Apples are one of the most popular and delicious fruits in the world, and growing your own apple tree can be a rewarding and satisfying experience. Whether you have a large garden or a small balcony, you can enjoy the beauty of apple blossoms in spring, the shade of apple leaves in summer, and the taste of fresh apples in autumn. In this article, I will share some tips and advice on how to grow apples successfully, from choosing the right variety and rootstock, to planting, pruning, and harvesting your apples.
Choosing the Right Variety and Rootstock
The first step to growing apples is to choose a variety that suits your taste, climate, and space. There are thousands of apple varieties to choose from, each with their own unique flavour, texture, level of sweetness, harvest time, and storage potential. Some of the most popular and reliable varieties include:
- ‘Braeburn’: A crisp and juicy apple with a sweet-tart flavor balance. It ripens in late October and may be kept for up to a year.
- ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ is a traditional English apple with a rich, fragrant flavor. It ripens in late September and may be kept in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
- ‘Fuji’ is a sweet, crisp apple with a honey-like flavor. It ripens in late October and may be kept for up to a year.
- ‘Gala’: A mildly flavored apple that is sweet and crunchy. It ripens in early September and may be kept in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
- ‘Golden Delicious’: A delicious, sweet apple with a thin skin. It matures in late September and may be kept for months.
- ‘Granny Smith’ apple: tangy and crisp with a green peel. It ripens in late October and may be kept for up to a year.
- ‘Honeycrisp’ apples are crisp and juicy with a honey-like flavor. It becomes ripe in late September and may be preserved for several months.
- ‘Jonagold’ is a huge, juicy apple with a sweet-tart taste. It ripens around the middle of October and may be kept for a few months.
- ‘McIntosh’: A juicy, soft apple with a tart flavor. It ripens in the middle of September and may be kept for a few weeks.
- ‘Red Delicious’: A red-skinned apple that is tasty and crisp. It becomes ripe in late September and may be preserved for several months.
One of the first things to consider when selecting a variety is whether you want an eating (dessert) apple, a cooking apple, or even a dual-purpose fruit. Cooking apples are great for baking, preparing pies, sauces, and preserves, while eating apples are better for fresh consumption. Depending on their maturity, dual-purpose apples can be used for both eating and cooking. For example, ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ is a cooking apple that gets sweeter and softer as it grows, and ‘Golden Noble’ is an eating apple that gets more acidic and solid as it gets older.
Another important factor to consider is the flowering time of the variety, as you need another tree of a different variety nearby, which blossoms at the same time, to ensure successful pollination and a good crop. Alternatively, choose a self-fertile variety that will set fruit on its own, such as ‘Braeburn’, ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’, ‘Fuji’, ‘Gala’, or ‘Granny Smith’. You can also plant a crabapple tree, which has abundant and long-lasting flowers, to pollinate your apple trees.
Apple trees vary in size depending on the rootstock onto which they are grafted. The rootstock is the lowest section of the tree that regulates its vigor and growth. There are several possibilities based on the amount of space you have and the shape you want your tree to develop into. The following are some of the most frequent rootstocks:
- M9: A dwarfing rootstock that produces trees up to 2.5m (8ft) tall. It is ideal for small gardens, pots, and trained forms like cordons and espaliers. It requires staking and good soil fertility.
- M26: A semi-dwarfing rootstock that produces trees up to 3m (10ft) tall. It is suitable for small to medium gardens, pots, and trained forms like cordons and espaliers. It requires staking and good soil fertility.
- MM106: A semi-vigorous rootstock that produces trees up to 4m (13ft) tall. It is suitable for medium to large gardens and free-standing trees. It is tolerant of a range of soil types and conditions.
- M25: A vigorous rootstock that produces trees up to 6m (20ft) tall. It is suitable for large gardens and orchards and free-standing trees. It is tolerant of poor soil and drought.
The details of the variety and rootstock should be provided on the plant label or in the catalogue/online description, so check before you buy. You can also consult your local nursery or garden centre for advice on the best choices for your area.
Planting Your Apple Tree
The best time to plant your apple tree is in late autumn or early spring, when the soil is moist and the tree is dormant. Avoid planting in winter, when the ground is frozen, or in summer, when the tree is actively growing. To plant your apple tree, follow these steps:
- Take the tree out of its container or pot and carefully pry out the roots. Before planting a bare-root tree, immerse the roots in water for an hour. Remove any broken or damaged roots.
- Place the tree in the center of the hole and properly distribute the roots. Check that the graft union (the point at which the variety is connected to the rootstock) is at least 10cm (4in) above the soil level. This will prevent the cultivar from rooting and losing the rootstock’s advantages.
Pruning Your Apple Tree
Pruning your apple tree is essential to maintain its shape, health, and productivity. Pruning also helps to improve the light and air circulation within the tree, which reduces the risk of pests and diseases. The best time to prune your apple tree depends on the type and shape of your tree. Here are some general guidelines:
- Free-standing trees: These are trees that are grown in a natural or bushy shape, without any support or training. They can be pruned in winter, when the tree is dormant, or in summer, after the harvest. Winter pruning stimulates growth and encourages the formation of new branches and buds, while summer pruning restricts growth and promotes the ripening of the fruits. A good balance of both types of pruning is recommended for a healthy and productive tree. The main objectives of pruning free-standing trees are to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches, to thin out any crowded or crossing branches, to create an open and balanced framework of branches, and to shorten any long or vigorous shoots that may compete with the fruiting branches.
