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How can I tell how big an apple tree will grow?

(15 Posts)
CherishFindensRulerOfDeath Mon 16-May-16 11:43:52

I've moved into a house with two apple trees. According to the neighbours they are about 10 years old. Is there any way of working out what type they are and therefore how tall they are likely to grow?

philosophicmum Mon 16-May-16 11:52:27

The height is mostly determined by the rootstock of the tree rather than the variety of apple. But at 10 years they've probably got about as big as they're going to get.

shovetheholly Mon 16-May-16 11:56:03

You can identify the variety by taking apples to a local apple day in the autumn. An expert should be on hand who can tell you the type! Alternatively, you could do a bit of amateur sleuthing with something like the RHS apple book.

The size of the eventual tree is going to be very hard to determine, because it depends on the rootstock that's been used and I don't think this can be easily identified on sight. However, they are 10 years old so you should have a reasonable sense of the eventual size/spread - they are reasonably mature now, to the point that it'll be pruning that really determines the final size/spread. So it's really in your hands! If you want to keep them at their current size, you pretty much can do that.

CherishFindensRulerOfDeath Mon 16-May-16 12:45:45

Thanks, what knowledgeable folk you are!

There is surprisingly little root (I know this because I have moved one of the trees. Twice in fact, due to that age old complaint, Gardener's Dithering.) The root ball is about 10 inches in diameter, and the trunk is about 1.5 inches in diameter. The tree is about 5 feet tall.

The unmoved tree is about a foot taller, but I'm guessing they were a pair originally, as the apples look the same.

shovetheholly Mon 16-May-16 13:04:27

10 years old and 5 feet tall sounds like they are almost certainly on very dwarfing or dwarfing root stock to me. (Provided your soil is average that is).

They don't really like being moved and that may explain why one is a bit shorter than the other. I'm surprised by the lack of root ball - even small trees tend to put down much larger, longer roots than that. It may be that some got chopped through with the spade? (Difficult to avoid this when moving something larger!)

CherishFindensRulerOfDeath Mon 16-May-16 13:20:39

When we first moved into the house two years ago the shorter one was wobbly and leaning badly, and when I checked it out more closely I realised it had been planted in really poor ground with the roots barely buried. The ground is very rubbly and I think the previous owner just dug the hole to whatever size he could manage.

Anyway, it came up really easily, with barely more than a poke with the spade, and I'm ashamed to say I left it sitting about for a few days before I planted it again. However, once I'd whacked it back into a nice new hole in the ground it flowered, and produced apples, so it seems to be a tough little thing. It's now flowering again merrily this year so hopefully I haven't yet killed it off.

shovetheholly Mon 16-May-16 13:24:28

shock Wow, a 10 year old tree should be really tough to get out, with roots all over. Good call to replant it in a better position! Hopefully it will give you loads of apples in gratitude!

If your soil is generally on the poorer side, that can hold the height of trees back. So it might be a factor, along with the rootstock.

CherishFindensRulerOfDeath Mon 16-May-16 17:21:03

Yes, it does make me wonder whether the neighbours are right about the age, but I'd expect something straight from the garden centre to have more roots than this! Anyway, I will smother it with love and hopefully it will survive its travels round my garden.

Do you often feed your garden? I never have, except for putting compost in the hole before putting in a new plant. Should I be doing something else?

shovetheholly Tue 17-May-16 08:20:00

I do slightly different things depending on what I'm growing. For most flowers, I give my garden a good mulch in the autumn. I don't think it's strictly necessary, but it helps break up the clay and means I don't have to slip around in mud to get rid of chickweed all winter!! grin You don't want an absolute ton of nitrogen-rich feed on a lot of flowers as they tend to go all leafy and cabbagey rather than floral. However, I will feed after bulbs go over, and with anything that is struggling a bit gets a good ole feed grin.

For food crops, I feed like crazy. Lots of manure and compost dug into all beds (except for root crops), plus a mulch of spent hops (free from the local brewery) on fruit! A bit of well-rotted manure around your apples won't hurt in getting them established. You may need to water fairly regularly through the first summer too.

CherishFindensRulerOfDeath Tue 17-May-16 09:04:29

Gosh, there's a lot I don't know. I'm not growing anything to eat (honestly, the apples look like a cross between crab apples and cooking apples!), but I am planting in 'new' soil, in that the ground was previously covered over with a patio and decking. The rest of the garden will be plants and a bit of lawn.

It sounds like I need to work a bit harder than I am and get digging in some manure. Stupid question, where do you get it from?

bookbook Tue 17-May-16 09:09:00

shove has explained pretty much, but that rootball is tiny for 10 years old. I wonder if it was one of those you buy in a pot, and the roots have gone round and round?. However, you have totally done the right thing! I tend to put blood fish and bone in the bottom of any plant hole, and yes to a lot of watering, to not let it get stressed. Fruit trees will nearly always flower and produce fruit when under stress- thats what they try to do to propagate themselves.
I tend to mulch my garden , and its not always in autumn- my DH has been sorting out compost heaps the last two weeks, and I keep getting the call - 'where do you want me to put this' so I have a few heaps to spread around.....I just try not to bury the little things, and make sure there are no weeds underneath grin - my big trees have all got big mounds on the root, where I can get to them!

shovetheholly Tue 17-May-16 09:17:26

I wonder if it's a combination of bad conditions book - rocking and compacted soil?

If the tree wasn't anchored in properly and was wobbling around like a weebl, that could explain the lack of root growth. Most trees react to a bit of rocking by putting down stronger roots, but there is a point beyond which it just becomes too much and plants will just struggle to survive.

Also, if the soil around is terribly compacted, e.g. by being under a patio, that might explain the inability of the tree to get its roots in. I'm still surprised, though- they are strong things and will mostly punch through anything. However, in combination with rocking, that might explain it.

The other possibility is that they've got some kind of root disease - rot if the soil is waterlogged, or a fungal problem.

Many stables will have a massive pile of rotted manure that you can take away for free! Do check it's well-rotted and not fresh. It shouldn't really smell much and it should have an open texture. You can just leave it on the surface of the soil for worms to take down, but if you want to get planting soon, then you might need a mattock or rotavator to break up the soil and incorporate it. You can add other things at this stage to improve whatever you have - horticultural grit/gypsum for really heavy clay, compost for really well-drained soil etc.

CherishFindensRulerOfDeath Tue 17-May-16 13:17:58

Thanks so much for the advice. I feel a little sad at the thought it's desperately flowering and producing fruit because it's stressed. I'm going to get a huge dollop of manure and make the little tree feel the love. It's such a pretty thing - it has that flat shape, IYSWIM, the ones that grow against walls - I hope it survives.

shovetheholly Tue 17-May-16 13:44:57

Oh, it's espaliered?

It sounds lovely. Trees are remarkable and resilient things. My Dad is warden of a meadow that has an old orchard and the trees hadn't had care for decades and were all gnarled and knackered. They have sprung back amazingly under his care! Hopefully yours will do the same!

bookbook Tue 17-May-16 21:48:30

I'm sure it will be fine now, its got a 'carer' smile

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