We are often asked about columnar fruit trees such as minarettes®, supercolumns and cordons, and ballerina® fruit trees.
Ballerina® apple trees
The key feature of Ballerina® apple trees is that they are not a trained form (like cordons or minarettes) but are a group of naturally columnar apple varieties.
There are several varieties of Ballerina apple trees but they are all descended from a common ancester - McIntosh Wijcik. Wijcik is a sport (natural mutation) of the well-known McIntosh apple variety (most commonly represented in the UK by one of its offspring, Spartan).
Ballerina trees all inherit this natural mutation, first seen in Wijcik, which causes them to grow as a single pole-like stem, with short or non-existent side branches. Ballarinas have the tightest columnar form of all the variations discussed here.
Ballerinas therefore have quite a striking ornamental effect in the garden. They are also fairly easy to maintain in the columnar shape because this is the natural way they grow.
The disadvantage is that the range of Ballerina trees is quite limited, we offer just 2-3 varieties, e.g. Flamenco. The original Wijcik variety also has a fairly lacklustre flavour, although the newer varieties have been crossed with mainstream apples and have better flavours. Even so Ballerina apple trees are perhaps best considered for their ornamental value as much as for fruit production.
Minarette® fruit trees and Supercolumn fruit trees
Minarettes® and Supercolumns are regular apple or pear varieties that have been closely-pruned in the nursery to achieve a columnar effect. Unlike Ballerina apple trees, they are not a specific variety but rather a style of pruning and training.
Minarette and Supercolumn fruit trees are also (and perhaps more correctly) known as vertical cordons.
Most (but not all) apple and pear varieties can be trained in this way, so the range of potential varieties is much wider than for Ballerinas, and includes dessert and culinary varieties. This also means that flavours and yields are potentially better than for Ballerina apple varieties.
Unlike Ballerinas, these trees require regular summer pruning to maintain their shape. If they are not regularly pruned they will eventually revert back to being normal fruit trees.
It is technically possible to train plums, cherries, nectarines, peaches or apricots as minarettes or supercolumns. However the growth and fruiting habit of these stone-fruits is not as well-suited to the regular pruning which is required to maintain the columnar form, and their natural vigour can also be an issue. Pruning is generally not advised for stone fruit because it provides an entry point for fungal infections which are a particular problem for these species. If you really want to try, then a disease-resistant plum grafted on VVA1 rootstock is probably the best option.
Minarettes and Supercolumns usually require a stake or some other support.
Cordon fruit trees
A cordon is any fruit tree which is closely pruned to concentrate fruiting along the main stem of the tree. Cordons may be planted either vertically (in which case they are sometimes known as minarettes or supercolumns) or at a slanting angle (in which case they may be known as oblique cordons).
Oblique cordons are generally more productive than minarettes or supercolumns because the slope of the stem mimics the angle of a branch on a regular fruit tree when laden with fruit. (As a general principle with fruit trees, horizontal growth is fruitful, vertical growth is vegetative). Fruit quality is often very good with cordons, particuarly if planted on a north-south axis with the top of the tree pointing north, as sunlight can easily penetrate all parts of the tree to aid the ripening process.
Whilst minarettes and supercolumns are usually grown as free-standing trees (supported by a stake), cordons are usually grown against a wall or supported by a trellis. They can be planted quite close, 80cm if necessary (or 2ft - 3ft). A collection of 4-5 oblique cordons makes an attractive and productive feature in the garden.
Like minarettes and supercolumns, cordons will revert to being normal trees if they are not regularly summer-pruned.
Regardless of the term used, cordon training is more suitable for apples and pears - plums and cherries are not usually grown in this style because they do not suit the ongoing pruning necessary to maintain the form.
Whilst most fruit tree cordons consist of a single long stem, other more exotic forms are possible, including U-cordons, triple cordons, and cordons with even more arms.
Summary of columnar fruit tree forms
- All these columnar forms make an attractive feature in the garden, particularly if planted in groups.
- Ballerinas® are apple varieties that naturally grow in a pole-like columnar form. They are easy to maintain, but the flavour is arguably not as good as many mainstream apple varieties.
- Minarettes® and Supercolumns are a form of cordon, grown vertically. Most apple or pear varieties can be grown in this fashion, but they require more maintenance than the other columnar forms. Plums and cherries can be grown this way too but the risk of disease entry from pruning cuts makes them less suitable.
- Cordons are apple or pear trees trained in a columnar fashion. For best productivity and easier maintenance, they are usually planted at an oblique angle.
We have a range of fruit trees available as cordons, suitable for both vertical or oblique planting.