Imagine a fragrant apple crumble, piping hot from the oven with a decadent dollop of clotted cream on the side. Wouldn’t it taste even better if you’d grown the apples yourself?
Perhaps you have always dreamed of growing apples and been confused by the dizzying number of varieties available,(there are over 7,000 cultivars,) or thought that pruning might be a bit tricky or that your garden is too small for apple growing?
Our 2-year-old apple trees make growing delicious apples a breeze. We’ve selected the very best apple trees that will grow in the UK climate and you’ll be thrilled to hear some of our cultivars are ideal for small gardens or growing in larger containers.
Our fruit trees have been expertly grown and are well established; meaning your newly purchased tree will take less time to produce fruit compared to younger trees bought in supermarkets or high street retailers. The good news is our fruit bushes are at least two years old and will fruit in the first full year of planting. Plant now, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour (pun intended!).
Why grow apples?
Apples are one of the easiest fruits to grow, providing abundant showers of delicate spring blossom from April to May so they earn their decorative stripes in any garden. Birds love their rough twigs for nest building and apple blossom encourages pollinating insects including bees and butterflies. Hedgehogs and field mice forage among the windfalls and children love scrambling between their leafy boughs picking apples in summer and autumn.
Advice for buying apple trees
One of the first things you’ll need to decide is what you want to use apples for. It’s no good buying a tree that produces cooking apples if you want to make apple juice so apple trees obligingly produce three types of fruit: cookers, cider apples or eaters. However, some apple varieties are dual purpose so you won’t need two trees to have a combination and that’s great news for gardeners with limited space.
Always buy disease-resistant varieties where possible as these can make caring for your apples so much easier.
Apples: Size and habit
Without getting overly technical the eventual height of apple trees is determined by their rootstock. For small gardens dwarf trees that generally grow no taller than 3m are the best choice and can be grown in pots too. If you have a large garden, semi-dwarf trees are an excellent choice with an ultimate height of just under 5m although home gardeners will probably want to avoid standard rootstocks that can reach up to 6m and are more widely used for commercial orchards.
Our range of rootstock includes semi-vigorous, dwarf or very dwarf fruit trees to accommodate different garden sizes. Where space is an issue our dwarf trees are ideal, whereas if you have the space, our semi-vigorous species are highly ornamental and a delicious food source in the garden.
How to grow apples: pollination
Once you have decided what type of fruit you want to grow and have chosen a suitable tree size, you’ll need to know the basics about pollination.
Apple trees generally need a nearby compatible tree to allow pollination, a nearby friend that flowers at the same time for pollination to occur allowing apple blossom to produce seed and ultimately, apples.
The majority of apples need a partner although they are varieties that are self-fertile and don’t require a pollination partner although it is widely accepted fruit yields and quality are normally improved by growing two complimentary apple trees.
Our fruit trees are easy to grow and maintain plus our handpicked range of fruit trees are self-fertile requiring no cross-pollination. If in doubt, crab apples will pollinate all apple trees, so look around you might already have one growing near you. Apple trees are a wildlife magnet luring bees, a super pollinator into your garden to benefit other plants, shrubs and flowers.
We’ve taken the pollination guesswork out for you so take a few seconds to browse our simple pollination chart to guarantee crisp, crunchy apple harvests this year.
How to grow apples
Planting position, where to plant apples
Once you get the hang of it, apples aren’t complicated to grow. They require a sheltered spot, plenty of sunshine, well-drained soil and annual pruning. When you first plant young apple trees, you’ll be concentrating on forming a strong scaffold and strengthening the branches so they take the weight of future apple crops, so in the first three years you’ll be sacrificing the number of fruits harvested to build up the tree’s stature.
Apple trees do best in loamy, fertile soils or clay soil that has been improved with organic matter to help improve drainage. They struggle on poor sandy soil unless you continually beef it up with organic material annually. Once established apples only need a little TLC to produce delicious autumn bounties if you follow the tips below.
