Apple Blossom Time
Spring Is Apple Blossom Time on My Farm
Apple blossom time...what a romantic thought. Ever since I heard the Andrews Sisters singing the romantic song, "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time" I've always imagined a garden filled with apple trees, petals softly whispering to the earth as the warming rays of the spring sun kiss the pink blossoms. But growing up near Queens, New York, the closest I got to apple blossoms was the scent from the local bath and body potion store at the mall. All that changed in 2007 when I moved onto a 17 acre farm in Virginia. Although the farm was planted with pine trees (our crop that we grow and sell), we cleared several acres to build a house and gardens. I planted my dream orchard of 30 fruit trees. Ten of those trees are apple trees, and we have two flowering crab apple trees grown to nurture wildlife. We haven't picked a single apple yet, but standard size apple trees take 7 to 10 years to mature. We're on year five now, and the flowers...well, you'll just have to see apple blossom time here on my farm as I take you on a little tour and share what I've learned about growing apple trees.
(All photos in this lens were taken by Jeanne Grunert.)
Our Apple Trees
We've gotten spoiled by all the apple varieties available year-round at the grocery store. For generations, people grew apples that were pressed into cider or stored in cold storage rooms called root cellars. Some older apple varieties only become sweet when left to chill in root cellars for several months, and most are smaller than the large apples you see at the grocery store.
Not all apple varieties grow well in all states, either. Macintosh apples are my favorite, but they need a longer period of winter time cold than other varieties, and they tend not to do well in central Virginia where I live. The apple varieties I planted on our farm all reflect varieties I researched and thought might do well.
Another consideration when choosing apple trees is pollination. Most apple trees need a tree of another variety for pollination. We planted pollinating apple tree varieties in the corners of the orchard.
Our orchard contains:
- Two "Stayman Winesap" apple trees
- Two "Lodi" apple trees
- Two "Red Delicious" apple trees
- Two "Jonathan" apple trees
We also planted two ornamental crab apple trees. They produce fruit, but only the birds enjoy eating it.
Home Orchard Books
I grew up near Queens, New York. Although my grandmother grew apples and pears in her Queens backyard, I learned about growing fruit in a home orchard from books and my local County Cooperative Extension office. You may want to look at your state Cooperative Extension website for resources specific to your area.
Lodi Apple Tree Blossoms
The blossoms start as small, dark pink buds. This is the Lodi apple tree.
Open Apple Blossoms
Here are the Lodi apple blossoms, fully open on the branch. After pollination, we may need to thin out some of the fruit. Can you see how closely the blooms are to one another? Thinning the fruit helps the tree put more effort into making bigger fruit...and bigger apples!
Stayman Winesap Apple Blossom
This is a Stayman Winesap blossom....you can't see much of a different, but the apples will taste very different. I like Winesaps for eating and making cider.
Pruning Apple Trees
The ideal time to shape and prune apple trees is during their dormant season. We spray the trees with a dormant oil spray and prune the suckers, water sprouts, and shape the branches. The ideal shape for an apple tree is a "ladder" shape. It should look as if you could climb the branches, like a ladder. Water sprouts are sprouts that stick straight up from each branch. They don't produce fruit, and can be safely pruned. Always clean your pruning tools with alcohol between pruning each tree to keep diseases such as fire blight, which can decimate a fruit orchard, from spreading.
This is one of the trees in my orchard with Groucho, one of our cats, helping. We planted spring bulbs around the trees and have crocus, grape hyacinth and daffodils in the orchard.
Types of Apple Trees
There are many types of apple trees. Fruiting trees, or those that produce edible apples, are available as dwarf, semi-dwarf and standard sizes. These sizes refer to the growth habit of the tree, not the size of the apples. The apples will appear their normal size even if grown on a dwarf tree. For most home orchards, a dwarf apple tree is easier to care for as the branches are low enough to reach. We chose standard trees for shade and beauty, but also because we hope to have apples to share someday.
The crab apple tree is yet another type of apple tree, but it does not produce fruit suitable for human consumption. The tiny fruits are adored by the birds and other wildlife, however, and as you can see from this photo, they produce beautiful flowers and leaves. As an ornamental tree, they can be messy in the fall, but do produce a beautiful shower of spring blossoms.
Apple blossom time...one of the most beautiful seasons of the year!