Essential apple care guide
Find out all you need to know about caring for apples in our essential guide.
An apple tree is a wonderful addition to a garden. Not only does it provide beautiful blossom in spring and fruits in autumn, it can act as a focal point and provide structure. It's also a high-rise accommodation for all kinds of wildlife.
Find out all you need to know about choosing and growing apples in our apple Grow Guide.
If you think your garden is too small an apple tree, don't forget that you can choose a dwarfing rootstock, which will mean that it will remain compact. Find out more about choosing a fruit tree rootstock. Or you can opt for an espalier, fan or stepovers, which will take up very little space - discover three ways to train a fruit tree.
Got an old apple tree that needs some TLC? Then watch our Quick Tips video on renovating an old apple tree.
We take you through the essential steps for apple tree care.
You can buy container-grown fruit trees or bare-root trees, which are cheaper and offer a wider variety. Good soil preparation is vital. Dig a deep, wide planting hole that it's large enough to accommodate the entire root system. Add compost to the base of the hole and fork it in, and also mix compost with the soil you removed to improve it. Then stake the tree.
Summer-pruning apple trees encourages flowering and fruiting, transforming 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.
Pruning in winter controls the overall shape, size and health of your tree. 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. Read more about pruning apples in winter.
How to pick apples
Some apples start ripening in August, but most are ready in September and October. Pick apples 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. Watch Monty Don picking apples in our video guide.
Only store firm, unblemished apples - damaged fruits will go mouldy and affect others. Check regularly. Store in clear freezer bags (biodegradable options can be found online) with few pin-prick holes in the fridge or in a cool, frost-free place. They should keep for some months. Find out more about storing apples. You can also use apples to make apple juice or fruit vinegar.
Apples shouldn't suffer from too many problems, but watch out for apple sawfly, scab, sooty mould. Wrap a grease band around the trunk in autumn to catch winter moths and 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 tree care
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.
Five great apple varieties to grow
- 'Cox's Orange Pippin' – excellent flavour, can be used in sweet and savoury dishes, cider and juices
- ‘Blenheim Orange’ – an eating apple with a lovely spicy, russet flavour that's well suited to cooking, particularly in making tarts and purees
- 'Bramley's Seedling', often referred to as simply 'Bramley', is the classic cooking apple. Makes a delicious puree and can also be used in cakes and crumbles
- ‘Adam's Pearmain' is a traditional English dessert variety with a nutty flavour
- 'Falstaff' is an eating apple with a good, tangy crunch. Great for juicing
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