Fruit tree sizes and formats

Once you have decided on the varieties you are interested in you will need to decide which format you want your trees supplied as. This page will help you to decide which is best for your purposes.

Fruit tree forms

1-year trees - "maidens"

Most of our bare-root fruit trees are supplied as 1-year old "maidens" - this means they will arrive as a single flexible stem between 1m and 1.75m in height.

Some varieties will have naturally produced some initial side-branches, known as "feathers", but most will not.

This is the most versatile format since the tree can be trained into almost any style you require, and is definitely recommended if you intend to train the tree as a fan or espalier, or if you want to grow your tree in one of the styles which require the central leader to be retained (e.g. pyramids or spindles).

1-year bush-trained trees

We also have a number of 1-year trees which have already had some initial training, with a branched open-centre head. This gives a bit of a head-start over the 1-year maiden tree, provided you want to grow an open-centred tree.

2-year bush-trees

Most of our container-grown fruit trees are 2 years old, and supplied as branched "bush" trees. This means they have had some initial training, with a length of clear stem (usually 40-45cm) and a branched head, so that the tree will grow in the shape of a wine glass, which is the most versatile and attractive form for garden purposes. The advantage of the short-stem is that as it grows the main framework of the tree remains fairly close to the ground, making picking easier.

For some varieties we also have 2 year bush trees available bare-root as well.

This initial formative training in the nursery gets the tree off to a good start and is ideal if you do not want to do too much pruning and training yourself. (For this reason, a bush-trained container-grown tree is often a better bet if you are giving the tree as a gift to a friend or relative).

In general the bush-tree is the most popular style of fruit tree for most gardens, and it is suitable for a wide range of mature tree heights from dwarf trees of only 2m / 6ft to vigorous trees of 4.5m / 15ft or more.

2-year trees

This category covers many of our container-grown ornamental fruiting trees. Depending on the variety and species they will have many side branches, and are intended to be grown on in the garden as feature trees. In most cases these 2-year ornamental trees will produce blossom and/or some fruit in the first year after planting.

Spindle-bush / Knip trees

We sometimes buy in commercial-grade spindle-bush trees, which have the central leader retained, and side-shoots already started at around waist height. These trees have been produced for commercial orchards, so they are very productive and should start fruiting in the year of planting.

Patio trees

Some of our container-grown fruit trees as 2 year old patio-trained trees. These are usually varieties which are naturally suited to growing in a patio container or pot.


A half-standard is typically used where a specimen tree is needed for the garden, or for a small orchard where a traditional appearance is required.

The trees are 2-years old, and grafted on semi-vigorous rootstocks and have been trained with a clear stem of about 1m and a branched head.

Premium half-standards have extra frutbud-pruning, which should encourage some fruit to appear the first summer after planting.

Standard 1.75m

"Standards" are the trees you see in old-fashioned traditional orchards. They usually have a 6ft / 1.75m clear stem before the branches start, and over the course of a decade or so will gradually become very large attractive trees. A good definition of a standard tree is one that you can walk under - or cattle can graze under.

We do not supply standards as such, since it takes several years to achieve the 6ft clear stem, but we have 2-year bare-root trees on vigorous rootstocks which have had the necessary initial training and are intended to be grown-on as standards. At the end of their second autumn in the nursery these trees are "headed" at about 1.75m, which will stimulate side growth the following spring at the correct height for a standard tree. They are supplied with a clear stem of about 1.2m and any side branches above this height will be pruned back, with the aim of encouraging extension growth in the top of the tree in the summer after planting. Customers then have the option to prune out branches below the desired height the following winter to "lift" the canopy to the desired height. The total height of the tree (including roots) as supplied by us will be about 2m.


We offer some fruit tree varieties trained as container-grown or bare-root cordons. These trees are intended to be planted out at 45 degrees as oblique cordons. They are pruned in the nursery over a 2 year period to create the fruiting spurs necessary for this style of cultivation. Only varieties which are suitable for cordon training are offered in this format.

Premium cordons have additional fruitbud pruning in their final year in the nursery, which should ensure fruiting in the first summer after planting.

2-year Fans and Espaliers

We have a small range of espalier and fan-trained fruit trees, which have been pre-trained on a cane framework over a 2-year period in the nursery. See this page for more details.

Mature fruit trees

We generally do not supply trees older than 3 years, because older trees are much more difficult to transplant successfully. It is very important to get a fruit tree established in its final location before it reaches "adulthood" and stops growing. This is different to ornamental trees which will often continue growing for many years (oaks being the obvious example). Planting fruit trees is a long-term investment and unfortunately there are no short-cuts. The only reliable way to get that feature pear tree in your lawn or that established apple espalier growing up the side of your house is to be decisive and plant a young tree now - and then enjoy watching it grow and transform into a lovely mature tree.

