Apple trees make a valuable addition to the garden. Their blossom is a feast for the eyes in spring and their fruits taste delicious in autumn. Apple trees can act as a focal point and provide structure to the garden. They also provide a variety of different habitats for wildlife, such as bees, birds and moths.
How to grow apples
Apple trees come in all shapes and sizes and are suitable for all sizes of garden, thanks to dwarfing rootstocks. Some remain compact for their whole lives and can even be grown in pots. Grow apples in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Prune in summer and/or winter, depending on the shape of your tree, and harvest the apples when they’re ripe.
Which apple rootstock?
Named apple varieties are grown on rootstocks that control their vigour and ultimate size. So, as well as choosing a tasty apple, also select a suitable rootstock for your space. They are: M27 very dwarfing; M9 and M26 dwarfing; MM106 semi-dwarf; and MM111 vigorous.
More on growing apples:
How to plant apple trees
How to grow apples – soaking bare-root apple tree before planting
Winter is the best time to plant bare-rooted apple trees. These are cheaper than container-grown ones and are available in a wider range of varieties from fruit nurseries. Trees grow to different heights, depending on the rootstock.
When deciding where to plant your tree, choose a site in full sun, making sure that there will be room for the branches to develop. Don’t worry if you have a small garden – trees can also be trained and pruned as fans, cordons and espaliers to be grown against a suitable wall, fences or piece of trellis.
Prepare the soil before planting. Then dig a square hole, hammer in a tree stake and position the tree. Hold the tree while you fill in around it with soil.
Check that the ‘graft point’ – a bulge on the stem where the rootstock was grafted on – sits just above soil level. Firm down the soil around the roots to get rid of any air pockets and secure the stem to the stake. Keep the tree well watered through the year.
How to care for your apple tree
How to grow apples – harvesting apples
If well maintained and fed, an apple tree will mature and crop for decades.
Once a year in late winter, apply a balanced fertiliser, such as pelleted chicken manure, around the base of the tree. Encourage good flowering and fruit formation by applying sulphate of potash fertiliser. Each spring, spread a mulch of garden compost under the tree to condition the soil, hold in moisture and suppress weeds.
Summer pruning helps transform leafy shoots into fruiting ones. Prune back shoots over 20cm long to three leaves. Cut back any side shoots from these to one leaf. Thin out congested fruits to one every 10cm, removing any damaged ones. Winter prune by removing congested, crossing or badly placed stems to create an open framework that lets light and air into the middle of the tree.
How to harvest apples
Some apples start ripening in August, but most are ready in September and October. Pick them as they ripen to avoid fruits falling and being damaged. Cup them in your hand and lift. If the apple doesn’t pull away gently, leave it for another week.
In this video clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don shows you how to pick apples from tall trees, so you get perfect, undamaged fruits that will store well:
Growing apples: preparation and uses
Enjoy dessert apples as nature intended, or slice and add to fruit salads or serve with wedges of cheese. Use cooking apples in pies, crumbles, baked or puréed as the basis of apple sauce.
Here, Monty Don takes you through the easy process of making apple juice using an apple press:
How to store apples
Late-cropping apples tend to keep better than early ones. Store only undamaged fruits in clear poly bags (make a few pinholes) in the fridge or in a cool, frost-free place. They should keep for some months. Check regularly and discard any with signs of damage.
In this video, Monty Don shows you how to store apples, explaining which fruits will store well, where to put them so they don’t deteriorate or rot, and how long they will keep:
Growing apples: problem solving
Protecting apple tree from pests with grease band on base
Wrap a grease band around the trunk in autumn to catch winter moths. The grease also stops ants in their tracks – ants cultivate colonies of aphids to harvest their sweet sticky honeydew. Hang pheromone traps in the trees in May to catch codling moth.
White fluff on shoots is woolly aphid. Scrub it off, or prune out badly affected areas.
Apple varieties to grow
For good crops, grow two or more apple trees near each other that flower at similar times so they cross-pollinate.
- ‘Arthur Turner’ – an early maturing cooker with yellow skin and a lovely sharp tang
‘Benenden Early’ – a large dessert, ready from August to September
‘Bramley’s Seedling’ – the classic cooker, green with a red blush. It stores well
- ‘Egremont Russet’ – popular for its distinct flavour. Late ripening, it will keep until Christmas
‘Ellison’s Orange’ – aromatic flavour, best eaten fresh in September/October
- ‘James Grieve’ – dessert/cooker, giving heavy crops of juicy, red-flushed fruit
‘Spartan’ – crisp, delicious and juicy, with red skin and pure white fresh