Apple Horticultural Information
Proper Care and Planting of Your Apple Trees
Now that you will be planting your new apple trees, you should take a few moments to consider how you will plant them so they are provided with the best possible conditions for their first year of growth. A little effort now will be rewarded later with fine healthy trees.
Site Selection and Ground Preparation
When selecting a site to plant your new trees, consider the spacing required between trees. Trees grafted on semi-dwarf rootstocks (M.7, M.106 or M.111) should be planted no closer than sixteen feet apart. Dwarf trees can be planted 6-8 feet apart but require permanent staking to support the tree.
Make sure the site receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. A site that is mostly shaded will produce thin, weak trees. Also be sure the soil in the area is well-drained as a wet, heavy soil can create many problems for growing trees.
If you have purchased several trees to plant in a small orchard, plow or till the orchard area as thoroughly as possible mixing in ten pounds of agricultural limestone and two pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. Rake or till the plowed area until smooth and mark locations for each tree, maintaining the proper spacing between trees. After planting, keep the soil around each tree free of grass and weeds. A 4 to 6 foot wide area cleared of competing weeds around each tree is of great benefit to a young tree.
If planting just a few trees, prepare your site a few weeks before planting, if possible, by spreading three pounds of limestone and two pounds of bonemeal over the site for each tree. Bonemeal is an excellent source of phosphorous, an essential element for root development. After spreading the lime and bonemeal over the area, till or plow the site to a depth of at least six inches.
Planting Your Trees
For each tree, dig a hole 2 feet wide and 18 inches deep. The best transplanting method is to place the excavated soil into a wheelbarrow and then sprinkle one cup each of limestone and bonemeal over this soil. Use your shovel to thoroughly mix the lime and bonemeal into the soil in the wheelbarrow. Partially refill the hole with enough of the mixed soil to bring the tree up to the proper planting depth. The tree should be planted so that the graft union is 2 inches above the final soil line.
Remove the tree from its plastic pot and gently shake off half the soil from the roots. (This does not apply to shipped trees. Shipped trees have a small amount of soil on the root ball and are ready to plant.). Place the tree in the hole, gently spreading the roots over the bottom of the hole. Refill the hole with the remaining soil, tamping-down the soil firmly as you refill. Water the hole thoroughly as you are refilling and tamping. A small amount of well-rotted compost can be added to the hole if available. Do not add fertilizer when transplanting as the fertilizer can burn the tender young roots. This is the single most common cause for tree loss in newly transplanted trees.
Mulching your trees after planting is highly recommended. Apply a 4-6 inch thick layer of pine or hardwood bark, pine needles, leaf mulch, or similar weed-free material in a ring around each tree. Keep the mulch pulled a few inches away from the base of the tree to discourage mice and voles from gnawing on the lower trunk. Add more mulch over time as it decomposes and make a diligent effort to prevent weeds and grasses from becoming established around the tree for the first few years. It is also important to provide sturdy stakes for dwarf trees. A ten-foot metal or wooden pole buried two feet in the ground will work very well as a supporting stake.
Protection from Animals
As mentioned, mice and voles can injure young trees, but they are minor pests compared to the damage inflicted by rabbits and deer. A deer or rabbit can destroy a tree in a matter of minutes, so certain precautions should be taken if you live in an area with healthy populations of these creatures.
Rabbits like to chew tender bark and can easily girdle a tree with their feeding. An easy preventative measure is to enclose the lower 18 inches of the tree in a small wire cage of hardware cloth, screen wire, or fencing material. Another possibility is the use of plastic corrugated drain pipe, cut into 18 inch lengths, then cut up the length of one side. The pipe can then be easily spread open and wrapped around the lower part of the tree.
For deer control, fencing is required. For orchard plantings, the best option is to erect an eight foot high fence around the entire orchard. A combination of field fencing and barbed wire works quite well. This can be labor intensive, but is the only method to prevent deer from entering the orchard.
For individual tree planting, a four to five foot high woven wire fence can successfully deter deer from munching on the tree. Wrap the fencing in a six to eight foot diameter around the tree and anchor well to the ground.
