Apple trees are deciduous in nature, and in general thrive best in areas with mild winters and sunny weather for much of the year. It doesn’t like to be squeezed into tight areas with only a little space to spare, and so for that reason, don’t plant it in partially shaded areas, especially with other trees.
Apple trees come in standard, dwarf, and semidwarf varieties, and also in multi-form varieties with 3 or 4 varieties grafted on a sole trunk. This means a single tree can be carrying several varieties within itself at any given time due to grafting!
Generally, apple trees are not fussy about the soil, but they do make an exception in the case of poorly drained soil. If you want to harvest fine quality apples, you’d need to pay attention to their care and maintenance; otherwise apples grown as ornamental trees are not too difficult.
Dwarf and semidwarf apple trees?
Dwarf or semidwarf trees have an advantage over the standard sized trees because they are easier to grow, have less requirements, and bear sweeter fruit at earlier intervals. True dwarf trees are usually only 5-8 feet (1.5-2.5 m) in height, and grown by grafting normal apple varieties on dwarf rootstocks. These rootstocks go by names of M.* or EM.* where (*) denotes a number. The dwarf rootstocks should be purchased in a dormant state and introduced to the soil while spring is early, so that they have ample time to set root and establish themselves.
For general purposes, M.9 or M.7 does best. These are dwarf and semidwarf rootstock that do not require much space to grow. and in between trees, only require around 8-10 feet, or 12-20 feet between two rows. The ones often seen are:
- M.7, M.26 and MM.106 – semidwarf
- M.9 – dwarf
After about 3-5 years, your dwarf trees will begin bearing fruit, which is produced on spurs. Spur-type apples that bear apples much more earlier on spurs, can be grafted onto M.26 dwarf rootstocks to make them even smaller. Dwarf apple trees are nowadays popular, due to all the reasons stated earlier.
General pruning of apple trees
The vigorous branches that grow towards the center of the tree should be pruned first, as well as branches that shade out the lower branches. Side branches that outgrow primary branches should be removed or at least retrained by using wire. Most apple trees grow in an inverted pyramidal shape, with spreading branches growing out from the trunk above 2 feet up. If you want to encourage spur growth (which bear fruits), the optimal branch layouts are those that are evenly spaced with at least 20-30 cm or (8-9 inches) apart.
Common pest of apple trees
A few pests have a big appetite for apples, chief of which is the codling moth(Cydia pomonella). The codling moth larva is most likely the worm you see in defective apples. Native to Europe, but now found in many regions of the world through apple exports, it also attacks pears and walnuts.
One of the few effective ways of controlling codling moths is using chemical sprays of diazinon, or malathion, which are sprayed onto the tree as soon as petals have fallen. Biological controls are not really effective because their larva spend most of their time protected within the apple fruit itself. Hormonal baits are also not cost effective for the majority of apple growers.
Another common apple pest is the apple maggot (Rhagoletis pomonella). This pest lays its eggs inside the developing fruit, which make them difficult to detect and eliminate. Apple maggots can be controlled the same way as codling moths, by spraying in midsummer, with 2 week intervals for later sprays. Biological controls using wasps are a little better here, but quite insignificant to invest in, unless you own a large orchard.
Pollinating apple trees
One of the things about getting your apple tree to fruit is their need for pollination. Apples need to cross-pollinate in order to develop fruit, even for spur types. The common pollinators of apples are bees, with honey bees the best, followed by orchard mason bees and bumble bees. Bees can be supplied through deal with a beekeeper.
Depending on the climate and cultivar, pollination occurs at different intervals in the year, when the apple trees flower and then fruit. Specific apple cultivars have specific periods in which they flower. Again, these are very dependent on the specific climate you’re in, so predicting them accurately would be difficult. Most apples however, flower during the month of May, and if you set up pollinators beforehand, will ensure better pollination coverage.