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How to Choose, Plant & Maintain Fruit Trees

An illustrated leaflet with this advice is available to download as a pdf file by following this link : 'Planting new apple trees'

Plant Selection

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There are numerous local varieties in existence and an increasing number are becoming available through nurseries. Traditional orchards are formed with standard trees. It is therefore important to select vigorous root stocks such as M25 and M111. These have the added advantage that they are less susceptible to disease problems.

Maiden trees establish well but will need careful pruning and training to produce a useful tree (see ' Formative pruning'). The amateur may prefer to select well trained standards.

Site Selection

Orchards prefer free draining, sheltered sites with an adequate rooting depth. If the site is not naturally sheltered consider planting a traditional hedge or shelterbelt to provide shelter without shading the site too much.


Standard orchards are normally planted at 8 - 10m centres. The better the site, the wider the spacing.

Prepare the planting site well and take time over the planting and maintenance.

  1. Excavate a good size hole taking care to keep the topsoil separate from sub-soil. (1m x 1m x 500 mm deep is ideal).
  2. Remove large stones and rubble.
  3. Break up the bottom and sides of the pit to ensure good drainage and rooting.
  4. On exposed sites or where larger trees (1.5m+) are planted you may need to stake and tie the tree for the first growing season. Stakes should be sunk into the middle of the base of the pit and should extend 300-500 mm above the ground.
  5. Backfill with a good amount of well rotted manure or compost and incorporate about half of the excavated soil.
  6. Plant the tree ensuring the roots are spread out and at the correct depth.
  7. Backfill remaining soil (topsoil around roots and on top) firming the ground as you proceed and ensure that the final soil level is at the level of the root collar (identified by change of colour and swelling).
  8. Apply a layer of mulch over the entire planting pit to prevent weeds establishing. Plastic sheets 1m or a 100 mm layer of wood chips, bark or straw etc. is ideal. Cut and uncut grass will kill or starve young trees.
  9. Place a plastic spiral guard or similar around base of stem to prevent damage by rabbits. 

For advice on the care and maintenance of young trees download the Practical Guidelines for Tree Care leaflet.

  • Remove stakes at beginning of second growing season.
  • Maintain a 1m diameter weed free area around each tree for 3 growing seasons. If using mulch check for weed growth. Remove weeds and replenish mulch as necessary during first 3 growing seasons.
  • Carry out formative pruning to produce a suitably shaped tree and encourage fruit production.
  • In first summer cut back side shoots to 50 - 75 mm.  In second and subsequent summers, cut back new side shoots to 50 - 75 mm.
  • When the leading shoot has grown beyond the desired height of clear stem required cut back to encourage side shoots.
  • Progressively remove side shoots from ground level to crown over 2 - 3 years to give a clean stem to the desired height.
  • As crown develops carefully thin crown to achieve open habit. Some trees naturally form a bushy tree and it is good to go with the natural habit.
  • Do not reduce the crown all over as this encourages vigorous, non-fruiting growth. 

Please see our Nurseries page to see Nurseries Supplying Westcountry Varieties of Fruit Trees