- Water well in dry spells when the fruit begins to swell, especially if apple trees are newly planted or grown in pots, containers or troughs.
- Feed trees in early spring with a general high potassium fertiliser.
- Annual pruning ensures you get the best bounty – how and when you prune depends on the type of apple you are growing.
Our handy guide tells you everything you need to know about growing delicious apples so keep reading.
Prepare the soil
Any plant is only as good as the soil it’s planted in, so before planting your new apple tree it’s important to prepare the soil. It can be done at any time of year as long as the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen and once established, apples require very little attention throughout the year.
How to plant apple trees
- Water your apple tree in its pot to allow it to drain whilst you prepare the hole. Similarly, give bare root plants a good soaking before planting.
- It’s better to dig an area of around 1m rather than a single hole, so begin by digging down roughly spade depth and loosing up the soil with a garden fork to allow the tree roots to establish.
- Remove any stones, rocks, sticks, weeds or other debris.
- If your soil is sandy or heavy clay, add organic matter over the entire area, to help improve nutrients and drainage but don’t add it to the planting hole as this can stop the tree from establishing.
- Now dig a square hole in the centre that is 30cm wider and deeper than the root ball or pot housing of your new apple tree and make sure it’s planted to the same depth as its container with the graft above the soil line.
- If you are planting bare-root apple trees, just make sure the roots sit comfortably in the hole and spread easily. (Don’t be tempted to dig too shallow a hole and try to cram the poor thing in, none of us like wearing tight shoes!)
- Our 2-year-old apple trees don’t need staking but newly-planted mature fruit trees might need support.
- Backfill the hole with soil, firming it down as you go to remove any air pockets and shape a raised moat circling the base of the tree as this will help water soak through to the roots where it’s needed most.
- Give your apple tree a hefty drink, pour the water slowly or leave a hose trickling to allow it time to be absorbed.
- Finally, add a thick layer of mulch across the 1m area about 2.5cm thick, any organic material, homemade compost or well-rotted manure will do.
Growing apples in containers
If you’re thinking of growing an apple tree in a container, you can leave your new tree in the pot it came in for weeks until you’re ready to pot it up, just make sure you keep it well-watered until you’re ready to plant it.
It’s best to plant your pot-grown tree in spring but avoid planting in summer as fruit trees don’t like being transplanted in the summer heat. Choose a sunny spot out of any cold or strong winds so your new tree won’t topple over in gusty weather.
Here’s how to go about planting apples in pots or containers.
- Make sure you give your new apple tree a good soaking before planting and let it drain in its nursery pot whilst you prepare your planter.
- Lay pieces of a broken flower pot or stones over the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
- Don’t be tempted to use potting compost, apples appreciate a good meaty compost with slow-release nutrients to encourage new growth.
- Add compost to the planter and tap your tree out of its pot, score the root ball if needed and place it upright in the container. Backfill with compost, making sure the graft knuckle is above soil level, firm the soil well and give it a final watering.
Watering apple trees
Plants and their roots dry out more quickly in pots and containers so be prepared to water two or three times a week from April to August and daily during hot, dry spells. If you’re growing multiple trees, it’s well worth investing in a drip-watering system.
Watering is an important part of growing apples successfully especially when the fruit begins to swell so it’s vital to water plants regularly, particularly in summer. If plants are not watered regularly, they’ll wilt, not flower profusely and the fruit won’t grow properly. Young apple trees need regular watering while mature trees normally take care of themselves although they may need watering during drought.
Feed young apple trees in late winter or early spring with a potassium fertiliser.
Mulching is the process of adding a layer of material to the surface of the soil to keep down weeds and hold moisture in the soil. Different materials can be used for mulching, including homemade compost, leafmould and straw. Add a 2.5cm thick ring of organic material or compost around the base of garden-grown apple trees in spring.
