How To, Jorge, Plants, Trees

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 true, 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.

Garden Furniture, Gardening Year, Guest Posts, How To

As summer gives way to autumn, we’ll barely have time to appreciate the landscape’s colour change before winter will be knocking. For some, winter means cosying up by the fire and enjoying time indoors – while others are loath to say goodbye to the sun. Whatever your stance on the season, one thing’s for certain: in order to ensure your garden is fit for the next barbecue season, attention must be paid.

Fortunately, our friends over at Jolly Good Loans are on hand to help. Today, they’ll be providing some essential pointers to help you protect your garden furniture against the harsh weather that is inevitably coming.

protect furniture over winter

When it comes to protecting your garden furniture, you’ll need to consider the types of materials your items are made from, as this will help you decide on the best method for protecting each product.

Wood

If you’re happy for the winter elements to naturally weather your wooden garden furniture, then they can be left outside with little maintenance required – just apply a lick of sealer before the start of the season to protect the timber.

If you’d rather keep your wood looking brand spanking new, investing in a furniture cover will do the trick – although we’ll get to that in more detail soon.

Metal

The resistance of metal furniture during the colder months varies, depending on what type of metal it’s made from.

Cast aluminium furniture is fine left outside during the colder months, as it develops a protective outer exterior when exposed to air, making it resistant to both corrosion and rust.

Wrought iron, on the other hand, is best stored away if it all possible. If you don’t have a garage or shed, lightweight furniture can easily be stored in the cupboard or under the stairs. For larger pieces, protect them by investing in a good furniture cover.

Furniture covers

Ensure you invest in a good-quality furniture cover that is both water resistant and breathable to prevent mould or leaks, making sure all furniture is dry before cover.

Rather than covering all your furniture with one big patio cover, try and find smaller covers that fit over individual items for more secure protection. Opt for covers that can fasten tightly, thus making sure your furniture remains under wraps during the windier days and nights.

Even when covered and secured, it’s best to move your most vulnerable furniture into shelter if at all possible. From the garage to the utility room, if you have the extra space and are able to bring your much-loved items indoors, your budget will thank you when the weather once again turns warmer. Not all plants and shrubbery will be suited to the colder climate, so as you say goodbye to your summer plants, why not move your planters and troughs indoors and treat them to a touch of creative sparkle? This could be the perfect winter project and will help you breathe life back into your tired pots and containers in time for spring.

Either way, avoid leaving it out on the lawn, storing it on a solid flat surface like a patio or decked area instead. This further reduces your furniture’s exposure to moisture, protecting it from rotting away amongst the winter wind, rain and snow.

furniture in snow

It might feel as though the snow has only just stopped falling, but the reality is that winter is knocking on our doors again. The good news is that if you start taking steps over the coming months to protect your outdoor areas, you’ll be able to enjoy your garden furniture for years to come.

Keith Harrison is a content creator and writer for Jolly Good Loans – your online personal loans encyclopedia.

How To, Jorge, Plants, Trees

Fruit selection and pre-fermentation blending is an essential part of the traditional cider makers art. While cider can be produced from any apple, it will likely produce a bland, uninspiring flavour, without sufficient and proportioned levels of acidity, tannins and sugars.

Why Should I Produce My Own Cider?

Nothing tastes quite as good as your own home brew cider. Experiment with special cider-making varieties and refine your craft to produce the perfect artisan blend and impress friends, family and drinking buddies alike. Unlike commercial ciders, which are primarily produced from fermented sugar syrup, your cider, produced from apple juice, will reveal stunning long-lost flavours.

By planting your own cider apple tree, you’ll have a lifetime supply of heritage apples, which aren’t easily available elsewhere. These apples allow you to make the most out of your existing orchard, turning any glut into a year’s supply of alcohol.

Introduction to Cider-Making

Cider is an apple wine and good practices are shared with grape wine-making. Cider can only be made from apples and pears and anything else is not a true cider.

