Planting and Growing Apple Trees
The apple is one of the oldest fruits known to man, and also one of the most widely cultivated. Originally growing wild in Europe and the Near East, it thrives inland throughout the British Isles.
However, apples do not grow well in coastal areas exposed to salt-laden winds, and in the north there is a greater risk of blossom being destroyed by spring frosts. This applies also in local frost pockets, in gardens in valleys or at the base of slopes where the temperature may be much lower than near by.
The earliest apples are ready for picking and eating in August; the latest can be stored for eating until as late as the following April/ May. Although many of the apple trees panted in long-established gardens require a good deal of space, trained dwarf forms can now be grown en even the smallest town garden. It is also possible to buy ‘family trees’, in which three or four varieties are grafted on a single rootstock to provide a succession of fruits.
Planning the crop
Apple trees do best in an open, lily, but sheltered site. They will grow in most soils, except those that are waterlogged or have a high lime content. The ideal is a lightly acid soil that does not dry nut in summer.
In late September or early October, prepare the site where the trees are to grow. Fork into the soil well-rotted manure or compost at the rate of a bucketful to the square yard, and apply a general fertiliser at the rate of 3oz per square yard (90g per square metre).
How many trees to grow
Many gardeners are content to make do with the apple trees that they take over when they move to a new home. But those who plant afresh have the opportunity to select the trees best suited to the site.
Bush trees, planted 12-20 ft (3.6-6 m) apart, are a good choice where space is plentiful. One well-grown bush tree may produce 200 lb. (91 kg) or more of fruit, according to the variety, with an average of 80-100 lb. (36-45 kg).
Where space is more restricted, dwarf-pyramid trees, planted 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m) apart, are more suitable. One tree may produce 15 lb (7 kg) or more of apples, with an average yield of 8-10 lb. (4-5 kg).
An espalier with a spread of 10-15 ft (3-4.5 m) would be ideal for growing against a fence or wall in full sun or with a little shade. If preferred, it could be grown in the open and trained on wires.
Single-stemmed cordons, trained on wires and planted 24-3 ft (760 mm.-1 m) apart, with 6 ft (1.8 m) between rows, would enable a gardener to grow a number of varieties on a very small plot. Each fully established cordon may yield 10 lb (5 kg) or more of fruit, with an average of 3-5 lb (1.5-2.5 kg).
When buying apple trees it is advisable to tell the nursery what position and type of soil they will be planted in, for only then can they recommend the best available variety.
Because most apple trees cannot pollinate themselves, it is necessary to plant at least two trees that will blossom at the same time. Varieties with overlapping blossoming periods such as ‘Discovery’ and ‘Merton Knave’ will cross-pollinate satisfactorily.
A few varieties, including `Bramley’s Seedling’, are such poor pollinators that a third tree is needed to fertilise the tree chosen as a pollinator.
An additional tree is unnecessary, however, if you buy a ‘family tree’, as the varieties will have been selected for simultaneous flowering.
How to grow apple trees
The best time for planting is during frost-free weather between early November and late March.
Dig a hole of sufficient size to take the roots when they are well spread out. When planting a bush tree, first hammer in a supporting stake and plant the tree close against it. With all forms of tree, make sure that the union between the stock and the scion is at least 4 in (100 mm) above soil level.
In the first growing season water copiously during dry spells. For the first two or three springs after planting, mulch around the trees with manure or compost to help retain moisture in the soil.
Every January, apply 1oz of sulphate of potash per square yard (30g per square metre). Every third year, add 2oz (60g) of superphosphate to that dressing.
In March, give a dressing of sulphate of ammonia. For cooking apples, and for any tree growing in a lawn, use 2oz per square yard. For all others, 1oz should be sufficient.
Sprinkle all these dressings thinly over an area a little larger than the spread of the branches.
Training and pruning
During the first four years of a tree’s life the aim should be to create a strong framework of branches.
The way they are trained and pruned will depend on the shape of tree required.
Apple trees can be bought as one-year-old maidens which have only a single stem. These are then pruned each winter to create the desired shape.
A beginner, however, would do better to buy older trees that have already been partly trained by a nurseryman. Bush trees, cordons and trees that are to be trained on as dwarf pyramids can be bought when two or three years old, and espaliers up to four years old.
Do not, however, take a further short cut and buy trees that are five or six years old, as they rarely re-establish themselves.
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