- Trained trees: These are trees that are grown in a specific shape, such as cordons, espaliers, fans, or step-overs, with the support of wires, trellises, or walls. They are usually pruned in summer, after the harvest, to maintain their shape and size, and to encourage the formation of fruiting spurs along the main branches. The main objectives of pruning trained trees are to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches, to cut back any shoots that grow away from the desired shape, to tie in any new shoots that are needed to fill in the gaps, and to shorten any long or vigorous shoots that may compete with the fruiting spurs.
Pruning your apple tree can seem daunting at first, but with some practice and patience, you will soon master the art and science of it. You can also consult some books, videos, or online resources for more detailed and specific instructions on how to prune different types of apple trees. Alternatively, you can hire a professional pruner or join a pruning workshop to learn from the experts.
Harvesting Your Apples
The most rewarding part of growing apples is harvesting them and enjoying their fresh and delicious taste. The best time to harvest your apples depends on the variety and the ripeness of the fruits. Here are some tips on how to tell when your apples are ready to pick:
- Look at the colour of the apples. Most apples change colour as they ripen, from green to yellow, red, or orange. However, some varieties, such as ‘Granny Smith’ or ‘Golden Delicious’, remain green even when ripe, so colour alone is not a reliable indicator.
- Feel the firmness of the apples. Ripe apples are firm but not hard, and they give slightly when pressed with your thumb. Unripe apples are hard and do not yield to pressure, while overripe apples are soft and mushy.
- Twist the apples gently. Ripe apples detach easily from the tree when you twist them slightly and lift them up. Unripe apples are firmly attached to the stem and require more force to pull them off.
- Taste the apples. The best way to check the ripeness of your apples is to taste them. Ripe apples are sweet, juicy, and crunchy, with a balanced flavour. Unripe apples are sour, dry, and starchy, while overripe apples are mealy and bland.
Once you have determined that your apples are ripe, you can start harvesting them. Here are some steps to follow:
- Choose a dry and sunny day to harvest your apples, as wet or cloudy weather can affect the quality and storage potential of the fruits.
- Use a ladder, a pole, or a picking basket to reach the apples that are high up on the tree. Be careful not to damage the branches or the fruits when you pick them.
- Pick the apples gently, one by one, and place them in a basket or a crate. Do not drop, bruise, or puncture the apples, as this can cause them to rot or spoil faster.
- Sort the apples according to their size, colour, and quality. Discard any apples that are damaged, diseased, or insect-infested, as they can infect the rest of the fruits. Keep the best apples for eating fresh or storing, and use the rest for cooking, juicing, or composting.
- Store the apples in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place, such as a cellar, a garage, or a refrigerator. Do not store the apples near other fruits or vegetables, as they can release ethylene gas, which can speed up the ripening and spoilage of the apples. Check the apples regularly and remove any that show signs of decay.
Harvesting your own apples can be a fun and rewarding activity, as well as a great way to enjoy the fruits of your labour. By following these tips, you can ensure that you get the best quality and quantity of apples from your tree. Happy harvesting! 🍎
Growing your own apples can be a rewarding and satisfying experience, as you can enjoy the beauty, shade, and taste of your own apple tree. By choosing the right variety and rootstock, planting your apple tree properly, pruning your apple tree regularly, and harvesting your apples at the right time, you can ensure that you get the best quality and quantity of apples from your tree. Whether you have a large garden or a small balcony, you can grow apples successfully, with some practice and patience. I hope this article has inspired you to start or improve your own apple growing adventure. Happy growing! 🍎
What are the best apple varieties for different purposes and climates?
There are hundreds of apple varieties to choose from, depending on your taste, climate, and space. Some apples are better for eating fresh, cooking, making cider, or storing. Some apples need cool weather, and some can tolerate a bit of heat. You can check out some of the popular and reliable varieties for different purposes and climates
How do I plant and care for my apple tree?
You can plant your apple tree in late autumn or early spring, when the soil is moist and the tree is dormant. Choose a sunny site with well-drained soil and good air circulation. Dig a hole that is twice as wide and slightly deeper than the root ball of your tree. Mix in some organic matter and fertilizer to the soil. Place the tree in the centre of the hole and spread out the roots evenly. Make sure that the graft union is above the soil level. Backfill the hole with the soil and water the tree well. Add a layer of mulch around the base of the tree and stake the tree if needed. Label the tree with its name, variety, and rootstock.
How do I prune and harvest my apple tree?
Pruning your apple tree is essential to maintain its shape, health, and productivity. Pruning also helps to improve the light and air circulation within the tree, which reduces the risk of pests and diseases. The best time to prune your apple tree depends on the type and shape of your tree. Free-standing trees can be pruned in winter or summer, while trained trees are usually pruned in summer. The main objectives of pruning are to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches, to thin out any crowded or crossing branches, to create an open and balanced framework of branches, and to shorten any long or vigorous shoots that may compete with the fruiting branches.
With a passion for sustainable agriculture, Muhammad Ali has dedicated the past 8 years to mastering the art and science of poultry farming. A seasoned chicken farmer, farmixo has honed expertise in all facets of the industry, from flock management and disease prevention to breeding and know about And how to feed them