, but you can pick them off the tree for a good couple of months. You could then have a late harvesting variety for eating that you can store for the winter e.g. Ashmead’s Kernel. Lastly a cooking apple tree e.g. Bramley’s seedling, for making chutneys and apple crumbles. Make sure that their blossoming time overlaps to cross pollinate.
Option 2: There is an apple tree that has been developed called a family tree, providing a way that you can have only one apple tree. A number of stems of different apple varieties have been grafted onto the ‘root stock’ (trunk). This apple tree will pollinate itself, but it may be slightly lopsided as the different varieties will grow to different sizes. This may be fun experimenting with if you don’t have much space.
Option Three: Buy a variety like the James Grieve or Blenheim Orange, which bears a fruit that will taste sweet but is a good cooking apple as well. You will need two of these trees.
Depending on the size of the tree and what you want to do with it will determine how far apart you plant them. Full sized, free standing trees will need to be about 5m 15ft apart. If you are growing ‘trained’ trees such as espaliers they can be 50cm 1½ ft apart. A hole needs to be dug, larger than the roots and the earth that will surround the roots needs to be loosened. Put some manure into the hole, place your tree roots in and cover with earth. Make the ground firm on top. Add a good lot of manure or compost to suppress the weeds and keep it moist. Hammer a large supporting stake next to it to stop it blowing over and tie the tree to it. Lastly water it well. It will take approximately three years for the tree to establish itself.
Bad things that can Happen to your Trees
Maggots – when your lovely looking apples get holes in them. You can buy codling moth traps and hang them in the tree from May to August.
Mildew – When the young shoots and flower buds have a dusting of grey powder. Ignore if it is not too bad, if it is a medium attack cut off the affected branches, or for a heavy attack you will need to spray on a fungicide.
Aphids – cause leaf curling, not much you can do and it doesn’t affect the fruit really.
Canker – causes the bark to shrink back and flake usually in rings, the first signs are little black rounds, then holes in the leaves. If you can, cut off affected branches further than you have to. There is no cure.
Fireblight – Makes leaves and shoots look as though they have been burnt – This is a bacterial disease and can affect many trees and roses. Cut off any branches that are affected, cutting 2ft, 60cm further back than you need to. All tools need to be disinfected and if the tree is badly infected dig it up and burn it. There is no cure.
Looking After your Tree’s and Pruning
When in drought – water small trees. Large trees should be able to look after themselves.
Every spring add organic fertiliser (manure) around the base of the tree. Keep the tree weed and grass free for the first few years, this will help the nutrients from the soil get to the tree. After it is established you can have grass growing all the way up to the trunk, roses entwined and sheep grazing…….
The pruning for apple trees mainly gets done in the winter, November to March. Cut off the branches where they are crowded, maintain a good shape for the tree, cut off dead, damaged or diseased wood and trim down to the ‘spurs’ (short stubby twiggy bits). Your next harvest of apples will grow from these. Some apple trees are tip-bearing, which means that they grow on the ends of the branches, so if yours is like that don’t lob off the tips! Cut off any spindly shoots that sprout from the ground around the foot of the tree.
Summer pruning is usually done in July and only on ‘trained’ trees. Here you are training the tree to grow in the direction that you want it to grow, cutting off any extra shoots and taking the tips out of the main stem to halt the upward growth.