I received an interesting question about family trees recently.
Family trees are fruit (or nut) trees where you get several varieties on the same plant. They are made by grafting twigs of the different varieties (called "scions" in the trade) onto one young tree.
Here's the question, from Myra in Ontario, Canada:
My Mom is looking to buy an apple tree that has five different type of apples on it.
I understand these are grafted. I was also told that by the third winter, all but one variety would be
surviving and that another apple tree would be required to keep that one going. Is this correct?
This was my answer:
The problem with a family tree is balance.
What can happen if you don't look after it constantly is that the strongest variety may grow too quickly,
causing the other varieties to stop growing or die off.
Will your mum tend to the tree most days, pinching out shoots and fussing over
it all of the time? Does she love plants and spend a lot of time with them?
Will she be proud of it and show her friends how she's looked after it?
If so, a family tree is fine for her.
Or - does she plant something, leave it for a while, and then notice weeks later
that it's died or needs urgent attention?
If so, don't buy a family tree.
Family trees need interest, constant vigilance, and care, if they are to be productive
and worth the money.
You can get some good doubles (2 varieties only) which need less attention -
where the varieties are well-matched, but even these can be troublesome.
Incidentally, if you have a family tree, you do NOT need another tree for
pollination. This is incorrect science.
N.D., Diversity website
Graham Deacon of the well-known Isle of Wight nursery, comments in his catalogue that a significant advantage to family trees is the ease with which bees will pollinate the whole tree and hence all varieties get a good set, because all the blossom is together and the bees move easily over all varieties. A bee on one trip only forages over a very small area.
Bill from Vancouver Island offers the following observation:
"In this area there are alot of Gravensteins (triploid), the most popular apple 50-100 years ago. Anyplace there are Gravs planted, there are also Transparents (a relatively useless variety), specifically because they make good pollenizers for the Gravs. The actual reason they work well, although as much as 10 days off the bloom period, is that bees go after particular colours, and both varieties have nearly totally white bloom. Just some trivia from a life of apple observations....".
Back to top