Most of what we know about cider-making originates from Long Ashton Research Station (LARS), which opened in 1903 as a cider research institute. The closure of its cider division in 1986 left cider-makers without an authority on the subject. Andrew Lea’s Craft Cider Making constitutes a recommended introduction and is available cheaply. (Being both a chemist and former employee of LARS makes him an excellent source.)

There are up to 100 cultivars in cultivation, but less than 20 in modern intensive orchards. Most vintage quality cider-apple trees produce low yields and are difficult to grow, but create cider with a complex and interesting flavour.

It is rare for a cider to be made from a single variety as good cider requires a balance of sugar, acid and tannin, rarely found in a single apple.

Kingston Black: high in tannin and with sufficient acidity to produce single-variety cider.

True cider varieties have high levels of sugar and tannins and a fibrous structure, which among other things makes pressing easier and juice yields higher.

Vintage apple varieties are notable for slow fermenting juices that produce complex and interesting flavours. Not all true cider apples are vintage apples.

Cider does not have to made exclusively from apple juice, but can be made from glucose syrup, apple juice concentrate and water. Indeed, commercial cider is often 65% glucose syrup. Water is often added post-fermentation to reduce the alcohol strength.

The need for cross-pollination dictates mixed orchards. Thus, it is important to buy varieties that flower at the same time (+-1 flowering group).

It is important you choose varieties with similar harvest season. Apples are often stored to raise sugar levels (allowing for the starch to convert to sugar), but beyond a few weeks most will go rancid. Only the best apples should be selected, as introduced microorganisms can spoil the blend. Apples should be washed before being pulped.

Acidity & Tannins

Key to cider-making is well-proportioned levels of acidity and tannins. High levels of acidity prevent spoilage from unwanted microorganisms and contribute to sharpness, while high levels of tannins improve the mouthfeel of the beverage and prevent it becoming too insipid.

Unlucky for us, apples that contain high levels of tannins are rarely acidic and are liable to spoilage unmodified. There is an exception to this – ‘Kingston Black’, a wonderful vintage cultivar, has sufficient acidity to forgo blending.

It should be noted that a drink that is too acidic will be extremely sharp and unpleasant to drink – just like your first drink ever!

Hence, it is important to measure a blend’s acidity. There are two measure of acidity: pH and titratable acid (TA) . Both are useful, and sadly there is no direct relationship with apple juice. The former relates to microbial stability and susceptibility to spoilage, while the latter relates to taste. If the TA doubles, so does perceived acidity.

Here, we are interested in preventing spoilage, so will use pH. To measure pH, you need to buy strips specifically for wine and cider-making with colours for intervals between 3-3.8pH.

If the pH is lower or equal to 3 the acidity is sufficient to prevent spoilage. If it is between 3 and 3.8, the acidity alone will not be sufficient, but will require the addition of sulfite (SO2), which kills the spoilage yeasts, moulds and bacteria, but not the desirable fermenting yeasts. If the acidity is higher than 3.8, adding malic acid is essential to lower the pH to below 3.8, before then adding SO2. To lower the pH, add 1g per litre and test again.

Importantly, the effectiveness of sulfite is very pH dependent, so we recommend you use pH when deciding on sulfite doses. Below you can see a table for different yeasts. Historically, naturally occurring yeasts were used to ferment cider, but today most commercial cider is produced using introduced yeasts, which speeds up the fermentation process. Campden tablets are equal to 57 ppm and can be purchased online.

sulfite cider apples

For those wishing to measure TA, you can purchase kits online. Again, it is not recommended to use TA when deciding on sulfite doses, but it is useful for finding your perfect acidity in regards to taste. For cider-making, you are aiming for a TA between 4.5 and 7.5 grams per litre (g/l), with 4.5-6g/l typical of English cider. Sometimes, TA is expressed as a percentage with 1% TA being equal to 10 g/l.

Sugar drives the alcohol content and is important as low levels may not produce alcohol strong enough to protect the cider during storage. Adding sugary apples to the blend will produce stronger cider as will adding sugar or apple juice concentrate. It is standard to measure specific-gravity (SG) with a hydrometer and aim for a SG of 1.045 as a minimum. Anything lower, add 12-15 grams of sugar per litre and test again.

