Growing your own top fruit in the garden is very rewarding. From old favourites to new introductions, the choice is vast. When choosing your tree, it is important to think about the supplier, the rootstock, the pollination and the form of the tree as well as the type of fruit you want. The following is a brief guide.
Where possible, buy trees from suppliers with Plant Health Propagation Scheme (PHPS) certification. Any grower in England and Wales can apply to have their crops certified under the FPCS.
Most tree fruit cultivars are grafted or budded onto rootstocks. It is the rootstock that largely controls the size and vigour of the tree. The rootstock can also contribute to the disease resisting abilities of the plant. If smaller trees are wanted, buy cultivars grafted onto very dwarfing, dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks.
Most apples, pears and some cherries, plums and gages are not self-fertile, but need a pollinator, ie. a different cultivar of the same kind of fruit. For example, apple will only pollinate apple, pear pollinate pear, but plums, gages and damsons will pollinate each other if compatible
For cross pollination, choose a cultivar from within the same pollination group (flowering period), or from the adjoining groups, where flowering periods overlap. The RHS uses numbers to distinguish between individual pollination groups; other sources or suppliers may use letters.
Tree Fruit Forms
Fruit trees can be trained to grow in a range of different forms and combined with the rootstock that they are grafted on, this will largely determine the final size, though the cultivar vigour and growing conditions will also be an influencing factor.
- Bush: most common form. Open centre tree with a clear stem of 75cm (30in). Suitable for all top fruit and most rootstocks.
- Standard and half-standard: trained as for bush but grown on more vigorous rootstocks with longer clear stem of 1.35m (4½ft) for half-standard and 2m (6½ft) for standard.
- Cordon: restricted form with single or multiple stems. Suitable for apples, pears and some plums.
- Espalier: restricted form with central stem and horizontal arms. Best for apples and pears.
- Fan: restricted form, branches radiate out on either side of low central stem. Well suited for most top fruit. Particularly well suited for peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries.