Did you know the apple is Britain’s national fruit?
With our crumbles and pies, a good British cider and some roast pork with applesauce, we happily crown this humble little fruit as our champion.
As one of the most consumed fruits throughout Britain, there is a vast array of varieties to choose from, and most of us don’t think twice about picking up a bag during the weekly shop.
In an age of superfoods and whole supermarket aisles dedicated to foreign and imported foods, it’s easy to forget that one of the simplest and most nutritious fruits can easily be grown in your back garden.
An Apple a Day
Keeps the doctor away, right?
You might dismiss this old adage, but actually there are some very important health benefits to eating plenty of apples.
They have been called “Nutritional Powerhouses” due to containing plenty of important nutrients such as Vitamin C which is good for our immune systems.
They also contain dietary fibre which helps to reduce cholesterol, and antioxidants that can lower your risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and even Alzheimer’s.
Make sure you’re eating the skin as well to get the full benefits of this health-boosting snack.
A lot of people think it’s very difficult to grow good eating apples, or that they can’t grow them because they don’t have a big enough garden. In actual fact, most apple trees can be trained to fit into the space that you have, even up against a trellis or wall.
And as apples have been grown for thousands of years here in the U.K., they are easy to grow as long as you give them the conditions they need.
Grow Your Own
Pick a Tree
First of all you need to decide which apple tree variety you would like to grow. You should do this by finding a variety that you personally like to eat or cook with, and then making sure that variety will grow well in the conditions of your garden.
You can visit an apple farm to taste various varieties that can be grown in your area and decide on which you prefer, as your familiar supermarket varieties are generally only well suited to the climate in Southern England, not throughout the UK.
Choose a pollinator
When choosing your apple tree, you will need to account for pollination. In order to produce fruit, these trees often need a partner. Each of the varieties belong to a ‘flowering group’ and, in order to be pollinated, need to be near to another from that, or a neighbouring, group.
For instance, malus domestica ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ varieties are incompatible when it comes to pollinating some specific trees but will pollinate with ‘Braeburn’ cultivars. It’s also worth mentioning that this tree is self-fertile, as many often aren’t. However, the quality of the fruit can be compromised if left to self-fertilise, so it is wise to purchase a partnering tree if you have enough outdoor space.
Other pairing options would be the malus pumila ‘Gala’ apple tree or the ‘Granny Smith’ variety. For a beautifully sweet dessert fruit, try a ‘Scrumptious’ apple tree. This tree’s fruit is ready to pick in late August and will do nicely paired with ‘Braeburn’ trees. Or, for those who need a cooking apple option, the RHS recommend ‘Bramley’s seedling’ for larger trees; with excellent quality produce for cooking.
It’s usually best to avoid Triploid varieties as these are sterile pollinators. However, there are some advantages to them: They usually yield strong trees with disease resistance, produce large crop harvest, the apples are often quite large, and the produce is good quality.
Either way, take some time to research when deciding which tree to choose. This can be based on your personal taste preference, the purpose of the fruit (as some a more suited to cooking and others for desserts), as well as when you need them to produce fruit, and which are best to pollinate others. It’s an idea to look into crab apples as an apt pollinator as these (although not great for tasting) are able to fertilise most other trees. Of course, one of your neighbours might even have a suitable variety planted nearby.
Select a Site
Most apple trees need a sunny and sheltered position with well-drained soil, and the best time to plant your tree is over winter.
Some apple trees are self-pollinating, but most will need a second tree to cross-pollinate with so make sure you consider this as well when purchasing your tree or trees. If you’re getting two apple trees, make sure they are both from the same or similar pollination group.
You can buy a ‘Family Tree’
that has different apple
varieties growing on it,
which will pollinate
For example if you have an apple variety from group 4, make sure your second apple tree variety is from groups 3, 4 or 5. This will ensure successful cross-pollination.
Choose a Size
Additionally, the rootstock code of your apple tree will determine its size upon reaching maturity. An apple tree with the code M27 will approximately grow to be only 6ft, but an apple tree with the rootstock code M25 could reach up to 17ft, so it’s really important to pay attention to this code when choosing your tree. As a general rule, I would recommend buying a bush apple tree, which is small but fruits really well.
Most apple varieties will come in several different sizes.
It all seems rather confusing at first but if you’re unsure about which tree to buy, you can ask for help at your local garden centre.
Let them know what you’ll be using your apples for, as well as the size of the space you have and they will be able to help you select an appropriate tree.
How to Plant
Once you have bought your apple tree, and selected the sunny sheltered spot for it to grow in, get it out and spread the roots out on the ground so you can see how big the root system is.
Dig a hole for planting. This hole should just be about as deep as the root system, and three times the width. Loosen the soil in the bottom and at the edges of your hole.
Put your tree into its planting hole, making sure the bulge at the base of your tree (where the rootstock has been joined to the tree) is at least 2 inches about the soil line.
Refill the hole with soil, firming it up afterwards by lightly treading it with your foot.
Water in well, and then stake your tree. Hold your tree by the trunk to feel where it needs support and then use two or three wooden stakes leaning in from a few inches away from the trunk, and attach using canvas stripping.
If you are training your tree, erect horizontal wires 35-45cm apart along the wall or trellis, prune back long side shoots and tie branches along the wires to train them to grow in the direction you require.
Once you’ve planted your tree, it won’t need much looking after. Feed the soil annually with a general fertiliser, and water during dry spells but take care not to over-water.
It will take a couple of years before your tree bears fruit, so you’ll need to be patient and look after your tree until then.
Did you know?
There are apple varieties as
small as cherries, while
some are as large as
Once your tree has started to produce fruit, you can harvest apples as soon as they look and feel ripe.
An apple should easily come off the stem when twisted with your hand. Taste one if you’re not sure!
Apple trees can be susceptible to pests and disease, so if you notice any irregularities in the fruit, leaves or branches of your tree, then try to find the cause of the problem and quickly implement the solution to prevent spread.
If you have an abundance of fruit over autumn, you can easily peel chop and stew your apples and then freeze in Tupperware containers for use in desserts and apple sauces throughout the year.
Apple trees give so much bang for your buck; they bear fruit, have autumn colour in the foliage as well as beautiful spring blossom. In spring and summer, the branches are also ideal for nesting birds. So try one in your garden, now!