Apples - Malus Domestica

Apples are a staple fruit, grown in many countries around the world, but although there are, literally, thousands of varieties, the number available in shops can be limited. Unlike many other fruits, in which the taste is only marginally different from one variety to another, apples exhibit a great range of flavours and textures. Some are suitable 
for cooking, others are dessert (eating) apples, and others combine these qualities.

Training cordon apples against a fence
in this way is a suitable method of
growing fruit if you only have a small

To help you choose among the vast range 
 of apple varieties, visit one of the open days held by specialist apple nurseries and collectors. It is usually possible to taste several different varieties of ripe fruit and see the trees themselves, which you can often buy or order.

One aspect of apple growing that may restrict your choice is pollination. Most apples need another variety to pollinate them, and because the flowering time varies from variety to variety it is essential to choose two that flower during the same period.

Another question that will have to be addressed is what type of plant do you want. The old standard trees look best and produce a heavy crop, but they are usually too large for today’s smaller garden, and ladders are needed for pruning and harvesting. Cordons take up the least space, but the crop is small. On the other hand, cordons allow you to have several different varieties in a small space. There are, however, all kinds of shapes and sizes between the two extremes, some of them very decorative. Always check the 
rootstock of the plants you buy to see how vigorous and large the tree will be ultimately.


Apple trees will be in position for years, so 
prepare the soil well, adding plenty of organic material. An open, sunny position is best. Plant young trees at any time of year between late autumn and early spring, as long as weather and soil conditions are favourable. The planting distances vary considerably depending on the type and size of tree. Cordons, for example, may be only 75cm/30in apart, whereas the full standards can be 10m/ 30ft or more apart, so check first with your supplier. Stake young trees, especially in a windy position. Newly planted trees should not be allowed to dry out. Mulch around the tree every spring with organic material. If necessary protect the blossom from late frosts with fleece.

Thin the apples in early and midsummer if there are too many of them – a good guide is to ensure that individual fruits should not touch each other. If branches begin to sag under the weight of fruit, the fruit may need thinning or the branches may need to be supported.

Pruning and training

Pruning is not difficult once you have done it the first time. Apple trees fall into two groups, depending on where the fruit is borne. On tip bearers the fruit develops near the tip of the shoots, so it is, obviously, im-portant that you cut back shoots in spring. Trees in the other group produce fruit on spurs, which are found on older wood. Most training and pruning involves cutting out dead or weak wood and maintaining the shape and open nature of the tree. Larger trees are pruned in winter only, but those with a more controlled shape need to be pruned in both winter and summer.

Planting and pruning an apple cordon

Cordons are planted as feather maidens at 45º to the wirework. 
All side shoots are cut back to three buds on planting. Subsequent summer pruning (above right) consists 
of cutting back any new side shoots to three leaves and new growth on existing side shoots to one leaf. Winter pruning consists of thinning out any of the older spurs if they have become congested. 

Spur pruning an apple bush tree 

After planting, cut back the leader to about 75cm/30in above the ground. Leave any side shoots that appear just below this cut and remove any others lower down. The following year, reduce all new growth by about half. This will form the basic framework. Subsequent pruning is restricted to reducing the length of new growth by about a third and removing overcrowded growth. 

Harvesting and storing

Apples should be picked when ripe, which  is usually when the fruit comes away easily with a quick twist of the wrist. Some apples store better than others; in general, early apples do not store as well as later ones. If possible, store in a dark, dry, cool place, and ensure the fruits do not touch. Only store sound fruit. Freezing is appropriate for apples that have already been cooked and puréed.

Pests and diseases

A wide range of pests and diseases can affect the trees and fruit. Birds, wasps and codling moths are three of the most important pests. Canker is one of the worst diseases.


The rootstock on an apple tree affects the size and rate of growth of the tree.

  •           M27  an extreme dwarfing stock 
(bush, dwarf pyramid, cordon)
  •           M9  dwarfing stock (bush, 
dwarf pyramid, cordon)
  •           M26  semi-dwarfing stock 
(bush, dwarf pyramid, cordon)
  •           MM106  semi-dwarfing stock 
(bush, spindle bush, cordon, fan espalier)
  •           M7  semi-dwarfing stock 
(bush, spindle bush, cordon, fan espalier)
  •           M4  semi-vigorous stock (bush, spindle bush)
  •           MM4  vigorous stock (standard)
  •           M2  vigorous stock
  •           MM111  vigorous stock (half-standard, 
standard, large bush, large fans, large espaliers)
  •           M25  vigorous stock (standard)
  •           MM109  vigorous stock
  •           M1  vigorous stock


Dessert (eating)

  •           ‘Blenheim Orange’
  •           ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’
  •           ‘Discovery’
  •           ‘Egremont Russet’
  •           ‘George Cave’
  •           ‘Idared’
  •           ‘James Grieve’
  •           ‘Jonathan’
  •           ‘Laxton’s Fortune’
  •           ‘Laxton’s Superb’
  •           ‘Lord Lambourne’
  •           ‘Millers Seedling’
  •           ‘Ribston Pippin’
  •           ‘Starking’
  •           ‘Sturmer Pippin’
  •           ‘Worcester Pearmain’


  •           ‘Bramley’s Seedling’
  •           ‘Grenadier’
  •           ‘Howgate Wonder’
  •           ‘Lord Darby’
  •           ‘Newton Wonder’