Apple trees are easy to grow fruit trees, given the right climatic conditions. They produce wonderful tasty fruit and come in many varieties. When you grow your own you are no longer restricted to what the commercial growers or supermarkets decide to provide, you can select a variety to suit your taste.
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Apple trees like at least 6 hours of sunshine during summer, but bear in mind they require a spell in the dormant period, where the winter temperature is in a range of 32ºF-45ºF. These chilling requirements will encourage normal growth in the growing season. The northern hemisphere is where apple trees thrive; they grow best in cool to cold climates with a mild summer and cold winter. You will find that it is standard procedure for garden centers to follow the guidelines set up by the United States Department of Agriculture, to label their trees, giving you the most appropriate zones where the plants they sell will be successful.
Because of the space taken up by apple trees it is necessary to plan carefully before action is taken, and remember they are in place for a great number of years; there are recordings of some being 200 years old. From time of planting it can take up to 10 years for the tree to reach its maximum yield. Apple trees are a deciduous fruit tree, meaning that they lose their leaves in winter, so they can be used in a position where summer shade or winter sun is needed in the garden. Soil preparation and position is essential to reap the rewards an apple tree will give you. They are quite tolerant where soil conditions are concerned, however if you prepare in advance a plot which has good drainage along with a decent type of loam soil and a pH reading of 6.5, this will provide the ideal conditions for a good supply of apples and a healthy tree.
Apple trees consist of two parts: the scion and the rootstock which are grafted together to form the tree. The scion is the top part that forms the branches, leaves, flowers and fruit while the rootstock determines the size of the tree and it’s resistance to drought, pests and diseases. The trees can be dwarf, which grow 8-10ft, semi dwarf, 10-15ft or standard trees, which grow 20+ feet yet the fruit produced on all trees can be the same size.
Most varieties of apple trees are self-sterile so two varieties, with overlapping blossom times, are needed for pollination. I strongly recommend you buy young stock from a nursery, (growing from seed is possible but it takes too long), where your supplier will help you with your choice. The transfer of pollen from one tree to another is mainly undertaken by bees so try to encourage these insects into your garden and refrain from using insecticides during the period that they are active.
November is the ideal time to plant, but you can plant as late as March. Apple trees are usually sold bare rooted and when selecting the variety you want, make sure they look healthy. Check the roots to make sure they are nice and moist then keep them that way and plant as soon as possible.
Dig a hole big enough to accommodate the roots, then place the tree in the hole spreading the roots out so that they are not entangled. Back fill with soil pressing down firmly to ensure the roots stay in contact with the soil. Make sure that you keep the graft well above the soil level. You can support the tree with a strong stake at this stage (until it’s established), then give it a good drink of water after you have bedded them in. A layer of mulch placed around the tree will help to retain moisture and supress weeds. To protect from abnormal temperatures in winter, raise the mulch higher up the young tree or insulate with old sacks for this cold period only.
When your tree starts to bear fruit, remove apples from the tree by firmly holding the attachment of the stem and gently twisting the apple till it comes off. They are best eaten straight from the tree for optimum taste but if you’re intentions is to store the apples, leave the stem attached, as it helps preserve them, and keep in a well ventilated cool, dark, moist location. You will often find that a lot of the fruit will ripen together but one way of avoiding this glut is by having apple trees that fruit at different times, so long as there is that overlap period when they are blossoming to assist pollination.
It is worthwhile learning to prune your trees as they need to be shaped to allow correct growth. If you are interested in increasing your own stock then you may want to consider grafting though you may need certain skills or experience to attempt this.