So, to summarise one needs measure both acidity and specific-gravity (sugar levels) of my blend, before moving to later stages.

Handily, you can use a blending wizard online which will give you the resultant specific-gravity and titratable acid of a blend.

Choosing Your Variety/Varieties

In the UK apples are put into four categories, each with different levels of acid and tannin. Bitter refers to apples high in tannin and it is these apples that are true cider apples. The schema doesn’t factor sugar levels and sweet apples aren’t necessarily more sugary.

As a side note, crabapples are both acidic and high in tannins, and can be placed in the bittersharp category.

Unless, you are using ‘Kingston Black’ apples, you will need to select multiple apples and create a blend. It is common to plant a few bittersweet varieties and use Bramley apples to raise the acidity. Alternatively, you can purchase malic acid to raise the acidity.

Below, you can see a table of the acid and tannin % of some easily available apple trees. Vintage varieties are highlighted in bold. You can find information on more varieties here.

cider apple acidity and tannin levels

Blending Proportions

So, what is the ideal blending proportions? Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste, but Proulx and Nichols’s Cider: Making, Using, & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider recommends 33-40% acidic, 33-40% aromatic (volatile-flavour) and 20-33% high-in-tannin apples.

Claude Jolicoeur’s ideal blend is a specific gravity between 1.06 and 1.07 and titratable acid between 0.6 and 0.8%.

Again, use his blending wizard to arrive at the requisite mix.

Further Resources

Lea Ashton’s website.

Claude Jolicoeur’s website.

Less confused about cider-making? Primrose has a range of cider apple trees on a range of rootstocks.

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.

How To, Jorge, Plants, Trees

Scrumptious on a MM106 (left) and M27 rootstock. Note the difference in foliage and stem thickness.

Nobody should purchase an apple tree without first considering its rootstock. Rootstocks determine a tree’s size, resistance to disease and time to fruit. Primrose recommends you buy a dwarfing rootstock if you are interested in maximising productivity. For most gardens in the UK, an apple tree grown on its own roots is simply too large!

What is a Rootstock?

A variety grafted onto a rootstock.

Rootstocks are plants, usually of the same species, selected for their interactions with the soil. It is these plants that your selected apple variety will be attached in a process known as grafting. Thus, the Cox apple tree that you buy isn’t entirely a Cox as its roots are a different variety.

Apple trees have to be produced this way as their seeds aren’t true to type. Apple trees need to exchange chromosomes to produce offspring just like humans. Thus, if you plant a Cox apple and it germinates your resultant tree won’t be a Cox, but a mix between a Cox and another apple variety.

Not only are rootstocks necessary for propagation, they affect the variety they are attached to. One of the most important effects, is how a rootstock affects a tree’s eventual size. Thus, rootstocks are categorised into dwarfing and vigorous rootstocks, with dwarfing producing smaller trees and vigorous larger.

fruit tree rootstocks
The commonest rootstocks of some popular fruit tree species.

Dwarfing rootstocks produce smaller trees as they are worse at gathering resources. This may sound like a bad thing, but it is actually a huge benefit. Trees will put more effort into fruiting at the expense of vegetative growth as they want to pass on their offspring. This makes your tree more efficient. A higher percentage of carbohydrates go into fruits than leaves and stems.

This leaves us with this simple rule of thumb. If you are interested in maximising space and maximising output, dwarfing rootstocks are a must. If you want to grow your tree for ornamental value, buy a vigorous rootstock.

Is there anything else I need to know about rootstocks?

As rootstocks affect other traits than a tree’s size, such as disease resistance, you should factor such traits into your calculations. Importantly, it is hard to determine how a rootstock, variety and local conditions interact before planting. Thus, if you wish to establish an orchard, buy multiple varieties on different rootstocks to test the waters before any big outlay.