Deterrents such as soap or human hair hung in the trees can have moderate success but require constant renewal. Also, the deer and rabbits can become accustomed to the odor. Strong fencing combined with fresh deterrents should provide your young trees with the best animal protection possible.
First Year Pruning
When you receive your trees, they will be 32 to 36-inch tall, unbranched whips, already pruned and ready for immediate transplanting. In the first spring after transplanting, when your trees have put on three to six inches of new growth, select one strong green shoot at the top of the tree to be the new central leader. Remove all new shoots for 4 to 5 inches immediately below this new leader. Removal of this growth reduces competition with the new central leader and encourages the development of new shoots in a zone 6 to 12 inches below the cut tip of the tree. These new shoots will develop into the tree's first lateral branches, or scaffold limbs.
In addition, remove any growth on the lower eighteen inches of the trunk. Your tree should now have one terminal shoot to form a new central leader, an eight-inch zone of new shoots to form the first scaffold branches, and an 18 to 22-inch area on the lower part of the tree cleared of new growth.
When the first whorl of scaffold branches is 4 to 8 inches long, select 3 to 5 of the best looking branches to be the first permanent scaffold. Spread them to a 70 to 80 degree angle using toothpicks or clothespins. This will encourage wide crotch angles on the branches making them much less susceptible to breakage later on in the trees life when it begins to bear fruit. Continue to keep the lower 18 to 22 inches of the trunk free of shoots and buds.
Liming and Fertilizing
The soil pH (level of acidity) for apples should be in the range of 6.0 to 6.5. Most soils are far too acidic for good growth and must be limed to achieve the proper pH level. Once your trees are established, applications of lime every 2 to 3 years will maintain the correct soil acidity. For young trees, one pound of lime applied in a broad ring around the tree will be sufficient. Spread the lime out from the trunk to just beyond the drip line of the limbs. Increase the lime applications as the tree matures up to a maximum of 5 pounds for a mature bearing-age tree.
In some areas the soil will already be quite basic in nature ( pH 7.0 or higher), such that the addition of limestone will be counterproductive. Regions rich with natural underlying limestone are such an example. In these soil types the incorporation of elemental sulfur will assist in lowering the pH to a range suitable for growing apple trees. The addition of aluminum sulfate can also be used to lower soil pH but must be used with discretion to avoid buildup of aluminum to toxic levels. Please consult your county agricultural extension agent for more information.
Fertilize your apple trees three times a year beginning in March, again in early June, and finally in late August to early September. (In colder agricultural zones with shorter growing seasons fertilize your trees twice a year - May and July.) Do not fertilize in late autumn as this will stimulate tender, late season growth which could be injured by winters cold. When selecting a fertilizer, be sure it is a balanced type (8-8-8 or 10-10-10). The general rule-of-thumb is to apply one pound of fertilizer per year of age of your tree up to a maximum of 5 pounds for a mature tree. As with the lime applications, spread the fertilizer out to the drip line.
If nutrition levels and soil pH are correct, then you should expect your young trees to produce 16-24" of new growth per year. If the rate of growth is significantly less than this, collect a soil sample for analysis and amend the soil as necessary according to recommendations. Soil sample boxes and information on how to collect samples are usually available free of charge from your local county extension agent.
Organic Orchard Management Program
I. Dormant (late winter - early spring)
A. Disease Management
1. Remove all dead and diseased wood as well as
any remaining dried or mummified fruit.
B. Pest Management
1. Spray with dormant oil to control overwintering mite and aphid eggs and scale insects.
2. Early emergence of aphids can be controlled with spot spraying of insecticidal soap or dilute concentrations of summer oil.
II. Green tip (new buds just beginning to show green tissue)
A. Disease Management
1. Outbreaks of apple scab can be prevented by successive applications of copper/sulfur mix or Bordeaux spray. Repeat if necessary after very wet, rainy periods. (DO NOT spray sulfur within 30 days of an oil application).
2. Powdery mildew infections of young leaf tissue can be controlled by sulfur.
B. Pest Management
1. Dilute applications of a summer oil at green tip to ˝" green are highly effective against scale, European red mite and rosy apple aphid eggs. Again, do not apply oil in conjunction with sulfur applications. Rely instead on insecticidal soap or Pyrethrin for early season insect control.
