GIANT or Dwarf – Choose the right apple rootstock


July 23, 2011

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Apples on the tree.

Choosing the right rootstock for your requirements will make your apple tree a welcome part of the garden rather than an nuisance.

When choosing an apple tree for your garden you need to look at which rootstock you want it to grow on.  All apple trees are grafted onto a rootstock.  This means that the fruiting part of the tree at the top is attached to another part that forms the roots – the rootstock – through what is called a graft or join.  This is done because apple trees do not grow true to type from seed.  If you plant the seeds of an apple tree a new variety of apple will grow, most likely one that is small and not very nice to eat.  To ensure you get the apple variety you want, you take a cutting from an existing tree and graft that onto a rootstock.

You could potentially take the cutting from the apple tree and stick it in the ground where it will likely take root and grow.  However the use of certain rootstocks has developed.  This is because the rootstock will often be from a variety of apple that is resistant to diseases and pest.  This helps ensure the tree will be less likely to succumb to those pests and diseases.

Most importantly though, the rootstock has a big influence on the vigour of the tree.  Different varieties have different vigour, or rate of growth, in of themselves but the rootstock will dramatically vary that.  Hence dwarfing rootstocks will produce a tree small enough to be grown in a pot, whereas standard rootstocks will produce a large tree as seen in pictures of old orchards.

Much of the original rootstock categorization occurred in a place called East Malling Research Station in the United Kingdom.  The actual use of rootstocks has occurred for thousands of years, but at East Malling they categorized them according to vigour.  Several other centers subsequently contributed to the categorizations leading to the main types in use today.

The main apple rootstocks in use today are:

Name Vigour Eventual height Time to first fruiting Time to Full Fruiting Yield Full Yield Best for
 M27  Very Dwarfing  2 metres (6ft)  2-3 years  4-5 years  4.5-7kgs  Containers/Small gardens
 M9  Dwarfing  2.5-3 metres (8-10ft)  3-4 years  5-6 years  16-20kgs  Small garden/Fertile soils
 M26  Dwarfing  2.5-3 metres (8-10ft)  3-4 years  5-6 years  30-35kgs  Small garden/Less fertile soils
 MM106  Semi-Dwarfing  4-6 metres (14-18ft)  3-4 years  7-8 years  40-50kgs  Most widely used, average gardens
 M111  Vigorous  6-8 metres (18-25ft)  6-7 years  8-9 years  72-160kgs  Wide spreading tree, large gardens/poor soil
 M25  Very Vigorous  5-6.5 metres (15-20ft)  5-6 years  7-8 years  90-180kgs  Full standard, orchard

Hence when you are looking at planting an apple tree you need to decide how you are going to grow the tree and what sort of space you have available. If you have a large garden you may want to consider a semi or full standard tree. If so you should choose a MM106, M111 or M25 rootstock. Smaller gardens may need the tree to be espaliered or grown as a cordon against a wall. This would be better on an M25, M9, M26 or even MM106 depending on the space you have. You need to assess your needs and choose the rootstock accordingly.

So what has been your experience? Have you considered rootstocks when choosing your trees – let me know via a comment below. Did you find this article useful? Please Tweet it or share it via other social media. Thanks!

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