How to care for apple trees
Apple trees are surprisingly easy to grow as long as you give them lots of sunlight, good fertile well-drained soil, plenty of space to grow and keep them well-watered, although established plants shouldn’t need watering unless there are prolonged periods of hot, dry weather.
- During dry weather or heat waves, water newly planted trees at the base.
- Prune your apple trees annually
- Keep an eye out for any potential problems
Why prune apple trees?
Pruning apple trees keeps them healthy and builds a strong framework of branches that can support healthy harvests rather than lots of weak spindly ones that will droop under the weight of the fruit. It also allows air and sunlight through to help fruit swell and ripen. If you’re an organic gardener, pruning is vital since you won’t want to spray your plant with harmful chemicals and correct pruning helps keep pests and diseases at bay.
How to prune apple trees
Contrary to popular belief, pruning apple trees is relatively straightforward. A simple guide is any tree with a central trunk is pruned between November and early March before new spring growth appears, while trained trees such as cordons, fans and espaliers are pruned in summer.
As your tree grows you want to aim for well-spaced, strong branches that can hold the weight of your apple harvest, and allow good air circulation which helps reduce attack from pests and diseases. Our healthy two-year-old apple trees (sometimes called maidens,) have already had some formative pruning to provide a strong primary structure to get you started. Make sure you have clean, sharp secateurs handy.
Follow these simple steps to prune your apple tree:
- Fruit tree pruning begins the very first year you plant your tree. The aim is to shape a fruit tree with an open centre and short trunk so all the plant’s energy goes into producing fruit and not masses of leaves. (Imagine you’re balancing a beach ball in the centre of the tree and you’ll soon get the idea.)
- Generally, it’s easier to start with the 3D’s (removing dead, diseased, damaged) branches. If it’s a recently purchased young tree, it’s unlikely to be damaged so you can skip this step. Otherwise, cut the branches off at the stem, making sure you keep the secateur blades flat against the main trunk so you can get nice clean cuts. Also prune out the weedy, twisted or crossed ones that won’t be strong enough to hold the weight of ripe apples.
- As your tree grows it will develop a few strong (primary) branches that allow good air circulation which helps reduce attacks from pests and diseases.
- Look at your tree carefully, searching for any downward growing branches and prune them out since they won’t be strong enough to bear the weight of any fruit.
- Similarly, remove any branches that are growing inward so they don’t rub against neighbouring branches and cause damage.
- You should have anywhere between 4-5 main branches left. Now cut back the rest of the branches by roughly 1/3 of their overall length to encourage the branches to thicken and develop flowers the following season. Make each cut just above an outward-facing bud to encourage the tree to branch away from its centre.
- Young trees are unlikely to have whorls but as your tree matures, it will create whorls (three or more small branches growing in the same place.) As these are all growing in the same location it will lead to weak branches, so keep the strongest one and prune out the weaklings. That’s it! Easy when you know how.
- Don’t forget to disinfect your secateurs after use as this will reduce the risk of spreading disease.
Thinning fruit, how, when and why to thin apples
Many gardening terms sound complicated but boil down to good old-fashioned common sense and thinning apples is one of them. Essentially, apples are thinned so the tree produces larger and healthier fruits, otherwise, they’d be all core and less sweet flesh.
Left to its own devices an apple tree puts more energy into producing core and seed than flesh so reducing the number of cores the tree makes sense. When a tree is crowded with fruit they have less space to develop and any disease affecting one apple will quickly spread to neighbouring fruits so apple thinning reduces disease risk.
Apple trees naturally drop excess fruits in June, a process known as June Drop. In most cases, you’ll still need to thin them out further unless you’re growing M. John Grieve since it does a perfect thinning job automatically and you’ll see a carpet of miniature apples under your tree in early summer.
If a fruit tree is allowed to produce as many apples as it likes, it can result in biennial cropping; some varieties are more prone to this than others but letting trees fruit freely exhausts them, and they may not produce a harvest the following year. Thinning fruit effectively helps guarantee bumper crops each year and also prevents broken branches that can make a tree vulnerable to disease.
