Grow an orchard on the patio No gourmet garden is complete without an apple tree. Here’s how to buy the right bareroot cultivar
No gourmet garden is complete without an apple tree. Helen Billiald explains how to buy a good bareroot cultivar for flavour, size and bountiful crops
Apples are something Britain excels at: our climate is gloriously suited to this fragrant fruit. The wealth of cultivars that we’ve bred over the centuries is testament to this success, and thankfully interest in these treasured old cultivars continues to grow, along with a host of new ones joining their ranks. The sheer diversity of apple types can be daunting to the newcomer looking to choose an apple tree. Where on earth do you start? The important thing is to focus on three main things: cultivar, size and shape and pollinator group. Cultivar: Pick up a specialist nursery catalogue (there are many online) and revel in descriptions of apples such as ‘Pitmaston Pine Apple’ (a small 18th-century apple with a pineapple-like flavour) and
‘Monarch’ (a century-old cooker with large, pink-flushed fruit that makes the most wonderful puree). But if you want to taste before committing, track down one of the many ‘apple days’ that take place each autumn at orchards around the country. Some of the favourites for flavour include sweet, crisp ‘Spartan’, or ‘Egremont Russet’ with its firm strangely nutty flesh. ‘Chivers Delight’ is cited by many chefs for its fragrant honey flesh while ‘Queen Cox’ has that much-lauded complex Cox flavour and beautiful red skin. ● Size and shape: Both these factors are dictated by the apple’s rootstock (see diagram below right). For instance, M26 is a semidwarfing rootstock and would let you grow your plant as a small bush tree, while the very dwarf M27 would allow you to grow the same tree as a diminutive 45cm (18in) step-over. ● Pollinator group: To set fruit, your tree’s flowers must be successfully pollinated. Although some apple trees are designated ‘self-fertile’, most require a second, different apple cultivar close by that’s in flower at the same time, in order for the pollen of one to fertilise the other. To guide you, nurseries group trees into pollination or flowering groups. Fortunately, suitable trees in neighbouring gardens often mean you can get away with planting just the one! Some trees are incompatible because they’re too closely related, so if you’re choosing to plant two partner cultivars, speak to a nursery or use one of the nifty online pollination partner checkers to be sure they’re a good match.