Think long-term when it comes to fruit trees

'Redlove' apple has been carefully relocated after outgrowing its original allotted space in the garden. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
'Redlove' apple has been carefully relocated after outgrowing its original allotted space in the garden. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

After a mixed bag of weather throughout the year, 2018 signed off with a week of heaven-sent conditions for gardening.

Daytime temperatures of 10C plus, and a relatively dry outlook, provided the ideal opportunity to set down a marker for whatever lies ahead.

First up for this fellow was the lifting and relocation of two apple trees that had outgrown their allotted space. They were part of a run of six espalier-trained varieties planted a few years ago.

All are grafted onto the M26 semi-dwarfing rootstock, which is ideal for this garden, but some cultivars are slightly more vigorous than others so Redlove Era and Jonagold were singled out to move.

Their new planting places were prepared in advance; a hole dug wider and deeper than the root-ball to accommodate a mixture of organic matter, spent potting compost and fertiliser.

To obviate direct lifting of a potentially heavy root system, a sheet of tough material was spread next to the excavated tree, allowing it to be levered out and dragged as if on a sledge to the new site.

After easing it into the prepared hole, a wooden support was hammered into position, avoiding root damage, and the plant watered-in. Back-filling and firming of soil completed the activity.

Anyone planning to introduce a fruit tree to the garden should be thinking long-term, beyond the first modest harvest.

An apple, pear, plum or cherry will last several decades with care, so you should be asking ‘how tall will it grow?’

The answer can be found on the label attached to the best-shaped, healthiest tree you’ve chosen from the garden centre display. It reveals the rootstock your plant has been grafted onto and the anticipated height after 10 years.

The most dwarfing rootstock available for apples is the M27, which, pardon the pun, is the route to success in small gardens or for patio pot planting. An apple tree grafted onto this rootstock will reach 1.5m over a decade.

Apples grown on the M9 will attain 2m over the same period, and those on the M26, which is ideal in our quarter-acre garden, grow to 2.5m in that time.

Spacious apple orchards are the best place for trees on the remaining grafting options. Trees on the MM106 and MM111 are destined to climb 3m and 4m respectively.

A further advantage in choosing apples grafted onto semi-dwarfing rootstocks is their early fruit-forming capacity. Plant one of the numerous self-fertile, pot-grown varieties now and anticipate a first taste of its fruit this autumn.