The nice thing about apples, pears, plums, cherries and the like is that not only do they fulfil a useful function but they look decorative, too. However, before you rush out and buy one for the centre of your lawn, there are a few things to bear in mind.
Size. Top fruit grown on its own roots has a very vigorous habit in general, and so those trees you buy are grafted on to a different rootstock which slows down vegetative growth and brings them into bearing earlier.
Apples are nowadays grafted on to M27 (very dwarf, suitable for tub cultivation), M9 (dwarf) and the semi-dwarf MM106. Choose a very dwarf type if you are extremely short of space — these will require staking all their lives — or a fairly dwarf-growing form if you have more room. Young apple trees can be obtained in a variety of free-standing forms — pyramids and bush trees are again useful in comparatively small spaces but can make mowing difficult underneath as the branches come so low down. For this reason a half-standard on a 4 ft stem might be a better choice, though it may be grafted on to a less dwarfing rootstock so could grow into quite a big tree in time. Standard fruit trees are not often seen now as they grow into such large trees that picking is very difficult.
In addition to the free-standing forms, cordons and espaliers (and occasionally fan-trained forms) are available, suitable for planting against walls and fences or training on post and wire supports.
Family trees are apple and pear trees where several varieties, which pollinate each other, have been grafted on to the same rootstock. This enables you to grow several varieties in a small space.
‘Ballerina’ trees are special varieties which produce no side branches, all the fruit being formed on spurs off the main trunk.
‘Minarette’ trees are specially trained forms of normal apple and pear varieties. They are somewhat like an upright cordon and are treated as such.
Pears are usually grafted on to Quince C rootstock, which is semi-dwarfing, or sometimes on to Quince A which is less dwarfing, but more suitable for weaker-growing varieties, not-so-good growing conditions, and poor soils. They are obtainable in the same forms as apples.
Plums (including damsons and gages, which are similar) used to be grafted on to a number of rootstocks, most of them vigorous, except for St Julien A, which is semi-dwarfing. Now a more satisfactory dwarfing rootstock, known as Pixy, has been developed, resulting in the production of trees with a much smaller habit and which come into regular fruiting quicker. If you have only limited space, choose this type. Plums are available as half-standards (which make quite sizeable trees eventually), bush, pyramid and fan-trained forms for walls and fences. Wall-trained plums fruit very well because of the additional warmth of the wall or fence.
Peaches, nectarines and apricots. These are taken together as they are very similar in many respects. In most parts of the country the only practical form, particularly for apricots, is the fan, planted against a warm wall. Fan-trained trees are usually grafted on to St Julien A or Brompton rootstock so become quite large in time, but in certain cases Pixy is now being used. This makes a good small bush for a confined space or tub culture, but is really too small for fan-training, although stock grafted on to Pixy will start to bear fruit considerably sooner.
Cherries. At one time, cherries were not practical for any but larger gardens as there were no dwarfing stocks known, but there is now a semi-dwarfing stock called Colt, which makes cherries a more viable proposition for the small garden. Bush and half-standard forms are available, but the easiest to look after is the fan.