Fruit tree species
Apple trees are generally easy to grow, and because there are so many apple varieties there is invariably a good choice for almost any growing situation, from cool temperate to subtropical.
Apples are perhaps the most versatile of all temperate fruits, and one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits. Almost all cultivated apple varieties belong to the species Malus domestica, and are botanically part of the Rose family - apple blossom has an obvious resemblance to wild rose flowers. Apples trees were one of the earliest fruit trees to be cultivated, and originate from central Asia. There are now thousands of different apple cultivars or varieties.
Apples display perhaps a greater range of flavours, appearance, and texture than any other tree fruits. This diversity makes apples a particularly satisifying fruit for home cultivation. Without much difficulty (or space) one can grow a number of different apple trees which will keep a family supplied with fresh apples from mid-summer to late autumn, and with a good spread of flavours and uses.
Many countries have a tradition of apple varieties grown specifically for the production of cider (hard cider in North America). These varieties are generally not edible, but are grown for the qualities of their juice.
Cider production usually relies on a blend of different cider apples, and cider varieties are divided into four groups on the characteristics of the juice they produce:
|Higher tannin||Bitter sweet||Bitter sharp|
Some mainstream apple varieties can also be used for cider production or in cider blends, and a number of Crab apples are also useful for cider blends.
Crab apples (Ornamental malus) are very closely related to apples, being part of the same genus Malus. The only difference between an apple and a crabapple is the size of the fruit, and it is usually considered that any apple variety with a fruit size of less than 2" is a crabapple.
Crab apple trees are grown primarily for their ornamental value. This starts in spring with a profusion of attractive blossom, which is often scented. The brightly coloured ornamental fruits hang attractively on the tree throughout autumn, providing colour in the garden and a source of food for birds. Some varieties also have attractive bronze leaves.
Most crab apples are edible - although rather unpalatable for eating fresh. However many varieties are valuable for cooking - crab apples contain large amounts of pectin, and are useful in the kitchen for making fruit jellies. Several varieties are also useful for cider blends.
The prolific blossom also makes most crab apples excellent pollinators for all other apple and cider-apple varieties - they typically produce five to ten times more pollen than a typical apple tree. The blossom is also usually more long-lasting than that of normal apples, and spans several of the mainstream apple flowering groups. Crab apples are naturally precocious and will often start producing blossom and fruit in their 2nd or 3rd years.
If you are new to growing fruit trees, plum trees make an excellent choice. Plum trees are easy to grow - usually easier than apples and pears - and require very little training or pruning. The only horticultural challenge is that plums flower quite early in spring, so locations that are prone to frosts are best avoided (or choose a late-flowering or frost-resistant variety). They thrive in most conditions, but they prefer water-retentive soils, and mulching is therefore particularly important for plum trees - farmyard manure is ideal.
Unlike most apples and pears, many plum varieties are self-fertile or partially self-fertile and do not need a pollination partner. For plum varieties that are not self-fertile, another plum tree of a different variety flowering at the same time is usually all that is necessary to ensure good pollination and heavy crops - there are few of the pollination incompatibilities found with apples, pears and cherries.
Plums are also more nutrient-rich than apples or pears, and comparable to some other "superfoods" such as blueberries. Although plum trees do suffer from a range of diseases, they seem to catch them less often than other fruit varieties. Most important of all, the flavour of ripe home-grown plums is vastly superior to shop-bought fruit. Indeed in our opinion freshly-picked dessert plums can offer the most exquisite sweet flavours of any fruit available from the temperate garden.
We offer mostly 'European' plum trees - from the species Prunus domestica. European plums have a much better and more interesting range of flavours than the 'Japanese' plums usually found in supermarkets. Most garden plum trees in Northern Europe are of this species, and they are well suited to temperate climates, being hardier than the Japanese varieties and flowering later. Whilst European plums do not store particularly well, the fruit usually ripens over a 1-2 week period, during which time the tree can be picked daily to ensure a steady supply of fruit.
