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How to Grow Apples

A guide to growing Apple trees in gardens, allotments

and containers

Apples

Family/Latin Name

Rosaceae - Malus pumila

Type of Plant

Hardy Deciduous Fruit Tree

Suitable for

Gardens, Allotments, Large Containers

Recommended Tree Forms Half Standard, Espalier, Pyramid, Bush, Cordon, step-over
Jump to:-    Tree Sizes  |  Yields  |  Pruning   |  Pests & Diseases 

 

Growing Apples - Details

See also:- Apple Rootstocks  |  Apple Cultivars (Named Varieties)  |   Fruit Growing Glossary  |  Tree Forms  |  Container Growing  | Buying Plants

Site and Soil

Prefer full sun.
Tolerant of most soil types provided they are well drained
Espalier  trained trees suitable for very large tubs e.g. half barrels and dwarf bush and cordon varieties for slightly smaller containers +60cm/2ft wide

Space required

See table below

Yield

See Table below

Time between planting  and harvesting

Maidens - Start producing in 3rd Year
2 year olds - Produce in 1 year

Planting Time

Bare root/wrapped root ball: Best - October to December
Alternative - January to March (soil conditions permitting)
Trees supplied in pots:  Best - October to March
Alternative - Any other time (soil conditions permitting)

Number of trees needed for pollination Although it is possible to get varieties which are semi self fertile, better results are always achieved by growing 2 or more apple trees especially if there are no other apple trees being grown in nearby gardens/allotments.
NB  Some cultivars  will not pollinate trees of the same cultivar or certain other cultivars, so it is advisable to check which trees are compatible before purchasing.
How to plant - Open ground



Union join Rootstock Scion
Prepare the ground before planting, forking in a general fertiliser such as Growmore. Do not add fresh manure at planting time as this can damage the roots.

Dig a large hole wide enough to take the roots when spread out and deep enough to take the whole root system. You should be able to see signs on the tree of the original soil depth on the tree stem. Care must be taken not to plant the tree so deep as to bury the union between the rootstock and scion  (the  knobbly  bit).

If growing in a free standing position, drive in a sturdy wooden stake which should be as tall as the stem of the tree at least 30cm/12" into the ground in the hole. Stand the tree in the hole, spreading out the roots or bare-rooted specimens, tie to the stake then fill in the hole with soil, slightly rocking the tree between each spadeful so the earth falls between the roots, firming gently as you go, until the hole is filled to the top. Water in well.

  How to plant - against a wall


Cordon Fruit Tree
Larger Cordons and Espalier tree forms do well if planted again a wall.  It's best to fix the supports and wires to the wall before you plant the tree.

Dig a large hole wide enough to take the roots when spread out and deep enough to take the whole root system about 30cm/1ft away from the wall and slightly sloping away from the wall. You should be able to see signs on the tree of the original soil depth on the tree stem. Care must be taken not to plant the tree so deep as to bury the union between the rootstock and scion  (the  knobbly  bit).

Stand the tree in the hole, spreading out the roots or bare-rooted specimens, tilting it slightly towards the wall, then fill in the hole with soil, slightly rocking the tree between each spadeful so the earth falls between the roots, firming gently as you go, until the hole is filled to the top. Cordons can be planted at an angle of about 45 degrees widthways which is especially useful if the wall isn't very high (see diagram on the  left.). Water in well.

  How to plant - in containers Even on dwarf rooting stocks, Apple trees can be quite vigorous, even though the containers will go a little way to curtailing the size of tree, so large containers are necessary .
Bush and Pyramids - container size minimum  60cm/2ft wide x 45cm/18" deep. May need staking.
Espaliers against a wall  - container size minimum  75cm/2½ft wide x 60cm/2ft deep

Good drainage is essential so make sure there are plenty of drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Place a 2.5cm/1" layer of stones or crocks in the bottom and cover with enough soil or compost so that when you place the tree in the container, the original planting depth (which you should be able to see on the stem of the tree)  is 5cm/2" below the top of the container. Fill the container with soil or a loam based compost to the original planting depth. Firm well and water in.

