MM111 rootstock and 3 trees in one hole?

appletree729January 13, 2014

Would really appreciate some advice as I try to plan for this spring!

I plan on doing a Dave Wilson-style planting of 3 or 4 apple trees in one hole. As I'm researching rootstock types and availability, it seems that the MM111 is going to be the one I'll need to go for (need something with moderate resistance to fire blight and it's pretty much all I can find that is available after eliminating the other options, which seem to be very susceptible) Apple varieties will also have resistance but I'd really like to double up and have a rootstock that is not super susceptible either. I also like the idea of not having to have a permanent stake.

I understand that this rootstock is not very dwarfing, but I would like to keep the trees to maybe 7- 8 feet. Will the combination of multiple trees together in one hole and aggressive pruning/summer pruning in the first couple years be enough or should I rethink things and go for a more dwarfing rootstock?

Any advice is greatly welcome from all of you more seasoned growers!

My head is spinning trying to research all of this!

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ps - I'm in southeastern Pa! Zone 6b

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 9:21AM
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Although I know it's done, I'm not a big fan of planting 3 trees in one hole. I think you're asking for a lot of extra work without a
lot of reward.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 10:08AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

MM111 will be very difficult to keep to 7-8ft and still be productive on good soil. I won't try that even with single trees. 10-12ft would be easier except now it's getting hard to reach for pruning and harvest.

I'd rethink my options and get something the size of M9. Like one of those new Geneva rootstocks resistant to both FB and wooly apple aphid. G11 and G41 are good candidates. G41 has rave reviews but is new and hard to get. I've got trees on G11, good so far.

There's a pdf comparison chart on those Geneva roots, see below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Geneva root stocks

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 10:32AM
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Thank you both for the insightsâ¦

Any recommendations on sources for trees grafted to the geneva root stocks?

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 10:48AM
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shazaam(NC 7B)
    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 11:38AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Just avoid M9 and M26. The Geneva stocks are the best, but M7 is also good and lots of places sell M7. Or MM106. Personally I put nearly all my focus on whats on top, if you are not getting fireblight on top it won't matter what kind of root you have. I have many M9 and M26 trees and the primary problem has not been them dying but certain highly susceptible varieties on top that infected my whole orchard. If you post your proposed varieties here you can get an idea of how much of a fireblight issue people have had with those varieties.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 12:37PM
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thank you so much everybody! Along with Cummins Nursery (thanks shazaam!) I found another source for trees grafted onto G41, which I think will suit my needs much better than the MM111.

Now I'm just rethinking the multiple trees in one hole thing.. urgh. Thought I had it all figured out but maybe this isn't the best way to grow apples in my area. Not sure what I'm going to do yet - don't have a lot of space and want to make the most of what we do have⦠but I'm thinking I'll go with "Redfree", "Liberty", "Goldrush" and "Galarina" all grafted to G41. That should give me a decent variety of good apples over the season that have some decent disease resistance.

Any other tips are always welcome! Thanks again...

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 3:31PM
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mes111(5b -Purling NY & 7b -Nassau County NY)

Don't stress just enjoy.

Remember that you are growing for yourself and not commercially. 3 in 1 can still work. Some people like it and some don't.

Since you will be pruning out the center, you will get less fruit from each tree, but, cumulatively you will still have plenty of fruits and of 3 different varieties.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 4:07PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


There are cases of commercial orchards losing trees to FB that hit the rootstock via root suckers. Probably not a high danger but can happen.


Where did you find apples on G41 besides what Cummins has? I've read that nurseries are gearing up to produce literally millions of G41. But I wasn't aware many were selling trees already.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 4:49PM
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I have no idea if it's a reputable source but I have to say that the information they provide on different varieties is very helpful and it's been the easiest place I've found to do my research. Their pollination checker was really helpful too!

I think they were originally based out of the UK, but it looks like they have an office in Michigan (according to the area code), although I couldn't find an exact address. They ship bare root trees to my area in early April and still have a somewhat decent stock of available trees on various root stocks.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 5:03PM
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Looks like no one here has tried multi-planting 3 to a hole apples on M111 roots.

