A BEAUTIFUL addition to any garden – if you only have room for one tree, grow a crab apple.
LAST weekend, two trees vied for my attention.
Strangely, it wasn’t the Christmas variety which took pole position, although that was delivered while digging a hole for its rival.
No, the focus of my attention was crab apple John Downie, a present from my lovely work colleagues.
I’ve always coveted crab apples.
They’re a great all-round performer for a smallish garden.
Firstly, there’s the spring blossom – John Downie has pink buds opening to reveal pretty white cup-shaped flowers in April and May.
This is followed by large orange and red fruits in autumn, perfect for making crab apple jelly, or adding to apple pies.
It’s also a good tree for wildlife – any unpicked fruits soften after a few frosts to create a food source for wild birds.
Crab apples are self fertile and will improve the pollination of other apple trees nearby.
The tree is grown on a semi-dwarf M26 rootstock, which restricts its height and spread to about 3m (10ft).
When you receive a tree at this time of year, most likely it will be a bare root specimen. This is exactly what it says – a young tree grown in the ground at a nursery, then dug up while dormant ready to plant in the winter.
Don’t worry if it looks like a dead stick – it is perfect for transporting and planting.
You can also buy container-grown plants, which are usually more expensive and can be put in at any time of the year.
I did take a photo of mine but it looked really pathetic and I didn’t want to waste the space on the page!
You should plant fruit trees as soon as possible if bare rooted and soak the roots in a bucket of water for an hour before you plant.
If the ground’s too wet, frozen or you’re too busy, you can also moisten the roots in a bucket of water and stand it is a cool, frost-free place, but only for a week or so.
If the delay is longer, the tree should be “heeled in” to a temporary planting hole in the soil.
An empty patch in a raised bed or even a large container will suffice if the ground is waterlogged or frozen.
Fruit trees grow best in a sunny and sheltered position, although a little shade is OK for crab apples.
My tree’s new home is at the top of the garden which I’m revamping.
It’ll get quite a few hours of sun, more so as it grows.
The site needs to have good quality and well-drained soil.
Annoyingly, the ground I cleared had been under paving stones for 40-odd years, with none of the extra topsoil the rest of the garden has.
The hole needed to be twice as big as the rootball – not easy when you’re dealing with impacted clay and lumps of brick.
I ended up chipping away at the clay to remove the building debris with a hand fork, either that or jar my wrists when hitting the rubble.
Naturally, the soil really needed improving, so I dug in plenty of well-rotted compost and some bonemeal.
Don’t forget to hammer in a stake before planting to avoid damaging the roots. Spreading the roots in the hole, make sure the tree is at the same level that it was in the nursery (the soil mark on the stem). Fasten the tree to the stake with a tree tie (or an old stocking to shock the neighbours), if you like recycling.
Backfill the remaining soil around the roots and gently firm the soil in with the sole of your shoe.
Water thoroughly after planting and during its first year. Insert a piece of plastic pipe with holes drilled in the sides, reaching from the roots to just above the soil.
Do this when you plant to channel water to where it is needed and minimising surface rooting.
Keep a square metre of soil around the trunk free from grass and weeds.
Mulch with well-rotted manure or landscape fabric to suppress weeds and retain moisture, but keep away from the trunk to prevent it rotting.