I was inspired by Dave Goulson to write this post, he’s a UK professor, specialising in ecology, who has made his mission to bring as much wildlife to his garden as possible, and he’s pretty wild about apple trees. What he has achieved and recorded at his own house is incredible. You may have spotted him on Gardener’s World lately.
If you don’t know who he is, it’s worth reading his books, both fascinating and practical.
There are a few considerations, but it’s not difficult as may you think.
You might be thinking that sounds great but you don’t have the space for apple trees.
First of all you don’t need a huge garden to grow them. If you can fit a full size apple tree (called a Standard) which can get to 4m tall, and will be a real thing of beauty, and that’s great.
But many, me included, don’t have the space for a full size one, but that’s ok! There are many varieties of dwarf apple trees, they only reach 4/5ft and so can be easily harvested too. You can even get miniature and patio varieties for pots.
They can fit in most spaces, once you find the apple you want you can pick the size that works for you.
One of the main things to consider is that it’s best to have at least two trees for it to thrive properly. It needs a different ‘cultivar’ tree that flowers at the same time.
This is so they can be pollinated well by insects and therefore grow better quality fruit.
This sounds complex, but you can often buy them in pairs that are well suited. Or you’ll see them labelled with the same number or letter to represent the pollination group. Most websites that sell apple trees or roots will have quite comprehensive info for you to read too.
If you don’t have space for 2, check if there are any apple trees already living nearby in a neighbouring garden.
Or if you’re friendly with a neighbour, can you put them side by side by the adjoining fence in front or back garden? Then you’ll both reap the benefits and get better quality homegrown apples.
If you really can’t grow 2, then there are also self-pollinating versions available of many apple trees. They will still produce fruit, but maybe not as plentiful.
Here are just a few of the benefits of your own apple tree
You can harvest your own apples come September. There are thousands of varieties so you can choose one for the exact taste you like. A few varieties that taste great are Saturn, D’estivale Ambassy, Red Fallstaff and way more
Growing your own gives you more control, and you can have organic, pesticide-free apples with little cost.
And you’ll often have enough to share with friends and family if you want. You can eat them or even try making your own cider.
Especially when you’re just growing for fun, there’s no need to use insecticides. Predators and prey will generally balance out and you wont lose much crop.
For more info, the RHS have a really in depth guide to growing and caring for apple trees
When grown without pesticides, Apple trees bring a whole ecosystem of wildlife where they grow.
More than 2,000 arthropod (insects and spiders etc.) species have been found in British apple orchards!
One important insect, for example, is earwigs. They are a vital part of the apple tree ecosystem, helping to reduce pests. They’re really beneficial. They eat aphids, coddling moths and allsorts. If you find them on your tree, be thankful!
When people think of growing orchards or apple trees, they often think of the potential harm by insects rather than any benefits, but with some planning and the power of nature, you can build an army of predator bugs to help combat common pests.
Because of this abundance of insects, some wanted (and yes, some perhaps unwanted) the tree supports a wider complex ecosystem of birds, bats, and shrews and all sorts. The benefits really spread out.
If you let a few apples drop to the floor, they’ll provide food for small mammals like hedgehogs and offer a late sugar boost for butterflies, ants and more.
Trees absorb carbon from the air and release oxygen. A dwarf apple tree will be less impactful, but it’s still better than nothing!
If you plant in the ground, the deep roots will also help hold soil, reduce erosion, and reduce flooding.
Imagine if, instead of all these paved yards, we had a few apple trees. I need to write more about flooding in Wigan, but I bet that would make a difference.
Apple trees planted on a small scale will achieve some of these benefits, but an orchard can be a priority habitat. An orchard is officialy 5 or more trees together.
Traditional orchards are in decline, with many heavily sprayed with pesticides, killings the ‘pests’, and rest. Here is an excellent summary of the benefits of a traditional orchard for wildlife
One of our goals would be to start a small communal orchard (or 2!) within Wigan Borough, planned with the community and wildlife in mind. Fingers crossed we can make it happen.