Summary of Fruit Tree Forms

The following table summarises the formats we offer:

Form Description
12L container fruit tree - bush-trained A "bush" is a fruit tree that has been trained with branches starting at a height of about 18" (45cm) from the ground and growing outwards and upwards in the shape of a wine glass. This is generally the best style for garden fruit trees. The term "bush" refers to the style of training, not the eventual height of the tree. These trees are 2-years old and are summer-pruned to promote flowering the following year. The stem is likely to be 2.5cm diameter / 8cm girth - although this varies considerably depending on variety and rootstock.
12L container fruit tree - half-standard 1m clear stem, with shaped head, intended for use as a specimen or lawn tree.
12L container ornamental tree 2-years old, well-feathered.
12L container fruit tree - cordon-trained Spur pruned up to 6 times as a cordon to produce the necessary fruiting spurs for fruit production the year after planting.
7L container fruit tree These are mostly 2-year old trees, usually trained with branches starting at about 18" (45cm) from the ground, and intended to be planted as regular garden or orchard trees.
3L container fruit tree - maiden 1-year old. Height 1m-2m depending on variety and rootstock. Some may have side branches (feathers) but this depends on the variety and rootstock - most varieties will produce a single un-feathered stem. Some varieties (e.g. plums) will be pruned in early summer to prevent excessive weak growth of the stem.
11.5L container patio-trained 2 years old. Trained to suit subsequent planting in a patio container or pot, although they can equally be planted in open ground.
10L container step-over 2 years old. Should produce fruit the first season after planting. Not available by mail-order.
12L container fan or espalier 2 years old. Fans have at least 4 main arms, espaliers have at least 2 tiers and a central leader.
Bare-root tree - maiden Height 1m-2m depending on variety and rootstock. Some may have side branches (feathers) but this depends on the variety and rootstock - most varieties will produce a single un-feathered stem - sometimes known as a "whip".
Bare-root tree - bush 2-years old. 75cm clear stem with a shaped head.
Bare-root tree - cordon-trained 2-years old. Spur-pruned twice to encourage fruiting spurs for the following season.
Bare-root tree - half-standard 2 years old on semi-vigorous rootstocks. 1m clear stem with a shaped head.
Standard 1.75m 2-years old on vigorous rootstocks. Topped at 1.75m and suitable for growing on as a standard.
Bare-root fan/espalier 1-year old, with a strong central stem and 2 embryonic side branches.
Spindle-bush 2-years old, 3-year root system. Side-shoots optimally placed for maximum production. Unlike the "bush" forms described above, a spindle-bush tree has the central leader retained.

Mature height of fruit trees

The size information we provide (such as "small" or "medium") relates to the mature size of the tree - not the size of the tree as we supply it. Regardless of the expected mature size of the tree, as supplied it is likely to be 1m - 1.75m in height, because at this young age most trees tend to be similar in size. On rare occasions we may cut the tree down in order to fit into our carriers' packaging. If this is necessary, it is done just prior to shipping and does not affect the growth of the tree - in fact in the case of bare-root trees it is good practice to prune the tree just after transplanting anyway.

The most important thing to consider when selecting a fruit tree is how big you ultimately want it to be - its mature height. The mature height is affected by many factors but the main one is the rootstock on which the tree has been propagated. A typical apple tree, growing in the wild on its own "seedling" roots, might reach a height of 5m-6m. A wild cherry tree will be even larger. By propagating the desired variety onto size-controlling rootstocks, the final height can be limited to something more suitable for a garden or small orchard.

Rootstocks are usually derived from related species of trees which are naturally smaller - or more "dwarfing". For example, pear trees are often grafted on to rootstocks derived from quinces which are closely related to pears but produce smaller trees. Apple trees are usually grafted on to rootstocks derived from related Malus species. For more information about rootstocks see this page.

The rootstock also has a big influence on the time it takes the fruit tree to reach its mature height. In general, the more dwarfing the rootstock the quicker the tree will mature. Apples on the extremely dwarfing M27 rootstock may reach their mature height and spread within 2-3 years - which of course means you will be enjoying full crops relatively quickly. Apple trees grown on the MM106 rootstock will take longer (and be bigger of course) - perhaps 5-8 years, but will start bearing a useful crop after 4 years or so. Rates are different for different species, plums for example generally take a couple of years longer than apples to reach maturity.

The next most important factor which will determine the mature size of the tree is the natural vigour of the fruit variety. For example, Bramley's Seedling is a vigorous variety, and grown in the same conditions and on the same rootstock as, say, a Rubinette, is likely to produce a larger tree.

Other factors influencing the mature size of the tree are the local conditions that you provide after planting - soil, climate, annual temperatures, and cultivation techniques. Different varieties have different preferences, and one variety may thrive whilst another struggles in your particular conditions.

We provide approximate mature heights as a guide, but please bear in mind all the above information when deciding what size meets your requirements. If you need advice please use our enquiry form and we will be happy to help.

You might also want to try the Tree Height Calculator. This calculator makes an allowance not only for the rootstock, but also the natural vigour of the chosen variety, the condition of your soil and your local climate.

Fruit tree formats

Our fruit trees are generally supplied in containers or as bare-root trees. The trees are labelled, but we do not show prices on the labels. Photos of trees as supplied.

For more details on the merits of each format see our page on bare-root vs container trees.