How to Choose Apple Trees for the Backyard Garden
Wouldn't it be wonderful to grow apples right in your own backyard? Apples are one of the most popular fruits, and for good reason. They're tasty, good for fresh eating or baking, and the excess can be transformed into applesauce and other products to preserve and store for the coming winter.
Most homeowners can grow at least one apple tree, either planted directly into the ground or grown in containers in the garden. The secret lies in choosing the best location for your apple tree and choosing the hardiest varieties for your gardening zone.
Location, Location: Choosing the Best Spot to Grow Apples
Like most fruit trees, apples prefer full sunlight. Full sunlight means that the area where you intend to grow your apple tree receives six or more hours of bright, direct sunlight daily. Apples prefer moist yet well-drained soil. Avoid planting them in locations where water tends to collect in the yard.
Should You Plant One or Two Trees?
Many apple tree varieties need two trees for pollination. Some varieties will only cross-pollinate with specific varieties. When you shop for your apple tree at your local nursery or garden center, read the tags on the trees.
The grower's information tag should list whether the tree is self-pollinating or whether it needs another variety nearby for pollination. If it needs another variety for pollination, it won't produce apples unless you purchase the other specified variety and plant it nearby. Although bees do travel a great distance to pollinate flowers, you can't be sure that your neighbors will plant the right variety to pollinate your apple tree. It's up to you to help your tree produce those delicious apples you crave by making sure it has the appropriate tree for pollination.
Apple Tree Sizes
When finding a location in your yard to plant a tree, it's important to note not just what's around the area now, but what may be affected later as the tree grows. Apple trees can be purchased in three sizes: dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard. These sizes do not refer to the size of the fruit produced by the tree, but rather to the rootstock the apple tree is grafted onto and to the eventual size of the tree. For most home gardens, dwarf or semi-dwarf is the best choice. Not only are these trees easier to spray, prune and harvest, they produce apples more quickly - a plus for any backyard garden.
Choosing Apple Trees
Now that you've selected the location for your tree and decided upon the size and variety, it's time to go shopping. Apple trees can be planted anytime from the spring to the fall, although it's best to avoid planting trees at the height of summer when hot, dry conditions add to the planting stress.
Look for apple trees with glossy, dark green foliage and a large, round rootball. You can purchase container-grown stock or balled and burlap stock. If you do purchase balled and burlap stock, always remove the burlap and rope before planting your tree. Although many people believe that the burlap rots over time, why prevent the roots from spreading out during the first season? Removing the burlap and cords around the rootball gives your tree plenty of room to set down strong roots during the first season.
There are over 7,000 varieties of apple trees, and different gardening or growing zones are better for certain varieties than others. You may not be able to grow the exact varieties you find in your local supermarket, but there's probably an apple variety similar to the one you love. Your local Cooperative Extension office probably has a pamphlet or list of potential apple varieties suited to your climate.
Planting Apple Trees
Dig the hole for the tree twice slightly wider and deeper than the container or root ball itself. If necessary, backfill the planting hole with a little well-rotted compost and additional soil. Remove the tree from the container by gently tipping it on its side and tapping with your hand or a trowel around the container. The tree should slip out of the container easily. Balled and burlap wrapped trees can be positioned in the hole first, then the ropes or cords cut and the burlap removed after positioning.
Make sure that the tree trunk is straight. Use soil to even out the tree until it is straight. The tree should be planted at a depth that mimics how deeply it was planted in the container. Look for a line of soil on the trunk; that ís about how deep it should be planted. Do not plant it any deeper. If planting a balled and burlap wrapped tree, plant it no deeper than where the top of the burlap reaches.
Spread out the roots with your fingers and gently fill in the soil around the roots. Prune off any dead or broken branches. Water the tree well after planting. You can place mulch around the drip line to help maintain moisture and prevent weed growth.
What to Expect from Your Apple Tree
During the first year or two, your tree may be so busy establishing its network of roots and growing new leaves that it doesn't produce any apples, or produces only a handful of apples. That's to be expected as it settles into its new home. For most dwarf varieties, you can expect to harvest apples by the third year. Semi-dwarf apples take longer to produce fruit, and standard trees take the longest, with fruit production taking several years as the tree matures and develops.
But good things come to those who wait. If you love the sweet, tart and crisp taste of ripe apples, growing your own apple trees in the backyard is well worth the time, effort and patience expended.