Did you know the age-old proverb ‘an apple a day keep the doctor away’ originated in Wales back in the 1860’s? The Welsh clearly have an affinity for apples. Due to its very high rainfall, one would not generally associate Wales with the growing of fruit. Yet, despite some areas of the country such as Snowdonia receiving as much as 3000 mm of rain in a single year, apple trees are still being grown with vigour and verve. Planting an apple tree (or two) is a long-term investment as it will generally take at least 2 years for your tree to bear fruit and between 5 and 10 years to become fully grown. It is for this reason that you need to take the time to choose the variety that is best suited to your personal circumstances, undertaking to maintain it is such a manner that the tree remains healthy, rendering sweet, delicious crops for your enjoyment and adding a beautiful touch to your garden.
Choosing the right apple tree for your Welsh garden
Opt for early and mid-season apple varieties such as Egremont RussetandRed Falstaff that have a better chance of ripening fully in regions such as Wales that have cooler summers and shorter growing seasons. Red Falstaff is one of the heaviest-cropping of all apple varieties and is also one of the best to grow in the UK. Falstaff is also a self-fertile cultivar meaning it will bear fruit on its own without needing to be pollinated by nearby trees. The tree itself is compact, making it suitable for a small garden and is also easy to grow which is ideal for first-time home owners who don’t have any experience in gardening. Egremont Russet is the most popular of the English russet varieties, requires very little skill to grow, has good resistance to disease and is generally a good cropper.
Planting your apple tree
The best season to plant your apple trees is fall as it allows the young tree to develop an adequate root system before the onset of the UK winter. Apple trees need well-drained soil that is moderately rich and retains both air and moisture well which makes mulching important. Experts from thetreecareguide.com recommend that organic mulch such as hay, straw, leaves and bark is used as it will not only keep the soil moist but will provide nutrient to the tree as they decompose. An organic fertilizer can be added to the ground during planting to help the tree take root. Try to avoid planting the tree in a frost pocket (where cold air settles in very low-lying areas) and opt for higher sites if possible, preferably those with a slip that allows cold air to flow away from the tree.
Caring for your apple tree
Pruning a young tree can slow down its growth and delays fruiting so don’t be in too much of a hurry to give it its first prune. Rather just remove any broken and dead branches and rub off misplaced buds before they grow. Once the tree starts bearing fruit it will require moderate pruning at regular intervals. Only prune your apple tree when it is dormant, removing any dead twigs and shortening stems that are sagging too much. When an entire fruit-bearing spur starts to weaken with age it is best to cut it back completely to make space for a young substitute.
Protection against pests and disease
Although both the Falstaff and the Russet are reasonably pest and disease resistant they are not entirely immune to them. Deer are plentiful in Wales and they love apples. If your property is adjacent to an open field you can keep them at bay with deer-resistant plants such as sage, lavender and peonies. Organic repellents work best for beetles while diseases can be minimised by regular raking and pruning. You can make your own insect repellent by simply mixing a cup of vinegar with a cup of sugar and 4 cups of water, pouring it into a wide-neck jar and hanging it uncovered from the tree.
Although there is no instant gratification in planting and successfully growing an apple tree, it may turn out to be one of the most rewarding things you have done in a very long time. Every minute spent pruning, mulching and spraying for bugs will be well worth it when you bite into a deliciously sweet and juicy apple picked from a tree in your very own garden.