How to grow... Apple trees

Rocket Growing Guides

It’s quite easy to get a little orchard on the go with just a few apple trees, and perhaps some pear trees too. They grow in the same way and once they’re well established they don’t need a huge amount of attention apart from keeping them watered during particularly dry weather.

  • Site Preparation
  • Planting Tips
  • Pruning

Choosing a site

Apple trees need a sunny site (avoid any frost prone areas in your garden if possible) and a neutral soil to crop well, a pH of 6.5 – 7.5 is ideal.

Cordon varieties can be grown in pots.

Get ready for planting

It’s important to improve the soil structure by thorough digging before planting, ideally to a depth of about 45cm (approx two spades) deep. Mix in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost.

What are all these dead sticks?!

Don’t be shocked if the box you’ve just opened from us looks as if it is full of sticks. This is quite normal as, depending on the time of year you receive them, the fruit trees we send out may be dormant, and they will have been recently lifted.

When your plants arrive

Plant your trees as soon as possible after they arrive, allowing sufficient space for them to grow.

Rubbish weather?

Should weather conditions be adverse (i.e. if the ground is frozen or too wet to plant), then the trees should be temporarily heeled in until conditions improve.

Dig a hole or shallow trench, lay the trees at an oblique angle and cover the roots loosely with sufficient soil or compost so that no roots are exposed to the air.

How and when to prune?

How and when you prune your apple tree depends on the type of tree you have…


For a Bush Tree

Prune back the leading shoot at planting time to the height at which you want the head to form. Over the next two winters cut back all shoots to form a balanced ‘bush’ framework.

In later years prune in July: remove any crossing or tangled branches, keeping the centre of your tree open to sun and air.

For a Cordon

Trim back all side shoots to 10cm (4in) spurs and the leader by half. In later years in late July trim back all new side growths to 10cm (4in) spurs and shorten the leader by a third. Then in winter just remove any late growth made from these spurs after the summer pruning.

For an Espalier

The aim is to train the side branches in pairs out to left and right in a series of horizontal tiers approximately 45cm (18in) apart.  It is usually easier to set up horizontal wires or bamboo canes at the correct 45cm (18in) spacing on the wall or fence before planting the tree, together with a vertical bamboo cane to keep the main stem straight.  The structural pruning to form the tiered espalier shape is done in winter, each arm is then summer-pruned as a cordon.