How to Thin Apples
How much thinning you’ll need to do very much depends on the type of apples you’re growing. Eating apples are usually best thinned to one fruit every 10 cm, while cookers being larger are ideally thinned down to one apple every 15 cm. Begin thinning early apple varieties in late May when the baby fruits are about 2.5 cm round by using a sharp, clean pair of secateurs.
Read our step-by-step guide on how to do it.
- Around late May you’ll notice branches will have numerous clusters of fruit. Each cluster will have as many as a dozen fruits crowded around one central apple. Remove the central fruit from each cluster and then reduce each group to about 5-6 remaining fruits.
- Always cut just under the fruit, leaving the stalk.
- If your tree is a youngster, it’s worth taking another look at the fruit clusters in July and if you see branches are bending under the weight of the fruit, reduce the number of fruits again to roughly 2-3 per cluster leaving the largest, healthier fruit to mature.
Growing apples: problem-solving
Once established and as long as you’ve planted your apple tree correctly and given it plenty of water and sunshine, most fruit trees tend to be trouble-free in their youth and grow increasingly drought-tolerant with age. Some nasties can affect them as they mature so if you run into trouble here’s a quick guide to the most common problems and how to troubleshoot them.
Apple tree pests and diseases
Apple Sawfly: Adult apple sawflies are small winged insects which are usually active from late April-May when they enter apple blossom to lay their eggs at the base of the flowers which hatch after the blossom drops. The larvae tunnel under the skin of young apples, causing scarring, before boring deeper into the fruit. The damage causes affected fruit to drop in early summer.
Sometimes the larvae die before reaching the core and you may be left with a scarred but perfectly edible apple. Larvae drop to the soil after feeding to overwinter and emerge again the following spring to pupate, so it’s wise to deal with them as soon as you spot them.
Symptoms: In May and June you may see obvious holes in young fruit.
Treatment: Pick off damaged fruit to prevent the larvae from moving to other fruit or dropping into the soil to pupate.
Hang sawfly traps in trees from April to June.
Use grease bands on trees to stop them from overwintering and climbing trees in the spring.
Wash the tree with a winter tree wash in early winter.
Codling moth: No one likes maggoty apples! Codling moths tend to lay eggs in May and June on the developing fruit. Their tiny larvae burrow into the fruit and emerge a few days later to pupate in tree bark to overwinter before putting in another appearance the following spring, kick-starting the whole cycle over again.
Symptoms: Early ripening and dropping fruit
Small spots and holes on the skin of ripening fruit where the maggots have bored in. Cut an apple in half and you’ll see maggots tunnelling in the flesh.
Treatment: Prevention is always better than cure and pheromone traps can be bought at garden centres or online that can be hung at head-height in trees in early spring to capture adult moths in the spring.
A winter tree wash, a blend of natural plant and fish oils sprayed on the tree bark during the dormant season can help destroy the pupae and prevent reinfestation
Aphids: Sap-sucking bugs that are easy to spot and are usually, green, black or grey. You’ll find them in clusters along leaves and stems and the moment you spot them, take action as they can weaken the tree.
Symptoms: Look for clusters along leaves and stems or a sticky substance known as honeydew which they excrete as they feed.
Treatment: Affected leaves or shoots should be removed and destroyed although a weekly blast with the hose pipe and soapy water is usually enough to dislodge them. Insecticides are available but as you are growing edible fruit, it’s probably better to use natural methods.
Woolly aphid: Masters of disguise and posing a more serious threat than aphids, woolly aphids are harder to detect as they hide under tiny waxy shields.
Symptoms: Stunted or weak leaf growth.
Treatment: A winter tree wash can help get rid of any overwintering aphids or brush affected areas with methylated spirit to dislodge them
Capsid bug: From May to August, capsid bugs feed on fruit tree leaves and immature fruit.