  Aftercare Open Ground - Yearly pruning will be necessary (see below). Apply a mulch of well rotted manure or compost once a year in  spring and a supplement of a balanced inorganic fertiliser is helpful in January.
Wall Grown Trees - Yearly pruning will be necessary (see below). Apply a mulch of well rotted manure or compost once a year in  spring and a supplement of a balanced inorganic fertiliser is helpful in February. Keep trees well watered as the ground near walls often dries out quickly
Containers -  Yearly pruning will be necessary (see below). Apply a mulch of well rotted manure or compost during the first  year in  spring and a supplement of a balanced inorganic fertiliser is helpful in February. In subsequent years, it is best to carefully remove some of the soil from the container and replace it with fresh compost. Do this carefully so as not to damage the roots. Keep the containers well watered.
General -   If there are lots of fruit forming these should be thinned after the natural fruit drop which will occur by June to avoid the branches being over-laden and to produce larger fruit. Thinning spacing varies depending on the tree form as follows:-
Bush - Aim at having clusters 8-10cm/3-4" apart  with 1 fruit per cluster
Cordons/Dwarfs - Aim at having 2 fruit per cluster
Place a grease band around the trunk in October to help guard against winter pests.
  Harvesting  Exact harvesting times vary depending on the cultivar so exact dates can't be given However in general:-
Early Season - August
Mid Season -
September/October
Late Season varieties  - November
In general, if an apple is given a slight twist and comes away, then it is ready for picking.  Always be gentle when harvesting as bruised fruit doesn't keep well and pick the fruit with the stalk in tact. It should be noted that not all apples on a single tree will ripen at the same time.
  Storage Early Season - Best eaten within 2 weeks
Mid Season -
4-8 weeks in  cool conditions
Late Season varieties  - These do not develop their full flavour until after they have been stored for a few weeks. Store for several months in dark, cool but frost free conditions with a little air circulation but also a little humid to prevent them drying out. Store unblemished specimens preferably with the stalks in tact. Can be wrapped in tissue paper or placed in unsealed polythene bags which have a couple of holes to provide air circulation.

Apple Tree Dimensions

Expected Yield Per Mature Apple Tree

Half Standard
Espalier
Dwarf Pyramid
Bush
Cordon
Height  4-4.5m/13-15ft
Height: 1-2m/3-6ft   
Height: 2m/6ft      
Height: up to 4m/12ft        
Height: 2m/6ft
Spread  4.5m/15ft
Spread: up to 5m/15ft
Spread: 1.6m/5ft
Spread: 1.6m/5ft
Spread: 30cm/1ft
    Half Standard
Espalier
Dwarf Pyramid
Bush
Cordon
45-135kg/100-300lb
Depends on amount of tiers
4-7kg/10-15lb
27-54kg/60-120lb
2-4kg/5-8lb
For a complete guide to and explanation of the various fruit tree forms click here

How to Prune Apple Trees - General

 

Maiden

2 Year Old

3 Year Old

Older

Central main stem (leader) with buds

Central stem, bare towards the bottom with a few main branches and very few laterals Central stem, bare at the bottom with more developed branches plus more developed laterals Central stem, bare at the bottom with many more fully developed branches and many more laterals which clearly show the tree form (shape) e.g. bush

Detailed Instructions on Pruning Apple Trees

1st year (Maiden) Apple Tree

Dwarf Pyramid - In winter cut back the leader to a bud 50cm/20" above soil level

Bush -
In winter prune leader just above a bud 1m/3ft above soil level ensuring there are at least 3 good buds beneath it.

Espalier -
In Winter Find 2 good buds - 1 facing right - 1 facing left about 30cm/1ft above the ground then cut the leader about 30cm/1ft above them (just above a bud). If there are lateral branches rather than buds, use these instead and cut them back by 2/3rds to an upward facing bud. Remove any other laterals.

Cordon -
In April prune leader just above a bud 1.2m/4ft above soil level. Tie to long canes/wires.

Standards - 
very large trees unsuitable for growing in gardens or allotments

2-Year Old Apple Tree

Dwarf Pyramid - In Winter cut back the new growth on the central leader to 20cm/8" to a bud which is facing in the opposite  direction of the one chosen last winter.  Remove side shoots (feathers) within 45cm/18" of the ground. Prune main branches to 20cm/8" just above a downward or outward facing  bud and prune all laterals from these main branches to 15cm/6".

Bush  - In winter prune the strongest top 3-5 branches back by half just above an outward facing  bud or shoot. Remove any growth on the stem lower than these, painting the wounds with a sealant.

