The birds and the bees of planting apple trees

After 40 years of killing apples trees, I would have thought that I would have it all figured out by now, but no, such is not the case. Not even close.

After 40 years of killing apples trees, I would have thought that I would have it all figured out by now, but no, such is not the case. Not even close.

So you want to plant one apple tree? Or 30. Not much changes, except you do need two in order for one to pollinate the other one. That means you need bees and bugs flying back and forth between the two, which some springs just doesn't happen as well as it should, because it's cold, wet, windy, and rainy.

But some always do, and you always get some apples.

The biggest thing I learned last year was do not plant semi-dwarf apple trees. There. Standards live much longer and are hardier. You don't have much room? Doesn't matter. Every tree can be pruned to stay whatever size you'd like. While we're on that, here are some rules:

• All fruit trees must be pruned. No, you don't have to. You don't need to get a haircut, either, right? But. So this ties right into what size tree you should plant. It doesn't matter. I plant all standard-size trees. When they get to the height I want, I just cut that center off. (A little strategy here is beneficial; you shouldn't just blunt cut it.) Then that tree no longer grows upward for a year. The next year, you might have to do the same.


• All fruit trees must be watered. There are no exceptions to this. In sandy soil, more; in heavy soil, less, but all need it. No buts. How do your houseplants fare if you don't water them?

• All fruit trees must be screened with metal screening or plastic tubes, up a foot or more, to protect against mice, rabbits, etc. (And maniacs with weed trimmers.) Do not use non-perforated white plastic guards. They trap cold, and will kill your tree.

• All fruit trees must be supported. I drive two steel posts, and use common house wiring to secure across. That works as well as anything. If you don't stake them, the wind will shake them loose at the soil line; air will get down to the roots; they're done. The other damage is caused by their growth the second and third year, when they get some significant "sail" growth topside, and a big wind comes along. Oooops. No tree.

Now let's talk about what I would plant. Perhaps it's easier to divide them into some categories. Let's group them this way: First, crabapples. No, don't panic. These are edible and more often than not bear every year. My favorite is Whitney, but Chestnut and Centennial are also sweet and good to eat.

Next those apples with more acid-the tart ones, and these ripen later in the year, well into fall: Haralson, and Haralred. These trees really deliver; the apples keep well. More than other apples trees, you must keep these pruned back, because they'll set so much fruit that their branches will break.

Other apples I list will now be sweeter, so we'll break them down into earlier and later. Earlier ones are: State Fair, Beacon, and Red Baron. These do well.

Later ones are: Connell Red, Fireside, Sweet 16, Prairie Spy, Regent. These are my favorites. Oh, better add Honeycrisp to this line. Everyone wants them, but they're not large bearers, plus they have some nutrition problems. Plant more Sweet 16s instead. They're half the parent of the Honeycrisp, and are really, really good.

I don't spray. Place red plastic balls in the trees and coat the balls with a really sticky stuff called Tangletrap. The apple maggot fly (the enemy of apple trees everywhere) will see the red "apple," and land on it. One less fly, instantly. No worm tracks inside the apple.


There are other newer ones out, but I have no history with them to tell you about. Those listed above, I do. Figure on replanting at least ten percent of your trees each coming spring. Winter's really prolonged cold, weird freeze-thaw cycles in the fall and spring, summer drought (no matter how hard you water; they know it's dry), and stupid mistakes will always kill some.

Plant them anyway. There is nothing better than plucking one of your fresh apples off a tree in the fall and biting into it. Nothing.

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