Originally from Central Asia, the ancestors of the domestic apple can still be found growing there today in the wild. Apples reached the Middle East some 4000 years ago, and were known in England by 1066 but cultivation decreased over subsequent centuries. Henry VIII then reintroduced the best varieties from the known world, to orchards in Kent.
Take great care in choosing hardy, disease resistant varieties, and suitable pollinators. It is so easy to get carried away with an impulse buy in a garden centre and buy a totally unsuitable variety. Garden centres even still have Cox’s Orange Pippin for sale in Scotland, though all the experts agree that it is unsuitable for the North of the UK. I have also seen apple trees for sale in garden centres, absolutely riddled with Canker!
Do your research first to select varieties which may be suitable for your area, by scanning books, the web and only then the catalogues, which can be “economical with the truth”.
Apples require to be pollinated to produce fruit. Therefore you will have to consider providing pollinating partner trees. You may be lucky in suburban gardens and allotments, as there may already be suitable apple trees planted in adjoining areas. If you are short of space, you could consider planting a “family apple tree”, with 2 or 3 different varieties of apple grafted onto the same tree. Problems can arise with family trees, as the varieties can have different degrees of vigour and thus become lopsided, and different degrees of disease resistance, such as to Canker.
Disease resistance is very important the further North and West you are in the UK. As you do not want to spend a lot of time spraying against scab and cutting out canker, you can avoid the worst of these problems by choosing the right variety for your particular conditions.
Canker may eat right through branches. Keep the soil well drained, lightly limed, and no nitrogenous fertiliser, as this only encourages excessive sappy growth instead of fruiting. A slow release fertiliser is best, such as bone meal.
For details of recognizing and treating canker, see here.
For details of recognising and treating Apple Scab, see here.
For details of recognising and treating Brown Rot, see here.
Bitter Pit, is a disorder of Apples, particularly of large fruited varieties, such as Bramley’s seedling and James Grieve, rather than a disease. It seems to be caused by an imbalance of nutrients, particularly calcium, and the application of too much nitrogen fertiliser, together with wide fluctuations of rainfall and temperature. You are most likely to notice bitter pit when storing apples, and the apple has several slightly sunken, discoloured pits on the skin surface, with discoloured flesh below. Organic mulches on the ground would help to even out the dampness of the soil. If it is a regular problem, consider spraying the tree with calcium nitrate from June.
Apples Reputed to be Resistant to Canker for the North of the UK. include Discovery, Falstaff,
Yes, I appreciate this is a very short list, but until I see reliable evidence, I am reluctant to make further recommendations. (Feel free to advise me of any other varieties that you know from personal knowledge, do well and resist Canker in the North West of U.K.)
Crab Apples. Many of the crab apples seem to have resistance to Canker, except for John Downie.
Avoid these Apples in the North West of U.K. as reputed to be prone to CankerElstar, Fiesta (horrific, I know from personal experience), Gala, James Grieve (bad), Cox, Laxtons Fortune (bad), Golden Noble, Jonagold, Spartan, Worcester Pearmain, Ribston Pippin, Lanes Prince Albert, Sunset, Suntan,
Crab apple John Downie (bad).
Traditional varieties of apples, recommended by an Apple expert for planting in Scotland, include:-
Eating Apples. Charles Ross, Discovery, Ellison’s Orange, James Grieve (except West), Worcester Pearmain.
Cooking Apples. Bramley’s Seedling, Emneth Early, Grenadier (not North East), Lord Derby, Howgate Wonder (not North East or North West).
The Midlands and the South of England, have a big choice of Apples, but I would again suggest that to avoid disease problems, you find out which varieties do well in your area before you buy them.
The fruit catalogues have many new varieties of Apples for sale, but little information as to their disease resistance in the more challenging North and West of the UK. I would recommend that before you buy a modern variety, that you speak directly to the fruit nursery and ask them what evidence they have of its disease resistance and cropping abilities in your area.
An Apple Variety Index with descriptions of the apples and their parentage, is available here
Rootstocks for apples control the size and vigour of the tree.
Apple taste tests.
Independent taste tests suggest that the following varieties may be worth checking out and tasting, before you buy a tree.
Pixie. The small fruit have a very good flavour with a sharp taste. Not self-fertile. It crops from mid-October and should store into the New Year.
Braeburn. It has a tough skin with good sweetness and quite sharp. Not self-fertile.
Sunset. This small fruit with good sweetness and sharpness, should keep into December. Not self-fertile.
Paradis Myra. A Swiss, bright pink apple with good appearance, should be ready in September and should keep till the New Year. Not self-fertile.
Red Falstaff. This apple is a chance mutation of Falstaff, which is a Golden Delicious cross. The bright red fruits with good sweetness and acidity, are produced in October and should store well. Self-fertile.
Queen Cox. This is a self fertile, more disease resistant version of Cox. Good sweetness and acidity, cropping from October and storing into December.
Fiesta. A cox type with good sweetness and acidity, cropping in October and storing into the New Year. Partially self-fertile.
Pinover. The parentage includes Cox and Golden Wonder, and it crops from September to December. It has good sweetness and is less sharp than the others here. Not self-fertile.
Winter Gem. It has Cox in its parentage, with good sweetness and sharpness, cropping from October and storing till December. Not self-fertile.
Apple varieties have different periods when the fruit ripens and is in Season and is ready for eating. Keep a close eye on the ripening apples and eventually you should notice that the basic green skin coloration starts to mellow to a yellow-green. Any red or orange coloration will tend to become more intense, depending on how much Autumn sun there has been and and how exposed an individual apple has been to the Sun’s rays. It is astonishing how different, different apples from the same tree, can look. See photo of apples from the same Bramley’s Seedling tree. This is one of the things that makes it difficult to identify different apple varieties.
The classic method of testing if an apple is ready for picking, is to cradle the apple in the palm of your hand and gently twist. If the apple is ripe, it should come away easily with the stalk still attached to the apple. If any Autumn gales are forecast, check over your apples and pick any that are ready. If they fall onto the ground during the gales, they are likely to be bruised or damaged, and such apples never keep well and should be used as as possible.
After picking, they have different periods when they are is good condition for eating. For instance, “Katy” will only store for up to 6 weeks at normal temperatures, while Bramley’s Seedling should store for several months.
Storage of Apples. Hopefully, your apple trees will soon produce more apples than you can eat at once or give away to family and friends. My Grandfather was lucky enough to have a cellar with a clay floor to store all the apples from his allotment. Well I remember his racks of apples, individually wrapped in newspaper, which had to be inspected at intervals to remove any that were starting to rot.
Sadly, most of us will not have a cellar in our house and we will have to use a different method to store the apples.
Storage in apple boxes with dividers. Ask your friendly grocer or market stall for an empty apple box, together with its dividers ( the paper mache ones are better than the polystyrene ones, as they allow some of the apple moisture to dissipate). It may also help to cover the divider with several layers of newspaper. Only store apples that are in good condition with no bruises or cuts.Your apple box should be stored in a cool frost-free place. Remember to inspect the apples every few weeks and use up any that are starting to deteriorate.
Storage in the fridge salad crisp box. It is possible to store and “hold” apples in good condition for several months, provided the apples do not freeze. Unfortunately, the lack of space means that it is only possible to store a few apples in a domestic fridge, unless you use an old fridge in a garage just for this purpose. This is the basic cold storage method that is used commercially to store apples.