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Apple Tree Apple Tree

The humble apple tree is one of the oldest fruits known to man, and has been cultivated since Roman times, and harvested from the wild since prehistory.  There are now over 5,000 named apple varieties, and whilst the varieties grown on a commercial scale are limited, there are literally dozens of varieties available to the home gardener, from traditional heritage varieties to some new varieties that seem to appear annually in the fruit and veg plant catalogues.

Apples are native to temperate Europe and Asia, and are very at home here in the UK. They grow in pretty much any soli, and by selecting the right variety and rootstock can be grown in most gardens and allotments. The earliest apples can be ready for picking in august, and some of the latest can be stores until the following May.

Growing Apple Trees

Pot grown apples can be planted all year around, however a more popular method is to now buy bare rooted trees an plant them over winter when the trees are doormant.  This is how most mail order companies will send you their trees, and from experience this is an excellent way to but your fruit trees – not only are they of a high quality, but they are delivered at the correct time of year and will usually come with a full set of instructions.

Whichever method you use dig the site over well and remove any weeds.  Fork in some well rotted manure and mix well.  Dig a hole big enough to hold the roots comfortably, and if growing a bush make sure you hammer in a good support before you plant the tree. If drainage is a problem then add some broken crocks, or stones to the bottom of the hole. Make sure the tree is planted to the same depth as the original rootball (If buying bare rooted trees you will be able to see the previous soil level on the stem as it will be darker). Don't plant it any deeper as it can cause problems further down the line. Backfill the hole and firm the soil gently.

Keep the tree well watered during the first growing season – especially in dry spells, and for the first few years after planting mulch the area around the tree with some well-rotted manure each spring.

Choosing Apple Rootstock

Choosing the correct rootstock is especially important when buying apple trees – you want to make sure that whatever variety you choose is going to grow the space you have allocated without taking over.

A rootstock is a healthy root system from the same family of trees (with desirable properties, such as size, or vigour) that is grown seperately. The apple tree variety is then grafted onto this rootstock, which effetcively gives you the best of both worlds - the right variety, and the right vigour.

This chart gives you an overview of the rootstocks available, and which one to watch for.  For a standard allotment bush I personally recommend the M9 rootstock as this will grow big enough to give you a good crop, and be easily manageable – after all you don’t want a tree that shadows the rest of your plot making it unproductive.


Mature Tree

Age of tree when fruits first appear

Age of tree when cropping capacity is reached


Approx Height

Approx Yield


Extremely Dwarfing

1.5 - 1.8


6 – 12






Great for growing on a patio or balcony in a pot. Can also be trained as step over trees


Very Dwarfing

2.4 – 3.0


15 – 20






Great for a bush tree, can also be trained into cordons and espaliers.  Great for the average size allotment.



3.0 - 3.5


30 – 35






A more vigorous version of M9, suitable for growing a bush tree in a large garden



4.5 – 5.5


40 – 50






This is the most common variety sold in garden centres, but does require a bit more work to keep it in check.




5.5 – 7.5


70 – 165






Too big for most gardens… and certainly too big for an allotment

Training and Tree shapes

Apple trees are extremely versatile when it comes to pruning them to different tree shapes.  They will happily grow as a standard bush with minimal interference once established or can be trained into any of the following:

  • Bush – This is the most popular way to grow apple trees – an open centre and a short trunk make picking the fruit easy, but they do require a good space around the tree.
  • Standard – These are larger trees grown on a semi vigorous rootstock, and are more suitable to large gardens and big spaces.
  • Espaliers – Ideal for growing against a fence or wall (or as a fence!) in full sun or partial shade. With a spread of up to 4m and branches at 18in apart you can generate a great crop with very little space.
  • Step-over – Essentially a single tier espalier. Makes a great border in the garden.
  • Patio apples – grown in a compact column on an M27 rootstock
  • Cordon – A single stemmed tree grown at an angle of 45 degrees and tied to a fence or support system.  A great way to grow several varieties in a small space.

Propagating Apple Trees

Whilst it is very easy to grow apple trees from the pips saved from the apple, they very rarely grow true to form, and will often revert back to the crab apple form.  Apple trees are usually grafted onto rootstocks depending on the required size of tree, and site.

Cuttings can be taken from an existing tree, however unless you have a massive site they will need to be grafted onto an appropriate rootstock.

Apple Tree Varieties

I am not going to cover the varieties here, as there are literally too many to list, however I do recommend following some simple rules when choosing you apple tree:

  1. Choose whether you want a desert apple or a cooking apple? If your short space then why not look for a dual purpose variety
  2. Decide what sort of apples you like eating, and try to find a variety that fits your style.
  3. Decide whether you want a variety that will store over winter, or whether you prefer an earlier crop (which is unlikely to keep as well) to be ready in August or September.
  4. Make sure you buy the correct rootstock – Get it wrong and you could end up with a giant tree in your garden in only 10 years
  5. Finally consider whether you want to grow the same apples you can buy in the supermarket, or grow some of the more unusual varieties.  These are in my opinion usually more interesting – the commercial varieties are of course selected for a large consistent crop, but don’t always offer the best flavours and nutrient value.
Phyl @ The Allotment Gardener

Lifelong gardener and allotment enthusiast. Now have 3 allotments!

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