Apples have a complex reputation to stand up to, including an apple a day to maintain health, a single apple brought down Eve’s world, a poisoned apple for Snow White, and Johnny Appleseed ensuring that apple brandy was available to get farmers through cold winters.
Our lives would be less interesting without apple pie and cake, sparkling apple juice, candy or caramel apples, hot cider, apple sauce, apple butter, Apple Computers, and bobbing for apples.
Most apples in the grocery store are from cool climates in Washington, but China is the leading world producer. The first apple, or Malus, trees were found in China but other countries bred hybrids to suit their climates and local tastes. Today there are 7,500 varieties.
Growing them in hot, humid climates is a challenge but with planning and plant care, you can have beautiful, disease and insect free fruit from your own back yard. Two trees, one from each of two different cultivars will provide enough fruit for a family. Some varieties can be stored for several months if they are kept at 40-degrees-F.
Apple trees at plant nurseries are made of a scion (or trunk) plus the rootstock. The rootstock provides the size, longevity and fruit maturity (summer or fall). The scion is the type of apple that is grafted to the rootstock. Both of these contribute to disease and pest resistance. Red and Golden Delicious, Liberty and Enterprise are varieties that resist common problems.
Apple tree tips from the University of Missouri Extension: Dwarf apple trees grow up to 15 feet tall over a 20 year lifespan. Look for rootstock G-16 and M.9 when ordering, though M.9 can get fireblight. Semi-dwarf trees grow to 25 feet tall and have fruit 4 years after planting; look for M.7 or G.30 rootstock.
Dwarf Garden Delicious grows well in a container, as well as other dwarfs with M.7, M.9 and M.26 rootstock. For southeast U.S. gardens, Cummins Nursery (cumminsnursery.com, 607-227-6147) recommends Fuji, Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Summer Rambo varieties.
Womack Nursery (womacknursery.com, 254-893-6497) recommends Molly Delicious for southern gardens as well as Fuji for great flavor. Their site recommends pollinator varieties for each selection.
The University of MO recommends that apple trees be planted between March and mid-April, when the soil is not frozen and the temperatures are still cool. Fall planting ended in November.
Fruit trees need full sun which means at least 6-hours a day. If the ground is shallow, plant the trees on a raised berm or bed. The place on the trunk where the rootstock and scion meet should be kept above ground at planting.
It is a good idea to get a soil test this winter so the proposed bed can be amended well in advance of planting.
A month after planting, circle the outside of the planting hole with 12-12-12 fertilizer, at the drip line – directly below the end of the branches. If the tree grows a foot a year, the fertilizer amount is correct. Skip the fertilizer in years when a late frost kills the blossoms.
Apple problems include scab, rust, blight, and powdery mildew, so start with disease resistant varieties.
The University of MO lists ‘very disease resistant’ apples: Dayton, Enterprise, Freedom, Goldrush, Jonafree, Liberty, Nova Easygro, Novamac, Prima, Priscilla, Pristine, Redfree, Sir Prize, Trent and William’s Pride.
Another consideration for home gardeners is the ripening month. For example, Priscilla, Pristine and Dayton ripen in the heat of summer; Enterprise, Goldrush and Trent ripen in the fall.
One Green World (onegreenworld.com, 877-353-4028) offers fall-ripening, disease-resistant Calville Blanc D’Hiver on M-7 rootstock, Chehalis on M-26 and Enterprise on either M-26 or M-7 rootstock.
Order now for spring delivery.