Growing Apples in Florida: It can be done
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 25, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions or comments.)
Top producers of apples in the United States are found in Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia .
Wonderful varieties such as 'McIntosh', 'Summer Red', 'Golden Delicious', 'Jonathan' and 'Granny Smith', to name a few, can be found in these states. In those areas, it is not unusual to find large crowds gathering in the fall to enjoy family friendly festivals celebrating the apple harvest.
For those living in the southernmost part of the United States, growing apple trees may seem like a futile task. Surprisingly enough, it is possible to grow apples in the Deep South, including Florida.
Florida has always been associated with grapefruit and orange trees, and rightly so; the citrus industry brings more than $9 billion dollars per year into the state. That is a lot of grapefruit and oranges! There are many other fruits grown in Florida including avocados, figs, grapes, guavas, mangoes, persimmons, peaches, and pineapples. But the fruit many people are surprised to see in the Sunshine State is the apple.
Photo courtesy of Cochise
Photo courtesy of Jonny_OZ
Photo courtesy of Inarizoo
Apples need a chill period in order to set buds in the spring. Without this, they will not produce. The chill period takes place while trees are dormant for the winter. Temperatures need to be below 45 degrees Fahrenheit for a set number of hours, depending on the cultivar being grown. For instance, the ever-popular northern apple 'McIntosh' requires 900 hours of temperatures below 45 degrees to set buds for the spring. The Southern variety 'Anna' needs only 200 to 300 hours of chill period. There are apples that need as many as 1,700 chill hours; for this reason, they cannot be grown in Florida.
When apple trees do not have long or cold enough dormant periods, problems persist through the growing season. Some problems seen in trees not adapted to the short chill period in Florida are listed below.
- Retarded or delayed leaf budding. Fewer buds can be seen on the tree and they will take longer to open. Trees will not be as full as they would if they had been exposed to enough chill hours.
- Decreased or delayed fruit set. The possibility of blooms being delayed and irregularities in blooms may result in less fruit setting on tree.
- Reduced fruit quality. Following a dormant period that is too short, fruit is always smaller and of a lesser quality.
This is a fungus that can be seen on almost every part of the tree. Flowers, fruits and leaves are all affected. In the heat and humidity of Florida, fruit often presents dark, scar-like areas caused by this fungus. As fruit matures, it will split open. Spots can easily be seen on leaves and cause leaves to be gnarled or twisted.
This is a fungus that infects the fruit. Brown circular spots on fruit grow quickly.
This is a bacterial disease seen in spring that spreads from tree to tree. Prune trees to remove any diseased limbs. Make certain to cut far enough below diseased area to remove all of it. Lessen the amount of nitrogen fertilizer given to trees.
Rabbits are very active at night and will eat the bark of apple trees. Circling the tree, they cause a girdling effect which can kill the trees. Wrapping the lower trunks with plastic tree guards will prevent them from gnawing the bark from the tree.
For more information on problems affecting apple trees in Florida, contact your local County Cooperative Extension Office.
Growing your own backyard apple orchard in Florida is not the far-fetched idea as many might think. The key is to choose the right variety.
Varieties for the Sunshine State:
200 - 300
Dorsett Golden or Tropic Sweet
The trees produce at an early age and seldom disappoint gardeners.
The sweet strawberry taste is what gives this apple its name.
350 - 400
This variety offers an apple crisp flavor in a fresh fruit.
Mid-June to Early July
Anna or Ein Shemer
Dorsett Golden is a perfect companion to pollinate Anna
Mid-June to Early July
350 - 400
Tree is self-fertile however, if planted with other apple trees, yields are much higher
Ein Shemer bears fruit very young and is especially productive.
Anna or Dorsett Golden
Tropic Sweet is a very sweet, University of Florida introduction
Planting your apple trees:
Upon arriving home from the nursery with your trees, check the roots for moisture. If they are dried out, soak them in water overnight.
Select an area that receives full sun. Plant trees fifteen to twenty feet apart. Dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball. This will allow room to spread out the roots when tree is placed in hole. If soil is compacted, dig the hole one and one-half feet deeper than it needs to be to fit the root ball. Then, add the extra soil back to the hole. This will make it easier for roots to grow into the soil.
Check the tree for the spot where the root system meets the trunk. This should be above the ground. Place tree in hole and backfill with soil a little at a time. Pack as you go by firmly pressing soil with hands around the roots or using a slow stream of water from the hose. Keep adding dirt and packing until hole is filled with soil.Make a depression in the soil (in the shape of a ring) around trunk as far out as the roots reach. This will give water a place to settle and drain directly down to the root system where it is needed to give your trees a good start.
Photo courtesy of Penywise
There should be no weeds or grass around the base of trees. Adding a three feet or so ring of mulch will help retard weed growth while your tree establishes itself.
Apple trees are not very picky about the soil they grow in. They can be found growing in humus-rich, clay and sandy soils alike. Never plant apple trees in Florida (or anywhere else) in low spots or any other area that may hold water. Soil must be well draining or roots will rot and your trees will die.
Do not fertilize trees when planting them. Give them one year to settle into their new home before fertilizing. After this, check with your local Extension Office for the best combination of fertilizer for your area of the state. There is not ‘one size fits all' in feeding apple trees because there are many things to take into consideration. Soil type, soil pH and tree variety are all determiners in the final mix you will apply to your trees.
At planting time, removing any dead and diseased branches will improve the health of the tree. Do not prune heavily while tree is young.
Photo courtesy of Lucky-Frank
Armed with information on which trees to buy for the Florida backyard orchard makes growing your own apples easy as apple pie!
Dave's Garden Plant Files.
To calculate the chill accumulation in your area, see the chill unit calculator at New Mexico State University.
For more in depth information on apples for low chill areas, see this University of Florida fact sheet.
Photo at top right courtesy of Almogaver of Morgue File. USAA