Fruit Tree Sizes & Shapes: Different ways of Growing

Fruit tree shapes Turn your favourite varieties of fruit tree into the shape and form of your choice…

Fruit trees (Apples, Cherries, Damsons, Pears, Plums, Quince etc) are grown in a variety of shapes. Ashridge Trees supplies a number of these ready formed and the raw material to allow you to produce your own fruit tree shapes.

If you want to produce your own, we sell apple tree rootstocks for those who want to go the whole hog and graft their own, but but for most people maiden fruit trees are the place to start.

Maidens are grown from plants that were grafted one year ago. They will grow into any of the fruit tree shapes that are described below with appropriate pruning.

Free Standing Fruit Trees

The vast majority of fruit trees are grown as trees - that is to say they are upright, straight trunked and unsupported once they are established. There are now two additional common forms grown, both of which we sell.

Fruit trees grown as bushes

Fruit trees grown as bushes vary depending on the fruit involved. At the most they have a straight trunk of as much as 75 cms (2ft 6ins) before they branch, but many of the stone fruits such as Damsons are grown to branch at ground level.

They crop heavily for their size, are very easy to pick, and because they are relatively small bushes are the best freestanding fruit trees for a smaller garden or little orchard.

Bushes have the disadvantages of not cropping as heavily as half standards, and being more difficult to mow underneath. They are also the most difficult fruit trees to protect against sheep and other grazing animals in orchards.

Our bush fruit trees have been grown from plants that were grafted two years ago. When fully grown they will reach 3.5 metres, but they can be restricted to as little as 2.5 metres.

Half standard fruit trees

We think these are the ideal freestanding fruit trees if you have the space. Unlike bushes, they have a straight stem of about 1.2 metres, which leaves enough room for you to mow underneath them. It is not unusual however for the lowest branches to appear below this level. As the tree develops these can be removed if you wish. The straight trunk is generally tall enough to accommodate our Heavy Duty Tree Guards.

Because of their size, half-standards can carry a larger head and so crop more heavily than smaller fruit trees and yet they are not so large as to make picking a real task. Most commercial orchards are now planted with half standard fruit trees for this reason as opposed to full standards.

The latter have a trunk of nearly 2 metres which means that picking is over (most) people's heads. The main disadvantage of half standard fruit trees is that they need a bit more space (3.5 metres between trees) than bushes.

Our half standard fruit trees have been grown from plants that, depending on the vigour of the variety were grafted two or three years ago. When fully grown they will reach 4-5 metres, but they can be restricted to as little as 3.5 metres.

Fruit trees on walls, wires and other things

Within reason fruit trees can be trained into almost any shape - limited only by the gardener's imagination. Fruit trees are fun - they flower beautifully and then they carry something that somehow seems to taste better straight off the tree.

To have that where you walk or sit and work or play outside is truly special. There are four great shapes for trained fruit trees.

Fan-trained fruit trees

Any fruit tree can be fan trained. Generally this is done from a maiden (a one year old grafted plant). The maiden is cut down to about 60cms (2 ft) in late winter or very early spring.

As the sap rises, between four and six buds below the pruning cut grow as branches. These are soft and pliable and so can be trained as the arms of the fan. If there are not enough arms, the topmost bud is encouraged to the vertical and cut back to 20-30cms the following winter. The buds in the new growth will break as before and more arms to make the fan are produced.

If you are in a hurry for a fan, buy a bush grown fruit tree instead and gently bend/force its branches into a fan shape. We do not stock fan-trained fruit trees as no two walls are the same and they are enormously fragile when not supported.

Espalier fruit trees

An espaliered fruit tree carries its fruit on evenly matched horizontal branches. Espaliers are always produced from maidens.

Young apple trees have literally hundreds of dormant buds. Some of these will break into growth when the tree is pruned in a way that forces the flow of sap to stimulate them.

So to create an espalier, a maiden is pruned back hard in late winter to a height about 10 cms (4 inches) above the height of the lowest training wire. Several buds will break in spring. The topmost of these buds is trained to the vertical. Two suitable placed new bud growths below it are selected as the arms of the first tier. Initially, these "arms" are grown at 45 degrees above horizontal until late summer, when they are brought gradually down to the training wires. Any other shoots should be rubbed out once you are sure you have three viable growth to make the trunk and the 2 arms.

In winter the vertical leader is cut back to about 10cms (4 inches) above the next horizontal training wire and the process is repeated.

If there is are strategically placed existing branches then these can be used, but we always recommend avoiding the shortcuts. If these are removed and replaced with new growth that is more pliable (and trains more easily) you will get a better shaped espalier.

A bush fruit tree can be used to save time, but the end result is never as good or satisfying.

A "step-over" fruit tree is simply an espalier which has had the leading bud from the first cut rubbed out.

Cordon fruit trees

Cordons are underused. They are fruit trees that have been pruned to have as many stubby side branches as possible so that fruit is carried very close to the main trunk.

They are grown on horizontal training wires, at an angle of 45 degrees. Cordon fruit trees are rarely allowed to exceed 2 metres in height, but most important they are planted very close together no more than 1 metre apart (we have ours at 60cm apart at home).

These qualities combined make them hugely attractive. You can have a range of fruit trees in a restricted area that crop heavily and, although the normal pollination rules apply, there is no reason why different fruit trees cannot be planted side by side.

Cordons also make a marvellous and unusual covering for a fence, wall, shed, or whatever! When they are established, grow a clematis through them – you will have flower in April and June and fruit from August onwards.

Our cordon fruit trees have been grown from plants that were grafted two years ago. When fully grown they will reach 3 metres, but they can be restricted to 2 metres with careful pruning.

Fruit tree arches

It is those cordon grown fruit trees again. Grow them vertically this time, with planting distances of 60-100cms (2-3 feet). Tie them to to a metal or wooden frame to give them shape, and pick fruit as you walk in the shade. Lovely.

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Thank you, The Ashridge Nurseries Team.

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