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I've got a border area which is 9m long and 1.2m wide. It runs along a 1.8m tall fence which is north facing, but also has the tops of my neighbours shrubs, making it around 2.2m tall. Interestingly, there used to be some very old shrubs in the border that grew quite tall and leafy before I removed them. This may be because the tops of the shrubs got sunlight for a reasonable part of the day, or possibly the rich and moist soil underneath them. I would say the soil is quite fertile and moisture retentive/slightly water logged (due to lack of light, warmth or the high water table in the area.)
My predicament is this: I would like to try and grow some fruit in this border. It will be an experiment, so within reason, I am willing to be disappointed! Obviously I would like to do all that I can to minimise failure (choice of fruit, variety, rootstock, training) , but realise the odds may be stacked against me.
I'm interested in desert varieties of apple, pear and plum, and being ambitious (if a little greedy) would like to get as much viable fruit as possible, as tree numbers, rootstocks, planting distance, forms allow.
The actual fence is not in great condition either, and due to it's north-facing orientation would not allow any training onto it. Something like a free-standing espalier shape, with some support rigged up around it might work, but I doubt it. My idea would be to grow trees that would be like half/standards, but no more than 4m tall ie. more at the top, above the fence, where the sunlight is. A concern over apples is they fruit on lateral shoots, so would need to be pruned/trained to encourage these, while being high up in the canopy. Maybe fruit trees that have a naturally upright shape might help. Similarly, would ideas like planting more trees close to each other and severe pruning and summer pruning encourage fruiting? despite the not ideal conditions.
Any ideas or suggestions will be welcome (apologies for the poor diagram.)
Hello Seneca, you are well-named if you are prepared for disappointment! However, fear not, there are appletrees called Maypole which grow into little columns. Just Google "maypole apple trees"
Got a bit of spare time so here's a bit more info.
Chris Bowers and Sons, a company with which I have no connection and know nothing about, offer M27 rootstock apple trees which, they say, can be grown 2 feet apart to make a hedge. They also sell "Supercolumn" style trees. I know nothing about that form, but they say it makes a 6 foot high hedge. They also have a five fruit hedge collection for about £85 which they say is designed to produce fruit in a limited space.
Something to think about.
Thanks for the replies folks - keep them coming - let's have some fruity brainstorming!
I've realised that the idea I had in mind was poorly conveyed in the posting (and especially the diagram.) Here's goes with another attempt... and another poor diagram!
My standard tree idea was to have the clear stem out of the light and the top branch sytem (leaves & fruit) to be in sunlight. This may encourage some fruit to form and possibly ripen. The stem section may be wasted, but it does not get enough direct sun to allow fruiting from low down to high up, as most trained fruit has (cordons, fans espaliers.) However, the idea of a tree trained to be like a tall step-over (one tier espalier) might work, but it wastes a lot lot of space and would need some training! A big T - tall stem and long laterals. It will also look "ahem" bizarre (no laughing please.) I would ideally like the overall height of the tree to be around 4m and pruned so that most of thefruiting branches hang over my side of the fence. Don't mind climbing a ladder. I used to go up an old apple bush tree that had an open goblet shape that had a 1m tall stem in my old garden. That tree would do well in this situation if I removed the brances that would push into the fence.
Regarding varieties I've tasted and enjoyed: Apples - Sunset, Egremont Russet, Discovery, Scrumptious, Spartan, Fiesta, Red Falstaff. Pears - Comice, Concorde, Beth, Conference, Williams. Plums - Jubilee, Opal, Victoria, Green Gage, Ouillins Gage. Currently I'm thinking of 2 apple trees, 2 pear trees and forgoing plums for lack of space and ripening conditions. As I don't want any culinary only varieties, and if desert varieties are difficult in semi-shade or sun for only half the day, then how about dual purpose variety as a compromise. Then it could be left to ripen for longer and eaten as a desert. Or maybe planting early varieties and just leaving them to get sun for longer and picking later. Suagrs may have developed by then.
It seems like you know where you are going and what you want to achieve. With MM106 rootstock you could do it, no?
I would agree that going for early cropping varieties of whichever fruit trees you decide on is a good idea as it will give them more time to ripen in the shady conditions. Most fruit trees can be trained to have a long trunk with a 'lollipop' or larger head simply by progressively pruning the lower branches off almost flush with the trunk while it is young. Remove a third of the leader each Winter just above a strong shoot which will turn into a new leader. Winter pruning will make pruned branches grow more strongly in the Spring. Once the tree has reached the maximum height you want, you can Summer prune the leader each year which will restrict its growth. Trees trained this way are sometimes called 'minarette' or 'columnar' fruit trees.
As it happens I have bought a few (normal type) trees from the company waterbutts mentioned and have been pleased - large, well-grown young trees which were very well packed for delivery. Whoever you decide to buy from, give them a ring, explain what you are trying to achieve and ask them which rootstock they would recommend for the variety you are after to achieve the height you want - any good supplier will be happy to help.