Why do I have fewer apples?
Q We have several apple trees in the garden, and they usually provide fruit to eat and store with some left over for the birds. Why are there so few this year – is it just down to the dry summer? Jenny Barber-Riley, Birmingham A Drought can cause smaller fruits, but it doesn’t explain scarcity. We may need to look further back to make an assessment. Most apple trees produced a generous harvest in 2017, with fruits laying thick on the ground, providing a bonanza for blackbirds, pheasants, redwings and fieldfares. A good year often appears to exhaust the trees, and after the feast can come a famine.
The habit of taking a year off is known as biennial bearing and some varieties, notably ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ and ‘Laxton’s Superb’, are more prone than others. Hormones (especially gibberellins) produced by the seeds of a bumper crop can inhibit flower bud formation. Wind and rain during blossom time will deter pollinating insects, while frosty weather can damage fruit buds and hamper the development of a pollination tube to carry the male gamete down the style to the ovary. Apple varieties flower at slightly different times, so are variably affected by poor weather.
Our small orchard grows on a chilly slope and so to hedge my bets, I’ve planted some upright cordons (see left) in a more sheltered spot further up the garden. These cordons set a good crop every year and, because the fruits are accessible, I can thin them easily, which places less of a burden on the tree.
‘Bramley’s Seedling’ is susceptible to biennial bearing In the colder part of my garden, early fruiting varieties set hardly any apples but later ones gave a moderate crop
‘James Grieve’ apple cordons planted in a sheltered spot