There is also a sub-group of European plums known as Gages, usually ranked within the species Prunus domestica, but sometimes sub-categorised as the "Reine Claude" group. Gage trees look similar to plum trees but the fruits are smaller and rounder than European plums, and either green or golden/yellow in colour. Gage trees prefer slightly warmer growing conditions than other European plums to bring out their full flavour, and their natural home is France - but they can be grown in any temperate climate. Gages are renowned for their unique distinctive rich-sweet flavour, .
The plums most commonly found year-round in supermarkets are Japanese plums of the species Prunus salicina. Compared to European plums (Prunus domestica) they are usually larger and and more spherical, and have a longer shelf-life.
Japanese plum trees need a warm climate without spring frosts, and with hot summers to grow successfully - they are grown commercially in California, Chile, and southern Europe. They can be grown successfully in the sunnier drier parts of the UK.
Despite the name Japanese plums originated in China where they have been known for thousands of years. Their cultivation spread via Japan to California in the 19th century, where they quickly became an important commercial crop. Many of the most popular Japanese plum varieties were developed in California.
Damsons are primarily grown for use in the kitchen - if you can find the space it is definitely worth having at least one damson tree in your fruit tree collection.
Damsons have a distinctive rich flavour, similar but quite different to plums. They are superb for making jams, jellies, crumbles, and pies.
Damsons trees belong to the species Prunus insititia, which also includes Bullaces, St. Juliens, and Mirabelles. Damsons originate from Damascus in Syria and the name comes from the term "Damascene plum". This might suggest they need a Mediterranean climate, but in fact damson trees grow very easily in cold climates or situations where other plum tree species might not flourish. In the UK the centre of commercial damson production is the Lyth valley in Cumbria, north-west England, notable for its wet climate. However, although they can succeed in areas where sunlight is not plentiful, damson trees do not grow well if they are shaded.
Damson trees are therefore a reliable source of fresh fruit in climates where other fruit trees may not succeed. They are also amongst the easiest of fruit trees to grow, needing no pruning once they are established - indeed pruning is not only unnecessary but undesirable with damsons.
All damsons are reasonably self-fertile, but will crop better with another tree of a different variety planted nearby. Most plum trees are also suitable pollinators.
Another characteristic of most damsons is that they have a clinging stone - the flesh adheres to the stone.
Mirabelles and Cherry Plums are closely related to the common European plum, and there are numerous other hybrid plum-like species related to them. All are easy to grow, and the fruits are are versatile for eating fresh or cooking.
Mirabelles are a type of plum, and are a common sight in French markets in August. The fruit is very small, the size of large cherries, and typically either bright red or golden yellow. Mirabelles can be eaten fresh, but are primarily used for making jams and similar preserves, as well as fruit tarts. They are also the plum species most often used in plum brandy and similar plum-based spirits.
Mirabelles are usually classified as Prunus insititia, along with Damsons and Bullaces (although they are sweeter than these fruits), but are sometimes also classified as a variety of the common European Plum (Prunus domestica v. syriaca).
Cherry Plums are very similar to Mirabelles, in fact often indistinguishable. Cherry Plums are usually categorised in a related species - Prunus cerasifera.
Regardless of the classification, Mirabelles and Cherry Plums make an interesting addition to the garden or orchard.
Mirabelle and Cherry Plum trees are hardy and grow well throughout Europe. Like the other minor plum species, they have good disease resistance.
Mirabelles are partially self-fertile but will set a better crop if another mirabelle is planted nearby. Reflecting their close relationship, Mirabelles will also cross-pollinate with most European plums and damsons if they flower at the same time - they usually overlap with most early and mid-season blooming plums.
Cherry Plums are generally fully self-fertile, and flower very early in the spring. They will also cross-pollinate other plum varieties - usually only the earliest blooming - that are in flower at the same time.
Asian pears belong to the species Pyrus pyrifolia and are closely related to our more common European pears (Pyrus communis). Asian pears are also known as Nashi pears, Chinese pears or Japanese pears - as the names suggest, this species originates in eastern Asia.
