Nothing may be more rewarding than growing apples – a fruit everybody in the family can enjoy. So what does it take to grow tasty apples in your backyard?
To grow a healthy apple tree it requires a handful of things, which include: picking the right variety, location in your yard, planting it correctly, training and pruning your tree, fertilization and pest control.
Picking out the right variety and a healthy rootstock is important in your apple tree planting beginnings. The rootstock can be a seedling, which produces a full sized tree, or a rootstock, which can be size controlled and produces a smaller tree. Both produce a quality fruit. If you are limited in space, you may want to choose a rootstock. Rootstocks also reduce the time it takes for the tree to reach fruit-bearing age. For best results, purchase a healthy 1-year-old nursery tree, 4 to 6 feet tall, with a good root system. A small tree with a good root system will transplant better than a large tree. When you get the tree, protect it from injury, drying out, freezing, and overheating. If the roots have dried somewhat, soak them in water for about 24 hours before planting. If you are unable to plant the tree immediately, there are two options:
• 1) Wrap the roots in plastic along with moist sawdust or newspaper, and place the tree in a refrigerator or cooler at 40 F. Never store the tree with fruit or vegetables, as ethylene gas from ripening foods can kill young trees.
• 2) “Heel-in” the tree. To heel-in a tree, dig a trench and place the tree roots evenly in it, cover the roots with soil, sawdust or peat, and water the tree thoroughly. The tree can be kept for several weeks using this method before permanently planting.
Next is choosing the right variety. Variety is based on fruit characteristics, bloom time and pollen compatibility. Ask your nursery about their varieties.
Pollination is also a consideration when purchasing an apple tree. Almost all apples trees cannot pollinate themselves or any flowers of the same apple variety. You will need to plant at least two varieties of apple trees together in order to maximize fruit production. Choose varieties with overlapping bloom dates. Some varieties produce sterile pollen and should never be used as pollinizers – these can include Winesap, Mutsu, Jonagold and Stayman.
Now for site selection. Test your soil before planting your apple tree. Your local County Extension office can help you test your soil sample and provide you with important information about how to care for your soil and tree. You can make changes to the soil before planting your tree, which could require adjusting the pH balance. Most soil amendments should be worked into a depth of 12 to 18 inches of where the tree will root – not just the planting hole. Some areas just aren’t good for planting trees, such as heavy or poorly drained soils and low spots.
You will also want to be aware of areas that have ‘frost pockets’ or where cold air settles in low-lying areas. Frost pockets can kill blossoms. You want good air circulation during early spring. Picking a higher site with a slope is recommended.
Apple trees also require full sun, therefore, be aware of your planting area and that it isn’t near large trees or buildings. Animals can damage your apple tree as well so avoid planting near wooded areas or streams. If you are planting your apple tree in your lawn, be sure to remove the grass in a 4-foot diameter circle around the planting area. Grass will compete with young trees for nutrients.
Once your tree is planted, there will be a host of other considerations to keep it healthy such as pruning, watering, fertilization and pest control. But for now, you have made your first step in growing your own apples.
Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading tree service provider in Central Texas (Travis County and surrounding areas) offering services such as pruning and removals, cabling and bracing as well as arborist reports, diagnostics, pest management, fertilization and Austin tree service trusts. For more information please visit https://www.centraltexastreecare.com.