The reason why your apple tree isn't bearing fruit – and how to get a good crop

apple tree
Late August and early September often sees the ripening of the earliest of our garden apples - Anna Stowe / Alamy Stock Photo

Apple trees make the most wonderful additions to your garden. If you have limited space, a small apple tree will not only provide you with a beautiful array of blossom in the late spring, followed by delicious fruit in the early autumn, it will also provide the most wonderful habitat and food source for insects and birds.

The majority of apple trees are cross-pollinated, which means they need another apple tree in the garden or vicinity to be flowering at the same time to achieve that cross-pollination and ensure a good crop. For gardeners who are disappointed with their yield, this could be due to a lack of or poor pollination. In some cases, apple trees can be biennially bearing, which means that a good crop will occur every other year.

The big question at this time of year is when an apple is ripe and ready to be picked. There are a few clues that indicate the fruit is ready to be harvested. The first one that I look for is a scattering of windfalls. The second indicator is that when you gently cup the fruit with your hand and twist, the apple should come away quite easily. The third one comes from cutting a picked apple in half: the seeds should have turned brown; if the seeds are still white or pale, the fruit needs a little longer to fully ripen. The final indication will be the taste: most eating apples should have a sweet flavour.

Late August and early September often sees the ripening of the earliest of our garden apples, which tend to be cookers and generally do not store well, so they need to be eaten quickly. As a trend, the later the apple, the ­better it stores. Bramley’s Seedling apples, which ripen around October and November, can often be stored for many weeks.

There are a number of ways that we can preserve apples as they fall. I have found that peeling and coring the fruit, then cutting it into sections and painting them with lemon juice, is good preparation for freezing. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, place the pieces of fruit on the baking tray and freeze them, then transfer them into a plastic bag – perfect for pies and crumbles.

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