How to grow apples

Val Bourne

Growing your own apples is every gardener's dream and it's easy to make it come true if you adhere to a few ground rules.



When to plant

Trees can be bought bare root, for planting between November and early March, or in containers for planting throughout the year.

Where to plant

Choose an open warm position if possible, one that isn’t in a frost pocket - these are usually low-lying areas of the garden where frost lingers. This ensures that the when the blossom opens the nectar flows and then pollinators will happily visit your trees.

Dwarfing varieties (those on M9 or M27 rootstocks) can be grown in large patio containers.

How to plant

Prepare the ground well, adding well-rotted garden compost, and stake the tree immediately after planting using a tree stake and tie. 

Read our guide to planting trees to find out more

Pollination groups

Most apple trees need cross pollinating with another variety that flowers at the same time so varieties are often put into pollination groups. 

There are 6 groups and you must choose either the same group or adjacent groups. Some vigorous tetraploid apples are sterile including the Bramley Seedling. 

Some other varieties are self-fertile (like 'Falstaff') so you will need to check with a specialist fruit nursery. If you are in a built-up area there will probably be apple trees close to you so you may be able to plant just one tree. 'Bramley Seedling' is a sterile tetraploid so no good as a pollinator and it crops every second year. However it is still the most popular cooking apples and deservedly so.

When to prune

Trees can be sold as first year maidens, or they can be bought as bushes. Maidens and bushes are winter pruned to shape them and the new growth is summer pruned to encourage fruit buds.

Fans, cordons, step overs and espaliers have been trained on the nursery and they are summer-pruned in order to keep their shape.

Apple varieties

Some heritage apple varieties are specific to different areas of the country and these may only do well there. The names often give you a clue. 'Blenheim Orange' is an Oxfordshire variety whereas 'Tower of Glamis' is a cooking apple from North Scotland. There are also modern varieties so you don’t have to go heritage.

Try these delicious apple recipes

Rootstocks

Apple trees are grafted onto root stocks and different rootstocks produce different sized trees although the vigour of the variety also plays a part.

Sometimes three varieties are grafted on to the same family trees. Avoid these as one variety normally out-performs the other two and the tree becomes misshapen.

Here are the most commonly used rootstocks

  • MM111 - vigorous - height 5-6 metres when mature.
  • MM106 - semi vigorous - height 4-5 metres when mature.
  • M26 - semi dwarfing - height 3-4 metres when mature.
  • M9 - dwarfing - height 2-3 metres when mature.
  • M27 - very dwarfing - 1.8 metres when mature.

Early varieties

'Scrumptious'

An early, sweet apple with crisp, juicy honeyed flesh. The fruit ripens to a red colour in early September and is good until the end of September.

'Sunrise'

A crisp and juicy apple with a good balance of sweetness and acidity. Attractive with a bright red flush over a yellow skin. It has a remarkably long cropping season for an early variety. Pick from mid August to the end of September.

Mid-season varieties

These keep until the end of October or beyond.

'Egremont Russet'

Rough golden brown skin and a distinctive dry nutty flavour and texture - an apple that you either love or hate.

'Lord Lambourne'

A traditional English apple with quite large green fruit striped in red. Not a strongly flavoured apple but crisp, juicy and sweet – very much the kind of apple that the whole family would like.

'Sunset'

A Cox alternative with a similar flavour, but much easier to grow.

Late varieties

These keep well into winter.

'Elstar'

Crisp and juicy texture, but not too hard, with a bright red flush over bright yellow skin. A very good balance of sweetness and acidity and the fruity flavour does not fade in storage.

'Fiesta'

A red apple with some of the aromatic flavour of a Cox, but sweeter and milder. Firm, crisp and juicy.

'Herefordshire Russet'

Golden russet skin like that of an Egremont Russet. But this apple is crisp, juicy and aromatic apple with a flavour similar to a Cox's Orange Pippin.

'Rajka'

A new variety that combines very good disease resistance with flavour and good looks. A handsome, fairly large red flushed apple. Good balance of sweetness and acidity with a hint of strawberry. Crisp and juicy but not too firm.

'Topaz'

This is one for those who like their apples to bite back. Firm, juicy and refreshingly sharp. A bit like a Granny Smith in texture and sharpness but a much more attractive red flushed apple with lovely almost orange flesh.

Where to buy

The best course is to go to a specialist fruit nursery and ask for recommendations.

Keepers Nursery - www.keepers-nursery.co.uk

Blackmoor Nursery - www.blackmoor.co.uk

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.