Growing British Apples
Growing British apples gives us the opportunity to eat something better!
A visit to your local supermarket is unlikely to provide you with much choice and certainly few British varieties.
So if you are looking for local varieties then Cox, Bramley, Braeburn and Gala are about all you’ll find!
But if you consider the huge number of great varieties that we have in Britain you soon realise just what a narrow choice supermarkets offer.
You may get more choice at a roadside stall or farm shop. And that’s especially if it fronts a fruit farm.
So it is no surprise that currently there is a big revival of interest in home grown fruit!
So which varieties are best for the amateur?
Well, where do I start! There are masses of good varieties suitable but before choosing them we need to get to the root of the issue.
The root stock onto which an apple is budded dictates the ultimate size of the tree.
That root stock can also encourage earlier cropping in the tree’s life.
Fruit trees are in two parts and the roots are actually another kind of apple.
But the root stock influences the variety that is budded or grafted onto it in several ways.
The most important features are to reduce vigour and encourage early fruit bearing in the tree’s life.
Dwarf root stocks
Dwarf and semi-dwarf root stocks are the norm with M9, MM106 and M26 being the most widely used.
However for growing apples in pots, or where space is really limited, M27 is the most dwarfing of all.
These dwarf root systems [M9 and M27] need very good soil and will need to be staked throughout their life.
Remember that a tree grown from a pip – and therefore on its own root system – could take as long as 15 years before it fruits! And then there is no guarantee that it will taste good!
I’ve written more about the benefits of grafted plants here.
Dessert Variety Choices
Having chosen the rootstock we can look at the more interesting bit.
But again you need to give it a bit of thought.
If your garden has only room for one tree you need to look for a variety that produces a fruit crop on its own.
These trees are described as ‘self-fertile’.
For instance a variety such as ‘Queen Cox’ is worth growing. It’s a self-fertile selection of ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ and so doesn’t need another variety to pollinate it!
‘Fiesta’ and ‘Kidd’s Orange Red’ are exceptional varieties too.
The local old Gloucestershire variety Ashmead’s Kernel has the very best flavour but can be a bit challenging to grow.
Ashmead’s Kernel is my favourite because it stores extremely well and has superb flavour! I believe that it is definitely worth the extra effort to grow.
Cox’s Orange Pippin
If ‘Cox’ is your first choice, you may find producing good quality Cox-like fruits more rewarding by planting easier to grow varieties.
Cox is renowned for being a challenging apple to grow, particularly in the west. It’s very prone to disease.
‘Sunset’ tastes like Cox and is so much easier to grow!
It is also has one of the very prettiest apples in flower. In my view it warrants its place in the garden for this reason alone!
If space is very limited then plant what is called a ‘family’ tree.
This is a tree with three varieties on one trunk!
The varieties will pollinate each other and also give a spread of different tasting fruit over a longer period.
Great care is needed to avoid getting carried away with the saw and inadvertently cutting off a whole variety!
Incidentally I’ve written about winter fruit tree pruning here.
Cooking Variety Choices
If you also want to grow cooking apples then the choice of varieties is more limited.
Bramley’s Seedling is exceptional but has several major drawbacks for the amateur gardener.
It is a triploid variety which makes it very vigorous and also infertile.
This means that you will need to plant another apple to pollinate your Bramley. And then another to pollinate that pollinator!
And so you will need to plant three trees!
Suddenly the garden is looking full!
However if your neighbours have apples or even crab apples, the bees will bring pollen from their trees to yours. So it is not as bad as it seems.
Bramley 20 is a variety that grows 20% smaller but in my view still produces a large tree for today’s smaller gardens.
The relatively new cooker ‘Bountiful’ looks worth a try as it is more compact than Bramley. It cooks well and is resistant to powdery mildew.
A much older dual purpose variety called Lane’s Prince Albert is a great cooker too!
So rather than accept the limited choice * on offer in supermarkets choose a less common variety and try growing British apples yourself!
* and often imported varieties
If you have a good crop to store you might be interested to learn how I store my apples successfully here.
I’ve recorder a short video on planting a bare root tree here. I’m actually planting a crab apple tree but the principles are exactly the same.
In the meantime I’m off to have a nutty flavoured home-grown ‘Egremont Russet’ with some delicious mature West Country cheese. And washed down with a glass of Thatchers cider too!
Don’t miss another of my blogs! Scroll right to the bottom of this page and sign up for an alert every time I publish!