Introduction To Apple Trees

Apples are one of the global superstars in the fruit world. Highly versatile, full of nutritional goodness and a straightforward easy to grow tree. It is probably one of the easiest trees to grow both in the garden and on an industrial scale too.

We know that growers and supermarkets stock a few reliable varieties but many more types are available. In fact there are probably well over a thousand different cultivars which cover dessert, cooking and juicing. A number of apples are simply devoted to cider production which is something that the employees at FoodWrite are well versed with.

Here we discuss aspects of apple cultivation and select those varieties which are suitable for home growing as well as those that will succeed in more challenging environments.

Generally, most apple trees are grafted onto root stocks that make them more amenable to home growing without losing too much height. The most common is the M26 semi-dwarfing rootstock which is worth looking out for otherwise the fruit is too high to reach. This rootstock also means a tree which is easier to grow, is reliable and produces a more generous spread. 

When considering an apple tree, look out for particular characteristics that suit you and your garden. For space, a bush type grows between 8 and 12 feet  (2.4 to 3.6m) both in height and spread. If you want cordons then restrict their height to between 6 and 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4m) but space them 2 feet (60cm) apart.

Most suppliers will have fruit trees of all sorts available from late November through to April. Indeed winter planting of fruit trees is the optimum time so that roots can settle in. Any young tree being planted needs staking firmly to prevent wind blown damage.

Apples also have considerable nutritional benefits. The old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away‘ has a lot more going for it than many other phrases. Apple rinds also contain important cancer fighting compounds such as phloridzin and phloretin.

If you ever want to know more detailed information about apples, pears and other orchard fruits, look at the web-site We also have a section on cider apples which might be worth exploring where we discuss the characteristics of cider apples for juicing and fermenting.

Issues With Apple Trees

Apples are prone to a variety of different health issues. They can be susceptible to various diseases, caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses, or environmental factors. You need to keep a good eye on all your trees. Make sure you act quickly when you see a problem because prevention of the spread to other trees is paramount. It will also help you to keep your trees in better health.

Apple Scab (Venturia inaequalis)

One of the main issues faced by apple growers. This fungus is common and can lead to defoliation and reduce fruit quality.

It appears as a black or brown scab on the surface of the apple. There are also dark green patches seen on the leaves of the tree. The best course of action is to prune out the infected areas and because it is a food safely dispose of the material. You can eat infected apples because it is a fungus of the skin.

Apple Maggot (Rhagoletis pomonella)

While not a disease, apple maggot is an insect pest that can damage apples by tunneling through the fruit.

Apple Aphids and Mites

Aphids and mites are common pests that can infest apple trees, leading to distorted leaves and reduced fruit quality.

Bitter Pit

Sunken holes appear on the surface of the fruit. The flesh is discoloured underneath these too. You can eat the fruit because it is not a disease. It is a problem of growing conditions. Avoid this issue by following a regime of regular feeding and watering. Conduct summer pruning too to make sure branches are not too congested.

Brown Rot  (Monilinia fructicola)

A potent fungal disease. Brown rot leads to complete destruction of the fruit. Especially prevalent with stored fruit. When left it forms white pustules . As soon as you spot this issue, remove as much of the infected material as possible. It should help prevent further spread of the infection.

Apple Tree Canker (Various fungi)

Canker diseases can cause sunken, discolored lesions on branches, often leading to dieback.

Cedar Apple Rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae)

A fungal disease that requires both apple trees and certain types of juniper trees for completion of its life cycle. Causes orange lesions on leaves and fruit.

Fire Blight (Erwinia amylovora)

A bacterial disease that affects apples and other fruit trees in the rose family.

Causes wilting, blackening, and a “burned” appearance of leaves and branches.

Mildew (Podosphaera spp.)

Mildew is a powdery fungus that causes leaves of all sorts of plants and trees to eventually shrivel and die. 

It is often caused by warm, damp weather in the winter which allows the spores to proliferate. If it is followed by a very dry spring, an apple tree as with any other can be stressed and it succumbs to infection.

Given apples are edible (of course), it is best to use a garlic spray which relies on natural sulphur as a natural fungicide. These can be bought at most garden centres but you can make your own by crushing a whole head of garlic in 200ml (1/2 pint) of water. Leave this to steep overnight. Strain and top up with water to make one litre. Add a tablespoon of liquid soap such as washing up liquid which helps the spray stick to the leaves and spray every 10 to 14 days.

