The apple is one of the most widely grown fruits. Here are some expert tips to help you grow apple trees in your outdoor space.
Try cross-pollinating for a large harvest
Most varieties of apple trees need cross-pollinating by another variety that blossoms at the same time. But “family trees” are now available with three to five cross-pollinating varieties growing on a single rootstock.
- Using these, you need plant only a single tree.
- To meet the needs of a family of four that likes apples, six dwarf trees (or four fans, four espaliers, eight dwarf pyramids, or 12 cordons) should provide ample fruit. The fruit matures from midsummer until fall, and many types can be kept in storage until the following spring.
Caring for apple trees
- Apple trees grow in most soils but do best in well-drained, neutral or slightly alkaline soil that does not dry out in summer.
- The best time to plant is in fall or spring; in cold climates, in spring only. The roots of newly planted trees need plenty of water, so keep soil moist.
- For the first two or three years, cover the soil in spring with straw or other mulch.
- Keep mulch 60 centimetres (25 inches) from the trunk.
- Do not use cedar bark or pine needles. They may make the soil too acid.
- In late winter feed trees with a balanced organic fertilizer. This can be repeated in the spring if there is any indication that the trees lack vigour.
- A sensible average feeding for a mature dwarf tree with a foliage spread of two metres (six and a half feet) is 250 to 500 grams (half to one pound) distributed over the root area. Keep in mind that most of the feeder roots are concentrated away from the trunk toward the outer reaches of the branches.
- Sprinkle the fertilizer over the soil, covering an area slightly larger than that overspread by the branches.
- Let it penetrate naturally. Do not fork it in; this can damage the roots.
- Remove weeds by shallow hoeing.
- Trees will need watering during long dry spells.
Why you should try thinning your apples
Thinning allows the remaining apples to grow to full size. Too heavy a crop will only crowd the fruits and result in small apples of poor quality.
- Start thinning a heavy crop of young apples in late spring or before the natural drop occurs.
- If this early natural drop seems too heavy, which it may be if the soil is poor or dry, some feeding and mulching is in order to prevent further drop.
How to tell if your apples are ready to be harvested
The best way to test if apples are ready for picking is to lift one up to the horizontal in the palm of your hand and twist it gently. It is ready for picking only if it parts easily from the tree with the stalk remaining on the fruit.
- For reaching high fruit, use apple pickers — nets on bamboo poles. Push the rigid frame of the net against the stalk. If the apple is ready, it will drop into the net.
Storing apples the right way
Early apples (ready in early fall) will not keep and are best eaten as soon as they are picked. Midseason and late varieties should be picked in midfall before they are ripe; they mature during storage.
- Store midseason varieties (ready for eating from late fall to early winter) separately from late varieties (ready from midwinter onward). This is advisable because the ethylene gases given off by the earlier apples may unduly hasten the ripening of the later ones.
- Some late apples will keep until mid or even late spring if they are stored in suitable conditions.
- After picking the apples, place them in a cool, well-ventilated room or shed to sweat for two or three days.
Apple trees are suited to any outdoor space. Keep these tips in mind and try growing the low-maintenance and delicious fruit that your family will enjoy all year.