Despite the close relation, Asian pears have a very different character to European pears. They have a spherical shape, more like an apple than a pear. The flesh is also crisp like an apple.
The fruits are delicate and bruise easily, and hence are not often available in shops, so growing them at home is a good idea. They are usually eaten fresh (and usually peeled), and have a distinctive very sweet flavour, with little or no acidity. The fruits and can be stored in a fridge for a couple of months, or dried or frozen.
Like apples, and unlike most European pears, Asian pears are picked when they are ripe (European pears must usually be picked before they are ripe). Conversely, Asian pears cannot be picked before they are ripe because they will not continue to ripen after picking - another reason why these fruits are rarely available for sale.
Although the fruits may be very different, Asian pears grow in a similar way to European pears, and if you have a location which is good for European pears it will also be suitable for Asian pears. Furthermore, Asian pears can be pollinated by European pears, provided the flowering dates overlap. Pollination is not always necessary though, since most Asian pears have some self-fertility - but if you have another (different) Asian pear or European pear nearby that should help.
For Asian pear enthusiasts, size matters! It is important that the fruits should be as large as possible, and this is achieved by thinning the fruitlets in June, allowing just one fruit per cluster.
Although primarily grown for their fruit, Asian pears have attractive blossom and the fruits themselves also have an ornamental appeal as they ripen on the tree.
Pears are related to apples, and most of the horticultural requirements and challenges of apples apply also to growing pear trees. However pear trees are a bit more demanding than apple trees - they prefer slightly warmer conditions and are a bit less tolerant of soil and situation, and crop yields are lower.
On the plus side, pear trees are less susceptible to the various pests and diseases commonly experienced with apples.
When it comes to flavour, pears have an aura of exclusivity which you don't tend to find in apples.
Most pears are classified as dessert pears - good for eating fresh, but also useful for culinary purposes too. We also have some specialist culinary pears too.
Unlike apples, pears cannot be ripened on the tree. This is because pears ripen from the inside out, so by the time it looks ripe the flesh will actually be over-ripe. The time to pick is when the pears are still hard, but the stalk snaps readily from the branch with little effort. Then, put the newly-picked pears straight into a fridge - allow a day or so for summer pears, and 3-4 weeks for the longest-keeping winter pears. Finally, place them in a fruit bowl and allow them about a week to ripen to perfection. Oregon State University has a very good article on how pears ripen.
Pears are fundamentally self-sterile so will require a pollination partner, in other words a compatible pear tree of a different variety growing nearby. Even the varieties we list as self-fertile will be far more productive with a pollination partner. Conference is probably the most reliably self-fertile pear.
Pears and Perry pears are the same species and will cross-pollinate if the flowering times overlap. Conversely, the various ornamental pears such as Chanticleer, do not seem to be good pollinators of fruiting pears.
Most pear varieties are supplied on quince rootstocks. These help keep the size under control but they are very demanding of water during the spring, and regular watering is very important for the successful establishment of new pear trees.
Perry is a traditional drink made from fermented pear juice, and in recent years has enjoyed a resurgence in interest, along with its cousin cider. Perry is now sometimes called pear cider and although this is incorrect, the term seems to have made it more accessible to consumers.
As with cider apples, perry pears are used specifically for the qualities of their juice and cannot be eaten.
Perry pears are closely related to mainstream pears, and will cross-pollinate with them, and both are classified in the species Pyrus communis. However it is likely that perry pears are a distinct sub-species.
If grown on seedling rootstocks perry pears can be very long-lived, as well as growing to a considerable height and spread.
Perry production has a very long history in England, but has tended to be less widespread than cider production, and until recently the vast majority of perry orchards were to be found in a small area of western England, mainly in Gloucestershire. Perry pears are also found in the traditional French cider growing areas, but the French drink is produced in a different way to English perry.
Quince trees produce are versatile pear-like fruits used for culinary purposes - use them in the same way you would apples or pears. They are particularly good for preserves, and a small amount of stewed quince also gives an interesting lift to many apple-based recipes. The blossom and fruits are very attractive.
