Fruit Tree Forms

Tree Forms

Fruit trees are very seldom raised from cuttings or seed; either a single bud or a small shoot of the required variety is budded or grafted onto a ready-made set of roots called the rootstock. Not only is this the surest way to achieve success but it also enables us to control the vigour and ultimate size of the tree.

Along with the characteristics of the rootstock, though, has to be considered the vigour of the actual variety that you are thinking of planting. For example, it is very difficult to keep a tree of the cooking apple Bramley’s Seedling small because it is a naturally vigorous (strong growing) variety. On the other hand, the eating apple Worcester Pearmain is rather slow growing so it takes a long time to grow into a large tree. Clearly this will have a bearing on the choice of variety for a particular garden.

The benefit of this wide range of vigours and sizes is that it is now possible to buy apple trees that will grow to almost any eventual size. Nor are other fruits excluded from this wide choice, though, admittedly, the scope is more limited.



The most vigorous and largest fruit tree is called a ‘standard’. This has a trunk about 6ft (2m) tall and the actual tree, depending on the type of fruit and the variety, may be 20-30ft (6-9m) high with a similar spread. Cherries, except for the acid Morello type, can grow even larger Apples, pears, plums and cherries can all be grown as standards but, and it is a big ‘but’, standards only have a place where there is ample room. Few gardens are large enough for them these days. This great size, of course, is not only awkward because of the space the tree takes up; a tree as large as that is also hard to pick, prune and spray.

When planting standards, allow 18-24ft (5.5-7m) between trees.



Next down in size, and probably the best tree form for a specimen in a border or lawn, is the ‘half-standard’. Although smaller, it still stands 15-20ft (4.5-6m) high on a trunk some 4ft (1.2m) tall. It is this length of trunk, though, that makes it so suitable for gardens; there is ample height to mow or cultivate under without getting tied up in the branches and there is enough room to grow other plants right up to the base. The same types of fruit that are grown as standards can also be grown as half-standards.

Similar problems to those encountered with standards, as regards size, apply to half-standards but not to the same extent. Plant the trees about 20ft (6m) apart.


half standards and bush trees

Bush Trees

For many years, ‘bush’ trees have been the most popular both in private gardens and in commercial orchards. They are small in comparison with standards and half-standards and will produce good crops in well under ten years. Bush trees have about 30in (75cm) of trunk, but are still capable of reaching 12-15ft (3.5-4.5m) in height. They are, thus, just smaller versions of the same basic theme.

In a garden, the short trunk might be thought to be an advantage, and in respect of the tree’s ultimate height and ease of working it is. However; it is the same short trunk that is also the chief disadvantage; it results in a tree whose bottom branches are too low for working under or growing anything beneath and which, if not controlled, will bend down to the ground with the weight of fruit.

Allow 8-18ft (2.5-5.5m) between bush trees, depending on the natural vigour of the tree and the rootstock.

Apples, pears, plums, cherries and, at a pinch, peaches are all suitable for growing in this form. One has to be slightly guarded about peaches because, except in really mild districts, bush trees in the open are too exposed to be completely satisfactory; they do far better when trained against a west or south-west facing wall or fence.

The three tree forms, standard, half-standard and bush, are comparatively easy to prune because they are shaped roughly as Nature intended and no elaborate training system is needed. The snag is that, once they reach a certain size, all will require ladders for picking and pruning. In addition, their height can make them difficult to spray and protect from spring frosts. Given a large enough garden, both bush and half-standards are fine;the actual choice will depend on whether or not you want to use the ground beneath them.

As already mentioned, half-standards make fine specimen trees in a lawn or border, but they can equally well take their place in the vegetable garden, as can bush trees. Two important points that need to be taken into account here are that all trees cast heavy shadows when they are in leaf and that they often need spraying at times when it isn’t always desirable for the spray to fall on other plants nearby. This is especially so with vegetables as it frequently happens that they are ready to pick when the trees need to be sprayed.


Click this link to see more tree forms – Cordons, Espaliers and Fan-trained fruit trees

And this link for Spindle-bush fruit trees

14. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Fruit Gardening, Fruit Trees | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Fruit Tree Forms


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