2. Place pheromone traps at green tip to detect presence of Oriental fruit moth.
A. Disease Management
use same fungicides as mentioned above for disease management during green tip.
B. Pest Management
1. Put out pheromone traps for codling moth, leafrollers, tentiform leafminers and tufted apple bud moth. When insect pests reach threshold limits, spray with Pyrethrin and/or Neem©.
2. Be on the lookout for early season tent caterpillars and other lepidopteron (moths) larvae. Spray with BT (Dipel©) to eliminate these pests.
IV. Bloom (trees in full flower)
A. Disease Management
1. Continue monitoring for fungal diseases (scab, mildew, rusts, etc.) Use the recommended organic fungicidal sprays as previously mentioned, but try to avoid spraying any fungicides at full bloom to lessen disturbance to pollinating insects if at all possible.
2. Now is the time to move against fire blight. A combination of cultural practices and spray programs can control this devastating bacteria but diligence and perseverance are a key. Examine all trees closely for signs of fresh outbreaks, old infected tissue and dead twigs or branches. Prune to remove all infected material and remove from orchard and burn. Spray with a very dilute solution of Bordeaux or copper and repeat at 4 - 5 day intervals. Another option is to spray with Agrimycin© or Streptrol© (Streptomycin) beginning at first bloom and continuing at weekly intervals until petal fall.
B. Pest Management
1. DO NOT spray insecticides of any kind during bloom but continue to monitor pheromone traps and note species of insects and the number of individuals trapped.
V. Petal Fall (all blossoms have fallen from tree)
A. Disease Management
1. If not controlled effectively in the orchard earlier, secondary outbreaks of apple scab can occur now and should be treated with sulfur and copper.
2. To control summer diseases (scab, powdery mildew, fruit spot, sooty blotch, flyspeck) dilute applications of mixed sulfur/copper or Bordeaux spray can provide some control, but require repeated sprays at two to three week intervals.
B. Pest Management
1. Many of the common soft-bodied insects and many other pests (European red mite, rosy apple aphid, tentiform leafminer, potato leafhopper and white apple leafhopper) are emerging in numbers now and can be controlled with a dilute application of summer oil. Apply either early morning or late afternoon and do not apply when temperature is over 85.
2. One insect of great concern in some areas is the plum curculio. Most organic insecticides have little, if any, effect on this pest. Repeated applications of Neem© oil and Pyrethrin can help reduce the numbers somewhat but will not completely eradicate the insect. An application of Imidan© (1 lb./50 gal. water) at petal fall and repeated in two weeks will bring this destructive pest under control. (Please note Imidan© is not a registered organic control product.)
3. Fruitworms, canker worms and tent caterpillars can be effectively controlled with BT (Dipel©).
VI. Summer Sprays (post-bloom applications)
A. Disease Management
1. Continue to observe for outbreaks of scab and fire blight and treat accordingly. For summer fungal diseases such as sooty blotch and flyspeck, very limited control can be obtained with sulfur and copper. As these are "blemish" diseases which do not affect the growth or quality of fruit, strict control is optional.
B. Pest Management
1. There are numerous insect pests which reach their height of activity in the summer months. Codling moths emerge in April to late May. Rotenone©/pyrethrin combination sprays work quite well to reduce their numbers. (Note: Rotenone is a strong, broad spectrum organic insecticide that can kill beneficial insect predators. Use wisely and sparingly.) Rosy apple aphid and green apple aphid are easily contained by spot applications of insecticidal soaps. White apple leafhoppers and potato leafhoppers are somewhat difficult to control and may require full strength applications of Rotenone©/pyrethrin combination sprays but apply sparingly, with caution, and use only as an agent of last resort. Tentiform leafminers usually do not reach levels where severe damage can be inflicted. In most cases, a couple of pheromone traps placed in the orchard in April can reduce their numbers to tolerable levels. Dogwood borers are a sporadic but extremely troublesome pest. If left unchecked they can easily destroy a young tree in a couple of seasons. Though very difficult to eradicate, they can be held in check by painting the lower tree trunk with white latex paint into which Rotenone©/pyrethrin and diatomaceous earth have been mixed.
