WHAT a dreary month November can be. Despite the mild start to the month and the fair, if overcast, weather, you know that it can only go downhill from now and the rush to prepare the garden for the winter is in full swing.
Despite being fairly hard at it, I have had much time to stop and look around (something which I heartily advocate to all my clients).
This is mostly due to a rather annoying back problem – self-inflicted, of course – which means that a stretch and a sit down are in order every 10 minutes or so. Because I have been idling away my time on the garden bench, I have not missed the huge influx of migrant birds which have descended on the crab apples that remained unpicked after my ‘accident’ with a ladder.
The tree itself was put in shortly after I moved here and has proved its worth, the fruit being delicious in jellies and jam as well as being relished by wildlife.
The variety is Dartmouth – not one I had encountered before – and it has superb blossom throughout April and May followed by medium sized, bright red and yellow fruit in early autumn.
When I say fruit, I really mean it. None of your gooseberry-sized crab apples here but real meaty jobs with plenty of flavour to them.
There is, however, one problem with this tree and indeed all of my fruit trees. The problem is one of size.
Now I know that in the real world size is not supposed to matter but it jolly well does when you have a less than generous plot and too much to cram in, and these little devils are starting to get a bit too big for their boots.
I seem to remember asking at the time of purchase for some trees that did not get too big but it seems that I may have received something quite different.
For me, this means more regular pruning than I would normally care to do but at least the trees will stay in some kind of shape and continue to produce fruit aplenty.
The size of a fruit tree is governed by its rootstock, onto which it is grafted.
For apples the rootstocks M27 and M9 will inhibit growth to around 6ft, M26 to around 11ft and MM106 will give an ultimately larger tree, reaching a maximum of 18ft. So you see that size does indeed matter and it is important that you select wisely (and this may well be a case of ‘Teacher, heed thy own advice’!).
Another thing to consider during apple tree selection is pollination. Of course, if your neighbour has an orchard brimming with productive fruit trees, it is possible to assume that you may well be sorted in this department (and by neighbour, I mean anyone living within a radius of several miles). On the whole, this may well be the case, but it’s best just to check.
Fruit trees can be expensive, they take some planting and then you have to wait until they establish. If you find that you do not have any fruit after all that, you may be just a little bit miffed.
Cue the science. Some apples are self-fertile but the majority require pollen from a different cultivar in order to set fruit.
Different cultivars flower at different times so pollination groups have been identified to make selection easier.
The groups are based upon the time of flowering with Group 2 comprising earlier flowering trees, Groups 2 to 4 mid-season and Group 5 being late.
Groups 1, 6 and 7 tend to be at the extremes of the season and are less commonly grown.
You can safely expect good pollination if you choose cultivars from the same or from an adjacent group. Certain cultivars, such as Bramley’s Seedling and Blenheim Orange, are ineffective pollinators. These are called triploids, due to the extra number of chromosomes in a cell.
If you want to grow these, choose two other pollinators which will fertilise both the triploid and each other.
I could now spend several hours listing all the pollination groups of all the apples for you, which would no doubt be useful, but may incur the wrath of my editor so I shall simply confine myself to one or two suggestions.
The cooking apples ‘Charles Ross’ and ‘Grenadier’ belong to the same pollination group (Group 3) and will also fertilise Bramley’s and Blenheim Orange whereas the magnificent ‘Howgate Wonder’ belongs to Group 4, which also includes the later flowering eaters ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ and ‘Spartan’.
It is not going to do too much harm to include a Malus (Crab Apple) in your shopping list as long as it has a reasonably long flowering season.
Malus ‘Golden Hornet’, for example, is a superb general pollinator, as well as being an attractive tree in its own right.
For a comprehensive list of pollination groups go to www.rhs.org.uk and follow the links to ‘Apples – Choosing Cultivars’
Of course, the easiest and most straightforward option would be to throw yourself upon the mercy of your nurseryman or supplier, which is what I did and, although I do not appear to have the size of tree that I wanted, he did tell me that If I bought Malus ‘Dartmouth’ all my pollination problems would be over – and he was right.
Plant of the month
A DECIDUOUS, bushy shrub grown principally for the very fragrant, many-petalled, yellow flowers which it carries on bare stems during mild periods throughout winter.
It requires full sun and well-drained soil. It will certainly benefit from planting against a south or west facing wall or fence as it can be a little susceptible to the cold.
It will eventually grow to around 10ft tall and the more established plants which are allowed to express themselves will amply reward with plenty of flowers, which last well when cut and brought indoors.
It propagates easily from softwood cuttings taken in late summer.