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  1. #1
    mikebispham is offline Germinator
    Join Date
    Dec 2010

    Default Fruit on chalky downland?

    Hello, Everyone,

    I'm a newcomer to fruit growing, and I wonder if I could ask for advice here?

    I'm planning to raise mostly apples on an acre or two of chalk downland in east Kent, about 10 miles from the North Sea coast inland from Whitstable, and at about 50 metres above sea level. The land is gently south facing slope, close to the top of a valley side. Some parts have good depth of soil, in other places the chalk bedrock is within a foot or so of the surface.

    I'm aiming to try a very experimental orchard with a wide range of different cultivars, broadly aiming for higher than modern trees so that I can undergaze with sheep. I'm developing my own nursery, with a number of rootstocks established 1 year, and more going in soon. I'm not aiming to sell many trees, but I'd like to find out what fits with my place, and try to bring off fruit (mainly for cidermaking) in a way that is sympathetic to local wildlife.

    I wonder if anyone could offer advice about which rootstocks and cultivars - and combinations - might do well on chalky ground and with this sort of aspect, and what, if anything, to watch out for?

    Perhaps if this is not the best place to ask these sorts of questions, somebody might point me in the right direction?

    With very many thanks in advance,

    Mike Bispham

  2. #2
    FB.'s Avatar
    FB. is offline Early Fruiter
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Cambridgeshire, UK


    If I were planning to set up a nursery, I'd try to select a favourable site, where the trees will have the best chance of health and vigour.

    On a poor site you'll need the strongest rootstocks, such as:
    M25 (apple), Pyrus (pear), Brompton (plum).

    MM111 (apple) may also work well; it is not as vigorous as M25, but is much better at surviving difficult conditions.

    Even the strong rootstocks will be dwarfed by poor soil, so don't assume that they will be as frighteningly large as "the books" suggest.

    You will also find that the variety grafted onto the rootstock will affect the final tree size by a much greater amount than "the experts" say; "the books" make it sound like a certain rootstock makes all varieties grow to the same size in all soil conditions.
    Try telling that to a Bramley or some of the other "triploids", which - even on dwarfing rootstock - can reach quite a large size due to the strong natural vigour of the variety which averages-out with the rootstock and makes the rootstock grow faster.

    The common "medium vigour" rootstocks such as MM106 (apple), Quince A (pear) and St.Julien A (plum) are often not as tolerant of difficult conditions, nor as vigorous as some of the "experts" suggest; my soil is so poor that all of the above rootstocks often take years to begin to grow, and usually struggle along, only growing a few inches per year, with a low yield of small fruit - because the roots just aren't able to grow fast enough to feed the tree.

    You should also consider varieties that are suitable for organic or no-spray growing - good pest and disease resistance. The common varieties are so widely grown that the pests and diseases are good at attacking them. The pests often overlook more unusual varieties.

    I've tended to focus mostly on apples, as I find them to be more tolerant of my poor soil. I don't grow cider apples because many other apples can be used for cider. Pears, plums and cherries have a short shelf-life, while plums and cherries are particular favourites of the pests (e.g. wasps and birds).
    Without a moisture-retaining soil, plums, pears and cherries may well split and rot, if a summer drought is followed by heavy rainfall.

    I only know of a handful of fruits that have "officially" proven themselves to have some tolerance of poor chalk soil:
    Barnack Beauty, Charles Ross, Crawley Beauty, Miller's Seedling.

    I would also suggest that the ancient Court Pendu Plat and D'Arcy Spice would do better than average in poor soil conditions where rooting is a problem, since these two tend to put more energy into growing below ground than above ground, so they tend to have enormous root systems relative to the small-ish tree on top.

    Maybe, for a difficult soil, also consider:
    Discovery (resistant to most diseases but often troubled by pest damage)
    Spartan (on my poor soil I find it to be very resistant to pests and diseases, but other people apparently don't agree).

    Possibly also: Bountiful and other cooking apples. Cookers seem to be more tolerant of difficult growing conditions.

  3. #3
    zazen999 is offline Funky Cold Ribena
    Join Date
    Jun 2007


    Are there any other apple orchards in the same general area, or on the same soil types nearby?

    I'd spend some time finding out if there were and seeing how they have grown and looking at their varieties.

  4. #4
    Mell is offline Banned
    Join Date
    Feb 2009


    FB "I don't grow cider apples because many other apples can be used for cider." Eak FB depends rather what cider you are aiming at Although I make most of mine from mainly dessert, trying with cookers is not IMHO a great idea, unless you are aiming for German style which is more in that direction...

    Hi Mike you posted this on the scion exchange too, but bad timing as I thiunk everyone was madly Christmas rushing. If cider is your aim I'd suggest joining the Google group the cider workshop. There are many people who have had years of experience with cider apples all round the UK & abroad & will be able to address the cider bit.

    I've no experience on chalky soils, but my thoughts run towards French cider cultivars as with their natrual keeving of the past I believe growing on calcium rich soil was one of the factors therefore their rootstocks & cultivars would potentially be far better than Uk cider varieties from the West Country for example. Having said that I know there a Kent ciders , but I know little about them !

    Another thing which will not help you grazing under them is shallow rooting stocks like M9 or paradise will potentially do better on a shallow topsoil that those which want to produce a deep rooting system. Personally I can't see how you can get a big tall tree growing well or safely where you have no soil for it to anchor into, so it may be you can't have all you want

    Shallow rooting systems tend to produce bigger tastier fruit.

  5. #5
    Loudbarker1 is offline Rooter
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    North-west kent
    Blog Entries


    Cherries just love chalky ground.

    If you're planning to under graze, you either need large trees so the stock can't eat the fruit (standard or half standard) or alternatively you will need substantial permanent protection (expensive). Of course you will need to protect young trees from being killed by barking whatever their future size.

    We're on the North Downs, north of Sevenoaks - my family used t have substantial orchards (including Cherries). Teh only apple I am old enough to remember is Bramley, but we also had Conference and Comice pear, Cherries and Blackacurrents (again I don't know the varieties) and no doubt lots of other stuff before my time.

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