Choice of variety of top fruit, is the first decision that you have to make. This takes time but you are spending good money on a tree that may produce fruit for 50 years or more. You really must do your homework, before you go anywhere near a garden centre or buy from a catalogue. Some of the catalogues are “economical with the truth” as to the suitability of different varieties for the more challenging areas, and to their resistance to disease, particularly Canker. As unfortunately, many of the fruit varieties on sale in garden centres are unsuitable for Northern Areas, beware of making an impulse buy.
In some areas, you may find “demonstration gardens”, run by the Local Authority or the National Trust, or its regional equivalents. If you are lucky, these may include fruit sections with labelled tree varieties. You will be able to see for yourself how disease resistant and fruitful that particular variety is in a similar locality to your own. Many Gardens that are covered by the “Garden Open Days” scheme, are open to the Public, and could be viewed to get similar information. “Garden Organic” also holds apple days, when many different varieties of apples are available to see and taste.
In Scotland, many fruit trees are being planted in local areas by children under a scheme called “The Children’s Orchard”. In time, this will provide valuable data on how well different fruit tree varieties do in different areas. Already in the Glasgow Area, some 500 fruit trees have been planted in the last few years. They include many traditional Scottish varieties, as will as modern varieties. You can view a few of them in the Children’s Garden Area of the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.
Here are some of the questions that you should ask before you go to buy a tree.
Will it be suitable for your site and climatic conditions? For example, many varieties of fruits which do well in the South East, do badly in the North.
Is it resistant to the prevalent diseases in your locality? If not, you could be wasting your time and money having to spray the tree against various diseases, and still have problems. Canker and scab are the worst problems for growing apples in Northern and Western Areas, and the only way to deal with Canker is to cut it out.
Which rootstock is suitable for the site? Most fruit trees nowadays are not grown on their own roots, but on special rootstocks which control the ultimate size and shape, and the fruiting characteristics of the tree. For example with Apples, the popular bush shape of tree will grow to 2 m high (6 ft ) on M 27 (extremely dwarfing ) rootstock, while it will grow to 5 m high on MM 106 semi-dwarfing rootstock. If you have a small garden or are going to grow the tree in a large pot, you will probably need an extremely dwarfing M 27, (up to 1.8m) or very dwarfing M 9 rootstock. If you have a larger garden, you might decide to have a medium sized tree on a dwarfing M 26 or a Semi-dwarfing MM 106 rootstock. However, remember that if the full grown tree will be too big for you easily to reach up to pick the fruit, it will go to waste, and it will be difficult to prune the tree as well. You do not really want to be perched on the top of a high stepladder to gather the fruit! You must therefore also check the fruit catalogues very carefully for the rootstocks, as well as the variety of fruit, before you buy.
Decide if you want an eating variety or a cooking (culinary) variety. Some varieties are so-called dual varieties, claimed to be suitable for both eating and cooking, but they are usually a compromise solution.
Check out the fruiting times and storing characteristics of your proposed variety. Some varieties mature quickly, and some will store longer than others. If you have a good fruit tree, even after giving a lot of the fruit away, you will have a lot that you could store to last through part of the Winter.
Choose self-fertile varieties where possible, and save yourself a lot of trouble in trying to choose and plant suitable additional varieties for pollination. If you do decide to buy a variety that requires another particular variety for pollination, you should be able to get information on suitable varieties from catalogues, web sites and reference books.
Container grown or Bare Rooted Trees. Most trees are supplied as “bare rooted” trees from specialist fruit nurseries, as they are easier and cheaper to transport. They will be sent to you while the tree is dormant between November and March. It always surprises me how quickly such trees settle down and sometimes even have a few fruits the first year. Yes, I know you are not supposed to let them fruit in the first year, but I am impatient to taste the fruit! As they have few roots, you must keep them well watered and staked for the first year. After a few years, they frequently overtake container grown trees in size and robustness.
Container grown trees are supposed to have well developed roots, enabling them to be transplanted at any time of the year. However, sometimes when you buy them from garden centres, they turn out to be bare rooted trees shoved into a container for a couple of months.
Planting your fruit trees should be carried out as soon as possible in their final positions.
Training of Fruit Trees. Fruit trees can be trained to form shapes such as cordons, fans or espaliers for growing against a wall or along a fence. As this is a complicated subject, for details, consult a good book such as “The Fruit Expert” by Dr. D. G. Hessayon, or “The Encyclopaedia of Gardening” by The Royal Horticultural Society. As this last book is very expensive, try your library for a copy.