Tuesday 19 February 2013

Planting Cordons - Research

Ever since I read a Victorian Kitchen Garden I've had this idea in my head to plant and train cordons and other forms of fruit trees. I don't do anything with out doing a lot of research first (especially if it involves spending money) so I turned to some of my gardening books and the trusty old Internet.
A few of the books I used

The old books were the best on this subject as it seems to be something which has fallen out of fashion in the last twenty or so years. But even then they didn't really come up with the same information so for everything I did I took an "average" of the information I had and I'll just have to hope for the best!
The only true dwarf tree I planted
Trees to plant - Cordons and other heavily trained fruit trees need to be spur bearing to produce fruit (as the tips will be cut off). This sounds simple to find out until you start looking. Take an example of the George Cave apple tree- In the RHS book "Apples" it states that it "produces spurs freely" whereas the Readers Digest book "New Illustrated Guide To Gardening" states it a tip bearer. I took a risk with this one but hopefully my research into the other trees proves right!

Root stocks - Most books here recommend a heavily dwarfing root stock like a M9 or M26 for trained trees but some say you can use the semi vigorous MM106. From what I can understand it's also a little dependant on what your soil is like. Our is quite heavy clay so trees take a while to get established, for this reason I went with the MM106 and only used one M9 tree where it finishes the row and will need to be shorter.
The graft needs to be on the upper side to help prevent it breaking in later life.
Spacing - This was where the information varied the most. Ranging from 18" through to over 3ft between trees. I opted for 2ft as I wanted it to form a hedge like screen as well to separate the garden from the field. It looks close but these trees are going to be heavily pruned through their life.
As for the support wire spacing I did this at around 20" centres with one near the top for extra support.

Angle - One book said to start the trees more upright and lower them over the years but most said to plant them in at a 45 degrees and, if you really want to, lower them as they get bigger so you have more growing area for the apples. One good piece of advice was not to plant them below 35 degrees or they will struggle to grow. I went for the 45 degrees and I doubt I'll change this as it looks right.

The graft - When planting for cordons on an angle you need to make sure that the graft is on the top side of the tree (see the picture above). This will help to prevent it breaking in the future as if it's the other way up the weight can make it snap and split down it's length as the tree gets bigger.

Pollination groups - If I talk about apple trees people always get worried about pollination groups. I don't even bother to look any more as with over 30 varieties of trees in my smallholding and probably a few thousand trees in the orchards surrounding us we haven't got anything to worry about. Normally someone is going to have an apple tree planted near by if you live in a town or village but if your worried then it's easy to use the number each tree has and make sure they all work out.

Pruning at planting time - Well this is one I'm still not sure about. Some say prune them right back as soon as you've planted them, so then all the available budds break and you're left with no bear patches of wood, others say leave them alone. So far I haven't touched ours as they're all fairly small trees and I can't help thinking it will stunt their growth even more. Maybe I should cut one back and compare it to the others over it's first year (I'll take advice on this please).

Well that's all I've learnt about the subject so far. I'm sure I'll learn a lot more through growing them in this way - if anyone else has got any advice or tips please let me know!


  1. No advice or tips but questions...what is the expected yield for trees grown this way as opposed to straight orchard grown, and when will you get your first apples?
    Jane x
    PS Brilliant work!

    1. Yelds are a lot lower than orchard grown trees - probably only 8 - 12lb per tree when they're established, thats why you plant so many of them. as for when I get my first apples I should get a few next year, but it's 2015 really before I get many to eat! (It'll be worth it honest).

  2. I too found much variation when choosing my trees, especially on pollination groups some companies used numbers and others letters but not always the same amount

    Spacing too varies we are going for 4m between our trees which are all MM106 , we want lollipop shaped trees does this sound about right to you?


    1. 4m sounds about right between trees in an orchard. I planted ours at 5 paces so probably a little more but it's neither here nor there.
      As for lollipop shaped trees they won't produce the most fruit, if your planning to hand pick your fruit then you'll want to aim to grow a goblet shaped tree(sometimes called a a polo tree - as it has a hole in the middle). This means you take out the middle branches and so it lets light and air to the apples and gives you a better yield with more ripe fruit.

  3. We plant apple trees last fall too ... I can't wait for the results. Very interesting info. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Wow, Kev, I've never done that before so I have no advice, but good for you for reading up and learning about it. Have you read anything by John Seymour? Brilliant man - I'm sure his books have some excellent, location appropriate advice on cordons.

    1. Yeah I've got some of John Seymours books, that with the river cottage cookbook started me on all this quite a few years ago! That said though I find it a bit vage when you want to go deeper into a subject. I now need books written purely about one aspect (like pruning). All that is written on cordons in the Self Sufficiency Handbook is "Train a young tree up a fence at an acute angle and limit it to one stem and no long laterals" this with a drawing. but I suppose there wasn't enough space to go into detail about it, still a great book just though

  5. This is Lovely Hubby's department (probably why we got 3 apples and a single cherry last year), I stick to the veggies.

    Sue xx

  6. Hi Kev,

    If you want any info at all on plants, garden etc my wife is a professional gardener. Trained at Lackham College with straight distictions. She runs a Rose Nursery out here and knows all there is to know (she tells me)


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