Fruit trees: choosing the best

Growing your own top fruit in the garden is very rewarding and the choice is vast. From old favourites to new introductions we’ve listed some of the best.

A child inspects prize winning apples in the Fruit and Vegetable Competition at the RHS London Harvest Festival Show 2016.

Quick facts

Best top fruit for the garden
  • Apple ‘Saturn’ AGM
  • Apricot ‘Goldcot’
  • Cherry ‘Stella’ AGM
  • Peach ‘Rochester’ AGM
  • Pear ‘Concorde’ AGM
  • Plum ‘Opal’ AGM

Practical considerations

The following represents only a brief guidance on what to consider and a small selection of fruit tree cultivars well suited for the garden.

Healthy plants

Always aim to obtain healthy plants from a reputable source. Where possible, preferably buy from suppliers with Plant Health Propagation Scheme (PHPS) certification.

Rootstock

Most tree fruit cultivars are grafted or budded onto rootstocks

It is the rootstock that largely controls the size and vigour of the tree. The rootstock can also contribute to the disease resisting abilities of the plant. If smaller trees are wanted, buy cultivars grafted onto very dwarfing, dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks.

Pollination

Most apples, pears and some cherries, plums and gages are not self-fertile but need a pollinator, i.e. a different cultivar of the same kind of fruit. For example, apple will only pollinate apple, pear pollinate pear, but plums, gages will damsons will pollinate each other if compatible.

For cross pollination choose a cultivar from within the same pollination group (flowering period) or from the adjoining groups, where flowering periods overlap. The RHS uses numbers to distinguish between individual pollination groups. Other sources or suppliers may use letters. For example, the usual equivalent of 1 is A, 2 is B etc.

Cultivars with three sets of chromosomes - triploids (marked T) - are ineffective as pollinating partners. They themselves will be pollinated from others within their own or a neighbouring group. However, a third cultivar from the same or neighbouring group is needed nearby to pollinate the pollinator.

Tree fruit forms

Fruit can be trained to grown in a range of different forms and combined with the rootstock that they are grafted on this will largely determine the final size, though the cultivar vigour and growing conditions will also be an influencing factor.

Common forms

Bush: most common form. Open centre tree with a clear stem of 75cm (30in). Suitable for all top fruit and most rootstocks.

Standard and half-standard: trained as for bush, but grown on more vigorous rootstocks with longer clear stem of 1.35m (4½ft) for half-standard and 2m (6½ft) for standard.

Cordon: restricted form with single or multiple stems and also step-over. Suitable for apples, pears and some plums

Espalier: restricted form with central stem and horizontal arms. Best for apples and pears.

Fan: restricted form, branches radiate out on either side of low central stem. Well suited for most top fruit. Particularly well suited for peaches, nectarines,apricots and cherries.

Suitable fruit trees

Key
PG  = pollination group
SF = self fertile
T = triploid
B = prone to biennial bearing (link)
SoU = season of use
AGM = Award of Garden Merit

Apples

Rootstocks
M27 - extremely dwarfing
M9 - very dwarfing
M26 - dwarfing
MM106 - semi-dwarfing
MM111 - vigorous
M25 - very vigorous

Culinary (cooking) cultivars:
‘Emneth Early’ (‘Early Victoria’) -  AGM, PG: 3, SoU: July-August
‘Golden Noble’ AGM - PG: 4, SoU: October-December
‘Lane’s Prince Albert’ AGM - PG: 3, SoU: November-March
‘Bramley’s Seedling’ AGM - PG: 3(T), SoU: November-March
‘Dummellor's Seedling’ AGM - PG: 4, SoU: November-March

Dual-purpose cultivars
‘Charles Ross’ AGM - PG: 3, SoU: September-November
‘Blenheim Orange’ AGM - PG: 3(T), SoU: November-January

Dessert cultivars
‘Discovery’ AGM - PG: 3, SoU: August-September
‘Laxton's Fortune’ AGM - PG: 3 (B), SoU: September-October
‘Sunset’ AGM - PG: 3, SoU: October-December
‘Egremont Russet’ AGM - PG: 2,SoU: October-December
‘Kidd’s Orange Red’ AGM - PG: 3, SoU: November-January
‘Fiesta’ AGM - PG: 3, SoU: October-March
‘Pixie’ AGM - PG: 4, SoU: December-March
‘Greensleeves’ AGM - PG: 3, SoU: September-November
‘Falstaff’ AGM - PG: 3, SoU: October-January

Self or partly self-fertile cultivars: 'Greensleeves', 'James Grieve', 'Red Devil', 'Red Windsor', 'Scrumptious', 'Saturn' and 'Sunset'

Pears

Rootstocks
Quince C - semi-dwarfing
Quince A - semi-vigorous

Dessert (eating) cultivars
'Beth'  AGM -  PG: 3, SoU: early to mid-September
'Beurré Hardy' AGM-  PG: 3, SoU: October
'Conference' AGM - PG: 3, SoU: October to November 
'Concorde' AGM - PG: 3, SoU: October to November
'Doyenné du Comice' AGM - PG: 4, SoU: late October – end of November
'Louise Bonne of Jersey' - PG: 2 (will not pollinate 'Williams’ Bon Chrétien'), SoU: October
'Merton Pride' - PG: 3 (T), SoU: mid- to late September
'Onward' - PG: 4 (unsuitable pollinator for 'Doyenné du Comice' and vice versa), SoU: September to October
'Pitmaston Duchess' AGM - PG: 4, SoU: October to November 
'Williams’ Bon Chrétien' AGM - PG: 3 (unsuitable pollinator for 'Louise Bonne of Jersey' and vice versa), SoU: mid-September

