blog post - fruit trees
I seem to have a growing demand among clients for edibles in the garden. Fruit trees in particular
are gaining popularity and its lovely to see more and more people jumping on the ‘grow your own’
bandwagon. However, as with all plant related decisions, its not quite as simple as buying a bit of
what you fancy and shucking it in. Questions that need answering ahead of getting out the Visa
may include…Have you space for a free standing bush or would you prefer a restricted form?
And if so, will you choose a standard, half standard, espalier, fan, cordon or step over? Have you
chosen a self fertile cultivar or do you need a pollination partner? And what does MM106 mean
anyway? Well, read on for a quick 101 in fruit trees.
Most fruit trees are grafted or budded (methods of vegetative propagation) onto rootstocks that
aim to control the ultimate size, vigour and health of the tree. ‘Borrowing roots’ in this way means
that trees that would otherwise be too big can be grown in smaller spaces. Apples are grafted
onto rootstocks designated M or MM (Malling stocks and Malling-Merton stocks respectively)
followed by a number to indicate the vigour. There are many different rootstocks out there but
two of the most common are M26 and MM106. M26 is a dwarf rootstock suitable for bushes,
cordons, espaliers and container grown plants while MM106 is a little bigger, semi dwarfing (semi
vigorous) stock widely used for free standing forms in larger gardens and orchards. Pears, plums
and cherries all have their own designated rootstocks that follow the same sort of categorisation
in terms of vigour, suitability as a certain form and ideal growing conditions.
Fruit trees can be trained into a number of different forms, which in combination with the cultivar
selection, growing conditions and rootstock will determine the vigour of the tree. Bush forms
have a clear ‘leg’ of 75cm, an open centre and are suitable for most rootstocks. Standards and
half standards have the same open crown as bush trees but are trained on taller, clear stems -
1.2-1.5m for half standards and 1.8-2m for full standards. If you're tight on space you may want
to consider a restricted form. Perhaps the most well known are espaliers. These consist of a
central leader with horizontal lateral stems and are best suited to growing apples and pears.
Espaliers should not be confused with fans where there is only a very, very short central stem
from which lateral branches radiate out in the shape of a fan. This is a common way of growing
stone fruit such as cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds. A cordon is a single stem with short
fruiting spurs (side shoots) well suited to growing apples and pears that can be grown against a
wall as an oblique cordon (planted at a 45 degree angle), vertically in a container (often labelled as
‘columnar’ or ‘minarette') or horizontally as a low growing step over.
Some cherries and plums are self fertile but most apples and pears are not so you’ll need a
pollination partner. This is a fancy term for a cultivar from within the same or adjoining pollination
group (meaning they either flower at the same time or overlap periods of flowering to make cross
pollination successful). It may be that there is a suitable partner close by but if not, you’ll need to
add this to your shopping list. To confuse matters further, some cultivars such as Apple
‘Bramley’s Seedling’ or ‘Blenheim Orange’ have 3 sets of chromosomes known as triploids
making them useless pollinating partners. They are takers not givers. They can be pollinated by
members of the same or adjoining group but they won’t return the favour so you'll need a third
tree to pollinate their pollinator. With me?
It may sound a little complicated but don’t be put off. Think of all the juicy rewards that will come
your way in years to come. Once you’ve mastered pruning that is…