Growing Apple Trees

Type and Age of Trees

Apple trees can be trained to grow in several different ways. Trees that have been trained for a short time by a nurseryman can be bought, but it is better to plant quite young, untrained trees, because apple trees should be disturbed as little as possible by transplanting. To obtain the best results buy one-year-old trees — maidens — and carry out the necessary training.

Do not buy five- and six-year-old trees from a nurseryman as they are usually stunted and never really re-establish themselves.

Cordons, bush trees, trees that are to be trained as dwarf pyramids, pillars or spindles can be bought when two years old, and half standards and full standards when three years old, because they will have more stems than younger trees. Trained espalier trees can be bought when four years old, as their main branches will already have been trained in the nursery.

Always order the trees during the summer months and ask the nurseryman to guarantee delivery by the middle of November, in order that they can be planted before the soil becomes too cold or too wet.

Planting and Staking

growing apple trees's Orange Pippin

If the trees have travelled a long way, it is wise to soak their roots in a bath of water for an hour or two before planting. If the soil is frozen, place the trees in a sheltered spot and cover their roots with sedge peat to a depth of 6 or 7 in. When it is impossible to plant all the trees within two or three days of arrival, heel them in by digging a large hole, putting the roots of the trees in it as close together as possible and then covering the roots over with fresh soil.

The planting hole for each tree should be about 3 ft. across and 8 in. deep, so that it is large enough to accommodate all the roots when they are spread out. To encourage the production of surface roots, cut back cleanly with a sharp knife any roots that were damaged when the plants were dug up in the nursery, so that the surface of the clean wounds will face downward at the time of planting.

Stake the trees efficiently, driving the stakes into the soil before planting so that the roots will not be damaged. For normal bush trees, use stout chestnut stakes, 5 ft. long and 3 in. in diameter. First soak the bottom 2 ft. of each stake in a tank of Cuprinol for 24 hours—the preservative will penetrate right into the wood, and the stakes should last for many years. Then drive the stakes into the ground to a depth of 2 ft., and about 4 or 5 in. away from the centre of the hole. Use two 6-ft. stakes for half-standard or two 8-ft. stakes for standard trees and treat them with Cuprinol in the same way. Then drive the stakes 2 ft. into the ground and 9 in. away from and on either side of the centre of the hole. Tie the trees to the stakes with modern plastic ties. This type of tie has a special tubular cushion which acts as a buffer between the trunk of the tree and the stake, and an adjuster which, when moved, enables the tightness of the tie to be quickly gauged.

The actual point where the graft or bud of the variety joins the stock should not be buried, so do not plant trees deeply. If the point of union is not kept about 3 or 4 in. above soil level, the variety itself may send out a few roots, which will mask and perhaps completely ruin the beneficial effect of the root stock. Spread the roots out evenly in the bottom of the hole, like the rays of the sun. If a little mound of soil 4 in. high is put in the centre of the hole, the base of the tree can ‘sit’ on this while the roots are spread. Make certain that the roots are growing out on all sides as this is the only way to ensure that the tree will be properly anchored. As the roots are put into position, place a spadeful of soil over them and tread it down firmly so that they cannot move. It is better for two people to plant a tree so that one can shovel the soil over the roots while the other does the treading.

The roots of apple trees sometimes grow out in two or three layers or tiers. In such cases first spread out the lower roots and cover them with soil and tread down, then spread out the next tier of roots, cover them with soil and tread down, and so on. In this way the roots will be kept in their normal stratification.

Even after planting and firming, the soil tends to settle down. It is advisable, therefore, to leave the soil slightly raised round the tree, so that after three or four weeks the soil covering the roots will be level with the surrounding soil.

Where rabbits or hares are prevalent protect the trees with tubes or sleeves made from 3-ft. wide, 1-in. mesh wire netting. Cut the netting into 1-1/2 ft. lengths and fasten it round the trees immediately after planting. These guards will prevent severe marking by rabbits and hares during the first month.

Lastly, nail a cross bar 2 in. by l in. by 18 in. to each stake to form a bridge about l ft. below the point where the lowest branch of the tree joins the main branch or stem. Fasten the tree to the cross bar with plastic ties.

Principle Stocks for Apple Trees

M.II—one of the most popular root stocks. Good for weak varieties grown as cordons, or for dwarf pyramids or espaliers.

M.VII—makes the variety grow vigorously for five years and thereafter to crop heavily on its large frame. Bush trees can be planted from 15 to 18 ft. square, depending on the variety.

M.IX—a very weak stock; makes trees bear early. Produces poor average roots, so needs efficient staking. Bush trees on this stock can be planted 9 to 12 ft. square, depending on the variety.

M.XVI—the stock to use for half-standard and standard trees or large bush trees on very poor soil. Plant the trees 28 to 30 ft. Square.

M.XXV—another stock for half standards and standards, and especially good for light, sandy soil.

MM.104—useful in place of staked bush trees, because its roots provide good anchorage. Excellent for Cox’s Orange Pippin.

MM.106—can be used instead of M.IX for planting in dry sandy soil. Causes trees to crop very heavily. Plant 15 to 18 ft. square.

MM.109—gives results very similar to M.II. Popular on sandy soil because it withstands drought.


From Birds

Birds sometimes peck out the centres of flower buds to get at the protein they need. To prevent this, buy tree-banding grease and warm it to a temperature of about 80° F. (27° C). Then, just before the trees blossom, apply the sticky compound with a short stick to the fruit spurs of the tree and to any part where a bird can conveniently perch.

From Insects

Grease bands about 3 in. wide can also be put on the trees at the end of September to prevent the females of the wingless winter moths from climbing into the branches and laying their eggs.

Some vegetable types of banding-grease can be put directly on the trees while others can be applied only if strips of grease-proof paper are put on first. Take advice from a horticultural chemist when buying the grease.

The fruit grower should, adopt the following simple spraying programme. Spray the trees with a tar-oil wash each December, using a 10 per cent solution the first season and a 5 per cent solution thereafter. In the spring just before the blossoms open, apply a captan wash to prevent the scab disease which is very common on apples, and spray again as soon as the blossoms have formed. During the spring and summer watch for pests. The appearance of a cotton-wool-like substance on the branches in summer indicates that the trees have been attacked by the woolly aphid (American blight).


It is important when planting a single apple tree to make sure that it is self-fertile, since self-sterile varieties must have their pollinators or ‘mates’ planted at the same time. But as only a few varieties of apple are self-fertile, better crops are assured when cross pollination takes place. Thus a mixed orchard invariably crops better. Compatible varieties flowering at the same time will pollinate one another. To save disappointment seek expert advice on which varieties to plant.

In small gardens the problem of pollination can be overcome by planting ‘family trees’. These are stocks on to which four different varieties have been grafted, so that the tree provides itself with perfect inter-pollination and gives a succession of varieties to eat or cook.

09. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Fruit & Veg, Fruit Trees | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Growing Apple Trees


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