March 2019 – Crop of the Month
Apple – Scientific Name: Malus pumila
Written by: Kirby Fry
A favorite fruit for many people is the apple. It is a firm, crisp fruit that is delicious when eaten raw, it stores well, and it can be cooked into many of our favorite deserts. Not only are apples tasty but they are also good for us. I remember my grandmother repeating the common phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are high in vitamin C and fiber, and low in calories and sodium. Eating an apple before going to bed is also a good way to clean your teeth.
Apple trees should be purchased in January or February as 1-year-old bare root whips that are 2 to 3 feet tall. They should be planted in late winter or early spring. Buying a younger tree with a healthier root system is a much safer bet for growing a healthy tree than buying a 2 or 3-year-old tree with a poorly developed root system.
Apple trees, like other fruit trees in the Rosaceae family (peaches and plums in particular), require a higher degree of feeding, pruning, and plague prevention. So, if you want a healthy productive apple tree then be prepared to do more pruning, bud thinning, fertilizing, and plague prevention than you would otherwise need to perform for fig, loquat, and mulberry.
Choose an area for your apple trees that has well drained soil, has some protection from strong winds, and gets at least a half day of full sunshine as the fruit needs sunshine to ripen – afternoon shade is best if the tree is not in full sun. Apples are cold hardy and need different amounts of chilling hours to produce their fruit. The more chilling hours a region has the greater variety of apples we can choose from.
Choose the proper varieties for your region. The further south we are in Texas, the fewer chilling hours we have and so the number of apple varieties that do well in these low chill areas are few – the Dorsett Gold and Anna varieties are recommended for the Gulf Coast and Rio Grande Valley areas. Apples need at least 2 varieties to be planted close together for cross pollination, so at least one Dorsett Gold and one Anna should be planted together.
Varieties that do well in Central Texas are Jersey Mac, Adina, Gala, Mollie’s Delicious, Starkrimson Red Delicious, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Anna, and Dorsett Gold. Harvest fruit early to mid-June.
Varieties that do well north of Central Texas are Jersey Mac, Adina, Gala, Mollie’s Delicious, Ozark Gold, Starkrimson Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Pink Lady.
The apples requiring fewer chilling hours will ripen first in early to mid-June, and the apples requiring the more chilling hours will ripen as late as late September to early October.
Dig a 3’ wide 3’ deep hole for your apple trees to be planted in. Plant the tree to a depth just below lowest graft. Soak the trees in water for at least 1 hour before planting. Set the tree into your hole and then add alternating 2” layers of soil and compost into the hole. Before filling the hole completely, flood it with water to eliminate all air pockets.
Fertilization and Maintenance
Spread a 2” layer of compost around the tree after it has been planted, then once a month for 3 months add 1 cup of a high nitrogen organic fertilizer such as alfalfa meal. The next year add 2 cups of fertilizer once a month for 3 months beginning in the early spring, and during the third year add 3 cups of fertilizer once a month for 3 months. Once the tree is established add 1 pound of fertilizer for every 1” in diameter of the tree, once in the early spring and then once again in May.
Your apple trees will need 1” of water on them every 4 to 5 days for the first month after they are planted, watering should then occur with frequencies further and further apart until the trees need just one good watering every 2 weeks through the summer.
Pruning an apple tree during its first 4 years of growth is important. Many planting guides recommend pruning in the middle of winter while a few others recommend pruning mid-summer. Experiment and observe, and be ready to act if and when you notice a blackening around pruned areas. When pruning, leave the healthiest looking branches that are spaced out evenly, then trim back those branches to a quarter of their original length. Do not over prune in any single year as it exposes too much of the vascular system to infection and a loss of sap pressure, be moderate and consistent.
As the tree begins to set buds, remove all but one bud per cluster of buds, with the remaining buds being spaced out about 6” apart.
There are quite a few apple diseases that we need to be on the lookout for including scab, cedar apple rust, fireblight, blotch, and bitter rot. Possible insect plagues include spider mites, plum curculio, aphids, and coddling moth.
A paragraph about each one of these plagues could be written. Good garden hygiene is important – like removing fallen apples and infected leaves from under your trees and keeping the tree’s canopy open to air and sunlight. Maintaining the soil’s health under the tree is also helpful in resisting plagues. A couple of products that I have heard recommended by organic growers are neem oils that can be sprayed on apple trees to resist fungal blights and kaolin clays that can be sprayed to help resist insect damage.
Harvest your apples as they become fully ripe and they will taste better and store longer. Share them with friends, take them to market, and brush up on how to preserve and store them. Explosive abundance!