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It's time to think fruit trees......

When we were in the south of France we penned a short article about espalier fruit trees. If you missed it then you can find it here:

Now we’ve had loads of enquiries about it and given that now is a great time to think about planting your own fruit trees we thought we’d explore the options that are open to us.

When to plant?

Well now is a great time. The soil is warm from the summer and is unlikely to be waterlogged. The last thing the roots want is for their new home to be either too cold or wet! Planting now gives them the best chance of getting established as all of their effort is invested in establishing a strong root structure – rather than lots of new growth above the ground.

The RHS recommends planting between the months of October to April. We prefer to get ours in now.

Bare root or pot grown?

Advantages of Bare-root plants:

  1. You pay less for the same size plants and can carry and plant them easily.

  2. They are only planted in the winter. This means they need less maintenance after planting. The ground is naturally wet for their first few months.

  3. You get the biggest selection: Many trees are not sold pot-grown.

  4. They are dormant in the winter - this is the best time to transplant any tree.

  5. They use fewer fertilisers & fungicides, less water and less packaging and fuel in their production & delivery.

Advantages of Pot Grown plants:

  1. Pot grown plants can be delivered & planted all year round.

  2. Plants with tender roots & larger specimens must be delivered in pots.

  3. Plants in pots can be kept in their pots for longer if there is a delay in planting.

We prefer bare rooted but you can only get them at this time of the year and you tend to get far greater choice. They’re dug up by the grower when the conditions are right and then sent to you. If you can’t get them in to the ground within a day or two then it’s a good idea to “heel” them in.

All you need to do is prepare a small area where the roots can be buried and then using your heel you just “heel” them in! Easy and it means that the roots won’t dry out whilst you prepare their final home.

Pot grown trees are available throughout the year but the range of varieties and rootstock is likely to be less. You’re also then likely to plant your tree at a time when you might have to work harder to get it established – you’ll have to water it more!

The rootstock

A phrase that might sound technical and daunting but in reality it’s anything but! It simply refers to the rootstock that your chosen fruit tree has been grafted onto. Again that sounds quite technical but look at it this way: it’s a way of allowing us to enjoy a wider range of varieties of plant – in this case fruit trees – whilst at the same time giving us a number of options in terms of the vigour with which the tree grows and it’s eventual size.

There are a number of different rootstocks and, depending on the fruit, they’re all known by a slightly different name! In essence though they can be summarised as being either:

1. dwarfing or

2. vigorous

But within that, and choosing apples as a type of fruit we might want to grow, we get:

  1. Extremely dwarfing - grow to between 4ft & 6ft tall - called an M27 rootstock

  2. Dwarfing - grow to between 6ft & 12ft tall - called either a M9 or M26 rootstock

  3. Semi dwarfing - grow to between 10ft & 13ft tall - called an MM106 rootstock

  4. Vigorous - grow to between 13ft & 15ft tall - called an MM111rootstock

  5. Very vigorous - grow to over 15ft tall - called an M25 rootstock

Each type of fruit tree that you might want to consider in your garden uses a slightly different name for the rootstock – an extremely dwarfing apple is called M27 whereas for a cherry it’s called a Gisela 5 or G5. And to make matters slightly more complicated the ultimate height of each type does differ ever so slightly. Who said gardening was straightforward……..

The easiest thing to do is to know how much space you have and what sort of size tree you want. Think about how many you want, how big they’ll grow and how much space they’ll need – and then work back from there.

How are you going to grow them?

You guessed it! Yes, more options…..

Bush, Standard, Cordon, Fan Trained, Espalier or Step Over? Each have their place in the garden – and one of the over-riding factors to consider is how much space you have. Here's one of our four pears being trained as an espalier at the allotment.

It was grown from a maiden tree - more on that in another post - and was planted up this time last year. It's done really well so far!

Bush and standard tree? They look like, well, a tree! Standalone and in the middle of a lawn or border they can look great. Bear in mind though the space you have and the rootstock. If the space you have won’t support an M25 Bramley then you'll need a different rootstock!

Cordons are grown against a wire framework, usually at a 45 degree angle and are great where space is at a premium. They can also be grown against a fence or a wall. Fruit is grown on short side shoots – so you need to choose a spur bearing variety of tree (more on that shortly).

Fan trained are also great where space is at a premium. Cherries, peaches and nectarines do well when grown like this – even moreso when grown against a sunny wall. They require a bit of help to get trained but once established they look great.

Espaliers are similar but rather than train the branches to grow in the shape of a fan you train them to grow horizontally. That’s what we’ve done at the allotment – partly to grow some pears but also to create a natural “fence” between our plot and our neighbours.

Stepover trees are a combination of Cordons and Espaliers. In essence a one tier Espalier that grows no taller than approximately 2ft they are also useful in a smaller garden and where a natural fence is needed.

Not all rootstocks lend themselves to being grown in all of these ways. If you want to know more then please contact us and we’ll be happy to talk some more either through my facebook page, at or on 07734 365028.


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