I'm happy with 3 to a hole peaches, I think it works well, and controlling size isn't an issue with Summer pruning. Not sure how it would work in your area.

DWN's Multi-Planting Strategies just says to keep the trees all on M111. I would go ahead and do it if that's what you really want to do. I also recommend following ALL of the recommendations on the site, and not try to deviate based on other inputs and opinions.

This post was edited by mrclint on Mon, Jan 13, 14 at 17:32

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 5:28PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

MM111 can be done 3-in-1 at pedestrian height but it requires a lot more attention to and experience with pruning. I didn't do MM111 per se but I did various other full-sized roots on e.g. pears. In California, home of DWN, you can get away with being sloppy more easily than in the more humid and less sunny parts of the country. For us we can get trees too shaded and diseased due to all the growth on a vigorous root. So mrclint, I don't think all parts of the country can adopt the DWN method straight.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 6:40PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I agree with Scott, DWN byoc methods are developed in CA mainly for CA and other dry climates. Things happen a lot differently elsewhere. Trees in general, and apples in particular, are much more vigorous in the humid East than in the dry West. To recommend DWN methods to everyone above all other information indicates a lack of broad based experience.

Apples don't get the chilling they need in most of CA. Sure they'll fruit but lack of chilling lowers vigor significantly. Hot dry weather and lots of substandard soils also lower apple vigor out west. Apples on MM111 can be really big trees on good soils in humid areas.

In some places cherries on the new dwarf roots are pretty big trees. In my greenhouse I could hold them to 3-4 ft tall if I wanted to. In fact some are that size when I want bigger.

This post was edited by fruitnut on Mon, Jan 13, 14 at 19:29

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 7:13PM
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alan haigh

The main factor that makes the west a completely different ball game is summer rain- they don't get it and eastern PA gets, on average approximately 3-4" a month throughout the growing season. Not only does this stimulate vegetative growth, it also keeps much more water in the air, even when it's not raining and most every morning the trees are covered with a heavy dew. Hello fungus. Hello fire blight.

Scott has made close planting work, but I've never understood the benefit. I have done plenty of too-close planting because I'm always trying new varieties and most of my land is needed for my nursery operation so I will stick 2 or 3 varieties of peach trees close together. As soon as I get my evaluations I cut down whole trees to give my favorites full room.

It seems to me you are better off either growing apples on dwarf rootstocks or using 111 and get the knack for grafting and make multi-variety trees.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 8:25PM
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Well, I'm certainly not moving to PA to prove a point. I was told numerous times that BYOC wouldn't work here (DWN is just trying to sell more trees). Once I got it working by simply following directions I was told, "that's because you're in So Cal."

Someone needs to step up and give it a go for folks on smaller lots back East -- I refuse to condemn anyone to a life of schlepping specialty ladders around and tree spacing better suited for drive thru theaters (unless they really want that sort of abuse).

People in the East want BYOC, who among you can/or will help?

"It seems to me you are better off either growing apples on dwarf rootstocks or using 111 and get the knack for grafting and make multi-variety trees."

Who among you is doing either of these options in the East successfully? Monster trees & large acreage are non-starters for many people that just want fresh fruit from their yard.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 10:23PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Mrclint, I'm not saying BYOC doesn't work in the east, just that you can't wholesale follow DWN's instructions which are primarily aimed at California growers. I have many successful close plantings inspired by the DWN literature, but also some unsuccessful ones. I found that with pears and euro plums on full-size stocks they are very hard to grow closely - you get a ton of branches and no fruit. I didn't try any full-sized apple stocks but expect the result would be similar. All the other ones have worked reasonably well, MM106 for example has done fine in rows 3' apart. It and M7 are great for close plantings. I feel the true dwarf apple stocks (M9 etc) are a bit too low in vigor for home growers interested in low-maintenance trees: lack of longevity/resiliance, leaning over, etc.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 10:58PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I've had great luck with M9 trees for 40 years. Not any one tree that long but I've planted them every time I've moved and kept the trees up to 15 years. They're just the right size with minimal pruning. Can't ever remember one dying. The fruit is big and they bear young.

