Choosing a fruit-tree rootstock

Many fruit trees are grafted on to a specific root system, or rootstock, that determine the size to which they will grow. These range from dwarfing rootstocks, ideal for small or medium-sized gardens, to those that produce a huge mature tree.

When buying a fruit tree, the label or product information should give details about the rootstock it is grafted on to. Grafting unites two plants so they work as one. The rootstock determines the tree's vigour and height, while the scion (the top part of the plant) determines the variety, and hence the characteristics of the fruits.

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Apples

Apple trees, in particular, come on a wide choice of rootstocks - these are identified by a number, preceded by M or MM. If you want a small apple tree for a border, about 2.5m tall, or to train as a cordon (single stem), choose M9 rootstock. M26 is ideal for espaliers (trained flat against a wall or fence) as well as cordons. MM106 is best for a mini-orchard, as trees reach just 3.5m wide, so can be planted closely.

On low-nutrient, sandy soils, dwarfing rootstocks are even less vigorous, so get advice from a specialist nursery. If your soil is really poor, grow the tree in a pot - M27 is best for this, and for training as a stepover (a low-growing, horizontally trained form). It is so dwarfing that the tree will need a permanent stake.

Apples sold as ‘patio fruit trees’ stay naturally small, especially when planted in a container.

Pears

Pears are larger trees than apples, even on a dwarf rootstock, so if you want a tree that won't get to more than 6m tall, buy one on ‘Quince A’ or ‘Quince C’ rootstock and train it against a fence or wall.

Plums and cherries

A small fan-trained plum tree is best on ‘Pixy’ rootstock. For fan-training a cherry tree or to keep it below 3.5m, choose ‘Gisela 5’ rootstock. On this, the popular cherry ‘Stella’ will stay small enough for a large pot.

Peaches, nectarines and apricots

Peaches, nectarines and apricots are usually grown on a semi-dwarfing ‘St Julian A’ rootstock, but it is summer pruning and training, usually on a south-facing wall, that limits their size.

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