This article will make the task of Growing and Caring for Apple Trees much easier, and much more understandable.
Apples are one of the most popular fruits in the United States, one that many gardeners and non-gardeners alike want to grow in their own backyard. While it is possible to grow your own juicy, crisp apples, it does require effort and diligence from the grower. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but having your own apple trees will keep you busy.
Wild apples were native to Central Asia where they were small, sour fruits. It is thought to be the Romans who first cultivated apples and began to develop them into the larger, sweet fruit that we’re familiar with today. The Romans introduced apples to England and France, and later the seeds were carried to the Americas by colonists.
Today you can find apple trees growing in the wild across much of the U.S. If you’ve picked fruit from a feral apple tree, you have seen how wormy and misshapen apples will be if they are not properly cared for. Armed with knowledge on how to care for apple trees, the home gardener can achieve a crop of picture-perfect apples.
Choosing Your Tree
The first step in successful apple cultivation is to choose a suitable apple tree variety. Apple trees do not grow well on their own roots, so apple varieties today are grafted onto rootstock that will support the trees.
The rootstock will determine the size of the mature trees which are classified as dwarf, semi-dwarf or standard. Dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties are a good choice for the home gardener as they will mature into smaller trees that are easier to manage and will start producing at an earlier age.
A dwarf tree grows to 8-10 feet tall, while a semi-dwarf will grow to 12-15 feet. A standard tree can grow up to 25 feet tall, making it more difficult to prune, spray and harvest.
There are several diseases that can attack an apple tree and its fruit, but there are also varieties that are resistant to one or more of these diseases. Consider growing varieties that are resistant to powdery mildew, fire blight, and other apple diseases.
We’ll talk more about disease control later, but choosing a resistant variety is a tremendous help in producing pretty apples. Your local nursery or fruit-tree catalog can help you determine what varieties are resistant to disease.
To ensure an apple crop, you must plant at last two apple trees and those trees cannot be of the same variety. All apple varieties are self-incompatible, which means that the apple blossoms on a single tree cannot pollinate themselves or the blossoms of other trees of the same variety. Apple growers must plant at least two different varieties of apple trees to ensure good pollination, and those varieties need to bloom at the same time.
Planting Your Tree
Once you have selected your apple trees, they should be planted where they will receive full sun, good air circulation and good soil drainage. It is especially important that apple trees are planted where they will receive early morning sun that will dry the dew from their leaves. This will help to reduce diseases that thrive in moist environments.
Before planting apple trees, the roots should be soaked in water for a half hour. While they are soaking, dig a hole wide and deep enough to accommodate the root system. Spread the tree’s roots before backfilling the hole, and hold the tree in place so it does not lean within the hole.
The tree should be planted at the same depth it was planted in its nursery pot. On grafted trees, be especially careful that the graft union is above ground level.
Before completely backfilling the planting hole, add a couple of gallons of water to the hole to help the tree settle in to its new home. Help your new tree grow by making sure it has plenty of moisture.
Two to three gallons of water per tree every two weeks is sufficient in most cases. Sandy soils drain more quickly and trees planted in sandy soils may need to be watered more frequently. The soil should be kept moist, but not soggy.
If planting an apple tree in heavy clay soil that drains poorly, the tree should be planted slightly higher than it was in the nursery. This will allow more air to reach the root system. This article explains in detail how to plant your tree: https://earthwildgardens.com/spring-planting-tips/
Give your apple trees plenty of room to ensure good air circulation. Dwarf trees should be planted about eight feet apart and allow ten feet between semi-dwarf trees. If you’re planting several trees in rows, there should be about fifteen feet between each row.
Apple trees need to be pruned properly to ensure strong, well-shaped trees. Pruning also aids in air circulation and good fruit production. Container-grown apple trees purchased from a nursery are typically two to three years old.
These trees will need light pruning and may need to have their limbs trained to grow at a suitable angle. Branches that grow at angles less than 35 degrees to the trunk are more likely to break from the tree when they are heavy with fruit. Clothespins are often used to train branches to a proper angle on young trees.
As your tree grows, prune off any branches that begin to grow too low on the trunk. In general, you want branching to begin no less than 18 inches from ground level. The best time to prune apple trees is from February through April, while the trees are dormant.
Remove any limbs that are dead, broken or obviously diseased. Limbs that are growing inward toward the center of the tree should be removed, along with limbs that cross each other.
Water sprouts should be pruned off annually. Water sprouts are fast-growing branches that grow upright. You’ll find water sprouts growing from the main trunk and from the larger branches.
If you are pruning an old tree that has been long neglected, you may find that the tree needs several large limbs removed. Severe pruning can stimulate the tree to produce even more suckers and water sprouts and may even prevent fruit buds from forming.
So if your old apple tree needs to have many large limbs removed, do the job over the course of several winters and remove only two or three large limbs per year. Cut those large limbs off flush with the bark of a lower limb.
As long as wounds of less than two inches are made with cuts flush to the parent branch, a wound dressing is generally not necessary. But when removing limbs larger than two inches in diameter, a wound sealing compound is beneficial. Be sure to use a wound sealing compound from a garden supply store. Other paints may be toxic to the live bark around the wound.
To keep your apple trees healthy and happy, they should be fertilized each spring. A fertilizer with an NPK of 10-10-10 is suitable for apple trees. Apply fertilizer in the early spring after all the snow has melted but before the trees begin to bud out.
Spread the fertilizer evenly on the ground beneath the canopy of each tree. Apply about a half pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every inch of trunk diameter.
If your apple trees are planted in your lawn and you regularly fertilize your lawn, reduce the amount of fertilizer given to the trees to prevent over-fertilization. When it comes to fertilizer, more is not better! Avoid using a weed-and-feed type fertilizer near the trees as it can harm the trees.
Apple trees are prone to a variety of diseases and insects that will damage the tree and affect the quality of the fruit. As was mentioned earlier, choosing disease-resistant varieties will help prevent some of these problems.
Another key to producing a good crop of apples is good hygiene. Leaves and fruit that fall from the tree should be removed and discarded. Do not add the leaves and groundfall apples to your compost pile.
They should be bagged and placed in the trash. Many of the diseases and insects that attack apple trees will spend the winter in fallen leaves and groundfall apples, so you can greatly reduce their presence by removing the debris from beneath the trees.