Growing Fruitful Apple Trees
Apple Tree Care and More!
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Lee Park – Forget pumpkin spice. Apples are where it’s at in autumn. It’s too late to get your apple tree to produce a bountiful harvest this year, but growing fruitful apple trees next year can be a whole new story. So if you’re looking for your trees to produce the apple of your pie, here’s how to grow fruitful apple trees.
Plant More Than One Apple Tree
You won’t see many apples if you only plant one tree — unless your neighbor has apple trees or you live near an apple orchard.
The key to growing fruitful apple trees is to plant several. That’s because most apple trees aren’t self-pollinating. You need the yin and the yang for your tree to produce baby apples that ripen into an autumn harvest. It’s best to plant several varieties, as long as they all bloom at the same time.
Tip: Plant a pollinator garden with plants that attract bees and butterflies. You need pollinators to do the heavy lifting when it comes to getting the apple blossom pollen where it needs to go in the spring.
Apple Tree Care
Proper apple tree care involves training your trees. This prevents them from becoming entangled and helps them produce an abundant harvest. Apple trees need training from the day you plant them. Prune or tie off shoots to encourage them to produce fruit earlier.
As temperatures begin to drop and your trees prepare for winter, you’re less likely to face tree diseases and pests. But they’ll be back in the early spring, and you’ll want to be prepared to give your apples a fighting chance at ripening.
There are a number of apple tree diseases to watch for, like apple scab, sooty blotch, and flyspeck and bitter rot. These diseases often will spread from tree to tree. Preventative steps are often more effective than cures.
Rake all the leaves in your yard before the first snow to prevent mold. You also can apply fungicides like captan and sulfur. It’s crucial that you prune any infected or dead branches, so problems don’t spread. A certified arborist will be more equipped to help your apple trees get healthy than an amateur apple tree grower.
The best time to control apple tree pests is typically when they’re mating and looking for places to lay their eggs. That’s early in the summer, before larvae and other insects start tunneling in and munching on your young fruit.
How to do this: Shaking the tree will rid it of curculio beetles. Spraying Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki in the evening will stop codling moths.
Some pest problems are trickier than others. If you’ve got an infestation of ants in your apple tree, you’ve actually got more than one problem — you’ve probably got an infestation of aphids, too. A two-part problem needs a two-part solution, so you’ll be looking to get rid of aphids and ants.
If you’re not sure what type of pest is infecting your apple tree, or how to get rid of them, you can start by asking questions at your local garden nursery, or checking with an arborist.
Cut Back To Grow More
The best time to prune the branches of your apple trees is during winter when the tree is dormant. This stimulates the apple tree into a growth phase.
If your tree is young and newly planted, don’t overdo it. Once the tree is established enough, you’ll look to encourage scaffolding branches — branches that emerge from the trunk at about a 45-degree angle — and cut away any branches that interfere with them. That helps the tree grow strong — and gives it plenty of room to produce apples every year.
Two basic pruning cuts are heading and thinning. Heading removes just a portion of shoots or limbs. Thinning removes an entire shoot or limb down to the main branch.
Tip: Don’t try pruning with the wrong tools because you could do some real damage to the tree. A hand pruner is for cutting back the smallest branches and twigs. Loppers cut slighting larger branches — about an inch or so in diameter.
Once you get to the thicker branches, say three or more inches in diameter, a folding saw should be your tool of choice. Make sure you clean your tools between prunings, especially if you’re pruning diseased branches. This should help to prevent you from spreading the disease from tree to tree.
What’s Your Type?
Apple tree growers recommend you plant spur-type cultivars of apple trees. Small fruiting “spurs” grow all along the branch, which produce apples, instead of the fruit only sprouting from the tips of the branches. You’ll get far more apples this way. Some examples: Fuji, McIntosh, winesap and candy crisp are all spur-type strains of apple tree.
Dwarf apple trees will grow faster and produce fruit earlier. They’re also the most resistant to disease.
If the pruning or the pests are causing you trouble or you just have a question about how to get your apple trees ready to produce more fruit, call your state’s university extension. A quick Google search of the words “university extension apples” should produce an instant list of experts who can answer tricky questions. Happy growing!
What other tips and tricks do you have for growing fruitful apple trees? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Lee Park is a botanist who researches eco-friendly disease and pest control. While he enjoys studying the effects of bugs in his gardens, he wastes no time getting rid of rodents.