The quince originates from south-west Asia, but has been widely grown throughout Europe since classical times, and were introduced to England from France in the 13th century or earlier. The English word "quince" derives from the French word "cognassier". Quinces were also established in the American colonies, and many of today's quince varieties are American.
Quince trees prefer warm climates, as found in central Europe. They can be grown successfully in most of the milder areas of England, but to get the best yields it really helps to plant them in a sheltered spot in full sun with a south-facing aspect.
All quinces are self-fertile, so you only need to plant one tree. However, pollination must still occur in order to set fruit, and this requires warm dry weather at flowering time - which is often not the case in the UK climate, and is one of the main reasons why site selection is so important for successful quince production.
Quince trees are usually grown as open-centred bush-style trees, a form which best suits the attractively contorted way in which they tend to grow. They can also be trained as fans against south-facing walls or fences, and this is a good technique for getting the best cropping and flavour in the UK. Quinces produce fruit on the tips of shoots so they are not suitable for training as espaliers, cordons, or step-overs.
Quince trees are generally slow-growing but very long-lived - and the trees become more attractive as they age. The first fruits are borne after 3-5 years.
All our quince trees are grafted on Quince A (semi-vigorous) or Quince C (semi-dwarf) rootstocks. Quinces are clearly related to pears but they produce smaller and more spreading trees than pears, and for this reason pears are usually grafted on to quince rootstocks to produce trees of more manageable proportions.
Quince trees benefit from a general purpose plant food in late winter, and young trees in particular should have a good layer of mulch to suppress weeds and keep the roots moist - they like slightly damp conditions for their roots. If you can provide a sunny sheltered spot with moist soil you should be successful. Quinces are relatively easy to grow, as they are nearly all self-fertile or partially self-fertile. Being tip-bearers they need minimal pruning.
Quinces should stored in a cool place after picking (preferably with natural light, it does not need to be dark), to allow the fruit to mature and the fragrant flavour to develop - they can be used after a month or so. It is best to store them away from other fruits unless you want them also to pick up the fragrance of the quinces.
Cherries are perhaps the most diverse member of the genus Prunus, which includes other popular stone fruits such as plums, peaches, and apricots. There are two main types, the sweet cherry Prunus avium (best for eating fresh) and the acid or sour cherry Prunus cerasus (best for culinary use).
Cherry trees are generally easy to grow, but sweet cherries like sun, so choose a sunny aspect when planting. All cherries prefer well-drained soil, so avoid areas that are prone to water-logging. The most serious disease affecting cherry trees is bacterial canker, and this tends to be more aggressive in wet soils.
The other main horticultural challenge is bird protection. It's a foregone conclusion that birds will get your cherry crop before you do, because they are prepared to eat slightly un-ripe cherries whereas humans are not. However the simple precaution of netting the trees just before the harvest will solve this problem - on very large and inaccessible trees drape a net over some of the lower branches, allowing the birds to take their share from the higher branches.
Cherry trees do not need much attention as they grow, a simple mulch to keep the area free of weeds is sufficient. Once fruiting begins the mulch remains important, and should be extended to match the spread of the branches, because it acts as a sponge and therefore helps prevent fruit-splitting after heavy downpours. You should also apply compost and/or manure during the winter to supply the tree with the nutrients it needs for growth and fruiting.
Provided you can keep the birds off, cherry trees make a good choice for the garden because cherries are a fruit that is best eaten straight from the tree - sweet cherries do not keep more than a day or so and the flavour fades very rapidly. Shop-bought cherries are often quite expensive, and can never be as fresh as those you pick from your own tree.
Sweet cherry varieties can be crudely classified into two groups: traditional English, and modern. The traditional English varieties are in fact mostly of central European origin (and have very un-English names) but were the mainstay of cherry orchards in Kent for the first half of the 20th century or earlier. These varieties are typified by good traditional cherry flavours, but are not particularly easy to grow and often have complicated pollination requirements.
