Choosing apple tree varieties

by Adam Pasco

I've planted dozens of fruit trees, and while some have been productive, carrying delicious crops, others have been very disappointing...

Adam Pasco harvesting fruit from an apple treeOver the years I've planted dozens of fruit trees, and while some have been productive, carrying delicious crops, others have been very disappointing. So, why the disappointment? It's usually because I've chosen a new variety without having tasted the fruit. My experience has shown that old 'tried and tested' favourites are often better than new varieties described in catalogues.

Flavour isn't the only consideration when choosing an apple tree. What form should your apple tree take? Apples are trained in many different ways. Do you want a tall standard tree or a dwarf one, a screen of single-stemmed cordons or a beautifully trained espalier? You can even plant an apple tree in a small garden - perhaps fan-trained against a warm wall or fence. Apple trees are grafted onto rootstocks, and these determine how big they grow. You need to pick the right rootstock for the space where you’ll be planting.

In the past I’ve had problems with poor pollination. Most apples need cross-pollination by another apple tree flowering at the same time. With cookers like Bramley, you actually need two other apple varieties to get the best results (one variety to pollinate the Bramley and the other to pollinate the pollinator). Even with two pollinating varieties close by, my Bramley hardly ever produced fruit, so I took it out. Don't hang on to trees that don’t deliver – it's not worth it.

My favourite apple is 'Spartan'. With red skin that buffs to a blinding gloss, every bite delivers a satisfying crunch to reveal delicious pure white, juicy flesh. But don't take my word for it. You must try it for yourself.

One way to compare different apple varieties is to go to one of this year's  Apple Day events. At Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection in Kent, you'll be able to sample dozens of apple varieties and quiz the experts on how best to grow them.

I've also heard that high demand for British apples has resulted in a major supermarket chain stocking 50 different varieties of apples this season. And if you're still unsure which to choose, Monty Don is making suggestions for the best-flavoured apples in the November 2011 issue of Gardeners' World Magazine.

So, my advice is to search out and taste these varieties before buying a tree. Avoid disappointment and make sure any fruit tree you plant passes your taste test before investing money and time in growing it.

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Gardeners' World Web User 04/10/2011 at 09:57

Youare so right, Adam, about tasting the apple. Also go to a reputable grower. i asked Ken Muir who has sadly gone from us now for a Worcester Pearmain as I had tasted one once and loved it. he did not have one but suggested that if I loved the Worcester I would love this other Pearmain, which is now a huge tree and crops prolifically. Straight off the tree now the sweet juice runs down my chin and I think - that was such good advice. He also advised another Pippin instead of the Cox's Orange which he thought gave a lot of people trouble and that too is a lovely tree whose fruit is best at Xmas when thw Pearmains are over, not being good keepers. I was given a Charles Ross when a friend moved house and, even last year, was picking a perfect apple from the tree at the end of February. They all help to pollinate my Bramley which has been here since the land was the orchard of a farm and is huge and fruits its socks off. It is noe windy in Bristol so I am keeping well away as the Apples are big enough to knock you out when they fall.

Gardeners' World Web User 04/10/2011 at 10:44

Yes, always try and taste fruit varieties before you buy then. Someone else cannot tell you what you will like. I love going to some of the apple day festivals held each autumn. They're a great place to get varieties identified, and to try eating apples and tasting juice.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/10/2011 at 18:52

How near do other apple trees have to be in order to pollinate my queen cox apple tree which so far has not produced more than about 20 apples in the last 4 yrs? My neighbour's trees are about 50 feet away, is this too far for polination? I have a small Bramley about 6 - 8 ft away from the Queen Cox which apart from this year, when all the fruiting buds were killed by a late frost, usually provides a good crop.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/10/2011 at 19:19

Help! Can anyone tell me of an Apple Day Event closer than Kent. While I would love to go to Brogdale, I really don'r have the time at present. I live in Berkshire close to Bracknell so could do Hants/Berks borders; Oxon/Berks borders or Surrey/Berks borders. I want to get a good tasting eating apple tree planted this Autumn/Winter. Event dates and locations with websites if available greatly appreciated.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/10/2011 at 20:18

Adam I have an apple tree that I purchased from Woolworths about a year befor the closed down, haven't a clue what it is but it is wonrderful, the apple is what I would call a cooker but could be eaten raw with a piece of cheese, looks like a Bramley with some red on it, I love that little tree I hope it gives me many years of it's beautiful fruit,now about 10ft tall, planted in the ground for a couple of years now I really don't think trees are happy in pots.

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