Good garden hygiene is also essential. Remove the fallen leaves in the autumn, do some winter washing and apply a thick mulch in spring. All these activities help with the garden generally.

Apple Rust Diseases (Various species)

Apart from cedar apple rust, there are other rust diseases that can affect apples, causing yellow-orange lesions on leaves.

Phytophthora Root Rot (Phytophthora spp.)

A soil-borne pathogen that can cause root rot in apple trees, leading to poor growth and decline.

Proper orchard management, including regular inspection, appropriate pruning, and the application of fungicides or pesticides as needed, can help prevent and manage these diseases. It’s important to choose apple varieties that are resistant to prevalent diseases in your region and to follow recommended cultural practices for disease prevention.


Dessert Apples

Cox Self-Fertile: The original dessert apple and a classic English type. This is a sport from the Cox’s Orange pippin which is still available but this particular type is self-fertile. has a sweet, richly intense and aromatic flavour which marks out the Cox from others like Granny Smith. Not one for growing in northern European climates or in wetter areas of Wales unfortunately so places that can offer reasonably dry conditions are welcome. Fruiting season: October through to December.

Discovery: A very early dessert type which is extremely popular in the UK. It was raised in the county of Essex in 1949 although some sources had spotted forms in the early 40s. It has bright scarlet fruit with a crispness in the flesh. Its juiciness makes it ideal for that very purpose. Good for storage. An early producer too and ideal for any part of the UK and indeed much of norther Europe. Fruiting season: late August into September.

James Grieve: Another classic which was raised in Scotland in 1893. The fruit is flushed with red-pink. The flesh is crisp with plenty of juice for both cider and even to some extent in cooking. Great flavour which stands out best of all when stewed. The blossom is resistant to late frosts. A good one for the north of the UK which is obvious given its heritage. Good resistance to mildew. Fruiting season: September into October. We have one that still has fruit for picking in early November.

Katy (Katya In eastern Europe): An increasingly popular variety for both eating and cider making. Thatcher’s still use it for single-variety ciders. It is a cross of two varieties Worcester Pearmain and James Grieve. Has very sweet and juicy refreshing flavour. Good growth characteristics and relatively resistant to all sorts of diseases and pest damage. Good for growing in colder districts. Fruiting season: September to early October.  

Mixed Dessert And Culinary Apples 

Arthur Turner – First raised in 1912 and is the best of the cooking apple varieties and should be found in any garden with pretensions to cooking. Enjoyed for its well flavoured yellow puree in making apple sauce although it needs some sugar to sweeten it. Ideal when baked too. A heavy cropper and resistant to scab. Suitable for both north and west regions of the UK  and norther areas of the USA. Harvest fruit from September into November. Said to to be partially self-fertile.

Blenheim Orange – a well established almost ancient favourite of the UK. has a dual purpose as a dessert and culinary apple. It was discovered in Oxfordshire in the 1740s. Produces attractive fruits which are large with a distinctive nutty flavour and goes very well with cheese. The fruits are ideal for baking as they keep their shape. Good mildew resistance. Suitable for very cold climates. Fruiting season is between October and Januaray. A triploid so wont pollinate other apple cultivars.

Bramley’s Seedling – The UK’s best known apple and a great one for cooking with. No apple pie seems to be made without using this variety. The original tree still stands in a Nottingham garden where it was grown from a pulp in 1809. Produces very large fruits which cook to a pale being-cream puree with strong acidity and flavour. Extremely attractive pink blossom. Keeps well in a cool ventilated area. usually picked from November right through to March. It is a triploid which means it will not pollinate other apple trees.

Granny Smith – One of the stand out varieties throughout the northern hemisphere being extremely popular in orchards of the rust belt states of the USA. Strangely it was discovered in 1868 in Eastwood, New South Wales Australia. Always remains green in colour and and has a particular crispness that is characteristic of its type. The flavour is also unique because it is less aromatic. A good one for processing as well and it is often found sliced for tarts, cheesecakes and other toppings because it keeps its structural integrity even with cooking. Fruiting season: September and into early November – depends on the climate. 

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