Growing Apple Trees the Easy Way

Growing fruit trees can be incredibly rewarding. There’s nothing quite like picking sweet, organic apples, pears, cherries, or apricots straight from your own tree. However, it’s no secret that fruit trees can also be challenging to grow. They are prone to pest and disease problems, poor production, and nutrient deficiencies. Apple trees, in particular, have a reputation for being difficult to cultivate.

When it comes to growing apple trees, there are numerous potential problems to contend with. Homegrown apples can be wormy, bitter, and unappealing. Additionally, apple trees are susceptible to pests and diseases. Despite these challenges, many North Americans venture to garden centers each year to purchase apple trees, often unaware of the problems they may face in the future. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little education, growing apple trees can be made easy.

In this article, I’m going to share with you the secrets to growing apple trees the easy way. But first, let’s take a look at what it’s like to grow apple trees the hard way.

Growing Apple Trees the Hard Way

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Growing apple trees “the hard way” typically involves a three-step process:

  1. Go to a garden center and choose from familiar apple varieties like Honeycrisp or McIntosh.
  2. Bring the tree home and plant it.
  3. Wait for the harvest.

So, what’s the problem with this approach? Let’s examine the potential pitfalls:

  1. You might choose the wrong apple tree variety.
  2. You may be unaware of how to properly care for the tree.
  3. You won’t be able to recognize apple tree pests or disease problems until it’s too late.

Now, let’s explore the easy way to grow apple trees.

Growing Apple Trees the Easy Way
Image Source: Rob Wyles

Growing Apple Trees the Easy Way

Growing apple trees the easy way requires a bit more upfront learning and research. However, this initial effort will prepare you for your apple tree growing journey.

Here’s a metaphor to help you understand:

Imagine you want to run a marathon. You wouldn’t just show up on race day without any preparation. Instead, you would train regularly, build up your endurance, invest in good running shoes, and perhaps even take a class to improve your running technique. By putting in this work beforehand, the marathon itself becomes much easier and even enjoyable. The same principle applies to growing apple trees the easy way. Here are the three steps:

  1. Research and order the right tree for your unique conditions.
  2. Learn how to care for your tree.
  3. Learn how to recognize and prevent common apple tree pest and disease problems.

Now, let’s delve into each of these steps.

1. Research and Buy Apple Trees for Your Climate and Needs

When it comes to apple trees, not all varieties are created equal. While popular varieties like Honeycrisp may be delicious, they can be challenging to grow in backyard settings. They are prone to diseases such as bitter pit, which can make the apples spotty, spongy, and bitter tasting. To avoid such problems, it’s best to choose disease-resistant apple trees.

Fortunately, there are numerous disease-resistant apple tree varieties available that you may not have heard of. Some examples include Liberty, Freedom, Sweet Sixteen, and Pristine. These varieties are less vulnerable to diseases like fireblight, apple scab, and powdery mildew, making them easier to maintain and keep healthy.

Before purchasing an apple tree, consider the following:

  • Climate zone: Ensure that the chosen variety is suitable for your climate zone. Different apple tree varieties have different temperature requirements for survival and optimal growth.
  • Pollination: Determine if your chosen variety requires cross-pollination with another apple tree for successful fruit production.
  • Size: Consider how much space you have available in your yard for the tree. Some apple tree varieties can grow quite large, while others are more compact.

Make sure to order your chosen apple tree from a reputable specialist fruit tree nursery well in advance, as popular varieties tend to sell out quickly.

2. Learn How to Care for Your Young Apple Tree

Caring for a young apple tree is crucial for its overall health and productivity. Unlike babies, young trees can’t communicate their needs, so it’s essential to be proactive in providing proper care.

Here are a few key aspects to consider:

Watering

Young apple trees require frequent and deep watering. Initially, water them up to three times a week, giving them about 15 gallons of water each time. As the trees become more established, gradually reduce the frequency of watering.

Remember these watering tips:

  • Water the roots: Direct the water around the roots, avoiding the trunk, branches, or leaves. Sprinklers should be avoided, as they can encourage fungal diseases and wood rot.
  • Water deeply and slowly: Give the tree a deep watering, allowing the roots to absorb the water fully before watering again. This prevents the roots from staying constantly wet and vulnerable to root rot.

Fertilization

Like humans, apple trees need proper nutrition to thrive. While synthetic fertilizers may be commonly used, it’s best to keep it simple, especially for beginners. Nutrient-rich mulch, such as compost or well-rotted manure, can be spread around the root area in the early spring. This natural fertilizer provides essential nutrients without the risk of over-fertilizing.

As you gain experience, you can further customize the fertilization process based on your tree’s specific needs and observe its growth patterns. Testing your soil every few years can also help identify any nutrient deficiencies.

Pruning

Pruning plays a vital role in maintaining the health and disease resistance of apple trees. Proper pruning:

  • Improves air circulation within the tree, preventing pest and disease problems.
  • Ensures each branch receives adequate sunlight for proper ripening.
  • Builds a strong structure capable of supporting a heavy harvest.

Start by pruning your young apple tree in its first year, and continue shaping and pruning it in subsequent years. Learning proper pruning techniques will help keep your tree healthy and productive.

3. Recognize and Prevent Apple Tree Pests and Diseases

To keep your apple tree thriving, it’s important to be aware of potential pests and diseases. Early detection and prevention can save your tree from significant damage.

Common apple tree problems include apple scab, canker, fireblight, apple maggot, codling moth, oriental fruit moth, European sawfly, and cedar apple rust. Organic solutions, such as pruning and using organic anti-fungal sprays, can effectively address these issues. Additionally, applying an appropriate dormant oil spray once a year can help combat certain pest problems.

Espalier apple trees
Image Source: Orchard People

Conclusion: Growing Apple Trees Can Be Fun and Easy

With a little knowledge and preparation, growing apple trees can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. By taking the time to research and select the right tree, learning proper care techniques, and being proactive in pest and disease prevention, you can grow apple trees with confidence.

So, why make it harder for yourself? Instead of opting for the “hard way,” where problems may arise, choose the easy way and embark on a successful apple tree growing journey.

Happy growing, everyone!

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