How to Grow an Apple Tree

Опубликовал Admin
24-09-2020, 21:10
Growing your own apple tree is a great way to provide local fruit for your family (and neighbors) for years to come. Start by choosing a variety that will flourish where you live, so you won't be disappointed later. It will take some time for your tree to mature and begin producing fruit, but when you bite into that first sweet-tart apple from your very own tree, you'll know it was worth the wait.

Choosing an Apple Tree

  1. Find your growing zone. There are hundreds of apple tree varieties available, each of which does best in a certain growing zone. Planting a tree that is known to thrive in your growing zone will give you the best chance of growing a successful, fruit-bearing tree. The USDA website provides a map illustrating where different growing zones begin and end.
    • This is especially important for apple trees because apple varieties each need a number of "chill hours" in order to begin producing fruit. Chill time is when the temperature is between 32 and 45 degrees F. Some varieties do best in the north, where the winters are long and cold, and others need fewer chill hours and do fine in southern growing zones.
    • In addition to knowing your growing zone, and how many chill hours it typically provides, you may need account for other climate factors. Humidity levels, annual rainfall, elevation, and other factors such as your local microclimate could influence how well apple trees grow.
  2. Research varieties that thrive in your climate. In order to pick the variety (also called a cultivar) that will grow best on your property, conduct thorough research on those that are available to you. Farm catalogs, websites and local nurseries and farm stores are great resources that can provide you with the information you need to make a selection.
    • For growing zones 3 and 4, try Honeycrisp, Sweet Sixteen or Macoun.
    • For zones 5 to 9, try Pink Lady, Akane or Ashmead's Kernel.
    • For 10 or hotter, try Granny Smith or Cinnamon Spice.
  3. Find out which trees will cross pollinate in your area. Cross pollination is usually necessary in order for the trees to produce fruit. Many apple trees will not pollinate themselves or other trees of the same variety, so you may need to plant two different apple varieties in the same area to ensure they get pollinated.
    • Consult with a local horticulturist or nursery to find out which varieties will pollinate in your area.
    • Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Grimes Golden and Winter Banana are often good choices, since they are known to pollinate.
  4. Select a tree variety to grow. Once you know which varieties will cross-pollinate in your growing zone, you can narrow down your list according to personal preferences. Consider taste testing a few different varieties so you can make sure the time and effort you'll put into growing an apple tree will result in fruit you enjoy eating.
    • You may also want to consider getting a disease-resistant variety, even if it doesn't produce your very favorite type of apple. Apple trees are prone to disease, and it would be a shame for yours to die within two or three years of planting.
    • Disease-resistant trees allow you to grow organic fruit, since you won't have to use as many chemicals to keep them from getting sick. Some treatment will still be necessary, but it will be less than that needed for non-resistant trees.
  5. Buy a grafted nursery tree. Most apple trees are grown from dormant, grafted nursery trees with developed root systems. These trees consist of a rootstock, the foundation of the tree, and a scion, the top part of the tree that bears the fruit. The rootstock and scion are grafted together to create trees that grow reliably and produce a certain type of fruit. Plan to plant your tree as soon as possible after purchasing it. If the roots are dry, soak them for 24 hours before planting.
    • When ordering a tree, you can choose a seedling rootstock, which will produce a full-sized tree that grows up to thirty feet; or a dwarfing rootstock, which produces a smaller tree more suitable for a backyard harvest. Full-sized trees bear more fruit, but they take several extra years before they start bearing.
    • Trees can be ordered from a catalog or purchased at a local nursery.
    • While some people like to try their hand at planting apple trees from seed, buying a bare-root tree produces much more reliable results. If you plant a seed, it won't necessarily produce an apple like the one it came from. Since apple trees are grafted, the seed is basically a wild card that could produce a tree with inedible fruit.