Some other terms that often arise with cherries:
- White cherries. This refers to the flesh rather than skin colour. Whilst most cherries have a dark flesh, white cherries have a white or pale yellow flesh, usually with an excellent flavour. Most white cherries are old traditional varieties.
- Black cherries. Whereas "white" refers to the flesh colour, "black", in cherry terminology, refers to the skin colour, which may vary from very dark red to true black. Black cherries are sought after for their very attractive appearance.
- Bigarreau. This means a firm-fleshed variety (as opposed to a soft flesh).
- Heart. Whilst most cherries are spherical, many have a distinct heart-like shape
Modern cherry development is now an international affair but is still dominated by the Summerland research station in British Columbia, Canada, which kicked off the development of self-fertile cherry varieties in the 1940s. The most famous of these new varieties is Stella but there are many others (often starting with an "S"-sound, such as Sweetheart, Sunburst, and Celeste). Whilst they lack the tradition and romance associated with the older English varieties, the flavours are still excellent and their self-fertility and easier horticultural characteristics make them a much better choice for the gardener with space for only one or two cherry trees.
Apricots trees belong to the species Prunus armeniaca, and originate from central Asia, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years. Most commercial production takes place in Turkey, southern Europe, and California.
Apricots have excellent nutritional and medicinal properties, and contain more concentrations of beneficial compounds than most other fruit. They are one of the best natural sources of Vitamin A.
Apricot trees are easy to grow in warm climates but can be a more challenging in temperate climates such as much of the UK and northern Europe. The main problem is not winter cold - all Apricots are very hardy - but inconsistent and variable weather, especially in late autumn and early spring, and too much rain. Apricot trees prefer a simple regime of cold dry winters (with at least 500-700 hours below 5 degrees centigrade) and hot dry sunny summers. They do not like either the cold of winter or the heat of summer to be interrupted, and mild weather in late autumn or cold weather in late spring can be a challenge for them.
The mild winters of 2015, 2016, and 2017 have been particularly difficult for apricot trees in the UK. Keep an eye on the weather in November and December - if temperatures do not fall far enough and fast enough the trees do not become dormant. Then when a period of real cold finally arrives the trees are still growing and areas of younger growth may then be killed, or left open to bacterial canker infections. If you suspect your apricot tree has not become dormant by December, try to protect the tree with fleece over the winter.
The other challenge can be frost injury to the blossom, because apricots flower very early in the spring, before there are many pollinating insects about. Hand pollination with a small soft brush is therefore often necessary in the UK - do this over 2-3 days when the weather is dry. Keen gardeners will also use frost fleeces on nights when frost is forecast, to avoid frost damage to the blossom. It also helps to choose a sloping site where cold air can drain downhill away from the tree.
The main disease of apricot trees in the UK is bacterial canker. This disease is favoured by mild wet weather over the autumn and winter, and trees are especially susceptible if the late autumn weather is too warm.
All apricots are self-fertile, and you only need to plant one tree to get a crop. However planting two trees (each of a different variety) will often produce heavier crops, as well as spreading the risk of frost damage.
The best way to grow apricot trees in the UK is to train them as fans against a south-facing wall, or plant them in front of a south-facing fence or wall. They need to be in full sun. In addition, try to keep the rain off them, particularly over the autumn and winter (this helps prevent bacterial canker infections).
With regard to pruning and training, apricots are best treated like plums (to which they are closely related). That means keeping pruning to an absolute minimum, and where it is necessary to prune, only do so in spring. Although the UK climate means fruiting is sometimes erratic, apricot trees are generally healthy and hardy. The most common problem is dieback, a fungal infection which causes shoots to die rapidly, and is particularly an issue in mild winters, as mentioned above. As long as you spot it early enough it is easily treated - just prune out the damaged branch.
Like plums, apricots may sometimes over-crop, particularly if the spring weather has been good. If this happens then be sure to thin the fruitlets - the ones that remain will be bigger and more flavoursome as a result. Tree-ripened home-grown apricots have a rich fruity flavour that is far superior to shop-bought fruit.
Peaches are a luxurious fruit originating in the Far East and now grown throughout warm temperate regions. Peach trees prefer a continental climate, especially warm or hot summers.
