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Column: How ‘bout them apples? Tree growing tips

It’s a sure sign that spring is coming when the seed catalogues arrive in the mail. I’m in constant contact with a local nursery about apple trees,  because I’ve got so many of them growing here on the farm.

I’ve been bugging the nursery lately about not stocking so many semi-dwarf-sized trees, which don’t get as tall as standard-sized trees. All apple trees for us here in the north are grafted onto various root stocks, most of them being from Russia, or Siberia, or someplace cold. The type of root stock determines how big the tree will get, or so goes the theory. True, a semi-dwarf will bear a bit sooner than a standard. Off-setting that is the fact that semi-dwarfs also don’t get as old before they die.

Here at the 48th parallel (that means we’re up north), there are only a limited number of apple trees that will bear fruit. I prefer standard apple trees because they’re a bit hardier, and really, our season is so short that they don’t have much of a chance to get all that tall.

What kind of apple trees do I have? My favorite is the Sweet 16. The apple keeps well, the tree survives well, and a vote in its favor is that it is half of the breeding of the Honeycrisp, which everyone is crazy about. From last to ripen to earliest, here is what I’m growing: Honeycrisp, Connell Red, Fireside, Haralred, Haralson, Sweet 16, Red Prairie Spy, Cortland, McIntosh, Red Baron, Wealthy, State Fair and Oriole.

I also have two edible crabs, which have smaller apples: Centennial, and Whitney. The Whitney is my favorite; the Centennial will bury you in nice apples.

Now, here are the secret things you need to know to successfully grow apples. I’d like to say  one tip is more important than the others, but they’re all tied together and of equal importance.

First, before you buy it, make sure it is appropriate to this latitude. Big box stores don’t know apple trees, and will stock and sell you anything. A Red Delicious, for example, is a good apple. But it won’t grow here. It has no business even being sold anywhere north of central Iowa. So, buy the correct tree.

Then, when you plant the tree, tie it so the wind doesn’t shake the roots loose. Don’t fertilize it. Don’t put anything in the hole that didn’t come out of it. Wrap the first foot with metal window screen, or the mice will girdle it under the snow the first winter. If you use a plastic tree protector, make certain it has lots of holes in it. (Or it’ll store cold air, won’t let it go, and will freeze the tree.)

Don’t mulch it with anything that doesn’t breathe, like mowed grass. Don’t go near it with a weed trimmer. Even the window screen won’t stand up to that machine.

Finally, water it. You wouldn’t plant flowers without expecting to water them. You wouldn’t plant a garden without watering it. But for some reason, some people seem to think trees don’t need water.

Well, they don’t. Not after a couple of years.

Unless you want apples.

Alan "Lindy" Linda