As the poet Keats observes, autumn is the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ that fills ‘all fruit with ripeness to the core’. And while we have been basking in the balmy embrace of an Indian summer, autumn has been silently spreading her colourful cloak across our gardens.

Autumn is the time of harvests, and the time for us to talk fruit trees. Maybe you have been eyeing up your neighbour’s plump purple plums? Or glimpsed over a wall from the top deck of a bus, an old mossed-tree bent with rosy-cheeked apples? Well, don’t just admire other people’s fruit trees – because now is the perfect time to plan your own mini-orchard.

You may think that you need a large garden to accommodate a fruit tree, but you’d be wrong. It’s perfectly feasible to cultivate a fruit tree in a small garden, in fact even in a large pot. The trick is to select the right tree for your own situation.

Indeed, if you have always wanted to have a small tree in your garden why not make it a fruit tree? They give so much. You get to enjoy the ephemeral beauty of spring blossom, its dappled shade in summer, a bounty of fruits in autumn, plus the glory of the autumnal colour change of the leaves. And if this wasn’t enough, a fruit tree provides an architectural silhouette over the winter months. Fruit trees are good for you, and good for wildlife – providing shelter for birds, and spring flowers for bees.

Choosing Your Tree

To choose the best tree for your outdoor space you need to consider a few factors.

1) What sort of fruit do like?

The sorts of fruit trees you can successfully grow include the very popular apples, pears, cherries and plums. And the more unusual: apricots, peaches, figs and nectarines. There are also the rarer fruits such as medlars, quinces and mulberries. And if you like nuts, what about a filbert or hazel?

All these fruits come in a wide range of cultivars – from heirloom varieties to the latest introductions. And then there’s the use to consider, for example do you want an apple that is good for dessert use or cooking, or both?

2) Size matters.

The fruit trees that we stock are selected varieties grafted or budded on to rootstocks. This is important because the rootstock largely controls how big and vigorous your tree will be. Some rootstocks can also give other benefits such as resistance to certain diseases. The grafted or budded bit of the partnership determines the fruit variety that you will get to enjoy eating.

So, if you want a small growing tree you need to look for one that is on a dwarfing rootstock. A semi-dwarfing root stock will give a larger tree, and a vigorous rootstock will result in a large fruit tree.

For apples trees the M27 (extremely dwarfing) rootstock  is the one needed if you want to grow it in a pot, or in a small garden, is an.  An M9 (very dwarfing) or M26 (dwarfing) rootstock will give you a tree suitable for an average sized garden. Two additional advantages from having a small growing tree are that the fruit are easy to harvest without a ladder or extendable picker, and it means that you can have more than one tree in your garden if you desire.

With pears you should look for a tree on a Quince C (semi dwarfing) rootstock if you want a manageable tree for you garden.

If it’s a cherry tree that tempts you, then make sure it’s on a Gisela 5 or G6 (semi-dwarfing) rootstock.

Some plums, gages, apricots, peaches and apricots are also available as dwarf cultivars. Just pop into your local Capital Gardens outlet and ask our knowledgeable staff for more details about these or any fruit tree you are interested in.

3) Pollination.

Most apples and pears, and some other fruits aren’t self-fertile. This means they need to be near to another tree from which they can get pollen to set fruit. If you need a pollinator for and apple tree it will need to be another apple tree, and likewise a pear tree for a pear.

Self-fertile crab-apple tree varieties, such as ‘Golden Hornet’, make excellent pollinator trees for apples, plus their tart fruits can be used to make delicious golden jellies for the pantry.

Compatible pollinators are placed into groups (for example, groups 1,2,3 ,4) to make it easy to select two or more trees that will successfully cross-pollinate. There are also some self-fertile apple and pear varieties that do not need pollinator trees.

Peaches, nectarines and apricots are all self-fertile. Many modern plum varieties are also self-fertile.

Pollination might sound a bit complicated, but it isn’t. In most urban settings the chances are there is a suitable pollinator tree in a nearby garden, and the pollination will happen without you needing to provide a pollinator tree. But if you feel you need a bit of help choosing your trees just contact us; or consult our helpful fruit tree information boards.

4) tree form.

Fruit trees can be bought trained in several different ways. An open Bush is the most popular form. Standard forms have a clear stem that is topped by a bushy top. Cordons are useful for small gardens, here a single stem has short side shoots that bear the fruiting spurs. Espalier and Fan trained fruit trees are suitable for growing against a wall.

5) going to pot.

Apples on M27 or M9 rootstock grow well in large pots of at least 50cm in width. If you only have space for one tree, then pick a self-fertile variety. Pot them up using a John Innes No. 3 loam-based potting compost.

Cherries on Gisela 5 rootstock can also be pot grown; but require a slightly larger pot.

Fig trees are ideal subjects for pots as they fruit more readily when their roots are restricted. Peaches and nectarines are also suited to pot cultivation. Figs, peaches, nectarines and apricots are all real sun lovers. Acid-fruited cherries such as Morello can tolerate growing in semi-shade.

Pot grown fruit trees need to be more frequently watered than those planted in the ground.

6) planting in the ground.

Most fruit trees need to be planted out in full sun to crop well.

Trees should be soaked in water prior to planting.

Dig the planting hole to the same depth as the pot. The planting hole should be about three times wider than the pot it comes in. Make the hole square-shaped, this encourages the roots to move out into the surrounding soil. The root-ball should be gently teased out before planting. Fruit trees will establish much more quickly, and develop more strongly, if the root-ball is dusted with mycorrhizal fungi powder.

Backfill the hole with the excavated soil, and firm gently with your foot.

An alternative planting method to using mycorrhizal fungi is to dig over the soil in the planting area with rotted manure to improve your soil before planting.

The newly planted tree should be supported with a short stake. The stake should banged-in at a 45-degree angle, the stake facing into the direction of the prevailing wind. Secure the tree to the stake using a tree tie, making sure that the tree doesn’t rub on the stake.

The newly planted tree should then be well watered. And kept well-watered until it is established.

So, if you have yearned to pick ripe fruit from your own tree but thought that you lacked the space don’t despair. By careful selection of the variety, rootstock and tree form almost every garden can have its own productive tree. ‘And maybe next year the neighbours will be looking across enviously at your harvest.’

By Ali Barwani – Capital Gardens

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