Symptoms: The first signs you may have an infestation are knobbly, corky fruit and tatty leaves peppered with small holes.
Treatment: Harnessing nature to help control the pesky blighters is always a good option by encouraging natural predators such as birds, hedgehogs and ground beetles. Some apple cultivars are more vulnerable to Capsid bugs than others and we would be delighted to advise.
Good garden hygiene pays dividends. Remove dead vegetation and garden debris in winter to prevent bugs from overwintering. Foliage may look unattractive but Capsid bug is rarely fatal, so accept the tree will look a little ragged but by taking the recommended steps it will soon recover.
Apple tree diseases
Powdery Mildew is a fungal disease that affects plants and fruit trees exacerbated by humid, dry weather.
Symptoms: Look for grey dusty powder on the leaves – it’s easy to spot and just as easily prevented. Be careful though, fruit tree leaves often have a natural, silvery sheen but if you’re new to fruit growing it’s easy to confuse the two.
Treatment: If you notice powdery mildew on a few leaves, simply remove and destroy them. If a larger area is affected, spray with an eco-friendly fungicide.
Avoid using high nitrogen feeds as it stimulates young, succulent growth which is more susceptible to infection.
Horticultural oil such as Neem mixed with potassium bicarbonate and sprayed on leaves can also help control Powdery mildew.
Scab: Another common fungal disease normally caused by wet, humid weather. Once again, some apple varieties are more prone than others so do check when purchasing your new apple trees.
Symptoms: Brown-black scabs or scrapes are easily visible on both fruit and leaves.
Treatment: Most of the time you’ll only notice it once your tree is affected but it is easily controlled by spraying leaves early in spring with an eco-friendly fungicide to prevent it from taking hold in the first place.
Canker: A fungus that destroys the woody parts of the tree and left untreated can be fatal. Generally, cankers start near old pruning wounds or buds and are thought to be more likely on heavy, wet or acid soils.
Symptoms: If you notice sunken rounded patches on the bark of your fruit trees, excessive flaking bark or pinhead red pustules on twigs, you might have canker.
Treatment: Improve drainage and if you have acid soil, add enough lime to raise the pH to about 6.5.
Cut away all affected smaller branches and spurs. If larger branches are affected, cut out all infected bark and wood back to healthy green tissues. Paint areas with protective wound paint immediately to prevent wounds from becoming reinfected.
Bitter pit: This is a physical disorder caused by a calcium deficiency and often arises because there’s not enough calcium in the soil. More commonly it’s linked to a lack of water or a very heavy fruit crop but these two things combined mean there’s not enough calcium being carried to the fruit so it doesn’t develop properly.
Symptoms: Brown posts appear or fruit both on growing apples or those in storage and the flesh is soft or spongy with a bitter flavour.
Treatment: Improve the tree’s water supply and mulch in spring. In very dry spells, water generously and regularly.
Thin fruit to reduce the size of the crop.
Avoid growing the more vulnerable varieties including ‘Bramley’s Seedling’, ‘Crispin’, ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’, ‘Egremont Russet’, ‘Gala’, ‘Golden Delicious’, ‘Jonagold’, ‘Jupiter’, ‘Merton Worcester’ and ‘Newton Wonder’
Advice for buying apples
Plant an apple and you have a tree for life so it’s worth taking time to choose the ideal apple for your garden and enjoy the satisfaction of growing delicious home-grown fruit. Where possible buy virus-free varieties as this helps reduce the risk of your trees falling prey to any number of problems and since our trees are all suitable for the UK climate so you can be sure there’s an apple tree to suit gardens up and down the country.
Here are our top ten recommendations for easy-to-grow apples
- Braeburn Apple
- Cox’s Orange Pippin Apple
- Egremont Russet Apple
- Gala Apple
- Golden Delicious Apple
- Granny Smith Apple
- Laxton’s Superb Apple
- Malus ‘John Downie’
- Red Devil Apple
- Golden Hornet