Deciduous, Edible fruit, Trees, Decorative fruit or berries
This, the most widely adapted deciduous fruit, ripens from July to early November, depending on variety. Mild winters of the low desert and the marine and coastal climates of Southern California and the Gulf coast do not provide enough cold for most standard varieties; in those areas, be sure to choose apples with a low winter-chill requirement. In many apple-growing areas, demand for the popular varieties seen at fruit stands often causes nurseries to sell unsuitable selections; be sure to buy what grows and produces best in your region, not just what’s familiar.
In the cold-winter climates, the rootstock is as important as the variety; apples in such areas are best grown on hardy crabapple rootstocks such as Malus baccata, M. antonovka, or M. ranetka. Apple-crabapple hybrids offer another option for coldest winter areas.
Although many apples are partially self-fruitful to varying degrees (‘Golden Delicious’, ‘Mollie’s Delicious’, and ‘Chehalis’ are closest to self-fruitful), it is generally recommended that, unless there are apples growing nearby in your neighborhood, two or more varieties be planted for cross-pollination and good fruit set. Certain varieties (triploids) do not produce fertile pollen and will not fertilize either their own flowers or those of other apples. Don’t use ‘Gravenstein’ or any other pollen-sterile sterile tree to pollinate an unfruitful tree.
A standard apple tree grows to about 20 ft. tall, 20–25 ft. wide. If space is at a premium, consider dwarf trees. For very small yards, multiple-variety trees provide an assortment of different apples as well as cross-pollination—all on a single tree. Available in standard and dwarf sizes, these trees have three to five varieties grafted onto a single trunk and rootstock.
In choosing varieties, remember that good apples are not necessarily red. Skin color is not an indicator of quality or taste. Make sure that name, eye appeal, or taste preference do not influence you to choose a difficult-to-grow variety. For example, if to your taste ‘Golden Delicious’ and ‘Red Delicious’ are nearly equal (and you live in an area where either can be grown), consider differences in growing them. ‘Golden Delicious’ produces fruit without a pollenizer and comes into bearing at a younger age. It keeps well, while ‘Red Delicious’ becomes mealy if not stored at temperatures of 35°–40°F/12°–4°C or lower. And it can be used for cooking, while ‘Red Delicious’ is principally a fresh eating apple.
If you want nearly perfect fruit, the apple tree will need much care in most regions. But even with less-than-perfect fruit, an apple tree is ornamental; it has more character, better form, and a longer life than most other deciduous fruit trees. It does best in deep, well-drained soil but gets by in many imperfect situations, including heavy soils.
Insects and diseases. Codling moth is the universal insect pest of apples. Pheromone traps, trichogramma wasps, or horticultural oil may be enough to thwart this pest in home gardens, but proper timing of controls is critical. Synthetic pesticides such as carbaryl are also effective. Apple maggot is a problem in some areas (particularly western Washington and northern California); infested fruit is soft, rotten, and unusable. Various types of sticky traps may be of some help, but a new organic pesticide called Spinosad offers better control. Apple scab causes hard, corky spots on the fruit, with subsequent defoliation and stunting of immature fruit. It is particularly severe in coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest. Planting disease-resistant varieties is the best way to avoid the problem. Leaf rollers and aphids are potentially troublesome. Powdery mildew and fireblight can also infect apples in some regions. For timing of sprays and other control measures for any of the above problems, consult your Cooperative Extension Office or a reliable local nursery.
Dwarf and spur apples. Dwarf apples (5–8 ft. tall and wide) are made by grafting wood from standard apple varieties onto dwarfing rootstocks such as M9, EMLA27, and P22. Dwarfs take up little room and bear at a younger age than standard apples, but they have shallow roots and need the support of a post, fence, wall, or sturdy trellis to withstand wind and heavy rain. They are not reliable in the coldest regions. They also need good soil and extra care in feeding and watering. Genetic dwarf apples, such as ‘Garden Delicious’, are naturally small and stay that way; even grafting them onto a standard (non-dwarfing) rootstock would not produce a standard-size tree.
Semidwarf trees are larger than dwarfs but smaller than standard trees. They bear bigger crops than dwarfs and take up less space than standards. Many commercial orchards get high yields by using semidwarf trees and planting them close together. Semidwarfing rootstocks MARK, M26, and M7 reduce normal tree height by about half; the trees may be espaliered or trellised if planted 12–16 ft. apart and allowed to grow 8–12 ft. tall. Semidwarfing rootstocks MM106 and MM111 reduce height by approximately 15 to 25 percent.
Apples bear flowers and fruit on spurs—short branches that grow from wood 2 years old or older. Spurs normally begin to appear only after tree has grown in place 3 to 5 years. On spur-type apples, spurs form earlier (within 2 years after planting) and grow closer together on shorter branches, giving more apples per foot of branch. Spur apples are natural or genetic semidwarfs about two thirds the size of standard apple trees. They can be further dwarfed by grafting onto dwarfing rootstocks; EMLA27, M9, P22, and MARK give smallest trees.
Columnar apple trees develop a single spire-like trunk to 8 ft. tall, with fruiting spurs directly on the trunk or on very short branchlets. Total width does not exceed 2 ft. Varieties include ‘Crimson Spire’, red fruit with tart-sweet white flesh; ‘Emerald Spire’, mellow, sweet green fruit with gold blush; ‘Golden Sentinel’, sweet, juicy yellow fruit; ‘Northpole’, crisp, juicy McIntosh-type apple; ‘Scarlet Sentinel’, large, sweet green-yellow fruit with red blush; ‘Scarlet Spire’, juicy red-and-green eating apple; and ‘Ultra Spire’, tart, tangy red apple with yellowish blush. Two varieties are needed for pollination. Columnar trees are easy to maintain and are attractive as accent, screen, or container plants. Plant at least 18 in. apart.
Training and pruning apple trees. For most home use, plant dwarf or semidwarf trees for ease in maintenance and harvest. Even commercial growers favor these smaller trees, since closer spacing permits more trees to the acre and a heavier crop. Preferred style is pyramidal or modified leader, in which widely angled branches are encouraged to grow in spiral placement around the trunk. Don’t worry about fruit production the first 4 or 5 years—prune to develop strong, evenly spaced scaffold branches. Keep narrow-angled crotches from developing; don’t let side branches outgrow the leader or secondary branches outgrow the primary branches.
To prune mature trees (do it late in the dormant season), remove weak, dead, or poorly placed branches and twigs, especially those growing toward the center of the tree (bearing is heaviest when some sun can reach the middle). Removing such growth will encourage development of strong new wood with new fruiting spurs (on apples, spurs may produce for up to 20 years but they tend to weaken after about 3 years) and discourage mildew. If you have inherited an old tree, selective thinning of branches will accomplish the same goal.
Dwarf trees can be grown as espaliers tied to wood or wire frames, fences, or other supports. The technique requires manipulating the branches to the desired pattern and pruning out excess growth. On columnar apples, just remove any wayward growth.
For ornamental relatives, see Malus.
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