Culinary (cooking) cultivars
‘Catillac’ AGM - PG: 4 (T), SoU: February to April

Cherries

Rootstocks
Gisela 5 or G5 - semi-dwarfing
Colt - semi-vigorous

Sweet cherry
'Kordia' AGM - black cherry, pollinated by 'Regina'/'Sylvia', Penny, 'Summer Sun', 'Stella'. SoU: mid-August
'Lapins' AGM - SF, black fruits, SoU: late summer
'Merchant' AGM - black cherry, pollinated by 'Summer Sun', 'Hertford', 'Vanda', 'Lapins', SoU: early July
'Penny 'AGM - dark red, pollinated by 'Summer Sun', 'Skeena', 'Regina'; SoU: mid- to late season
'Skeena' - SF, dark red skin, SoU: early August
'Stardust' - SF, orange flushed fruit, SoU: late July
'Sunburst' - SF, black fruits SoU: late July
'Stella' AGM - SF dark red fruits for picking SoU: late July
'Summer Sun' AGM - partly SF, but crops better if cross  pollinated with eg 'Stell'a, red to dark red fruit, SoU: in late July
'Sweetheart' - SF, red fruit ripening gradually, SoU: late August

Acid cherries
'Morello' AGM - SF, excellent flavour, SoU: late summer
'Nabella' - SF, best for jams and pies, SoU: mid-summer
'Meteor Korai' - SF, dual purpose, SoU: mid-summer

Plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines

Rootstocks
VVA-1 - semi-dwarfing (plums)
Montclair - semi-dwarfing (mostly apricots)
Pixy - semi-dwarfing (plums)
St Julian A - semi-vigorous (plums, apricot, peach and nectarine)
Torinel - semi-vigorous (mostly apricot)
Wavit - semi-vigorous (mostly plums, also apricots, nectarines and peaches)
Krymsk 86 - semi-vigorous (apricots, peaches and nectarines)
Brompton - vigorous (plums)

Plums, gages and damsons

Desert plums and gages
'Blue Tit' AGM - plum, PG: 5, self-fertile, SoU: mid-August
'Cambridge Gage' - gage, PG:4, partly self-fertile, SoU: late August to early September
'Imperial Gage' (syn. 'Denniston’s Superb') AGM - gage, PG: 2, self-fertile, SoU: late August
'Jefferson' AGM - gage, PG: 1, self-incompatible, SoU: late August to early September
'Opal' AGM - plum, PG: 3, self-fertile, SoU: early August
'Oullins Gage' AGM - gage, PG: 4, self-fertile, SoU: mid-August
'Victoria' AGM - plum, PG:3, self-fertile, SoU: late August to early September

Culinary (cooking) cultivars
'Belle de Louvain' - plum, PG: 3, self-fertile, SoU: late August
'Czar' AGM - plum, PG: 3, self-fertile, SoU early August
'Marjorie’s Seedling' AGM - plum, PG: 5, self-fertile, SoU: September
'Pershore' AGM - plum, PG: 3, self-fertile, SoU: mid-August

Damson cultivars
'Farleigh' - damson, PG: 4, self-fertile, SoU: mid-September
'Prune Damson' AGM - damson, PG: 5, self-fertile, SoU: September to October

Apricots

‘Alfred’ – SF, orange to pink flushed skin. Less prone to canker. SoU: early August
‘Flavorcot’® - SF, one of the best flavoured. Good for eating fresh. SoU: late July
‘Goldcot’ – SF, heavy crops, very good for cooking. SoU: early August
‘Tomcot’® - SF, better for UK climate, fully ripe fruit has red tinges. SoU: late July

Dwarf apricot: 'Aprigold'®, Apricompakt®

Peaches

‘Avalon Pride’ – SF, red flushed orange-yellow skin, yellow flesh. Some peach leaf curl resistance, SoU: early August
‘Duke of York’ AGM – SF, needs protection to grow and fruit well, SoU: late July
‘Hale's Early’ - Crimson streaks on white skin. Pale yellow tender flesh. SoU: late August
‘Peregrine’ AGM - SF, white-fleshed peach with an excellent flavour,  SoU: mid-August
‘Redhaven’ – SF, yellow-fleshed peach, well flavoured if in full sun. SoU: mid-August
‘Rochester’ AGM – SF, yellow-fleshed peach, grows better with some protection. Later flowering, so less susceptible to frost damage. SoU: mid-August

Dwarf peach cultivars: 'Pix Zee', ‘Bonanza’, ‘Garden Lady’

Nectarines

‘Humboldt’- SF, orange fleshed, flowering freely. SoU: late August
‘Lord Napier’ AGM - SF, pale yellow with crimson flush. Needs a very sunny aspect. SoU: early August
‘Early Rivers’ AGM - SF, good flavour, SoU: mid-July

Dwarf nectarine cultivars: Nectarine - Rubis®, ‘Fantasia’, ‘Nectarella’, ‘Snow Baby’

Advertise here

Gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Did you find the advice you needed?

RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.

Join the RHS now

Discuss this

for the site or to share your experiences on this topic and seek advice from our community of gardeners.

Get involved

We're a UK charity established to share the best in gardening. We want to enrich everyone's life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.