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Home-grown apples are so tasty they’re worth treating with care, says Monty Don

This is not exactly a bad year for apples – the fruit are as delicious and healthy as ever – but it is certainly a thin crop. There are far fewer in my garden than last year, although that was a bumper harvest and it’s normal for apples to grow sparingly in the year following an exceptionally large crop.

Last year we made numerous bottles of delicious apple juice, stored hundreds of unblemished fruit and still had plenty left over to feed our pigs; this year I will be treasuring every single apple and trying to store as many as possible.

The secret of storing apples is to treat them with the same delicacy as eggs. This process of care begins with the picking. 

Monty Don shared his advice for storing apples as he claims home-grown apples are better than the ones in the supermarket. Pictured: Monty harvesting his apples with Nellie

Never knock them off with a stick or let them fall to the ground; instead, gently take each fruit in the palm of your hand, lift it to the horizontal, twisting slightly, and if it is ripe it will come away gently in your hand. If not, lower it back down and try again the next day.

Place your apples carefully into a basket and store them in a cool, dark place – which, ideally, should also be slightly humid. Garages, sheds or cellars are perfect as long as they can be kept free of rodents, which might be tempted to eat the fruit.

Home-grown apples are incomparably better than the ones in the supermarket. Commercial apples are selected primarily for their ability to travel and look appetising rather than their taste. 

ASK MONTY

Q When is the best time to buy a fig tree, can it be grown in a container and, if so, what compost should I use?

Elaine Rixson, Norfolk

A You can buy a fig at any time as they’re usually sold in a container rather than bare root. It can spend its life in a container, although you may have to repot it as it grows. Use a peat-free compost mixed with horticultural grit.

Q Despite regular feeding, my 15-year-old blueberry pot plant produces only very small fruit now. Can you help?

Tony Moon, East Sussex

A I think it may be starting to outgrow its pot and so taking up insufficient nutrients or water to support healthy fruit. Try putting it in a pot that’s a little larger, and replace the old compost with a peat-free ericaceous compost.

Q What should I do with my lemon trees over winter?

Maureen Turner, Bedfordshire

A Lemons need protection from frosts but would find the house too warm, so place in a shed or cool porch. Water only about once a month, and spray with a mister every few days.

Write to Monty Don at Weekend, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email [email protected] Please include your full name and address. We regret Monty can’t reply to letters personally.

They’re reduced to a bland uniformity, although the apple is among the most diverse fruits in the world, with over 6,000 varieties.

Having a selection of your own apples for baking, stewing, making into pies or crumbles and just munching is a real treat. You don’t need much space either – apples grow very well as bushes, espaliers, cordons and step-overs without affecting the size of the fruit.

The coming months are the best time to plant an apple tree. Taste as many fruits as you can, then choose which you like best. The internet is the place to search for the less common varieties and there are many good suppliers out there. 

Bare-root trees tend to be cheaper, establish more quickly and come with a much wider choice, but garden centres will always supply apple trees in a container and these are easier to handle and will do perfectly well.

You will need two because no apple tree is truly self-pollinating. Apples are subdivided into pollination groups, with the earliest flowering in group one and the latest in group eight. 

Trees from adjacent groups will pollinate each other, although having two trees from the same group is the best option.

They do best on rich but well-drained soil in a sunny but sheltered position. Dig a wide but not too deep hole – the aim is to encourage the roots to spread horizontally as quickly as possible. 

Don’t add compost or manure – the lack of it will motivate the roots to grow beyond the planting hole. Plant the tree so that the junction of the trunk and roots is slightly above soil level, which will encourage the roots to spread and avoid the risk of them being too wet. 

Stake securely, angling the stake at 45° into the prevailing wind. Water generously, then mulch the surface well after planting. 

MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK: ROSA MOYESII

Monty said Rosa moyesii (pictured) is tough and will grow almost anywhere but will do best in sun on well-drained, rich soil

Monty said Rosa moyesii (pictured) is tough and will grow almost anywhere but will do best in sun on well-drained, rich soil

Autumn is a time to glory in rosehips, and none are more dramatically decorative than those produced by Rosa moyesii. The plant itself is potentially a very tall shrub – the arching stems can reach 4 metres high – that produces single, blood red flowers with golden stamens. 

These then create the flask-shaped fruit, which start out a deep orange and gradually get brighter, and they will stay on the plant well into winter. Like all species roses, R. moyesii is tough and will grow almost anywhere but will do best in sun on well-drained, rich soil. 

THIS WEEK’S JOB: PLANT WALLFLOWERS

Wallflowers go perfectly with tulips in spring, and young plants – which can be bought cheaply – will bloom next March or April if planted now. They do best in alkaline soil and in full sun. Plant firmly 30cm apart, cut back straggly plants and pinch out flowers that appear before spring.

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