Know Before You Grow: Apples

Know Before You Grow – Apples

Shop Apples

Apples, Malus domestica, are one of the most popular fruits. Almost certainly, you can grow your own.

Choosing Apple Varieties

Choosing a variety can be a major project. One hundred varieties of apples are raised commercially in the United States; worldwide there are over 7,500 recognized varieties. Hopefully you have preferences from buying apples in the grocery store. Don’t plant one you don’t like eating! Secondly, consult local resources for recommendations of varieties that grow well in your climate.

Apples can become quite large trees, but there are dwarf varieties that reach only 8-10 feet high and can be kept smaller with pruning. Apples can also be tied and trained to climb a wall or support (espalier).

Apples will grow in containers but become rather large container plants. They require soil that is neither very acidic or very alkaline, lots of sun, and good drainage.

Planting Tips for Apples

Chill Hours – To set fruit, apples require time in cold air, between 32°F and 45°F—basically a bit of winter—between November and March. Varieties vary from requiring about 500 hours to 800, but if there are not enough chill hours, there will be no fruit. The USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zones consider chill hours; be sure the varieties you choose are recommended for your USDA Zone.

Pollen Source – Most apple trees will not produce fruits from pollen produced by the same tree or a tree of the same variety. Even those few varieties that can self-pollinate produce many more apples if cross-pollinated from another variety. Plant a second apple tree within 50 feet of the first. A number of related trees work for pollination, for example crab apples and plums, but another apple variety is best.

Apples can of course be grown simply because they are pretty trees with lovely flowers, not for fruit. In that case you don’t need to worry about a nearby pollen source.

Apple trees do not usually flower and produce fruit until they are four to six years old; dwarf apples flower sooner and buying a big potted plant can shorten your wait.

When to Plant Apple Trees

Apple trees will grow from seeds, but the fruit of plants grown from seeds is unpredictable. Desirable varieties of apples are propagated by cuttings and those are usually grafted onto hardy rootstalks. Thus, for fruit, buy a small tree in a pot.

In places with a cold winter, plant apple trees in the spring, to give them most of the year to establish roots before the stresses of winter. Where winter is light, planting in fall allows root development when it is too cold for leaf growth but the soil is not frozen.

Pests and Problems to Watch For

Apple trees are messy. They drop flower petals, unripe fruit, and as the fruits ripen, ripe fruit, sometimes hundredss of apples. Consider this in deciding where to locate apple trees.

Apples on your tree are unlikely to be worm-free without spraying because several of their pests are very widespread.

Blights and rust are common as well. Begin with resistant varieties and watch for problems.

Harvesting Tips

Apples are heavy fruits that drain the resources of the tree. Removing flowers and developing fruit so there is only one apple per small branch will reduce the strain on the plant and increase the size of the apples that mature.

Apple trees can grow to 30 feet tall. To harvest the apples more easily, prune the tree in late winter to keep it from getting too tall.

View All Know Before You Grow Topics