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.

Summary of Fruit Tree Forms

The following table summarises the formats we offer. Detailed specification notes are provided below the table. Fruit trees are usually measured by height, not girth (which is more usual for ornamental trees).

Form Dimensions as supplied Description
12L container fruit tree - bush-trained

45cm clear stem

110cm minimum height

This is generally the best format for garden fruit trees. The term "bush" refers to the style of training, not the eventual height of the tree. Age: 2 years. Minimum of 3 main shoots. Grown for the first year in the field and the second year in container*.
12L container fruit tree - half-standard

80cm clear stem

150cm minimum height

Intended for use as a specimen or lawn tree. Age: 2 years. Minimum of 3 main shoots. Grown for the first year in the field and the second year in container*.
12L container ornamental tree 150cm minimum height For most varieties this will be a traditional half-standard form, but reflecting the natural proportions of the species. Age: 2 years to 5 years depending on species.
12L container fruit tree - cordon-trained

40cm clear stem

140cm minimum height

2 year old Spur-pruned to produce the necessary fruiting spurs for fruit production the year after planting.
7L container fruit tree See text These are mostly 2-year old hazel and specialist fruit trees, trained with branches starting at about 18" (45cm) from the ground, and intended to be planted as regular garden or orchard trees. Age: 2 years.
11.5L container patio-trained

Minimum height 100cm

Trained to suit subsequent planting in a patio container or pot, although they can equally be planted in open ground. Age: 2 years. Minimum of 3 main shoots.
10L container step-over

Single tier at about 45cm

90cm wide

Should produce fruit the first season after planting. Age: 2 years.
12L container fan or espalier Minimum 100cm wide and 100cm high These trees are 2 years old. Fans have at least 4 main arms and a central shoot. Espaliers have at least 2 tiers and a central stem which can be grown on to produce further tiers.
Bare-root tree - maiden Height varies from 100cm - 200cm A 1 year tree. Some may have side branches (feathers) but this depends on the variety and rootstock - most varieties will produce a single un-feathered stem (whip).
Bare-root tree - bush 110cm minimum height 2-years old with a minimum of 3 main shoots.
Bare-root tree - cordon-trained

40cm clear stem

120cm minimum height

2-years old. Spur-pruned twice to encourage fruiting spurs for the following season.
Bare-root tree - half-standard

80cm clear stem

Minimum height 160cm

2 years old, grafted on semi-vigorous rootstocks, with a minimum of 3 main shoots.
Standard 1.75m 90cm clear stem 2-years old, grafted on vigorous rootstocks. Topped at 1.75m and suitable for growing on as a standard.
Spindle-bush 2-years old, 3-year root system, dwarfing rootstock. Grown using the Dutch "knip-boom" technique with the central leader retained.

*Except in the case of plum trees, which are usually grown for 2 years in the field, and then potted in late autumn into a 12L netted container. This "pot-net" treatment is much reliable than regular containers in the case of plum trees.

Fruit tree forms and specifications

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, and are known as "feathered maidens", but most will not, and are known as maiden whips. Note that it is not possible to supply maiden whips for varieties that produce feathers.

The maiden tree is the most versatile of all the forms we supply, since it 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).

2-year bush-trees

The majority of our container-grown and bare-root 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 40-50cm) and a branched head with a minimum of 4 main shoots. The minimum height is 1.1m although most varieties will be taller than this on the more vigorous rootstocks The tree will grow in the shape of a wine glass or vase, which is a 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.

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 good choice 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. Although the word "bush" implies it will be a small shrub, this is not so - the term relates to the vase-like shape of the tree.

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. The trees are cut back at the end of the first year, and then re-grown in the second year - a technique developed by Dutch growers, hence the term "knip" which means "cut". 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 are available as 2 year old patio-trained trees. These are usually varieties which are naturally suited to growing in a patio container or pot. You do not have to plant them in a patio container though - they are still perfectly suitable for planting in open ground.

Half-standard trees

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

The trees are 2-years old, grafted on semi-vigorous rootstocks. They have a minimum height as supplied of 1.5m, and are trained with a clear stem of 80cm and a branched head with at least 4 main shoots. As the tree grows you should be able to achieve a mature clear stem of 1.2m - 1.5m depending on the variety.

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

Standard 1.75m tree

"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. However we offer a range of 2-year bare-root trees on vigorous rootstocks which have had the necessary initial training suitable 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 90cm 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, and as the tree grows, the stem can be progressively cleared each winter to "lift" the canopy to the eventual 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, intended to be planted out at 45 degrees as oblique cordons. These trees have a 40cm clear stem and a minimum height of 1.2m and 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 second 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.

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.

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.