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Your apple questions answered

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Jennifer Redmond Jennifer Redmond | 07:09 UK time, Sunday, 17 October 2010

apples and gardening gloves

Have you been to your local Apple Day event yet?

If not, you'd better get your skates on - even though National Apple Day isn't til October 21st, many events are already happening around the country.

They're running until the end of this month, so have a look at the official list of events compiled by the charity Common Ground and see if there's one near you. If you're a bit late, you could always enjoy your apples over the radio: The Food Programme's latest edition featured northern heirloom apple varieties and is just mouthwatering.

To mark Apple Day we thought we'd hold our own virtual Apple Day here at BBC Gardening. A phalanx of experts from Brogdale Farm in Kent, which houses the National Fruit Collection, has been on hand to answer your questions, put to them via the BBC Gardening Messageboard last week; so without further ado, we'll hand over to them to answer your queries. There's even a couple of pear questions thrown in for good measure.

Mieldeflores asked:

I'd like to plant an apple tree arch in my Yorkshire garden, preferably 2m high and approx 1m width. I like Ashmead's Kernel and Red Devil apples. I live near allotments so pollination shouldn't be a problem!

- What types of tree/rootstock would be best?

- What arches would be best? (I am guessing that some would be too flimsy to support 2 trees and fruit over time).

- I have an old (cankered) apple tree situated approx 3m away from the arch site. Would I have to cut it down AND dig out soil to avoid infecting the new trees?


For the rootstock, you will need a dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstock. MM106 will control the growth and allow the tree to fruit within about three years.

Concerning the arch, your tree may be there for twenty years or more, and so you should be prepared to install an arching framework which will not only take the weight and weather but is made of something that will not rot or corrode away in that time. A solid steel framework may be the answer.

Regarding your cankered apple tree, canker is a fungal disease and spores can last for years. So for safety's sake it's best to do all of the things you have suggested. As an added boost, you might also add a dose of good fungi, known as microrrhizal fungi (sold as 'Rootgrow'), sprinkled onto your new root ball.

hereisabee asked:

As an apple pruner I have this battle with owners who say: "the tree only fruits every other year" (biennial fruiting syndrome). There is no scientific reason for this, if the tree flowers it should fruit, providing there are insects available to pollinate the flowers?


There seems to be no real reason why some varieties are biennial - and to confuse things further, some are just better in one year than the next. For some varieties a heavy crop one year can reduce the crop in the next, so if your tree is fruiting heavily you can reduce the crop by thinning out the young fruits in July - this should mean that next year's crop will improve. Of course, the weather can also be a factor: late frosts and droughts can both reduce crops dramatically.

koala_girl asked:

I planted a tree in 2004 and it is about 10' high. I prune it on Christmas day each year back to about 7', but it shoots up again in the spring. How can I tell what the rootstock is? I have still kept it staked as my garden is really windy. I read that some rootstocks have to be permanently staked so I am worried about taking the stake away. It is a 'family' apple tree with three varieties on it: James Grieve, Cox and Worcester. The James Grieve part grew more strongly than the others but I still get a decent amount of the other two varieties.


From this pattern of growth the rootstock is probably MM106 or M26, which means the stake can be safely removed after about five years. One of the problems with a family tree is the different growth rates of the varieties. The 'James Grieve' may need to be kept in check more than the others as it clearly has a more vigorous growth - but if you are happy with it as it is, then fine, just leave it to grow.

royn45 asked:

I've just read a 'things to do in the garden this week', and one of the tasks was finish summer prunuing of pears and apple trees. What amount of pruning does this involve?


Through the summer your trees will have made a lot of leafy growth, most of it going upwards. Late summer pruning reduces this semi-woody upward growth to the leafy cluster at the bottom. This helps to develop fruiting spurs for next year. If you are still developing the shape of a young tree, be careful about what, and how much, you cut off though and go easy at first.

Mrs P Randle asked:

My pear tree has bright orange marks on the leaves with spore-like spikey growth on the underside of the leaves. What is the problem and how can I treat it?


This is pear leaf blister mite, for which unfortunately there is no method of control available to gardeners. The only action that you can take is to collect all the leaf fall and then bin or burn it to ensure it does not infect the tree next year. You need to ensure all leaves have been disposed of carefully.

If you want to meet the experts in person, Brogdale has its own Apple Festival, held at the farm in Faversham, Kent on October 23rd and 24th.

How well do you know your apples?

We also asked the Brogdale experts to help us identify some apples from photographs but underestimated quite how tricky this is to do without a sample to cut up and examine. So here's a a bit of fun for you.....Gary Hobson told us an interesting story on the message board about some apple trees his father planted in the early part of the 20th century. Gary has a list the varieties but can't work out which tree is which variety. Can you help?!

Gary's father wrote a list of the varieties in 1942:

Monarch, James Greive, Peasgood Nonsuch, Warner King, Beauty of Bath, Worcester Permain, Cox Orange Pippin, Bramley Seedling, Newton Wonder, King of the Pippin, Lanes Prince Albert, Blenheim Orange, Ellison Orange, Early Victoria, Allington Pippin.

If you think you know the variety of the apples in the pictures, write it in the comments below. There are some clues from Gary himself and from the experts at Brogdale.


Gary says: This one is Early Victoria. The fruits are very large, yellowish, and soft. This particular tree was so heavily loaded, a couple of months ago, that the branches were being dragged down, so I removed a lot of the fruit.

Brogdale: Yes, it probably is Early Victoria.



apples tree no. 2

Gary says: This is a smallish tree, very heavy crop. The fruit is early, very sweet, and soft to bite.

Brogdale: The red colour isn't quite right for Worcester or Beauty of Bath which are the earliest on the list.



apple tree no. 3

Gary says: The fruit is rather similar to tree #2, but this is a larger tree, and slightly later. This tree also supports a climbing rose and honeysuckle.

Brogdale: Could be James Grieve.



apple tree no. 4

Gary says: This may be Bramley. This is a large tree (for an apple). The height is approximately 25'. Radius of the 'skirt' is about 18'. I cut this tree back massively (by about 50%), a couple of years ago, to try to let some light into the understorey.

Brogdale: It probably is Bramley.



apple tree no. 5

Gary says: This might be Beauty of Bath. Most of the fruit on this tree has fallen.

Brogdale: This can't be Beauty of Bath as that variety is red!



apple tree no. 6

Gary says: I've no clues as to what this is.

Brogdale: Shape is like Lane's Prince Albert but if this photo was taken in October the apples should be looking redder.



apple tree no. 7

Gary says: I used to think that this was a Bramley. But it's a smaller tree than the other two 'Bramleys'.

Brogdale: Most likely to be Newton Wonder.



apple tree no. 8

Gary says: This is another big tree, and I always thought this was a Bramley (but it might not be).

Brogdale: Could be Bramley but could also be Monarch.



apple tree no. 9

Gary says: This could be a Cox? Sweet, crisp, with a slight tang to the peel.

Brogdale: Yes, agree it's likely to be a Cox.



apple tree no. 10

Gary says: This fruit has a very characteristic elongated shape.

Brogdale: Likely to be Allington Pippin.



apple tree no. 11

Gary says: I don't know what this is. The fruits are very high up, beyond reach, even with a step-ladder.

Brogdale: It could be Peasgood Nonsuch as it's a large tree.



Gary says: This one is growing in the shade of some taller trees, so that might affect both the ripeness of the fruit, and the amount of water the tree can draw upon.

Brogdale: It could be Warner's King.

Thanks go to the team at Brogdale for their time in helping to identify these apples and in answering the questions.

Jennifer Redmond is the host of the BBC Gardening Blog.



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