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  • Apple precocity and soil quality, nutrients, irrigation etc

    I've been searching for info on this topic for a while but not found anything on it so I assume the answer to the question is 'no', but wondered if any of the resident experts on fruit trees here might confirm it either way.

    Regarding apple tree precocity (how young a tree will bear fruit), does dwarfing the tree via say poor soil, low nutrient situation, partial drought etc also result in earlier fruiting? So if you say had a particular variety on a particular rootstock (let's say semi dwarfing) in two sites - one with optimal growth conditions and one in sandy low nutrient soil which is on the dry side, will they start to bear fruit at a similar time or not?

    I'm interested because while it's unlikely I'll find it, I'm looking for a way to get some new trees to bear fruit earlier as we all are of course. But I would also like the potential for the tree to get larger than say a M27 or M9, albeit more slowly being acceptable.

    I have conditions which I wonder if I can use to my advantage. Very sandy loam soil about 60cm thick over deep sand (bagshot beds), free unlimited water through a borehole (which has been essential to growing anything) and a homemade fertigation system (injecting fertiliser into the drip irrigation water). That's controlled by a computer and there are several stock tanks so I can customise the nutrient solution each zone gets. It's of course a hacked together DIY version of the professional system but it works ok.

    So I am wondering, can I get apple trees on a more vigorous stock, hold them back the first few years with poor nutrient conditions, or low water etc, force them to produce some fruit early, and then as the years go by allow them to gradually grow more by ramping up the nutrients, balancing growth with fruit production.

    I'm already messing around with grape vines to achieve earlier yields, but I'm new to apples and they seem much harder. The soil here is very leached and it needs fertiliser to grow anything at more than glacial speeds, so holding back will be easy.

    Maybe no one knows whether the idea would work but regarding more vigorous rootstock on such poor soil that growth is considerably reduced, (or perhaps root restriction) does that increase precocity?

    Thanks, Pete

  • #2
    I'm no expert, but I was told that you should remove fruit from apple trees for the first couple of years to encourage vigorous tree growth rather than fruit, allowing fruiting can lead to reduced crops later on and I have had personal evidence this can happen. I was also told last year that dwarfing root stocks can raise the susceptibility to disease, indeed this fruit grower put me off growing apples again, this is I should say advice that was referring to NE Scotland and I'm sure would be different in more southern counties.
    If I'm not on here, I'm probably fishing.

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    • #3
      I don't know of a scientific answer to your question, but speaking from experience I'd say it depends :-)

      If you have space to plant say 10 bare root trees with enough room for them to grow on for say 10 years without becoming cramped, then perhaps aim to starve 3 of them to see what happens. These 3 "victims" will naturally flower first, i.e. precociously as you mention. Whether they will then go on to produce anything in the way of edible fruit is of course dependent on an unknowable set of factors including the future weather. If I was going to try it I'd opt for these 3 guinea pigs to be varieties which naturally start cropping early and bear plenty of fruit, i.e. any of the ones except Cox or Bramley that you see in the shops, as those characteristics are things commercial apple growers want too.

      The future plan then for this mini-orchard would be to remove the 3 trees which had not had a good start in life (plant them in a hedge somewhere or give them to non- gardener) and leave the other 7 in place, which by then would be cropping well and with luck continue to do so for anther 50 years or so.

      PS this sort of plant densely to start with and then removing some trees after a number of years was a common commercial approach back in the days before the Malling dwarfing rootstocks became available for growing apples in large orchards. A 60 foot spacing between trees in those days would have been on the tight side I fancy, but would obviously waste a lot of room in between them while the trees were getting established. So trees were thinned as they grew much in the same way as say lettuces are, taking out every other one. Another alternative was to grow soft fruit like blackcurrants or gooseberries in the gaps between the newly planted tees to get the farmer an income in the first few years. Raymond Bush was writing books on fruit growing which mention these practices around the time of WW2, and he is a good author still, for anyone interested in fruit growing to read imo.

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      • #4
        Yes it seems with apples everything depends much more than other fruits I have got into so far!

        With the grapes, they are keen to fruit at any chance it seems, so its quite easy to get an intensive style vineyard going with many vines covering a given area rather than one large vine. So cuttings taken one year are allowed to grow a single shoot the next which fruits and provides 1 to 3 bunches the next. It will take around (IIRC) half a square meter to do this, so with 10 square meters you use 20 plants. Grafting these short lived plants is not needed and if you want to change variety it can be done quickly. The plants can even be thrown out each season. I read about this technique being tried out in the grape growing areas of europe and tried it and it works well. They typically pot the plants and I did too this time but I imagine it would also work in the ground. I even got some small crops the first year which I assume must be from buds in the node that was grafted, a surprise because I didn't expect it, but I wonder if with a bit more care this could be a significant crop. Perhaps starting the plants in the greenhouse slightly earlier, choosing the nodes to propagate more carefully etc.

        Anyway what I would ideally like to find is a similar process for apples, that way I could have some apples being provided while a small orchard gets to fruiting age. However I have not been able to find any info on this from the research people, IE no papers or anything of anyone successfully doing it, so I am fairly certain its simply impossible with the knowledge we have at the moment on apples. It seems the interplay between aerial parts of the plant and rootstock is more complex with hormones flowing both ways influencing the fruiting. I guess they will figure out how to control it some time but not yet it seems.

        So I am wondering what the maximum current possibility is from say a bare rootstock to a few fruits. IE if I get a few rootstock plants going this year, and have plentiful rootstocks of various types available, whats the absolute hardest you can push an apple tree to fruit soonest - even if its only a few fruits. It seems like around 3 or 4 years is the very best result in that way. From what I can tell using an apples own root (self rooted) would be absolutely useless in apples since there seems to be no way to counter the native rootstocks tendency to delay fruiting till the aerial plant is huge. So grafting would be essential. I wonder about combining M27 with root restriction in a pot and poor nutrients - trying to avoid killing the plant - to achieve perhaps 2 years delay.

        Is it a known thing that cramped or otherwise restricted apple trees will fruit earlier or is that just a theory when you mention it?

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        • #5
          I've grafted m27 stocks one year and had them fruit the following. I usually pick off any fruit that sets but have occasionally left 1 on out of curiosity. If you were not bothered about the m27 tree establishing itself more you could let them fruit as heavily as they wanted. At the same time you could plant trees on more vigorous stocks for the future. Thus treating the m27s the same as currants were treated in the old days, removing then when the larger trees become productive

          At a couple of quid a stock it would be fairly cheap way to get an earlier crop. Could even dig them out and gift them as Christmas presents
          Last edited by Dave8abond; 30-05-2020, 12:17 PM.

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