Fruit tree rootstocks and tree sizes

Left to its own devices an apple tree grown from a pip or seed will reach a height of 15ft - 20ft / 5m - 6m or so. Pear, plum and cherry trees could be even taller. Such large trees look majestic in a traditional orchard, but are not very productive, and since most of the fruit is out of reach, they are difficult to harvest. They are also far too big for most gardens. For this reason most fruit trees are grafted on to the roots or "rootstock" of related species which help to keep the size of the tree down to more manageable proportions. The rootstock is therefore an important factor when choosing a new fruit tree for your garden.

The following table lists the various roostocks we use, and their advantages and disadvantages.

Rootstock Mature height Spacing Tree forms Notes

Rootstocks for Apple trees

M27 Very small: 1.5m - 2m 1.2m apart e.g. 5 trees in 7m Small centre leader
Pyramid
Step-over
Patio containers

Permanent stake required.
Watering and feeding required.
Ground around the tree should be kept weed-free (e.g. mulched).
Usually starts bearing crops and reaches full size within 2-3 years.

M9 Small: 1.8m - 2.5m 2.5m between trees Ideal for small centre leader (spindlebush) styles
Oblique cordons
Permanent stake required.
Watering and feeding required.
Ground around the tree should be kept weed-free (e.g. mulched).
Apple trees on M9 are very productive and come into bearing within 2-3 years of planting, the tree reaches full size after about 5 years. The fruit size is sometimes slightly larger than on other rootstocks.
An excellent choice for the smaller garden in most parts of the UK.
One of the most widely-used rootstocks in commercial apple orchards.
M26 Medium: 2.2m - 3m 3m or more between trees Bush
Large cordon
Small fan or Espalier
Can be treated as a small MM106 in most respects.
Will need a permanent stake in lighter soils. Not suitable for damp soils.
MM111/M9 Medium: about 3m 3m + (12ft) between trees Bush By adding an interstem of M9 on top of the MM111 rootstock it is possible to produce a free-standing tree which needs little looking after (because of the vigorous MM111 rootstock which is suitable for almost any soil conditions) but with the precocity, disease resistance, and smaller size of M9. The resulting tree does not need staking, fruits early in its life (depending on the scion variety) and is similar to M26 in overall size.
M116 Large: 2.5m - 4m 3.5m between trees Bush
Fan or Espalier
Half-standard traditional tree
M116 was developed in the 1960s but has only recently been taken up by growers. It can be used as an alternative to MM106. It produces a tree which is slightly smaller than MM106, but capable of producing the same quantity of apples. However it is not widely available yet. Use a temporary oblique stake for first few years if in an exposed situation, but does not require a permanent stake. It is a better choice than MM106 for wet sites.
MM106 Large: 2.5m - 4.5m 3.5m-4m between trees Bush
Fan or Espalier
Half-standard traditional tree
The best choice for a good sized apple tree, especially if you just want to plant the tree and let it get on with it - does not require much looking after and tolerates low vegetation around it once established. Susceptible to collar rot on wet sites.
Use a temporary oblique stake for first few years if in an exposed situation, but does not require permanent staking.
Comes into fruit-bearing after 3-4 years.
MM111 Full size: 3.5m - 4.5m 4m-5m between trees Half-standard
Standard
Large Fan or Espalier
Produces a tree somewhat larger than MM106. Noted for its good drought tolerance and ability to grow on difficult soils.
Comes into fruit-bearing after 4-5 years and reaches full size after about 10 years. We also use this rootstock for many of our Crab apple trees (which will usually produce blossom from 2-3 years).
M25 Full size: 4.5m+ 6m - 7m between trees Standard apple trees Produces a traditional large apple tree.
Comes into bearing after 3-5 years.
Malus seedling Full size: 4.5m+ 6m - 7m between trees Standard apple trees We sometimes use Antonovka or Bittenfelder seedlings as rootstocks for full-size Crab apples. These produce a traditional large apple tree.
Comes into bearing after 5+ years.

Rootstocks for Pear trees

Quince C Medium: 2.5-3m 2.5m apart Bush
Cordon
Small Fan or Espalier
Produces the smallest available pear trees and therefore the best choice for small gardens.
Permanent stake or other support required.
Ground around the tree should be kept weed-free (e.g. mulched).
Comes into bearing after 3-4 years.
Quince Eline Medium: 2.5-3m 2.5m apart Bush
Cordon
Small Fan or Espalier
A new rootstock for pears and quinces, with similar vigour to the Quince C rootstock, but much more cold-hardy.
Permanent stake or other support required.
Ground around the tree should be kept weed-free (e.g. mulched).
Comes into bearing after 3-4 years.
Quince A Large: 3m-3.5m 3.5m apart Bush
Large cordon
Large Fan or Espalier
The best general-purpose rootstock for pears.
Produces a tree which is roughly comparable in size to the apple MM106 rootstock.
Comes into bearing after 4-5 years.
BA29 Large: 3.5m 3.5m apart Bush
Large cordon
Large Fan or Espalier
BA29 produces a tree about 10% larger than the Quince A rootstock, and can be used for similar purposes.
Comes into bearing after 4-5 years.
Pyrodwarf Large: 4m+ 4m apart Half-standard
Large Fan or Espalier
Don't let the 'dwarf' in the title mislead you, as Pyrodwarf is a vigorous rootstock - essentially a dwarf form of the very vigorous seedling pear rootstock. It produces a tree which is noticeably larger than on Quince A - similar to or a bit larger than MM111 apple rootstock.
Comes into bearing after 4-5 years, which is quite precocious for a rootstock of this vigour class. Pyrodwarf is popular in warmer climates because of its good fireblight resistance. It is also more tolerant of growing on chalky / alkaline soils than the quince rootstocks.
Pyrus communis Full size: 6m+ 6m-7m apart Standard Pyrus communis is a seedling pear rootstock, and produces a traditional free-standing tree. We mostly use the 'Kirchensaller' form, which is more uniform than some other seedling rootstocks.
Comes into bearing after 8-10 years - hence the old saying "plant pears for your heirs".