With dwarfing rootstocks, it is important that they are supported with ties, stakes or poles. Such trees produce heavy crops relative to their size and will lean or fall over; their roots are shallow and brittle and liable to uprooting in severe weather.

History of Apple Rootstocks  

Use of rootstocks goes back thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 1800s when they were referred to by name. It is this period that provides us with two examples – Paradise (French Paradise) and Doucin (English Paradise) – of which the latter was more vigorous than the former. Common as these rootstocks were their ubiquitousness may have been due mislabelling and mis selling, rather than widespread propagation. One author from the late-1800s sussed this out, describing 14 different kinds of Paradise rootstocks.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century when the East Malling Research Station set upon determining the trueness of the Paradise rootstocks. Unsurprisingly, the institute found numerous misnamed and mixed collections of plant materials and decided to abandoned their names entirely assigning a number to each, giving us the original M (Malling) series of 24 rootstocks. Unfortunately, they weren’t numbered according to tree size with M9 smaller than M2.

Controlled crosses produced the famous M26 and M27 rootstocks. The MM106 and MM111 were produced once the John Innes Institute of Merton joined with East Malling in developing rootstocks resistant to wooly aphids. Thus here, MM means Malling-Merton.

In the 1960s work began to remove viruses from the rootstocks as to reduce incompatibility. (Viruses can cause a graft not to take). The first rootstock cleaned was the M7 which became M7A. Unfortunately, removing viruses led to a loss of size control with the dirty M9 producing smaller trees than the cleaned M9 (known as M.9EMLA with EMLA standing for East Malling & Long Ashton research stations). Eventually, all M series rootstocks were cleaned.

Other countries around the world set on developing rootstocks suited to their climates with the Budagovsky series developed at Michurinsk College, Russia and the P series developed in Poland, both seeking cold hardiness. (As cold hardiness is unnecessary in the UK, these rootstocks are not widely used by nurseries).

A more research breeding program led by Cornell University has produced the Geneva series of rootstocks with a special emphasis on resistance to fire blight. This series you are more likely to see in the future, due to the emphasis on disease resistance.

List of Apple Rootstocks By Size (Smallest to Largest)

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.

Note: standard refers to a tree grown on its own roots. Thus a rootstock that produces a tree 30% of standard will produce a tree 70% smaller than if it was grown on its own roots.

M27

Perfect for small gardens, M27 will produce a tree 30-50% of standard and is very precocious (produces early in its life). With the Cox variety, you can expect a tree 1.5-2m high.

It is highly susceptible to fire blight but resistant to crown and root rot. It produces few burrknots and root suckers.

Permanent support is recommended. Leader support will produce larger trees.

The tree was produced in 1934 at East Malling and is a cross of M13 and M9.

M9

M9 will produce a tree 45-50% of standard and is very precocious. With the Cox variety, you can expect a tree 1.8-2.5m high.

It is very susceptible to fire blight and woolly aphid, but fairly resistant to crown and root rots.  It produces a moderate amount of root suckers and many burrknots.

Permanent support is recommended. Leader support is necessary. Unsuitable to wet sites.

The tree was selected from a group of French genotypes “Juane de Metz” in the late-1800s. It is the most widely used rootstock in the world.

M26

M26 will produce a tree 55-60% of standard and is precocious. With the Cox variety you can expect a tree 2.5-3m high.

It produces many burrknots and is susceptible to to crown rot and fire blight.

Usually requires support. (Possibly forgo in sheltered sites.) Unsuitable to wet sites.

The tree was produced in 1929 at East Malling and is a cross of M16 and M9.

MM106

MM106 will produce a tree 70-75% of standard and is somewhat precocious. With the Cox variety you can expect a tree 3.5-4m high.

It is resistant to woolly aphid, susceptible to crown and root rot and fire blight and hypersensitive to tomato ringspot virus. It produces few burrknots and root suckers.

Support is unnecessary. Unsuitable to wet sites.

The tree was produced in 1932 by John Innes and East Malling and is a cross of M2 and ‘Northern Spy’.

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.

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