Peach trees can be grown successfully in the UK. However if you want to be reasonably sure of success the best method is to grow as a fan on a south-facing wall, or in a patio container which can be moved indoors (to an unheated room or conservatory) during winter, or - ideally - under permanent cover in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
Peach-leaf curl is a serious fungal disease of peaches (and nectarines). It is transmitted by fungal spores which are active during late-winter / early-spring and are carried in splashes of rain drops. The infection causes the leaves to curl and shrivel (often taking on a dull red tinge at the same time). Although the tree will often produce a second flush of leaves later in the spring, it will probably not produce any fruit. Fortunately peach leaf curl can be readily avoided by covering wall-trained trees over winter and early spring with a frost fleece or similar. Peach trees grown in patio containers can also be protected simply by keeping them indoors over the winter. If you are growing your peach trees in a greenhouse or polytunnel then you will be able to avoid it altogether.
All peaches are self-fertile - but that doesn't mean they don't need pollinating, it just means you don't need another peach tree nearby to cross-pollinate with. Pollen must still be taken from one flower to the other and since peaches flower very early in the season you can't always rely on pollinating insects to be out and about. If in doubt, you can hand-pollinate - here's an article on the my tiny plot blog showing you how.
Whilst it is generally advisable to keep pruning of all stone fruit to a minimum, and if possible only prune in early spring, nevertheless regular pruning is quite important with peaches. The main objective is to remove older wood and leave younger shoots - this is because peaches (and nectarines) fruit primarily on 1-year shoots (i.e. the shoots which grew the previous summer).
If your peach tree sets a good crop in the spring then it is important to thin the fruitlets, otherwise you will end up with lots of small peaches with little flavour. It is worth being ruthless with the thinning because the flavour of home-grown peaches eaten straight from the tree is worth a bit of work!
Nectarines are essentially smooth-skinned peaches. They can be grown successfully in the southern parts of the UK, but for best results they should be planted in a shelted location in full sun.
Most nectarines are self-fertile, but cross-polinate readily with other nectarines and also peaches.
All nectarines are susceptible to peach-leaf curl, a fungal infection which causes the leaves to curl up in early spring. Although not harmful to the tree in the longer term, a severe infection will prevent the tree cropping. The problem is easily avoided by covering the tree with horticultural fleece in winter and early spring - since the infection is spread in rain drops.
Hazelnuts are an important natural source of healthy proteins and fats, and Hazel bushes make an easy and low-maintenance addition to any orchard.
There are two closely related species, Corylus avellana, which is the common hazel or cobnut native to the UK, and Corylus maxima, also known as the Filbert. The main difference is in the length of the husk surrounding the nut - cobnuts have a short husk whilst filberts have a long husk. Filberts used to be considered to have the better flavour, although some of the newer hazel varieties are very good too.
More information on growing hazelnut trees.
Saskatoons belong to the genus Amelanchier which is found across Europe, Asia, and North America. In Europe Amelanchiers are primarily grown for their attractive spring blossom and the autumnal tints of their leaves, and are commonly known as Snowy Mespilus.
The fruiting species Amelanchier alnifolia originates from the western regions of North America, and was well-known to native Americans. Today Saskatoons are grown commercially in central Canada - including around the city of Saskatoon in the province of Sasketchewan. In the USA they are generally known as Juneberries.
Saskatoons are often compared to blueberries, since the fruits look similar. However Saskatoons are not berries, in fact they are more closely related to crab-apples. They are also much easier to grow than blueberries. The fruits are quite similar in taste and appearance to blueberries though, and can be used for similar purposes. Saskatoons can be eaten fresh, or made into preserves, dried, juiced, or used in pies and crumbles. Saskatoons are highly regarded for their antioxidant and nutritional properties, and are often considered to be a "super food". Saskatoons are a common ingredient in the native American "pemmican" trail food.
