Fruit trees, especially the good old British apple, are adapted to local conditions and some varieties will only thrive within a small area, that’s why it pays to buy your trees locally at Cleeve Nursery, where our experience counts.
And we can advise you on other aspects of stocking your ‘orchard’ (even if it’s only a tiny one). Not only do you have to consider the kind of fruit you want to grow, the size of your garden and the growing conditions, but will your trees find the pollinators they need? Most need pollen from another variety that blossoms at about the same time – for instance, two Cox’s apple trees won’t pollinate each other, but a Cox and a Bramley will. Look at your neighbours’ gardens to see if they grow possible pollinators, but to be certain of a crop, plant at least a pair.
If you are fortunate to have a garden that will take several large trees, the delight of massed spring blossom and autumn ripe fruit can be yours, but give a thought to how you will pick your bounty.
Even small gardens can supply a satisfying and varied harvest. Apples and pears have traditionally been grown as fans or inclined cordons for hundreds of years – trained flat against a wall, trellis or on stake-and-wire fences and carefully pruned to provide maximum fruiting on the minimum of branches. The latest idea is to grow vertical cordons (upright columns or super columns), called ‘Minarettes’. The leading shoots of Minarettes are left unpruned, but the fruiting laterals do need to be pruned in the summer. Planted 0.6-1m (2-3 ft) apart or in large, sturdy containers and underplanted with a ground-cover herb to attract the bees, they should crop well. But remember that, like bigger fruit trees, they will need companion pollinators.
Fruit trees like as much sun as possible (shade always reduces cropping), ideally with a south-east to south-west aspect. Avoid frost hollows and make sure there is shelter from wind.
Fruit trees need a well-drained soil and an annual rainfall of less than 40 inches. Where the soil is poorly drained, raise the tree on a mound, surrounded by a drainage trench.
Look for the root collar on each plant – a bulge in the trunk just above the roots – and plant so that the surrounding soil is lower, or no higher than the root collar. It is far better to plant too shallow than too deep. Firm saplings in well, so that the roots are in contact with the surrounding soil, and give them support to prevent them being rocked by the wind.
Keep the weeds and grass away – if possible, one square metre around each tree – and make sure the roots have enough water. Although the soil and subsoil should never be waterlogged, in a dry spring, water heavily every few days and water young trees weekly from April to September, a minimum of 10 to 15 litres per week – even more in hot periods. Finally, it pays to fit the trunks with rabbit guards, which also keep them safe from domestic animals.
Plant our healthy, 2 to 3-year old apple trees and they will crop the next year, whilst pears, plums and cherries will take another one or two years to mature.