Gardening Q&A: Bramley apple tree

Horticultural advice from the experts at the RHS
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Question: We planted a crimson Bramley apple tree in our south-facing garden in 2005. Although the tree has grown well and produces an abundance of healthy leaves, it has never flowered. We regularly prune it each winter, cutting back the fruiting spurs, but it still only produces leaves. It is planted next to a rhododendron bush and a friend has suggested that this plant may be stopping the tree from flowering. This year we are not going to prune the apple tree at all to see if it will help the tree to flower. Have you any ideas why after six years the tree has not flowered?

Answer: Although a rhododendron can be competition for an apple, I suspect it is a red herring here. The tree is growing well so, being over five years old, a good crop of fruit should be produced. The most likely cause of the problem is the pruning. On Bramleys, the flower and fruit buds are often at the tip of the branches; the spurs develop on the older growth. As a result, it is worth not pruning this winter, as you suggest, and seeing if this does the trick. In future, get a good fruiting balance by cutting out some of the old growth and keeping some of the long, new shoots.

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