The bush-like trees are very cold-hardy and will grow in most well-drained soils - but avoid clay or water-logged soils. They prefer neutral or slightly acidic conditions, but will tolerate slightly alkaline soils. The flowers, which appear during May, are susceptible to frost damage, so avoid planting in areas prone to late frosts. Perhaps the key requirement for successful Saskatoon fruit production in the UK is that they should be planted in a sheltered situation in full sun. This is not surprising, given the origins of this species in the intense sunshine of the western states of North America.
In UK conditions Saskatoons are likely to grow to about 2m - 3m tall, with a similar spread, and will start bearing after 3-4 years. They are grown from seed on their own roots (i.e. not grafted). Fruit production on a mature bush is likely to be 2kg-4kg.
If you don't like pruning then it is useful to know that routine pruning is not essential with Saskatoons. However pruning back in early spring is beneficial to encourage more shoots - because the best quality fruit is produced on younger wood. It is also a good idea to cut out the thickest shoots after 5 years or so, to make way for younger growth.
Saskatoons are best left to grow in their natural form, which is as a bush. Over time multiple stems may develop. An alternative approach is to allow the plant to grow in a loose fan shape, supported on a south-facing wall.
The fruits follow quickly after the blossom - hence the common name 'Juneberry' although in most parts of the UK the fruits are more likely to ripen in July. Like cherries, they are attractive to birds, so it helps to net the fruit.
All Saskatoons are reliably self-fertile but will crop more heavily if several bushes of different varieties are planted together.
Almonds are a type of nut closely related to plums. They are grown commercially in central and southern Europe. Cropping in UK conditions will be lighter, but if you can provide a sheltered sunny spot you should be able to produce home-grown almonds in most of the drier parts of the UK.
The combination of healthy unsaturated fats, high levels of antioxidants, and rich vitamin content has increased interest in growing nuts in the garden or home orchard. Somewhat surprisingly the humble Walnut is turning out to be perhaps the healthiest of all nuts, thanks to its super-abundance of antioxidants.
Walnuts are essentially large spreading trees, and over the course of several decades will slowly grow to a height of between 6m-12m (20ft - 40ft) depending on the variety. The ultimate size is quite variable, dependent on the local soil quality and climate.
All our walnuts are of the fruiting species, Juglans regia, but most are grafted on to rootstocks of a related species (Juglans nigra, the Eastern Black Walnut*) which encourages earlier fruiting. Even so they grow at a leisurely pace and regular nut production is unlikely to start before 4-8 years. However like most slow-growing trees, Walnuts are very long-lived. Growing Walnut trees is therefore a long-term undertaking - but a worthwhile one.
Some Walnut varieties are self-fertile, with both male catkins and female flowers occurring on the same tree. In this respect Walnuts are similar to Hazelnuts rather than Almonds (which are more closely related to plums). The potential for self-fertility arises when the timing of both the flowers and catkins co-incides. Self-sterile Walnut varieties are those where the timing of the flowers and catkins does not overlap. Again, as with Hazelnuts, it is often a good idea to plant two Walnuts of different but compatible varieties if you have the space. Walnuts have an advantage over other nuts in that the pollination process occurs very late in the spring so is less affected by the poor early spring weather which often occurs in the UK.
Walnuts are relatively untroubled by diseases, but pruning is best avoided. If you must prune (e.g. to remove crossing branches), do so in mid-summer.
*Juglans nigra grows a bit more quickly than the fruiting species Juglans regia and can reach up to 20m-30m (60ft-100ft) over time - although in the UK they are likely to reach only the lower end of this scale. The nuts are of inferior quality to Juglans regia, but these and other walnut species are grown for the excellent quality of their timber.
Figs are fascinating trees, quite unlike most of the orchard fruits grown in temperate climates. In fact they are essentially a sub-tropical fruit, but can be grown by the keen gardener in most of the drier and warmer parts of the UK.
Growing fig trees is not hard in the UK, but getting them to fruit is an interesting challenge. The key is to pick the sunniest and most sheltered spot you can find,.
In most cases it helps considerably to encourage fruiting if you restrict the root growth - e.g. with a container or a planting hole lined with patio slabs. Fig trees don't start fruiting until they are 3-5 years old.
