Apple trees reward good treatment
From Cox’s orange pippin or irish peach early in the season, to granny smith later on, you could have apples in your garden from December through to May, with others producing in between.
As long as you have the room, you could have at least one apple tree in your garden. If you just have room for one, choose a tree with more than one variety grafted on to it, since apples need two of their kind for pollination.
Larger trees need about a fivemetre spacing, and dwarfs need about two and a half metres between them.
They like most of the soil types in New Zealand, but do not appreciate strong wind, which can blast off tender buds and fruit, or even damage the tree’s structure.
If you have a trellis or fence, an apple tree can be espaliered against it to good effect.
Use the cool and dormant winter months to perform any treetraining, so as to not stress the tree in its growing and producing phases of the year.
Ornamental as well as fruitful planting like this makes for a useful garden and is a popular way to grow apple trees in courtyards or smaller garden spaces.
To espalier your apple tree, train branches flat along the fence, pruning off any that stick too far outwards. You can give the tree a horizontal look or a fan shape.
Tie branches to give them support as they grow strong and bear heavy fruit. You can give the tree a light shaping in summer, to alter the look of it, or to allow more light on to the fruit.
Give the tree a sunny position and under-plant with beneficial and attractive plants such as chives, white clover and wallflowers, said to promote healthy fruit.
Chives are said to be beneficial in protecting the tree from applescab disease, but there have been no scientific tests to prove this, according to Susan McClure’s organic gardening companion planting book. She writes that, according the theory, a ring of chives grown around the tree works by affecting the spores on dropped leaves. Chives are also reputed to help keep black spot off roses, an apple relative.
Winter is a good time to plant and prune apples, as they are barren of leaves and therefore cope well with changes.
The idea of pruning the tree is to create good air flow and light through the branches and to remove any old or diseased wood. If you have wood like this, make sure you clip it off below the diseased part, on healthy wood, and burn or dispose of the rotten branches.
You also want to remove long barren branches that just get in the way. Try to leave fruiting buds on the branch, below where you prune. These small buds will bud up the following year, so leave these on as much as possible.
Trees are also shaped for ease of picking. It pays to have secateurs that are both sharp – for pruning that does not damage the tree too much and to help it heal; and clean – so as not to transfer any disease to the cut surface of the wood.
Healthy trees are less prone to pests and disease, according to organic gardening principles.
By applying a feed of fertiliser in early spring and a layer of mulch, you help the tree have a good start to the growing season.
Seaweed can be soaked and sprayed on the tree throughout summer as a foliar fertiliser several more times until harvest.
Spray to wet the leaves but not so much that they are dripping.
Spring blossom: Soon the apple blossoms will appear as nature awakens from her winter snooze.