I should probably state that my orchards have never had fire blight but have often had woolly apple aphid.

This post was edited by fruitnut on Mon, Jan 13, 14 at 23:16

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 11:05PM
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happyskunk(Idaho - zone 7B)

I just started planting fruit trees a few years ago. I planted plums, pears, and peaches two trees spaced three feet apart and three trees spaced three feet apart (these groups are separated from each other by 10-15 feet). The two tree plantings are looking great, one tree planted east and one west. The three tree plantings have an additional tree planted south of the other two. I'm having problems keeping these third trees from shading out the other two in the three tree plantings. Three in one hole does not seem to work for me so I will be replanting to just two trees. I also have two 4 on one pluot trees. Seems like it will be impossible to keep the trees balanced so I plan on switching to one graft per tree.

Also have apples on Bud 9 and M111. Bud 9 trees are whimpy and need support but producing some fruit. M111 trees are very well anchored but no fruit yet. I have the M111 somewhat espaliered without support (but plan to add some t-posts/bamboo). Seems like I can keep the M111 trees under 10 feet tall. Plan on switching to more M111 but when will I start getting some fruit?


    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 11:54PM
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alan haigh

Mr. Clint, folks have been growing fruit for centuries on trees that don't require ladders. The Japanese are masters of this. It needn't have anything to do with close spacing. Putting one peach in a hole and grafting on two other varieties gives you just as pedestrian a possibility as 3 peaches but a tree with better integrity that is easier to manage. One trunk is simply more efficient than three.

The original poster is afraid of fire blight and is steering away from M26, but this rootstock is usually very functional in home orchards for producing an apple tree that bears young and can easily be maintained at 9 ft height or even less. I assume the equivalent Cornell rootstock would function at least as well. His fear of fire blight with this root stock at his location may be excessive but I don't know conditions there.

The fact is, a single tree with multi-grafts will do everything that multiple trees in a hole will and will do it better if you are willing to learn to do a simple splice graft which can be mastered in a matter of minutes.

So again, what is the advantage of close planting of fruit trees and working against their own natural inclinations with heavy pruning? Sure doesn't look as pretty. Probably is less productive.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 5:39AM
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alan haigh

Mr. Clint, I should have added that now that Woodland Hills is seeing a spike in the coon population you may regret your short, leaning trunks. Three feet of straight trunk is enough to keep a coon from climbing a tree if you wrap it with stove pipe or roofing coil.

I hope they don't become an issue because I'm glad you've gotten so much pleasure from your closely planted trees and I do think it can be a good option for people that don't want to learn how to graft or want to grow a lot of patented varieties. Just not so much in the east coast.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 5:47AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

John, one of the major advantages of M9/Bud 9 is how early they are to fruit compared to MM111. For the short term, the true dwarfs have many advantages and if you are only planning on living in a house for 10 years the advantages can outweigh the disadvantages. But longer term they start to decline in vigor. I am getting to the point where I have many 10-12 year dwarf rootstocks and I am seeing them decline and the M7/MM106 right next to them still full of vigor. I think the semi-dwarfs are the best of both worlds if you get FB resistant types: reasonable longevity, easy to keep pedestrian height, relatively early production.

Fruitnut, if you are moving every 10 years I can see why M9 is a great stock for you; you also know what you are doing and can put time into proper nutrition etc unlike many backyard growers.