Espalier -
By late July the two selected buds or laterals should have put on sufficient growth  to enable you to start training them upwards at 45 degree angles in a 'V' shape tied to canes fixed to the wires. These are called the 'ribs'. Train the leader upwards on a vertical cane and continue to train the ribs along the 45 degree angled canes. Keep all other shoots cut back to 6 leaves above the base cluster of leaves. In November lower the ribs on the canes to a horizontal position on either side of the main stem and tie to the wires making the 1st tier. Find 2 good buds - one facing right - one facing left about 30cm/1ft above the first tier then cut the leader about 30cm/1ft above them (just above a bud). Remove any other laterals/shoots between the the chosen pair of buds and the top leader bud.

Cordons - In August cut back laterals growing from the main stem which are more than 10cm/4" long to 3 leaves above the base cluster of leaves, and cut back any shoots on these laterals to 1 leaf.

In Winter If not many laterals have formed on the main stem, cut back the leader by up to 1/3rd to an upward facing bud to stimulate laterals to shoot. Continue to tie the growing leader to the canes/wires

3-Year Old Apple Tree

Dwarf Pyramid - In August prune current years growth on main branches leaving 5-6 leaves on the branch just above a downward facing  bud, prune current years growth on laterals from these main branches to 3 leaves and any shoots (secondary laterals)  growing from the laterals back to 1 leaf. If lots more growth to secondary laterals is put on by October, prune these as above.

Bush  - By Winter the 3-5 selected branches last year will be producing laterals. Select the  4 strongest laterals on each branch and prune these by half to an outward facing bud and prune the remaining laterals to 3 buds. Prune the leader by half to an outward facing bud.


Espalier -
By late July the second two selected buds or laterals should have put on sufficient growth  to enable you to start training them upwards at 45 degree angles in a 'V' shape tied to canes fixed to the wires which will form the 2nd tier.

In August laterals will have grown on the horizontal ribs of the 1st tier. Cut back mature (woody based) laterals which are longer than 22cm/9" to 3 leaves above the base cluster of leaves. If there are any secondary laterals growing on what's left, cut back to 1 leaf.

In November lower the ribs on the canes to a horizontal position on either side of the main stem and tie to the wires making the 2nd tier.

If you wish to make a 3rd tier find 2 good buds - one facing right - one facing left about 30cm/1ft above the 2nd tier then cut the leader about 30cm/1ft above them (just above a bud). Remove any other laterals/shoots between the the chosen pair of buds and the top leader bud.

Cordons - In August prune laterals as the previous year.

Pruning Older Apple Trees

Apple trees over 4 years old really only need to be pruned to restrict to new growth to keep the tree size within the available space or to remove weak spindly branches, dead wood or branches which may be crossing and rubbing.  Try not to leave stubs when removing branches and paint larger wounds with a sealant.

Dwarf Pyramids Mostly prune to downward facing buds. Once the leader has reached 2m/6ft  prune to 1cm/½".

Bush Always prune to  outward facing buds/shoots.

Espalier  Repeat last year's pruning/training if the wall is large enough to take extra tiers. Thin laterals to 10cm/4" apart. Always prune to upward  facing buds/shoots.  Rub out any small shoots/buds which are pointing directly towards the wall and pinch back any shoots growing directly away from the wall to 1 leaf.

Once you have finished creating the tiers, prune back the leader to 1cm/½" in May. You should also  prune the tier branches in May once the required length has been achieved

Cordons - In August prune laterals as the previous year.

Apple Pests & Diseases

Pests Diseases
Grey Mould (Botrytis) and Mildew
Mould - Brown spots followed by a furry grey mould on leaves. Mildew - light grey powdery patches on the leaves, shoots and flowers usually  in spring. Treat by spraying with a copper fungicide. Avoid damp or humid conditions and if the tree is congested with too much leafy growth, prune to permit air to circulate.

Aphids can cause leaves to curl or honeydew or mould to form on the fruit and leaves. There are chemicals available to combat aphids which can be bought at garden centres. Organic methods include spraying with diluted washing up liquid ( 1 teasp per 2 litres of water), companion planting of flowers such as marigolds nearby.

Apple Sawfly  - Small holes in the Apples with ribbon like scars on the skin. There are chemicals available to combat Apple sawfly  which are usually sprayed  in spring.  Remove infected fruit from the tree as soon as it is noticed and burn it - do not compost.
Scab - Brown or blackish scabs on fruit which may crack. Blisters on shoots which become scab like and leaves blotchy and fall prematurely. Remove the scabby shoots and spray with  mancozeb from the early bud development.

Canker -  Indicated by shallow depressions at the base of branches which get bigger in spring, . An amber like gum may also be present. Treatment consists of cutting back to good wood and paining the cut with canker paint. Spray as above for scab.

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