Left to grow naturally, fruit trees will reach a height of at least 5m – far too big for the average garden, and not practical to harvest fruit from.
For this reason, many fruit trees are grafted on to a root system, or 'rootstock' of a related tree that keeps them a more manageable size. These range from the dwarfing rootstocks that are used for dwarf fruit trees, 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's grafted on to. If you buy fruit trees from a specialist nursery, you'll be be fully briefed on which rootstock to choose, before you buy.
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Here's our guide to fruit tree rootstocks.
Apples come on range of rootstocks, identified by a number preceded by M or MM. MM106 is best for a mini-orchard, as trees reach just 3.5m wide, so can be planted closely. Choose M9 rootstock for a small apple tree about 2.5m tall. M26 is ideal for espaliers and cordons. M27 is good for stepovers or trees in pots. For a large tree, go for MM111 for a tree up to 4.5m tall, or M25 for a large standard tree, approximately 4-5m tall.
Pears are larger trees than apples, even on a dwarf rootstock. ‘Quince A’ is the most commonly found – trees will grow to about 3.5m and can be planted quite closely. 'Quince C' is smaller, suitable for a small tree, cordon, fan or espalier and fruits slightly quicker.
Plums and cherries
‘Pixy' or 'Ferlenain' are best for a small, fan-trained plum tree. 'Gisela 5' is good for a small cherry tree below 3.5m, and for fan-training. On this rootstock, the popular cherry ‘Stella’ will stay small enough for a large pot. 'Colt' will produce a larger tree, suitable for a big garden or orchard.
Peaches, nectarines and apricots
Peaches, nectarines and apricots are usually grown on a semi-dwarfing ‘St Julian A’ rootstock, but it's summer pruning and training that limits their size. Grow on a south-facing wall.
Patio fruit trees
Plants sold as 'patio fruit trees' will stay naturally small, especially when planted in a container.