Harvestman, I think its easier for a beginner to throw three trees in one hole than learn how to graft.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 9:11AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I think both the 3 or 4 in one hole or the multi-grafted trees are not the best choice for the average grower. They require skill in placement and upkeep. I think the single row type hedge is the best method. You can make any method work, I am convinced of that. But some methods are going to work better, depending on your conditions. I really can't stand the "my way or the highway people". I can grow any plant on earth in Michigan. It's a matter of how hard I want to work, and are the efforts worth it? In some cases for me, the answer is yes. I'm willing to spray more, prune more, whatever I need for something I want to grow. I'm going to grow some trees not well suited for my area, but I'll work on finding the best methods to achieve success. Most of the time, I'm not going to do that, but on occasion a cultivar I find interesting, I'm going to give it the attention and care to make it work here. I guess I'm different from many whose end goal is great tasting easy to grow (in your area) fruit. To me the journey is the prize. Not the end result.
I garden to learn more than anything. I need that, not the fruit. If a times comes and everything grows exactly how I want, I probably will rip it all out and try other things that I know nothing about. Well no, I wouldn't do that but I need a challenge else I'll become bored and find something else to do.
I do want some easy stuff to give me some incentive to keep trying. But I do like a good challenge just for fun.
I enjoy the challenge to make something work and be useful. Often that comes after the fruit is produced. How can I make this taste great? Cooking is a joy!
Next year I want to make tomato sauce. I often cook with tomato sauce, and making my own is something I never did, so next year I'll be planting extra tomatoes to give it a go. I'm excited about it. Now to find the perfect sauce tomato! I bought some seeds from Italy, and few of the best domestic. Once I learn that, I'll find the best tomato for salsa! Cling peaches are starting to look interesting to me too! I already know the best fresh eating ones thanks to Scott. I will grow a few, but now to get the best for processing! I'll keep changing too, move on to try other challenges, it will never stop.
I remember when I first came here somebody said that I must have never had massive failures. I found it funny. Yes massive failures are such a great learning experience, it leads to massive success! You can't have one without the other.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 9:25AM
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alan haigh

Scott, of course it is easier- easier for me too. But only for the short term. In the long term it is easier to manage a single tree with ample room.

Given how much effort is involved in successfully harvesting fruit from your own trees, learning a simple splice graft is a very minor thing. I really think it is not a practical decision for east coast growers to plant multi-tree in a hole orchards.

It does come down to being a matter of opinion, but at least I've tried both methods. I think it is a method best suited for testing varieties.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 4:32PM
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bob_z6(6b/7a SW CT)

One downside to a multi-graft is that it will take more time. Some of the apple grafts I made this past spring grew well (2-3 feet), but they are still pretty thin/small to think about bearing fruit this coming season. And even before I grafted them, I let the tree grow for a bit to get established and grow some good scaffolds.

On the other hand, many of the larger trees I planted from nurseries had small crops in their 2nd year. Now that I have quite a few trees coming into bearing, I can start to be more patient and am doing more grafting to squeeze in more variety. But for your first few fruit trees, grafting adds uncertainty (will the graft take?) and adds time.

I'm not sure how well 3-4 in 1 hole would do compared to tightly spaced rows on dwarf rootstocks (when possible). But the rows seem a bit more straightforward, so that's what I've started with.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 12:03AM
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alan haigh

Early bearing for apples can be achieved just a well with apples the old fashioned way- with dwarfing rootstocks. M26 will get you your first apples in 2 or 3 years..

Of course, grafts on vigorous trees made on water sprouts should also give you fruit in 2 or 3 years- but the tree has to be established before the grafts will grow well.

Where planting a lot of trees close helps more is with peaches and plums if you want lots of varieties ASAP, but in a few years you will be working harder with less attractive trees as payment for you impatience.

I think the middle ground is start off closely planted, but before the trees distort each other thin them out as you extend you selection with grafts.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 5:48AM
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Thank you all for such thoughtful advice! I've decided to do a row of 5 trees to start, rather than a 4 in 1 hole. I've pre-ordered 5 disease-resistant varieties and plan to space them about 6 feet apart. I think this will give me a less challenging experience than experimenting with a technique that is questionable on the east coast!

Do you all think the spacing is appropriate? They are on G41 rootstock (similar size to Bud 9)

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 8:20AM
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