Now that winter is here, bare-root trees can be planted. These are grown in fields in the soil and dug after leaf fall, before being sent, carefully wrapped to avoid the roots drying out, to gardeners. Not only are they cheaper, they are also usually better quality than pot-grown trees. Most garden centres sell only potted trees, with bare-rooted ones mostly coming from fruit nurseries.
Apples, pears and plums are deservedly the most popular garden fruits, with apples being especially productive. Many apple trees – Bramleys, for example – grow too large for most gardens, but their zeal can be curbed by buying them on rootstocks that stunt this growth. The rootstocks are “sticks” with roots to which nurseries graft a piece of the named apple – “Gala”, for example – called a scion. As the graft grows, it knits its wood with the rootstock wood. The rootstock topgrowth is then cut off, leaving the scion to grow and make a tree.
Historically, a rootstock called MM106 has been used, which is semi-vigorous, making large bushes to 4m or so – too large for most gardens, but with strong roots that need no staking. The “MM” stands for Malling and Merton after the research stations that selected these rootstocks. Later ones – M26, M9 and M27, small bush, very small bush and tiny trees, respectively – are from East Malling in Kent. M26 is probably the most useful, but M9 has its uses in very small gardens (if staked), while M27 is so weak that it needs to be mollycoddled for good results.
Popular supermarket apples are not the best-suited to garden growth, although “Gala” is worth considering in dry districts where scab disease is not too severe. The similar “Red Falstaff” and “Limelight” are better suited