If you’re thinking about planting apple trees or possibly looking for some less-common type of blooming ornamental trees, a cordon apple tree is a great choice.
What is a cordon apple tree? A cordon apple tree is an apple tree that is heavily pruned to one central stem and several short lateral branches. This growing method usually is done at a 45-degree angle to allow for easy maintenance and picking. While they may not produce as heavily, their fruits are normal in size.
Read on below and learn everything you need to know about cordon apple trees, including how they save you time and space!
What’s the Difference Between a Tree and a Cordon?
The difference between a cordon and a tree is found in the manner in which they are planted, grown, and harvested.
For example, a standard Fuji apple tree and a cordon Fuji apple tree are indeed the same exact species, but they may look drastically different from one another.
Regular trees are planted with their central stem (also known as their trunk) straight up and down. Cordon trees are the same trees, just planted at a 45° angle and pruned down to several short branches.
When the cordon trees grow, they do produce fruit, though not as much as trees grown in the normal manner. However, the do require less space and are easier to maintain and harvest.
Cordon Tree Benefits
The benefits of cordon trees are quite impressive when it comes right down to it.
The biggest benefit is that they take up much less space than a standard tree and may start producing before standard fruit trees each year.
The second big advantage is that they can be planted much closer together than regular apple trees.
Additional benefits are that they look unique for landscaping, they have improved airflow, and boast higher pest and disease resistance.
How Productive Are Cordon Apple Trees?
The average cordon apple tree will not produce bushels and bushels of fruit simply due to its small size and short branches.
However, it’s quite possible to harvest as much as 20 pounds of apples per tree each season!
Do Cordon Apple Trees Produce Full-Size Apples?
The apples produced on cordon trees are the same as apples produced on regular apple trees.
The exception is if your cordon species is a type that produce a smaller-than-average apple to begin with.
Do You Need To Plant More Than One Cordon Apple Tree?
Technically speaking, if you plant self-pollinators, you can plant one cordon apple tree.
However, it’s recommended to plant three or four in a row. That way they can pollinate each other and you have more fruit production, and it’s more aesthetically pleasing as well!
Cordon vs. Espalier
Cordon trees are grown at 45° angles and consist of one main trunk and several short, stubby branches on which the fruit grows. All other branches are pruned and removed from the tree each year.
They grow delicious, full-size fruit and are easier to harvest than regular trees. They also look nice in groups of several trees.
Espalier trees, on the other hand, are grown vertically, like normal trees. The major difference is that espalier trees have their branches trained to grow horizontally.
The fact that they have only one or two branches aside from their central stem makes them more similar to cordons and less like regular trees.
The biggest difference between a double cordon and a normal cordon is that double cordons aren’t always planted at an angle. In fact, most double cordons are grown vertically.
Double cordon trees resemble the letter U with two main branches as opposed to one, but some growers prefer to train four main growing branches to achieve a double U cordon.
Are Columnar Apple Trees the Same as Cordons?
Yes, the terms cordon and columnar are often used interchangeably, but there are some slight differences.
Cordon trees have one central trunk with several short branches for bearing fruit and are typically grown at a 45° angle.
Columnar is a term used for an apple tree with a naturally upright, narrow growth habit.
The branches on these trees may be more numerous and longer than those of a cordon tree, but the purpose and results are similar.
Which Apple Varieties Are Good for Cordons?
Depending on your personal taste and the local market, there are a ton of great options for cordon apple trees:
- Cox Plus
- Egremont Russet
- Blenheim Orange
- Granny Smith
- Lady in Red
- Red Delicious
- Pitmaston Pine Apple
It’s always good to inquire around locally as to what apple trees grow best in the region, especially if you are new to apple tree care.
How Do You Make an Apple Cordon Tree?
Making an apple cordon tree is extremely straightforward:
Simply plant a regular apple tree as you would normally, except align the central stem at an angle of 45° rather than setting it straight up and down.
If you are planting more than one cordon apple tree at a time, which is highly recommended, use a string and stakes or poles to keep them aligned properly.
Make sure to leave at least 2 or 3 feet between each apple cordon tree for best results.
In late summer or early fall, prune new side branches back several inches, leaving three leaves above the basal cluster.
Stems emerging from the short branches should be cut back to only one leaf past the basal cluster. The main trunk can also be be pruned to your preferred length.
Keep in mind that if your neglect pruning, the tree will revert back to its natural growth habit, and you will no longer have a cordon tree – just a regular apple tree growing at a slant.
Cordon training consists of just a couple of points: remove all unnecessary buds/branches and remove around a third of the central stem each year.
Removing buds and new shoots should be done each summer around August. The best time to remove the top section of the tree each year is after the first hard frost.
Do Cordon Fruit Trees Need Staking?
Cordon fruit trees don’t technically need staking, especially if planted vertically, but if you’re after fruit production and sturdy trees rather than aesthetics, it is advised to stake them.
It is highly recommended that your trained cordon trees are grown on a light frame or supported by wires at all times.
Not only do stakes and wires support the trees when they become heavy with fruit, but they also make pruning easier too.
How Much Space Does a Cordon Apple Tree Need?
One of the very best things about cordon apple trees is that they need a great deal less space between each tree than standard trees.
Cordon apple trees require just 2 to 3 feet of space.
How Do You Prune Cordons?
Start at the base of the tree and snip each new shoot that has already turned woody. Snip them down to just a few inches and move on to the next one.
Make your cuts just above the buds, and make the angle of the cut slant down and away (that way water flows down the tree and doesn’t cause moisture damage).
Repeat this process over the entire central stem.
When Should Apple Cordons Be Pruned?
Apple cordons need their new shoots and buds pruned in mid or late summer, typically sometime in August.
The main stems need around one-third of their height removed later on in the year after harvest and sometime during the colder months (preferably during the middle of winter).
Where To Grow Cordon Apple Trees
The best place for cordon apple trees is a fully sunny spot with few other trees around. Preferably the pH of the soil is around 6.0, and it drains quickly but has good water retention.
Placing them in a location that has moderate to high airflow is also recommended (that way they are less susceptible to bacteria and fungus).
Can You Grow Apple Cordon Trees in Pots?
Technically speaking, apple cordon trees can be grown in pots with little to no real issues.
The “problem” is that the pots tend to be a little on the heavy side (ceramic, cement, or heavy-duty plastic),so relocating the trees may be difficult.
The pots need to have a working drainage system built in so the roots of the tree don’t rot, and be aware that unless the trees are supported and secured, the pots (and tree) may tip over easily.
Cordon apple trees are the perfect space-saving option for those who want to grow a few apples each year or simply want some aesthetically pleasing ornamental trees in a small space.
Keep in mind everything we talked about above, and you’ll be growing health and thriving apple cordons in no time!