Have you ever wanted to grow your own apples at home? Good news – apple trees are among the easiest fruit trees to grow and care for. However, there are a few basics to keep in mind about apple trees.
First, you’ll want to decide where to plant your apple tree. You will need a sunny place with well-drained soil where there is enough room for a tree to branch out. If you have a small backyard, you may want to get an espaliered tree, or to plant one to be trained in this fashion, since it will stand flat against a wall or fence and use much less room.
You will also want to think about what variety of apple tree to buy. Try different types, and not just the popular ones that are sold in grocery stores. Some farms have apple tastings in the fall, or you will also find interesting, unusual varieties at farmers’ markets.
Think about what you’ll do with your apples. Do you want to eat them as they are, make applesauce with them, or bake with them? Some varieties, such as McIntosh or Golden Delicious, can be used for all these purposes. Other varieties are better for one use or the other.
You can either buy bare root trees – the ones that look like sticks with a few leaves – or trees in containers. Bare root trees, which are available during the winter months, are less expensive and usually grow better than container plants. The advantage of container plants is that they are often available year-round
Whatever variety you choose, you will want to get it as a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree. Standard trees get to be 14 feet tall or more, and for the backyard gardener, a smaller tree is easier to pick and maintain. Dwarf trees will grow from 5 to 8 feet in height, while semi-dwarf are 10 to 16 feet tall.
These smaller types are said to be hardier than larger trees. Dwarf apple trees will produce fruit earlier than standard apple trees, often only three years after being planted.
If you want a particular, more unusual variety, such as one of the heirloom apples, talk to your local nursery professional in the fall to see if you need to place a special order.
Once you have your tree in hand, follow directions for planting. You may want to add compost or other organic matter to the soil if you have a clay or sandy soil. However, fertilizer is not recommended for new fruit trees because it can burn the roots.
Make sure to keep your new tree watered during dry times so that it can continue to put down strong roots and become established.
Pruning is important at two particular times of the year – winter and summer – with winter pruning done to encourage new growth, while summer pruning is meant to shape the tree and inhibit growth.
Winter pruning, done while the tree is dormant, is particularly important because it will prompt the tree into growing more the following season.
Another type of necessary pruning is thinning the fruit during spring or early summer, since the fewer apples there are, the larger they’ll be. Also, sometimes trees produce too much fruit for the branches to bear, leading to breakage as the apples mature.