Rootstocks for Plums, Gages, Damsons, Mirabelles

Pixy Medium: 2.5-3m 3m between trees Bush
Small Fan
A good choice for plum trees in a small garden.
Produces a tree roughly equivalent to the apple M26 rootstock in size.
Requires a stake for at least the first 4-5 years, possibly permanently.
Watering and feeding required.
Ground around the tree should be kept weed-free (e.g. mulched).
Comes into bearing after 3-4 years.
It is important to thin crops on this rootstock otherwise fruit size can be small.
Krymsk 1 / VVA-1 Medium: 2.5-3m 3m between trees Bush
Small Fan
VVA-1 (also known as Krymsk 1) is a new rootstock for plum trees, increasingly used by commercial growers. It produces a tree with similar proportions to the the well-known Pixy rootstock, but sometimes with better fruit size.
Plumina Medium: 2.5-3m 3m between trees Bush
Small Fan
Produces a tree with a similar size to the Pixy rootstock, but with better fruit size.
Wavit Large 3m 3,5m between trees Bush
Central leader
Large Fan
Produces a free-standing tree, similar or slightly smaller than St. Julien. Slightly more precocious than St. Julien - comes into bearing in the 3rd or 4th year
St. Julien A Large: 3m-3.5m 3.5m-4m between trees Bush
Central leader
Half-standard
Large Fan
The most widely-planted general-purpose plum rootstock in the UK, suitable for both free-standing trees and fans.
Produces a tree which is roughly comparable in size to the apple MM106 rootstock.
Comes into bearing after 3-5 years.
This rootstock is also widely used for apricots, peaches and nectarines.
Jaspi Large: 3m-3.5m 3.5m-4m between trees Bush
Central leader
Half-standard
Large Fan
A relatively new rootstock for plums, similar in vigour to St. Julien A, but with better resistance to standing water.
Brompton 5m+ 7m between trees Standard Brompton is the best choice if you want a traditional large standard plum tree.

Rootstocks for Cherry trees

Gisela 5 Medium: 2.5-3m 3m between trees Bush
Small Fan
The best choice for growing a cherry tree in the garden.
Comes into bearing after 3-4 years.
Likely to require staking for at least 5 years.
Ground around the tree should be kept weed-free (e.g. mulched).
Roughly equivalent to the apple M26 rootstock.
Gisela 6 Large: 3m-4m 3m between trees Bush
Fan
Similar to Gisela 5, but produces a larger tree, and does not require such good soil conditions.
Roughly equivalent to the apple MM106 rootstock.
Krymsk 5 Large: 3m-4m 3m between trees Bush
Fan
Similar to Gisela 6, but more cold-hardy, and less likely to cause over-cropping.
Colt Large: 3.5m-4.5m 4m - 5m between trees Bush
Half-standard
Large Fan
Roughly equivalent to the apple MM111 rootstock and a good choice for larger gardens and traditional orchards.
F12/1 Full size: 6m or more 6m between trees Standard F12/1 is a seedling cherry rootstock, sometimes known as Mazzard. Comes into full production after about 7 years, and eventually becomes a large standard tree.

Rootstocks for Peaches, Nectarines, Apricot trees

Wavit Medium: 3m 3.5m between trees Bush
Fan
Primarily a rootstock for plums, but also works well for apricots, peaches, and nectarines.
Torinel Large: 3m-3.5m 3.5m - 4m between trees Bush
Half-standard
Fan
Similar in most respects to the St. Julien A rootstock but has better disease resistance and tolerance of waterlogging. Torinel can also be used for plums.
Apricor Large: 3m-3.5m 3.5m - 4m between trees Bush
Half-standard
Fan
As the name suggests this rootstock is used exclusively for apricots - it is an apricot seedling so compatibility is very good. Vigour is similar to the St. Julien A rootstock.
Krymsk 86 Large 3.5m-4m 4m between trees Bush, Half-standard, Fan This is a semi-vigorous cold-hardy peach / plum hybrid rootstock, which can also be used for almonds. It has a wide-spreading root system.

Age at which the tree will start to bear fruit

The information in the table above is based on age of the tree, not the age when you plant it. Thus if you buy a 2 year old tree, and the likely bearing age is 3-4 years, in theory you will only have to wait 1-2 years to get some fruit. However the age at which a tree starts to bear is not just determined by the rootstock, but also by the variety, and the conditions where you plant it and the way you start to train it - so you may be pleasantly surprised or you may have to wait longer than you expected! It is also worth noting that 1-year trees generally suffer less of a check to growth when transplanted from the nursery to your garden than 2-year old trees.

Further information about rootstocks

Introduction to Fruit Tree Rootstocks

Rootstock size class matrix

Fruit tree planting spacings