A guide to choosing Apple trees

Here are the most important things that you need to take into consideration when choosing apple trees:

Variety. Choosing the right variety is by far the most important consideration. Clearly you need to choose varieties that suit the purpose you want to use the fruit for: eating fresh, cooking, making juice or cider etc. You should also choose varieties suitable for your part of the country and your local conditions particularly if you live in a region less suited to growing apples such as very wet regions, northern regions or at high altitude. But by far the most important issue is to choose varieties that you are going to like. After all, there no point in growing something that you do not particularly like. You may already be familiar with many apple varieties or have had a chance to try less common varieties at an apple day. However most people are only familiar with the handful of varieties sold in shops. We do not recommend most of the shop varieties because they are often not very suitable as garden varieties. But you can use your preference in these as a guide and starting point. Here are some examples of varieties we suggest you look at on the basis of your preferred shop varieties:
  • You like Cox. You like an apple with a strong aromatic flavour which is sweet but also has some acidity. We suggest you look at Herefordshire Russet, Jupiter, Kidd’s Orange Red, Laxton’s Superb, Red Windsor, Rubinette, Sweet Society, Tydeman’s Late Orange.
  • You like Braeburn. You like an apple which is not particularly aromatic but sweet with some acidity. We suggest you look at Greensleeves, Lord Lambourne, Red Falstaff, Sunrise.
  • You like Gala. You like an apple which is sweet with little acidity. We suggest you look at Egremont Russet, Nuvar® Freckles, Nuvar® Golden Hills, Rajka, Rubinola, Scrumptious, Winter Gem.
  • You like Granny Smith. You like a tangy apple with plenty of acidity. We suggest you look at James Grieve, Pixie, Otava, Topaz.
Rootstock. Apple trees are grafted on rootstocks and the choice of rootstock is important because it determines the ultimate size to which your tree will grow. It is important to choose a rootstock suitable for the space you have and the way you wish to grow the tree. The range in the case of apples is very wide. At one end of the range trees on very dwarfing rootstocks grow no more than 5ft/1.5m, while at the other extreme trees on vigorous rootstocks can grow into big old fashioned apples trees that you can walk under. See how much space you have, imagine how you want the tree to look when it is a mature tree and decide on your choice of rootstock. Here are some guidelines for various common situations:
  • Very small garden or a border. Very dwarfing M27 rootstock. M27 needs good growing conditions and permanent staking and so is best reserved for special situations.
  • Small garden or allotment. Dwarfing M9 rootstock. M9 needs permanent staking so if that is a problem consider semi-dwarfing M26.
  • Small tree for medium sized garden. Semi-dwarfing M26 rootstock.
  • Medium size tree in a lawn or other grassed area. Semi-vigorous MM106 rootstock.
  • Large old fashioned tree. Very vigorous M25 or vigorous MM111 rootstock.
  • Pots and planters. Contrary to what may seem logical, medium vigour rootstocks such as M26 or MM106 do better in pots than more dwarfing rootstocks. Restriction of the roots by the pot will keep the tree small. It is also best to start with one year maiden trees.
  • Special restricted forms. Semi-dwarfing M26 or semi-vigorous MM106 for espaliers and fans, dwarfing M9 or semi-dwarfing M26 for cordons, very dwarfing M27 for step-overs or vertical mini-cordons..
Tree Forms. Apple trees need to be pruned and trained to become attractive and productive trees. Pruning and training need not be complicated or elaborate. You can produce a very good tree with very simple training. Apple trees are very flexible in the range of forms they can be trained in but certain classic forms have become established over time. You need to consider what you wish your tree to look like once mature and buy a tree suitable for that form. We supply untrained one year old trees known as maidens which can be trained into any form. We also supply two year old trees which we have already started training towards a particular form. If you want to order a two year old tree ensure that it is in a form that suits your purpose. You would normally not be able to re-train a two year old tree into another form. Here are some guidelines about the various tree forms:
  • Dwarf pyramid trees. Christmas-tree-shaped trees suitable for small gardens, allotments or other restricted spaces. We do not supply two year dwarf pyramid trees and you would need to buy maiden trees on dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks to train in this form.
  • Bush trained trees. Open centre goblet shaped trees with relatively short clear trunks of 3ft/1m normally on dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks suitable for small gardens.
  • Half standard trees. Open centre goblet shaped trees with medium length clear trunks of 4ft/1.3m in height normally on semi-vigorous rootstocks suitable for medium sized, large gardens or paddocks.
  • Standard trees. Open centre goblet shaped trees with a tall clear trunk of 6ft/1.8m on vigorous rootstocks suitable for large gardens and paddocks.
  • Restricted forms. These are intended for growing against walls and fences. They are both a way of growing fruit in an restricted area and an attractive decorative feature. They include espalier, fan, step-over and cordon trained trees.
Cropping season. The ripening season of different varieties of apple has a very wide spread from early August to late October. Early summer varieties tend not to keep while most late varieties can be stored and used through much of the winter. Take the cropping season into consideration and particularly if you are planning to grow more than one apple tree we recommend that you choose varieties that spread your season so that all the apples do not ripen at the same time.

Blossom. All apple trees have pretty blossom from late April to mid May. The blossom is usually white with a dash of pink for most varieties. At the extremes some can be almost pure white and others are deep pink but most are somewhere in between. Some varieties have better and more abundant blossom. Crab apples also have more abundant and longer lasting blossom.

Pollination. We have deliberately left this to last as it is an issue that you only need to check after you have chosen your varieties. Many apple varieties are self-sterile, which means that they need pollen from an apple tree of a different variety to fertilise the flowers and produce fruit. The information on each variety page will tell you if your chosen variety is self-fertile or self-sterile. You can use the show suitable pollination partners facility on the same page to ensure that your chosen varieties cross pollinate and make changes if necessary. If you are in an area with gardens containing apple or crab apple trees the chances are that there may already be pollinators around.