I am a passionate gardener and love spending time around the garden but I have to admit that before I started writing this cider blog I knew next to nothing about growing apples. So if you want an authoritative source for growing the biggest and best apples this may not be the best place. However, I’ll start to add what I know and learn over the years here and if you can share then that would be great. For an apple tree 101 guide you could look here. Wikipedia has this to say about apple trees. All sorts of fascinating stuff indeed.
So rather than copy all these other fantastic resources I’ll share my experience of apple growing and picking.
Choosing apple trees
Most of us have to put up with the trees we find when we arrive at our new house. Getting a tree productive takes a few years so if you are keen on growing apples and making cider I would advise planting trees as soon as you arrive. The drawback to this is that you do have apple trees in your garden when you arrive any new plantings should be complementary to the apples you already have. Look for making a mixture of growth that balances sweetness, acidity and astrigency.
You will also need to ensure that you have a balance of trees that can cross pollinate each other. Generally when buying a tree it says when and how it can be pollinated on the label. It usually depends on the time of spring when the blossom comes out. A good bramley cooker will help in many situations though. Of you live in certain parts of the UK that have a history of apple growing and orchards there may be local varieties that are in real need of tlc. The national fruit collection at Brogdale can help you find varieties local to your area. Often these local varieties are bred for the conditions and have a taste and qualities you simply won’t find amongst the common varieties. Take a look at this beastie:
Pruning apple trees
Good pruning is the secret to a good harvest. The age of your apples will determine the scale and amount of pruning required. It’s my understanding and experience that an apple tree has a three year cycle in terms of harvests and this is based upon the type of pruning and growing that you do with your trees. Apples generally fruit from horizontal spurs on the branches so your pruning should be focussed on encouraging a regular cycle of these spurs.
The basic advice with pruning apple trees is to take one third of the long straight branch growth so that nice little spurs form of the main upright branches. These spurs will be the bits that carry your buds and ultimately form the apples. The more spurs, the more apples. Don’t prune too hard in any one year or you will boost the growth of these spurless upright branches and reduce the trees ability to produce apples.
I’ve never been the best at pruning but I would say that if your apple trees are old then less is generally more when it comes to pruning; err on the side of caution and prune very little. Remove crossing branches and dead branches but don’t go mad.
Feeding your trees
I think most people believe that fruit trees will look after themselves and not ned any tlc when it comes to food and drink. Not true; ifyou wat to increase your harvest you’ll need to boost the food getting to your tree. My apple trees had been starved and crowded out for years when we found them so it will take some while to get them chirpy again.
Try to keep the area under your trees free from plants that will take nutrients and water from your apple trees. Dig and weed around the trees and and give them a good dose of manure every spring. Horse manure is the best and contains the most nutrients. Try and ensure that the manure comes from a weed killer free environment. I also recommend bonfire ash as well as this really helps blossom and fruit production. Just make sure that your bonfire has contained nothing but plant material