How To, Jorge, Plants, Trees

How to Choose The Perfect Apple Tree

choosing apple varieties

When deciding on what to buy, there are factors worth factoring and others best ignored. Important factors include rootstock and variety. Rootstocks help determine the size of your tree, which is important if you have a small garden. Varieties determine how you can use your apple and this is the key point. Only buy a variety where you want the apples.

Select a Tree Based Off These Traits

Dessert

Forgo imported cultivars and stick with a British classic! Nothing tastes better than a Cox straight off the tree.

Other classic varieties include Egremont Russet and Worcester Pearmain, both famous for unique flavours with hints of pineapples and strawberries respectively.

Modern AGM cultivars include Discovery, Pixie, Sunset and Scrumptious, which are all easy to grow. Discovery, Sunset & Pixie come recommended from our nurserymen.

Cooking

Bramley apples keep well and are rarely overwhelmed when combined with other ingredients. A new introduction Bramley 20 produces a significantly smaller tree, perfect for small gardens.

Charles Ross, Grenadier and Lord Derby were all once widely grown. Grenadier stands out as a reliable producer.

Dual Purpose

Look no further than James Grieve – perfect for eating, cooking and juicing.

Cider

It should be noted that most cider apples are used as part of a blend. Cider apples, high in tannins, produce the flavour, while acidity, which prevents spoilage from unwanted microorganisms, originates from other apples.

cider apple acidity and tannin levels

Kingston Black is one of the few apples you can make cider without the need to blend the juice, owing to its high acidity. As a vintage cultivar, it will ferment slowly, leading to complex and interesting flavours.

For a more reliable cropper, try Dabinett.

Best x Season

Buying trees with different harvest seasons is important if you want to avoid a glut. Try Discovery, Cox and Pixie for early, mid and late eating apples.

Cooking apples generally keep better than eating, and can be used to make cider. Adding cider apple or crabapple juice will produce better cider.

For Small Gardens

As it is the most dwarfing rootstock available, a M27 rootstock is recommended. It will produce a tree 1.5m tall.

You can train your tree to a south-facing wall to maximise output or even build a vertical axis system.

Triploids are best avoided as they produce large trees.

Dwarf

The rootstock is the most important factor in determining a tree’s size.

apple tree rootstock infographic
Approximate apple tree eventual heights by rootstock. We have taken growing conditions as optimal and presumed the tree is a Cox.

It also depends on how small you want your tree. A M27 will produce a 1.5-2m tree, a M26 a 2.5-3m tree and a MM106 a 3.5-4m tree.

Cordon

Vigorous rootstocks and varieties are best avoided with cordon training. Ballerina varieties have been bred for columnar habit and require little maintenance.

Unusual

Rosette and Tickled Pink have red and pink flesh respectively.

For unique flavours, look no further than russet apples and Worcester Pearmain, which taste of pineapples and strawberries respectively.

Heritage

Heritage varieties are often difficult to grow, but you can be proud showing your friends apples they will find nowhere else.

Ashmead’s Kernel & Isaac Newton both date back to the 17th century and the latter actually is a clone of the tree in Newton’s garden.

Blenheim Orange, D’Arcy Spice and Pitmaston Pine date back to the 18th.

The 19th give us many classic varieties including Bramley’s Seedling, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, Grenadier and Worcester Pearmain just to name a few.

Don’t Select a Tree Off These Traits

Family

Family trees are defined as having two or more varieties on one tree. Buy only if you like the varieties. Alternatively, try grafting one of the varieties recommended above.

Precocious (Time to Fruit)

Trees on dwarfing rootstocks produce fruits earlier than non-dwarfing rootstocks.

Commercial varieties such as Braeburn, Gala and Granny Smith produce generally produce earlier than non-commercial.

Productive

I would not select a tree for its productivity unless you are launching a commercial enterprise. As a rule of thumb, modern varieties are more productive than heritage, but there is no perfect combination. Different rootstocks and varieties will perform differently in different locations.

Self-Pollinating

Many trees are capable of self-pollination, but I would not select a tree on this trait. Firstly, all trees, including self-fertile trees, benefit from a pollination partner. Secondly, if there is a tree within a two mile radius, which is likely, cross-pollination will occur regardless, making the self-pollination redundant.

If you want improved pollination, it is best to buy a tree from a similar flowering group (+-1). Crabapples constitute the best pollinators around due to their long flowering periods; their fruit while distasteful fresh, make excellent cooking apples.

Cold Areas

Apples grow in climates far colder than the UK, and their relatively late blossom ensure they are rarely affected by a late frost.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

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