Growing Fruit Trees – Apple Trees
Growing Apple Trees
Apples are easily stored for many months and can be eaten raw, cooked in many ways or turned into juice or cider. However, every autumn enormous quantities of apples are left unwanted to rot. So if you have a small garden, think about scrounging apples from other people and grow other fruits. The apples that will be most valuable where space is limited are the extra early varieties, late keepers and those with exquisite flavour.
Most apples can be grown as cordons at a pace or less apart to squeeze many varieties into a small space, and as espaliers at five paces apart to give high-quality fruit. However, some known as tip bearers, such as ‘Beauty of Bath’ and ‘George Cave’, are better grown as rarely pruned dwarf bushes.
Apples are not fussy and do well most anywhere, though very wet sites may encourage scab and canker. Pollinating partners are best provided by growing several varieties because many are incompatible. A crab apple will pollinate most others in flower at the same time. Apples suffer minor infestations of many pests and diseases, but as they crop so heavily there is nearly always plenty of good fruit especially if the poor ones are removed during successive thinnings.
Apply sticky tree bands at the end of summer and keep them touched up all year. Holes in the fruits are usually caused by one of two pests: codling moth or apple sawfly.
Codling moth generally makes holes in the core of the fruit, pushing frass out the flower end. Control them with corrugated cardboard band traps, pheromone traps, permitted sprays as the blossom sets, and good garden hygiene. The other hole maker is apple sawfly, which bores narrow tunnels, emerging anywhere; they may then eat into another or even a third fruit. They are best controlled through good hygiene —removing and destroying affected apples during thinning. Permitted sprays may be used after flowers set, and running poultry underneath anis also effective.
Most newer varieties are scab resistant; old ones get scabby patches on the fruit which are related to blisters and blotches on twigs and leaves. Prune these out to allow more air and light inside the tree canopy. Mulch and feed to stimulate growth, and spray monthly with seaweed solution. This will also discourage the canker ‘ulcers’ often found on poor growers.
Brown, rotten patches on apples are caused by bruising or damage that is infected by spores that overwinter on stems and in the soil. Remove all mummified apples left on the tree after leaf fall, as these are the worst source of re-infection. Hinder these byand give the tree seaweed sprays. White woolly patches are just a type of aphid and can be killed with soft soap or brushed off. It is believed that nasturtiums growing around the tree eventually persuade woolly to depart. Fireblight appears as brown, withered flowers and leaves, prune affected stems out and burn them to prevent it spreading. Apples are strongly affected by replant disease, a symptomatic reluctance to grow near where an established tree is or has been — so replacements must be planted somewhere else.
Apples are benefited by alliums, especially chives, and penstemon growing nearby which are thought to prevent sawfly as well as woolly aphids. Stingingnearby benefit the trees and when dried to make hay mats they help stored fruits keep longer. Remember, though, that despite all their apparent woes most apple trees just go on giving crops year, after year, after year.
‘Discovery’ keeps a week or two, but most early apples will not keep a day and are only a pleasure eaten off the tree. The windfalls can be juiced, puréed and frozen, though. Mid-season and late keepers should be left until they just start to drop, unless hard frosts are likely or bird damage becomes too severe. Pick them carefully on a dry day. The fruits must be perfect and the tiny stalk (pedicel) must remain attached for them to store well. Use a cupped hand and gently lay them in a tray — traditionally padded with dry hay and nettles – as this goes mouldy in the damp, use crumpled or shredded newspaper instead. However, if the apples are individually wrapped in paper they keep much longer. Do not store early varieties with lates nor near, , or .
Unless you are willing to endure the scrappy growth and poor crop to get the quality, flavour and texture, then never grow ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’. Very similar and much more successful are ‘Sunset’ and other Cox derivatives. True Cox’s have loose seeds that you can hear when the apple is shaken. Some of the newer varieties also have taste — I’m impressed by ‘Jupiter’, ‘Jonagold’, ‘Greensleeves’, ‘Katja’ and ‘Spartan’. Even a ‘Golden Delicious’ doesn’t taste ‘old and suspicious’ when grown organically at home. It’s a bit prone to scab, though.