Life

The season that's in it: Monty Don's advice on how to plant apple trees

Dig a hole no more than a spade-depth deep – feeding roots grow horizontally, not downwards

1. Find a sunny spot

Apple trees need sunshine and good drainage. Don't grow grass right up around them. Clear the grass for at least a 1m radius around them until the trees are as big as you want them to be, then you can let the grass grow back up to the trunk. Grass will take a lot of moisture and nutrients they need.

2. Plant more than one

Some apples are self-pollinating, but you should always plant more than one. There are eight groups of apples, numbered solely on when they produce their flowers. Number one is the first to blossom, eight the last. If you have two apples, one from group one and one from group eight, they won't blossom at the same time and so can't cross pollinate. Either have two of the same group or one from either side, so if you have a group three apple, have either another from group three or one from group two or four.

3. Learn how to plant new trees

Dig a wide hole no more than one spade's depth deep, loosen the hole and the sides, but don't add manure or compost. Plant the tree slightly higher than it is in the pot or, if it's bare-rooted, slightly above soil level, so it's on a tiny pyramid. Firm it in well, so it's planted in a slight cone, not a well – more trees die from being over-wet than too dry. Water it well, stake it and mulch it thickly with garden compost or wood chippings, to keep the weeds down and the moisture in.

4. Know when to prune

If you prune hard in winter, you will get lots of shoots coming back and none of those shoots will have any fruit on them. If you want to reduce the size of the apple tree, do it in summer. If you want to stimulate it to grow bigger, do it in winter. Almost all apples produce their fruit on spurs and the spurs only develop on wood when it gets to two or three years old.

:: Down To Earth by Monty Don is published by DK, priced £17.99.

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