Most of our trees are supplied as "bare-root maidens" - this means they will arrive as a single flexible stem between 4ft-6ft in height.
Some varieties will have naturally produced a few initial side-branches, known as "feathers", others will not (and are known as "whips"), however all will be more than 11/16" diameter at the base of the stem.
The entire tree will be about 2-years old when supplied in the spring of delivery to the customer. The rootstock will have been planted 2 years before, and the scion variety then bud-grafted that summer. We call this a "1-year" tree but some people call it a 2-year tree because of the time the rootstock has been growing.
We also supply lower cost "June-budded" trees, which have been bud-grafted the previous summer. These trees have not had as much growing time as our main range and are therefore smaller - about 3ft-4ft in height, and just under 1/2" diameter at the base of the stem. They will still produce full-size trees in time, and are also useful for training into fans and espaliers.
We generally do not supply trees older than 2-3 years, because older trees are much more difficult to transplant successfully.
Mature height of fruit trees
The size information we provide (such as "small" or "medium") relates to the mature size of the tree - not the size of the tree as we supply it. Regardless of the expected mature size of the tree, as supplied it is likely to be 4ft-6ft in height, because at this young age most trees tend to be similar in size. On rare occasions we may cut the tree down in order to fit into our carriers' packaging. If this is necessary, it is done just prior to shipping and does not affect the growth of the tree - in fact it is good practice to prune the tree just after transplanting anyway.
The most important thing to consider when selecting a fruit tree is how big you ultimately want it to be - its mature height. The mature height is affected by many factors but the main one is the rootstock on which the tree has been propagated. A typical apple tree, growing in the wild on its own "seedling" roots, might reach a height of 20ft-25ft. A wild cherry tree will be even larger. By propagating the desired variety onto size-controlling rootstocks, the final height can be limited to something more suitable for a garden or small orchard.
Rootstocks are usually derived from related species of trees which are naturally smaller - or more "dwarfing". For example, pear trees are often grafted on to rootstocks derived from quinces which are closely related to pears but produce smaller trees. Apple trees are usually grafted on to rootstocks derived from related Malus species. For more information about rootstocks see this page.
The rootstock also has a big influence on the time it takes the fruit tree to reach its mature height. In general, the more dwarfing the rootstock the quicker the tree will mature. Apples on the dwarfing M9 or G16 rootstocks may reach their mature height and spread within 4-5 years - which of course means you will be enjoying full crops relatively quickly. Apple trees grown on the MM106 rootstock will take longer (and be bigger of course) - perhaps 5-8 years, but will start bearing a useful crop after 4 years or so. Rates are different for different species, plums for example generally take a couple of years longer than apples to reach maturity.
The next most important factor which will determine the mature size of the tree is the natural vigour of the fruit variety. For example, Bramley's Seedling is a vigorous variety, and grown in the same conditions and on the same rootstock as, say, a Rubinette, is likely to produce a larger tree.
Other factors influencing the mature size of the tree are the local conditions that you provide after planting - soil, climate, annual temperatures, and cultivation techniques. Different varieties have different preferences, and one variety may thrive whilst another struggles in your particular conditions.
We provide approximate mature heights as a guide, but please bear in mind all the above information when deciding what size meets your requirements. If you need advice please use our inquiry form and we will be happy to help.
You might also want to try our Tree Height Calculator. This calculator makes an allowance not only for the rootstock, but also the natural vigour of the chosen variety, the condition of your soil and your local climate.