Site Selection and Planting

  1. Plant your trees in the spring. A dormant bare root tree is best planted in the spring, after the soil has thawed enough to dig a deep hole. This is especially important in colder regions. The trees' roots need a chance to take hold before the next winter, or they'll suffer from the frost. If you live in a place with mild winters, you can plant apple trees in the fall without worrying that they'll die from the frost before they get a chance to set.
  2. Test the soil. Buy a soil testing kit to find out whether you need to adjust your soil's pH. Different apple trees need different types of soil to do well, so talk with a local horticulturist, an expert at your local nursery or your County Extension Center to find out what pH is correct for the apple variety you're growing. Your County Extension Office may also be able to help you test your soil sample. If necessary, amend the soil to adjust the pH level before planting.
    • You should also adjust the soil to account for nutrient deficiencies. Again, conduct research to find out how rich or poor the soil should be for the variety you're planting.
    • Amend the soil to a depth of 18 inches below the planting hole, so that the tree's roots grow into healthy soil.
  3. Choose a sunny spot that drains well. Apple trees need full sun, so choose a spot that gets at least six hours a day. They like soil that is moist, but not sopping wet. If your soil is clay-heavy or doesn't drain quickly, amend it by working in straw, compost, or another organic material to create better drainage. Using an organic material will also provide nutrients to the tree as it decomposes over time.
  4. Space the trees according to size. If you are planting seedlings, which will grow into full-sized trees about thirty feet tall, they should be planted fifteen to eighteen feet apart. If you're planting dwarfing rootstock, plant them four to eight feet apart.
    • Dwarfing trees tend to fall over under the weight of a heavy flush of apples, so it's a good idea to plant them near something sturdy, like a fence. If no fence is available, you can set up a trellis to support them.
    • If your property is hilly or sloped, plant the trees in higher areas. During the winter, cold air settles in the lower areas, and these "frost pockets" can be harmful to the trees.
  5. Dig a hole. Use a spade to remove all grass, weeds and stones in a circle about four feet in diameter. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root system. It should be just deep enough so that the tips of the roots graze the bottom of the hole, and the graft union (where the scion is joined to the rootstock) is two inches above the soil line.
    • Put some of the loose soil back in the hole so it will surround the roots.
    • Loosen the soil on the bottom and sides of the hole so it will be easy for the roots to penetrate as they grow.
  6. Plant the tree. Position it in the center of the hole. Spread out the roots so they aren't cramped or curled in the hole. Replace soil around the roots to fill in the hole. After you've replaced a few inches of soil, use your fists to tamp down the soil around the roots, so no air pockets will form around the roots. Keep going until the hole is completely filled in.
    • As you work, check the tree to make sure the trunk is standing upright at a ninety-degree angle to the ground. If you plant the tree crooked, it will grow crooked.
    • Don't add fertilizer to the hole. The soil should have already been amended so that it's nutritious enough for the tree to grow well. Fertilizer could burn the roots.
    • Make sure the graft union is not buried; it must be above the soil.
    • Water the tree well. This removes air pockets and helps the roots and soil make firm contact.

Care, Pruning and Pest Resistance

  1. Keep the soil evenly moist. Watering the soil deeply but infrequently is the best way to keep apple trees healthy. During the first two growing seasons, plan to water the tree deeply about twice a week. Don't water the tree after it rains, since this can cause it to become waterlogged and create rot around the roots.
    • If the leaves look dry and wilted during the growing season, you may need to increase watering. Check for signs of drought during the hottest times of year.
    • As the tree gets older, water near the edges of the perimeter of the branches, since the roots grow outward and not downward.
  2. Mulch around the base of the tree. Mulch helps to regulate the temperature around the base of the tree, keeping it from getting too hot or too cold. It also provides nutrients as it decomposes and keeps weeds from growing. Use a few inches of straw, wood chips or compost as mulch.
    • Place the mulch in a wide circle around the base of the tree.
    • Don't pile the mulch in a "volcano" shape around the base of the tree; rather, there should be a "donut" shape to keep the mulch from covering the tree's bark. Mulch will rot the bark, which can attract mice and hurt the tree.
  3. Don't prune too much until the tree is well established. A young tree doesn't need to be heavily pruned. For unbranched trees, also called whips, you can prune back 2-3 feet after planting. For other trees, remove dead branches as necessary. Then, start shaping the trees the year after planting. In order to direct growth into a few healthy branches, you can use a few techniques:
    • Rub off low-growing buds so that they won't grow into full-sized branches.
    • If you want to slow growth and promote fruiting, bend a branch down horizontally (without breaking it) and tie it to a stake in the ground for a few weeks.
    • Trees will require regular pruning to remove crossed or dead branches and promote good circulation. Cut away upright stems that grow high in the tree, and remove stems that are weak or droopy.
  4. Deter pests from damaging the tree. Deer, mice, rabbits and insects may be attracted to your apple tree. Keep your tree safe by protecting it in the following ways:
    • Keep deer out with fencing around your property
    • Keep mice and rabbits out by installing wire mesh around the base of the tree. You can also avoid putting mulch right at the base of the trunk to discourage rodents.
    • Keep maggots away from fruit by trapping them with hanging balls coated in a substance called "tangle trap" throughout the summer
    • Keep the leaves and fallen apples cleaned up to avoid attracting pests

Harvesting Apples

  1. Thin fruit when the crop is heavy. Removing some of the fruit will help the fruit that remains be larger and tastier, as well as preventing the branch from falling under the weight. When the fruit begins to emerge, remove the smallest fruits and leave about four inches between the healthy fruits you want to keep.
  2. Harvest the apples at their peak. Different varieties peak at different times between August and October. Learn what your apple variety should look and taste like at its peak. The apples should be easy to pluck from the tree; it shouldn't be necessary to yank them off when they're ripe.
    • In general, the apples' background color should no longer be green (unless you're growing a green variety).
    • Apples that are falling from the tree in the slightest breeze may be overripe, so act quickly!
  3. Store apples in a cool, dark place. They keep best at a temperature between 32 and 45 degrees F. They will stay fresh at this temperature for up to six months. Check the apple bin frequently and throw out any rotten apples. Apples can also be preserved by making apple jam, apple butter, or apple sauce.
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