Edible Landscaping

Edible of the Month

Apples


For easier harvesting, choose apple varieties grown on dwarf trees.


Harvest apples when their skin shows color. To avoid pulling the stem out when harvesting, lift and twist the apple off the tree.

Apples are the quintessential All-American fruit. Who could resist a fall apple pie or the crisp sweet/tart flavor of a freshly picked fruit? While the apple trees I remember growing near my grandfather's farm were nearly 30 feet tall and we needed trucks and ladders to harvest, modern favorites are perfectly sized for small edible landscapes. Many varieties are dwarfs, which grow less than 10 feet tall. Some varieties are even small enough for container growing. If you want to get fancy, you can try espaliering apple trees to a fence or wall.

If you're worried about spraying, choose one of the many new varieties that are disease resistant. If you grow ornamental crab apples, redbuds, or flowering plums for their spring blooms, apple trees are equally as beautiful, and are productive as well.

Here are the basics of apple growing.

Planning

  • Select resistant varieties such as 'Liberty', 'Jonafree', and 'Goldrush' to minimize apple scab and other disease problems. Select varieties that are adapted to your area. For warm winter areas, such as southern California and Florida, select low-chill varieties such as 'Anna' and 'Dorset Golden'.
  • Apple trees are not self-fertile; plant at least one other variety that blooms at the same time. Flowering crab apples that bloom at the same time will also pollinate apples.
  • Spring planting is recommended in the central and northern U.S. In the Southeast and Southwest where fall and winter weather is generally mild and moist, fall planting can be successful.
  • Buy dormant, bare-root, 1-year-old trees in early spring, or containerized trees from garden centers in spring or fall. Dwarfs (10 feet tall) and semi-dwarfs (15 feet tall) will bear in three to four years, yielding 1 to 3 bushels per year. Standard-size trees (20+ feet tall) will start to bear in four to eight years, yielding 6 to 8 bushels of apples. Newer colonnade or columnar apple trees, such as 'Crimson Spire', are perfect for container growing. They produce an 8-foot-tall, single main stem, small side branches, and a few dozen fruits per tree.

Preparation

  • Choose a site with full sun, moderate fertility, and good air circulation and water drainage. Morning sun is important since it will dry leaves quickly, reducing the chance of diseases.
  • Consider the ultimate height and spread of the tree so it won't interfere with power lines, buildings, or other plantings when mature.
  • Apples will tolerate a wide range of soil types. They prefer a sandy loam or sandy clay loam with a pH around 6.5.

Planting

  • Space standard trees 30 to 35 feet apart, semi-dwarfs 20 to 25 feet apart, and dwarf trees 15 to 20 feet apart. When planting trees on dwarfing and semi-dwarfing rootstocks, be sure the graft union stays at least 2 to 3 inches above the ground level.
  • Soak bare-root trees in water for 30 minutes before planting. Dig a hole two to three times the width of the rootball on containerized trees. Backfill with native soil, adding water to eliminate any air pockets.
  • Surround each tree with a mouse guard before filling the hole completely.
  • Mulch the trees with a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of bark mulch. Water well.

Care

  • Water young trees with 2 to 3 gallons every two weeks to ensure that the root system becomes well established.
  • Fertilize annually in spring with a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10. The amount per tree per year will vary depending on the age and size of the tree. Start with 1 pound the first year, eventually increasing to 5 to 6 pounds for a mature tree. Apply around the drip line of the tree.
  • Renew the mulch periodically, but pull it away from the tree in the fall so mice don't nest over the winter and eat the bark.
  • Begin training trees to their permanent framework in the first season and prune annually. (See our story below on pruning techniques.)
  • Thin fruits when they are the size of a dime to 4 to 6 inches apart to produce larger fruit and reduce disease and insect infestations.
  • Control insect pests such as apple maggot, plum curculio, aphids, and codling moth and diseases such as powdery mildew and fire blight by cleaning up dropped fruits and leaves in fall, keeping trees healthy, setting out baits and traps, and spraying preventive and low-impact pesticides.

Harvest

  • Start harvesting when apples show their mature color. The harvest season ranges from midsummer to late fall, depending on the variety. When in doubt, take a bite. The fruit should be crisp and juicy.
  • To avoid pulling out the stem when you harvest, cup the apple in your hand, tilt it upward, and twist to separate it from the spur at the point of attachment.

Other Great Apple Stories

Pruning Apple Trees
Pruning Fruit Trees
Healthy Home Orchards

Apple Diseases
Apples for Better Health
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