When choosing a fruit tree for your garden, you can either choose a bare root tree and plant it or pot it up during the dormant season. Or you can buy a pot grown fruit tree at any point through the year from a garden centre or plant nursery. You will first of all, of course, have to decide where you will be growing your fruit tree. It is important to think carefully about whether you will be growing in containers, or in the ground. And it is also crucial to think about which type of fruit you would like to grow for yourself and your family. But there is one more very important question to ask yourself when choosing a fruit tree. And that is what shape of fruit tree you should choose.
Knowing where you will be growing a fruit tree will help you determine how large and vigorous a variety you should choose. Remember that different fruit trees are grafted onto different rootstocks, which determine how large a tree will grow and how quickly it will do so. Hand in hand with deciding on the size of tree (and rootstock) that you should choose is shape. The shape of a particular fruit tree is another important consideration which will help you decide whether or not a particular pot grown example is right for you and your garden.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some common fruit tree shapes and talk about why this might be a good choice for your garden:
Standard Shape Fruit Trees
A standard fruit tree is the typical, natural form. A tree will have a central trunk, and a broad and open canopy. It will stand on its own, without any support. And no extensive pruning or training work will be required – just standard winter pruning is usually sufficient to keep such fruit trees happy, healthy and productive.
Standard fruit trees are common choices for larger gardens, where a natural and low maintenance look is desired. The eventual size to which standard forms will grow will of course depend on the rootstock to which the fruiting part of the tree was grafted. Where space is not really an issue, full standards are suitable, but for smaller spaces, standards can still work if a smaller fruit tree, a half-standard, or a tree on a dwarfing rootstock is chosen. Where there is space for a standard tree, these can often be the easiest and most straightforward choice.
Bush Shape Fruit Trees
In smaller spaces, bush shape fruit trees can come in handy. These are trees which just have a short length of trunk before branching, or, with certain fruit trees, branch out from ground level. These trees can be restricted in height – often to around just 2.5m.
Bush shape fruit trees can be useful where you want to grow trees without blocking light from a window, for example. Their lower height and the fact that fruits form closer to the ground can also make things easier come harvest time. However, it is worth noting that bush types won’t typically fruit as abundantly as standard trees. And it will be a little more difficult to plant, tend and maintain plants around their bases. However, they can be a good choice where space is limited, but you still want to ease and convenience of a free-standing tree.
Pyramid Shape Fruit Tree
Pyramid shape fruit trees are similar to bush forms. These are also free standing, But the main leader has been allowed to advance higher, forming a tree with a narrow top and wider branches closest to the base. These pyramid shaped trees are popular forms for many fruit trees, including apples, pears, plums, gages and damsons. The benefit of the pyramid shape, aside from aesthetics, is that the shape allows sunlight to reach all the fruits to ripen them more quickly.
Fan Trained Fruit Tree
A fan trained tree is a tree which has been trained into the shape of a fan, which can be supported against a wall or fence. This is one option which allows you to grow a fruit tree up against the edge of your garden, for all the benefits of a fruit tree without too much shade or too much investment in terms of garden space. Any young maiden fruit tree can be developed into a fan, but it can save a lot of time and effort if you purchase a ready fan-trained tree to get you started.
While fan trained trees can be great way to beautify a wall or fence, and produce food in every inch of your garden, it is worth noting that fan trained trees without adequate support can be rather fragile.There will also, of course, as with the other options listed below, be a bit more work involved with support, training and pruning these shapes.
Espaliered Fruit Tree
Like fan trained trees, espaliered fruit trees are meant to be placed up against a wall or fence. As with the above, they have a relatively flat profile and won’t take up too much space or cast too much shade in your garden. An espaliered tree carries its fruit on evenly matched horizontal branches, which are trained along horizontal supports out from the central trunk.
As with fans, you can train a young maiden tree into an espalier form. But if you want more quick results, or are inexperienced when it comes to pruning, then choosing a pot grown tree with espalier form could be a good idea.
One unusual type of espalier fruit tree is a ‘step-over’ tree. A step over apple tree is a popular option for edging areas of a garden, a vegetable plot or potager bed. This is a fruit tree trained horizontally, with the vertical leader removed and branches trained horizontally at low level.
Pleached Fruit Tree
A related though somewhat different idea, pleached fruit trees are trees trained to have a bare trunk at low level, with a square of horizontally trained branches at the top. When placed next to each other, fruit trees of this type create a raised or floating hedge. These can be placed to allow light through beneath, or placed in front of a fence to provide more privacy in your garden by raising the height of this border fence or lower wall.
Columnar/ Cordon Fruit Tree
In limited spaces, columnar or cordon fruit trees allow you to grow more fruit than you might ever have imagined possible. These fruit trees have vertical forms, with as many short and stubby fruiting spurs as possible, close in to the trunk. These fruit trees can be spaced just a metre apart, or even closer. While, like the other trained forms above, there will be specific pruning work involved, using fruit trees of this shape is a great way to maximise productivity in a small space.
These shapes of fruit trees can be grown in the open ground, or up against a wall, fence, or a garden shed. They take up so little space that they can be grown almost anywhere – in the ground or in suitable containers.
Which shape do you like for fruit trees? Which options do you have in your garden? Let us know and share your experiences in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.