Apricot tree Photo: iStock

Plant forms

Many orchard trees are too large for most modern gardens, but you can train them through shaping.

Tree- The largest form is the tree, with a height and spread of 2.6–16 m. The size varies according to the species and, with grafted fruit trees, the vigour of the rootstock. The different types of rootstock affect the eventual size of the tree and how it will crop. When buying apple, pear or cherry trees, always check that they are on dwarfing stock. If not, they will occupy too much space and be exceptionally difficult to manage and harvest. A range of dwarfing stocks is available, particularly for apples, so you can purchase an apple tree that is the perfect size for your needs. Very dwarf forms only grow to 1.5–1.8 m and are sometimes known as ‘dwarf pyramids’. They will grow in large tubs. Peaches, nectarines, pears and plums are also produced on dwarfing stock. When grown in pots, many can look very ornamental in a small garden or on a sunny patio. Naturally columnar forms of some fruit trees have recently become available. Growing to a spread of about 0.7–0.8 m, they occupy little space, are very productive, easy to manage, and decorative when in flower and in fruit. In general, there are fewer choices of form amongst fruit trees from the tropics. Some dwarfing stocks have been developed. But in smaller gardens, less vigorous varieties are preferred, and pruning also helps to contain trees.

Cordon- Most economical in terms of space is the cordon, which consists of a main stem with short, fruiting spurs. It is grown diagonally against a wall, or in the open supported by posts and wires. Apples and pears can be grown by this method. Although the yield per tree is small, a row of cordons, set only 0.8–1 m apart, is very productive for the amount of space it occupies. Also, several varieties can be grown in a comparatively small space.

Espalier- Apples and pears can be grown as espaliers, which carry fruit on tiers, or horizontal branches. An espalier can be planted against a wall or fence, or trained on wires supported by posts to form a screen between your garden and your vegetable plot. You can even grow espaliers as a form of ornamental fence to surround your entire garden – an ideal solution in suburbs where fences are discouraged. ‘Step-overs’ are single-tier espaliers that are sometimes used to edge a border or path. A fan-trained tree is an attractive ornamental form for growing peaches, nectarines or apricots against a sunny wall.

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