Orchards & Fruit Trees
At the turn of the twentieth century there were several thousand hectares of orchard across Wales. Since the 1950's these have all but disappeared along with many traditional Welsh varieties. By 1992 (according to MAFF) only 9 hectares of orchard remained in the whole of Powys.
Traditional farm orchards tended to grow hardy varieties of apple with a few pears, plums and damsons. In Wales these need to be disease resistant, vigorous and tolerant of damp, cold and windy conditions. This might restrict the planting of ‘supermarket' apples but on the other hand opens up a range of much more interesting, traditional and diverse varieties. The Plant an Orchard page contains a list of some suggested generally hardy varieties. A lot of these are old, predate chemical reliance and have been kept in cultivation on their merit.
There are diseases of the tree (the worst being canker) and pests/diseases of the fruit, the most common probably being scab. Cool humid conditions are bad for both. Canker must be avoided in the long term. Scab is best avoided but could be tolerated except where the apples are for sale.
When an apple is pressed the juice is always sweeter to taste than eating the apple whole. This again may increase the range of useful varieties open to planting.
Rootstocks: Why the strange numbers?
The rootstock determines the overall height and vigour of the tree. For apples, most commercial UK rootstocks have “M” numbers, each of which has been bred to give a more or less vigorous tree, deriving from the ‘Malling' and ‘Malling-Merton' breeding programmes.
The scionwood or bud is grafted onto the rootstock from the fruiting variety as most trees grown from seed will rarely be ‘true to type'. Therefore you know what type of fruit and size of tree you are going to get each time.
For apples, our nursery generally uses the following 3 rootstocks:
The most vigorous and suitable for traditional orchards and less fertile soils. Eventual height up to 7 metres (un-pruned), 3 to 4 metres (pruned to open centre).
Semi-vigorous about 5 metres overall height (un-pruned), or up to 3 metres (pruned to open centre). Better for closer spaced plantings.
Semi-dwarf about 2 ½ metres final height and may need permanent staking in exposed areas. Good for bush trees in gardens and for cordons.
Our plums, damsons and pears are usually all on the more semi to vigorous stocks (St Julien A, COLT).
Traditional farm orchard spacing is up to 10 x 10 metres apart for open centred trees on vigorous rootstocks. Trees can be pruned to restrict size and spread and smaller rootstocks can be used for closer spacing and in gardens (see above for eventual sizes).
Remember to allow for the spread of the tree as well as height, particularly near walls & fences etc. You are looking for good air circulation around and through the trees, which contributes to reduction in fungal disease.
In modern commercial orchards, trees are grown much closer together on dwarfing rootstocks and are pruned to form ‘pyramids' like a Christmas tree. This is what you see for example as you drive through Herefordshire.
There is an increasing interest in ‘own root' fruit trees, ie varieties grown without rootstocks.
You need sunlight, a fairly well drained soil, some protection from the wind and to be able to avoid the worst frost pockets and/or choose later flowering varieties. Fruits also do not do well in salty air. There is no real altitude limit at least for apples, subject to being able to maintain adequate conditions for flowering and pollination.
Most fruit trees need the pollen of another variety of the same species to set fruit. In theory this means that you need at least two different varieties of tree that flower at about the same time. Even ‘self fertile' varieties will benefit from this, apples especially.
Apples are classified into ‘Pollination Groups' eg: A, B C etc according to flowering time. You can choose to plan your garden or orchard around this, but there is often sufficient pollen around, especially in urban areas. Certain crab apple varieties are good pollinators and these are often planted at the ends of rows or around the orchard and are worth planting where higher yields are sought. Golden Hornet, John Downie and Evereste are good pollinators and are popular in their own right as ornamental trees/for jam making.
‘Triploids' require two other varieties for pollination and do not provide any viable pollen for other fruit trees, eg: Bramley.
Plums and damsons often do not need pollinators as there is enough blackthorn pollen around, but it is often worth planting more than one variety of tree if you can.
For pears plant more than one type or plant wild pear at the same time, except for ‘Conference' which is reputedly self fertile.
We generally only sell the self fertile cherries ‘Stella' and ‘Morello' along with Lapins but the same rules apply.