How To Choose Apple Trees!
If you're seriously contemplating having apples to harvest from your backyard, growing apple trees from seed is not really feasible. (read on to find out why) However it is a really nice project to do with the kids. The best way to get the right stock is to head over to your favorite tree nursery. The staff there will be able to tell you all about the final tree sizes and even which would be suitable for your yard etc.
But before you rush out to buy your first apple tree here are some things to ponder and contemplate.
1) You should consider the size, height and spread of the tree and will it fit into your garden space.
The size and vigor of the tree is determined by the rootstock. Almost all of today's apple tree varieties have been grafted and very few have anything still in common with the old "Johnny apple-seed" of yesteryear. If you were to start an apple tree from an ordinary apple seed your tree could grow 30 feet + tall and possibly within 6-8 years you would be able to find out that your tree's apples might not even resemble your original ‘parent' apple at all. This is all because of the cross-pollination and grafting that occurred to the original apple's home tree.
Your choices because of the grafting, rootstocking etc. are really limitless and most types of apple trees come in regular height and dwarf type. (some tree pros seem to think that the regular height trees might just be a better fruit supplier... as they say that you can always keep pruning al trees to stay under 7 feet tall)
2) You need to contemplate and decide what you intend to do with for your apples. Do you want a dessert type or an acidic cooking apple for apple pies, compote and sauce? Consider the taste of the apples. Do you like your eating apples crispy crunchy or soft, super juicy and sweet or more acidic. Do you want your fruit to last well into the spring - the combinations of apple types are almost endless.
The tree nursery staff will ask all your particulars; such as yard size, what type of soil you have and what kind of apples you would like to grow etc. So it would be wise to have a bit of a list with you so you forget any of your wants and dislikes. Most nurseries sell two-three year old trees which will most likely not produce too many apples in the first couple of years (maybe just a dozen or so) so it is an investment in time more so then money (the average price for a great two year old apple trees is no more then $20-25 in my neck of the woods). Because you will be waiting impatiently for your first crop it would be a shame not to have the apple you really like. So choose wisely.
The cross pollination, grafting etc is responsible for the all the different apples available now. The most popular apples like the McIntosh, Paula red, Red and Yellow delicious, Royal Gala, Brae-burn, Jersey-Mac, Fuji, Granny Smith are all super tasting combinations.
3) Talking about pollination - most apple trees are self-sterile. With other words they require the pollen from other apple trees in order to produce fruit. This is when you can play around and you could actually come up with an apple that has the characteristics of many types of apples all rolled into one. I suggest though that until you know all there is to know about this cross pollination you stick with one or e maybe two kinds of apple trees. Again you should ask the staff at your tree nursery. Give them all your particulars off the list you made.
Years ago my Gramps trellised and grafted his apple trees. There were three different types of apples growing on each. I'm not sure that they were any of the brands that are available at the markets now. It really looked funny because on the lowest branch he had the early really hard sour green apples growing that he used to make his 'schnapps' out of. The middle branches were overloaded with Granma's favorite red-cheeked similar to today's Paula-reds. Then on the far top section were the late fall Cortland types that were soooo juicy and plentiful that we all (five families) had enough for eating and baking to last till way past Christmas.
Now I really do not want to contradict what the people from the nursery will tell you about how far trees need to be but the olden days rule of thumb of 10 feet apart spacing is not that common anymore. Check out the modern commercial orchards. They use small trees spaced close together in order to stay competitive. My Gramps had planted his apple trees only 2 feet apart which he then trained or trellised onto the fence right around the whole yard just like grape vines. I have planted my cortlands 2' apart in a hedgerow they are 3 years old this fall so I'm expecting great things from them next year. I will need to prune them probably mid or end of february (depending on our Canadian winter). Dwarf trees I'm told can also be planted in a 4-5 cluster 20-24" apart. I would assume that for the sake of airyness in and around the 'inside' branches will need to be prunned.
Now one more suggestion. If your contemplating your 'home orchard' from a catalogue try to order them from somewhere close to your zone because that will save you from problems coming up with not being cold hardy or not suitable for warm climates.
As far as fruit trees go apple trees are really a hearty lot some types can thrive way up north and also grow well in the warm climates like California too. All depends on how and where they're planted. Again ask your tree nursery or your horticulturist friend about growing suggestion for your area.
You haven't got a yard you say just a patio well guess what there are fruit bearing trees available that grow in pots on the patio... no and they really are not 20' tall monsters either. They are called Columnar Apple trees. Check them out.
Growing fruit trees can be an awesome hobby, apple trees are one of the easier ones to grow and as far as I'm concerned also the best as there is nothing nicer then reaching up and grabing an apple right off the branches because you can keep the trees the size you want in order to prune and pick without a ladder.
Good luck... fall is a good time to be planting trees of anysort.
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