VII. Post Harvest
1. After the growing season is over and the harvest is completed, it is advisable to conduct a thorough clean-up in the orchard. Remove any dead branches and other debris which may have fallen and accumulated around the trees. Collect all dead and mummified fruit and remove from the orchard. It is very important to remove all litter and debris where insects may overwinter or in which disease pathogens may lie dormant ready to emerge the following season.
(* This suggested spray schedule is solely intended to provide basic guidelines for the implementation of a sound spray program for the care and maintenance of apple trees. It is not meant to address all the potential pest and disease problems you may encounter as a grower. For more information relevant to your region, visit your local County Cooperative Extension office.)
Procedure for Collecting Scionwood for GraftingGrafting is the process by which a fruit tree is asexually propagated resulting in a new young tree, which will be genetically identical to the parent tree. It is a common but mistaken belief that apple seeds collected from a particular variety can be planted to produce an exact genetic copy of that variety. To reproduce an exact copy of any selected apple variety, it must be spring grafted or summer budded. At Big Horse Creek Farm, we utilize the technique of dormant spring grafting which we conduct in March and April. A shoot or twig (known as a scion or scionwood) is collected in January or February and stored under refrigeration until grafting season. The process of grafting itself is quite simple. A selected piece of scionwood is inserted into the rootstock of a young apple tree where, over time, it will heal and fuse together to produce a new tree. We carefully nurture this young tree over the summer so that by the fall planting period we will have a strong, healthy one-year-old tree ready for you to put into the ground. The most important point in collecting scionwood is to be sure to collect new growth; that is, twigs or shoots that emerged the previous summer. New growth is identified by its smooth, reddish or greenish bark in contrast to older growth which will have rough, grayish-colored bark. New growth will have small, tight buds and rarely have side limbs, twigs or branches which are common on older growth. The two photographs below are examples of good and bad scionwood. Notice in Fig.1 the relatively smooth cuttings with small buds. This one-year-old wood is excellent grafting material. Fig.2 shows two and three-year-old fruiting wood which is unsuitable for grafting. However, the cutting in the middle of Fig.2 shows a short length of wood at the top which is good viable scionwood. Frequently on older trees this is the best material that can be collected.
(Fig.1) Example of good scionwood (Fig.2) Example of bad scionwood
On older, unmanaged trees, new growth may be difficult to find. Normally, this new growth can be found out on the tips of twigs high up on the sunny side of the tree. You can also find new growth on water sprouts which are vigorous, whip-like shoots ranging in size from a couple of inches to several feet in length and typically found growing vertically upwards from the trunk or larger limbs. Not all water sprouts are new growth, however. Be sure that any water sprout selected for scionwood has no side limbs or twigs on it.
Collect the proper scionwood cuttings in late January to mid February. The cuttings should ideally be eight to ten inches in length and approximately the diameter of a pencil, although pieces of a smaller length and diameter can be successfully grafted. Bundle the scionwood together and label each variety separately. Wrap the bundles in a damp (not wet) paper towel and enclose tightly in Saran Wrap or a plastic bag. Pack the cuttings inside a cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels or in a padded envelope purchased from the Post Office. To ensure quick delivery and pick-up of your cuttings, mail them by US Priority Mail to the address below and notify us by e-mail that they are on the way. (It is not necessary to ship using the more costly First Class or Express Delivery.) Include a note in the package identifying who you are, what you want grafted, rootstock preference (if any) and how many of each you would like to have grafted.
If the material is good usable scionwood, we will graft the trees in the spring as described earlier and contact you in the fall when the trees are ready to be shipped. If you have any questions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Big Horse Creek Farm
Apple are naturally very cold hardy plants and can grow in nearly all agricultural growing zones. To view a map of your particular hardiness growing zone click the following link: USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
Please write if you have questions or concerns about your apple trees. We have an on-going interest in the health and quality of your trees and are more than happy to offer advice or answer your questions. Thank you for planting our apple trees.