There is nothing more delicious than apple fresh off the tree. Better yet, fresh off of YOUR tree. Home orchards are increasing in popularity as more and more people realize both the nutritional, economical and financial benefits of growing their own food. Although growing apples is not difficult, a few fundamentals will help you be successful.
The best cultivar to plant is the one that suits your growing region and personal preferences. Some things to think about are fruit size, bloom period, disease resistance, taste, color and pollination requirements.
Dwarf or Standard
Home gardeners can choose semi-dwarf, dwarf or standard size apple trees. Dwarf varieties are easy to manage and produce fruit earlier than standard-size trees. Many people prefer dwarf-size trees to standard size because of space limitations as well.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Prune dwarf trees as you would standard trees by cutting back the central leader by 2 to 3 feet, depending on how fast the tree is growing."
Where to Plant
Apple trees require full sun to grow properly and produce fruit. Early morning sun dries nighttime dew from the leaves, which reduces the chance for disease to develop. Apple trees prefer sandy or loamy soil with good drainage and a pH of 6.5.
When and How to Plant
Depending on your growing region, apple trees can be planted anytime during the winter or early spring months. Dig a hole that is large enough to accommodate the root ball and the same depth as its pot. Cover the roots with a mixture of native soil and peat moss (if you have heavy clay). Do not add fertilizer at this time because it can burn the tree roots. Tamp the earth down around the tree, and water daily for several weeks and when the weather is dry. If you are concerned about giving the tree enough water, you can invest in a water bag that drips water automatically. These are great for starting young trees. Read the planting directions that came with your tree for any special instructions such as staking.
Fertilize apple trees beginning the first spring after planting. Conduct a soil test to identify the nutrients that are missing from the soil. Use only high-quality organic fruit fertilizers for best result.
Some apple trees are self-pollinating which is a great option for those urban dwellers with limited space. Bear in mind that even self-pollinating apple trees will produce more fruit when cross-pollinated with another variety. If you are planning on planting more than one apple tree, be sure to research which varieties grow well together. Some varieties interact better than others.
TIP: Susan advises, "Prune apple trees for health and shape in late winter or early spring before new growth starts. Prune out all crossed branches, suckers, competing leaders and branches that are growing downward."