Planting an apple tree

Choosing the site:

Try choosing a location that is as sunny as possible and preferably sheltered. However, apples are quite tough and my own orchard is located at over 700ft above sea level. The more sun the better, as the fruit will ripen and a sheltered spot will encourage the bees to pollinate at blossom time, as well as preventing wind damage. Watch out for frost pockets, where frost remains well into the day, that could damage the blossom in spring, such as bottom of slopes or in the shade of large trees.

Newly planted tree, staked and mulched with manure.

Deciding on Rootstocks:

Rootstocks determine the eventual size of the tree and can be matched to soil quality. All bought apple trees are grafted onto a rootstock which determines eventual size of the tree as well as how soon it will fruit and in some cases disease resistance. MM106 is the most widely available and is what you find in most garden centres. This is a multi purpose stock that can be used for trained shapes as well as for a decent sized bush tree. However, if your ground is at all damp it may well be worth choosing a different stock as MM106 can be susceptible to rot if conditions are too wet. For poor soil M111 could be a good choice and M25 if a traditional very large ‘standard’ fruit tree is needed for a traditional orchard. The more vigorous the rootstock the longer you will have to wait for the tree to start bearing fruit. See the RHS page here for more information on the various available rootstocks.

If buying a bareroot tree, always keep the tree in a bag or bucket of water whilst planting to prevent it from drying out in the wind.

Buying bareroot i.e. when the trees are dormant in winter, has a few advantages over
potted plants. Firstly there is a greater choice available from suppliers and secondly there also tends to be a greater selection of rootstocks.However, bareroot trees are limited to the dormant season from November to march whereas potted plants can be planted all year round.



A sheet of plastic helps keep the excavated soil out of the grass.

Dig the hole larger than the rootball making sure that roots are not scrunched up. a square hole is preferable especially with a pot grown tree so as to not encourage the roots to keep growing in a circle and therefore not spreading out to anchor the tree.The majority of the time it it best not to add any improvement to the soil so as to encourage the roots to grow out of the hole to find nutrients. Instead mulching with a good manure afterwards will slowly improve the soil. Fork the bottom and sides of the hole to improve drainage.



Make sure the stake is placed on the windward side of the tree so that the tree is not blown towards, and rubs on, the stake.

If a stake is required it should be hammered into the ground before the tree is placed in the hole to avoid damaging the roots. If the tree is a young whip, i.e. it doesn’t have many sideshoots and is small then it will not require staking unless the site is particularly exposed or the rootstock is a dwarfing variety that needs permanent staking. The tree should be planted near to the same depth it was planted at previously, look for a soil mark on the stem. If not, plant making sure all the roots are covered but well below the graft union. A straight piece of wood placed across the hole will allow you to see where the soil level will be once the hole is filled. It is also a good idea to spread some mycorrhizal fungi (known as root grow) onto the roots. This helps the tree develop new roots more quickly and therefore establish successfully.



Mycorrhizal fungi sprinkled over the roots just before back filling the hole

Place the soil back in the hole giving the tree an occasional gentle shake to encourage the soil to settle around the roots. Once filled gently firm the soil with your boot making sure the soil covers all roots and is not piled up around the stem. Always water in well as it will also fill any air pockets around the roots with soil.

IMGP4718 If using a stake, buy a good quality soft tie making a figure of eight to allow for a cushion between the stem and stake and nail the tie to the post to stop it slipping. If you are planting a potted tree the stake will need to be driven in at a 45º angle so it misses the roots.


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