Small fruitlets form in the autumn, and should go on to develop into full-sized fruits the following summer. Remove larger fruits, and leave the smallest ones to grow on the following spring.
Figs fruit mainly on younger growth so regular pruning is useful. This should be done in January in the UK. Remove older branches and cut younger ones back - occasional hard-pruning usually works well with figs.
Figs are usually untroubled by diseases. Their main requirements are sun, shelter, regular watering in the spring ... but avoid too much water in late summer as this may make the ripening fruits split.
Medlars are an unusual fruit species, distantly related to pears and hawthorns, but with fruit that vaguely resembles crab-apples. They are hardy, and easy to grow provided you have a sunny spot.
All medlars are self-fertile, and can be expected to fruit when the tree is 3-4 years old.
Medlars make attractive trees, with large ornamental flowers in spring, and often attractive leaf colours in autumn.
The fruits, which resemble small russet apples, are primarily used for fruit preserves, but can also be eaten fresh. They should be picked when nearly ripe, and then stored in a fridge or ripened indoors in a fruit bowl. When fully ripe remove the skin and eat the soft flesh or use in the kitchen. Medlars have a rich luscious texture when cooked.
Mulberries are large ornamental trees, related to figs. There are several species, Morus nigra, also known as the Black Mulberry is the main fruting species, and also the best suited to the UK climate. Morus alba, the White Mulberry, also produces edible fruits but is primarily grown for its ornamental value. White Mulberries are also used in silk production - silkworms feed on their leaves, which have a much finer texture than the leaves of the Black Mulberry. Morus rubra, the Red Mulberry, is native to North America.
All the varieties we sell in this category are Black Mulberries, i.e. the fruiting form, and are grown on their own roots (not grafted).
Mulberries are best-suited to larger gardens as they grow slowly into large trees of about 6m-10m height and spread. If planting several trees, allow about 10m / 30ft between trees. However more dwarfing varieties are being introduced.
The fruits resemble raspberries or unripe blackberries, and have a tangy sweet-sharp taste. Mulberries can be eaten fresh or used for cooking. Mulberries are so delicate that they are not usually available for sale, so if you like mulberries you will need to grow your own. The fruits do not keep, so the best way to preserve them is to freeze them or cook with them.
The fruit is borne throughout the canopy of the tree, generally out of reach from the ground - the usual method of picking is by shaking the branches when the fruit is ripe in late August.
Mulberries are easy to grow (if you have the space), usually unaffected by diseases, and self-fertile.
Mulberries are slow-growing and can be grown in large pots or planters for a decade or more, although trees grown this way may eventually need to be planted in open ground.
There is a long tradition of growing mulberry trees in the UK, especially in the London area. In the early 17th century King James 1st actively encouraged the planting of mulberry trees in London in an effort to start an English silk industry. There is some debate as to whether King James and his advisors knew that sikworms preferred to eat the leaves of the White Mulberry species, but either through ignorance or because they found that White Mulberries were not suited to the English climate (which was much colder then than it is now) the vast majority of mulberry trees planted at this time were the Black Mulberry species. Silk production never took off in London, but left a legacy of Black Mulberry trees throughout the capital, and since these are long-lived trees many stil survive. For more details of Mulberry trees in London, see this article on the Spitalfields blog.
Family fruit trees consist of 2 or 3 apple or pear varieties grafted on to the same stem - in effect you have a small orchard on a single tree.
The advantage of a family fruit tree is that the varieties are chosen to be compatible with each other in their blossom and fruiting seasons, and the tree takes up less space than growing the same varieties individually.
Our orchard packs are carefully selected collections of trees which will help you start your own orchard. Each pack contains a number of fruit trees selected by us from reliable varieties which are easy to grow. All are either self-fertile or able to cross-pollinate each other so you will not need to worry about pollination.
If your orchard is in an exposed location we can also supply Alder trees, which are traditionally used for orchard windbreaks.
You might also want to browse our fruit tree collections.