Grow your own farm-fresh apples!
Now that fall has officially begun, the leaves are changing, sweatshirts are taking the place of T-shirts and apple season is in full swing. There is nothing like the memories made while apple picking with family and friends, the laughter and bonding while out among the trees, followed by the mouth-watering apple based meals afterwards makes many people fond of this time of year. Planting apple trees of your own can help make this time of year even more special to you. After devoting the time and effort to your trees, plucking those first ripe apples off the branch makes the entire experience that much better. In this blog, we will cover the basics of caring for apple trees in order to help you harvest farm-fresh apples of your very own.
When you purchase an apple tree, there are two parts of the tree that you should pay attention to, and these are the scion and the rootstock. The rootstock is the determining factor in the size of your tree. The rootstock can be altered to produce a tree that is either full-size, semi-dwarf or dwarf. This is beneficial for those that are looking to plant large quantities of trees. The scion on the other hand, is the fruit bearing part of the tree. This determines the variety of apple that the tree will produce and plays a role in the quality of the fruit that is produced.
In order for your trees to achieve ideal fruit production, you will need to purchase more than just a single tree, and they will need to be of different varieties. Apple trees are unable to pollinate themselves, and this means that having a single tree will not provide proper pollination, and that two trees of the same variety will also not pollinate. Cross pollination is required for apple trees to fruit properly, and if you are looking to grow trees on any scale, you will want to plan ahead. The varieties that you pick should have the same blooming period in order to maximize fruit production, and certain varieties, such as Winesap, Mutsu, Jonagold and Stayman, are not recommended for pairing, as these trees produce sterile pollen.
With multiple apple trees, you will need to ensure that you have proper spacing between them to allow for maximum growth. The exact spacing between trees varies due to rootstock, soil fertility and pruning. For example, with a dwarf rootstock your trees will never grow to be very large, so the spacing between them can be closer than trees that grow to full size. Apple trees can survive in nearly all types of soil, including sandy or clay ridden soil, but they prefer well-hydrated soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. In an area with ideal soil, trees will grow faster and will need to be pruned much more consistently, so this is another factor to consider when planning the spacing of your trees. A general guideline for spacing is that you need 40 to 50 feet between each tree. Following this guideline will ensure that your trees have plenty of space for proper fruit production.
Caring For Your Trees
Apple trees can easily tolerate warm summers and cold winters, so they make an excellent option for farmers all throughout the United States. They are particularly ideal for environments in the northern United States however, because apple trees prefer a chilling season after harvesting in order to promote healthy growth during the upcoming season. Apple season itself falls within midsummer to late fall, depending on the blooming schedule of the particular apple. Once all fruit has been harvested, a chill of 45°F or less for an extended period of time will encourage healthy flowering and fruit production during the upcoming year. For those in the northern regions, winter provides the ideal chilled environment, which then prepares the trees for a strong bloom in spring.
Apples as a whole are a tender crop. A late or early frost can damage developing buds or matured fruit. One way to help prevent frost damage is by planting your trees in a higher location. Placing trees on the crest of a hill, for example, prevents the possibility of exposing your trees to a “frost pocket”. Since cold air sinks, it collects in low-lying areas, and during late fall and early spring, this collection of cool air can lead to a spotty frost. If your trees are planted in a low-lying area, they are at risk of being in a frost pocket and suffering frost damage. Place your trees in an elevated location or on the side of a slope, as this will encourage the cool air to sink away from the trees. Also, be sure to plant your trees in an area that has full exposure to sunlight, as the trees require large amounts of sun for growth.
Common Diseases & Pests
As with any crop, disease and pest control is a constant worry. With proper care, apple trees can be kept relatively free of disease and pest infestations. However some common pest and disease problems that should be looked out for are: cedar-apple rust, powdery mildew, apple scab, fireblight, apple maggot flies, curculio and codling moths. You can spot and solve these problems with the following list:
- Cedar-apple rust: This causes yellow-orange spots to appear on the leaves and fruit. You can stop this by applying a fungicide spray to the infected tree during the growing season, and also be sure to spray any surrounding juniper and cedar trees to reduce the risk of a reoccurring infection.
- Powdery mildew: With this, leaves and fruit are left with a dusty white coating on them. This could be caused by dry soil conditions, so try watering thoroughly first and monitor the results. If this doesn’t work, try mixing one Tbs. of baking soda, one tsp. of dormant oil and one tsp. of non-detergent liquid soap in a gallon of water. Spray this on your trees every 1 to 2 weeks.
- Apple scab: This results in green-brown spots on leaves and fruit. This can be solved through the application of fungicides, but should not be done during the dormant, non-growing season. Apply fungicide between the time that buds begin to break and one month after petal fall for best results.
- Fireblight: This causes blossoms to appear watersoaked and twigs to appear black and scorched. For fireblight, combine six cups of water and four cups of white vinegar in a garden sprayer. Trim all infected branches from the tree and spray with the white vinegar mixture. Clean all tools in a solution of water and bleach after trimming to ensure that the disease does not spread to other trees.
- Apple maggot flies: These flies lay eggs on developing fruit, and after the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the fruit. You can fight these flies by placing brightly colored traps in the tree at about eye level. These traps are most effective when used roughly three weeks after flower petals fall.
- Curculio: This is a ¼-inch-long beetle that leaves a crescent-shaped scar on developing fruit. The grubs of this beetle burrow through the fruit, causing it to drop prematurely. You can eliminate this pest with the use of a pesticide spray or you can shake the tree to cause all infected apples to fall. After all infected apples have fallen, collect and remove them from the area, as this will discourage future beetle growth.
- Codling moths: These moths lay eggs soon after petals fall in spring. Larvae burrow into the fruit to feed and mature, which destroys the fruit entirely. To counteract these moths, spray insecticide during the evening 15 days after petals first begin to fall, then repeat five days later.
With this apple growing guideline, you can harvest your own delicious, farm-fresh apples next year. Until then, be sure to get out with family and friends and enjoy the wonders of apple picking this year.