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As with many other subjects, the people most likely to tell you with absolute conviction that you cannot grow apples at high altitude are generally those who have never tried it.

 

It is worth remembering that apple trees originated in the high plateaus of central Asia. The last surviving wild apple forests in the world are found in the Tien Shan mountain range of southern Kazakhstan. Apples are grown throughout the world in a staggering variety of locations including at over 3000 meteres in the Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau. In short, the apple is an incredibly resilient and versatile plant.

 

At Welsh Mountain Orchards in Mid Wales, we are growing over 400 varieties of apple and pear in our trials at 1200 feet. Nearly all are thriving and beginning to crop respectably.  If you have a similar high altitude, windy, exposed site, there is every prospect that you, too, can grow useful crops of fruit.

 

The main reasons for failure of fruit tree plantings in high altitude and challenging sites is poor selection of trees and rootstocks for those places and poor advice on planting and care.

 

It seems that a lot of nurseries grow trees in very favourable locations (even in netted enclosures or polytunnels), feeding heavily and treating the young plants in such a way as to quickly grow cosmetically appealing trees. These are as big and impressive looking as they can be so that they will sell well in garden centres and appeal to “instant gardening” enthusiasts.

 

If you plant trees that have been started in a very rich soil or compost, and in a mild protected climate, then, once planted out on a more challenging site, the trees are at the very best going to go into shock for a couple of years. At worst, they are going to turn up their roots and die!

 

Much of the advice on tree care and rootstock selection provided by such nurseries is very much geared towards growing trees in the most favourable conditions imaginable. Hardly anybody actually grows trees in such mythical conditions.  

 

It is true that the growing season at altitude is shorter, and that winds are often stronger and rainfall higher. On the other hand, hillside sites are often less susceptible to late frosts than lowland sites. They are less exposed to the pesticides and pollutants that decimate pollinating insects and beneficial wildlife down below. If the scientists prove to be right about climate change, it may well be that upland sites will be the ONLY places that apple growing is viable in the U.K. in future.

 

While at the moment it would be foolish to expect the 40 ton an acre yields produced in the intensively farmed lowland bush orchards of Herefordshire, there is every reason to expect respectable crops from properly planned and maintained high altitude orchards in Britain.

 

Here are some rules of thumb:

1. Plant young (one or two year old) trees.
2. Plant trees grown “hard”.
3. Plant trees on vigorous rootstocks.
4. Use the forestry notch planting system.
5. Don't stake trees.
6. Avoid over fertilising trees.
7. Protect trees from animal (rabbit, hare, sheep, deer) attack.
8. Plant wind breaks, whilst avoiding creating frost traps with unbroken hedges at the bottom of slopes.
 

There is more information about planting and growing trees at altitude and on challenging terrain on this web site, as well as in our book "How to Grow Apples and Make Cider including Grow Pears and Make Perry" which is also available to order here.

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