Apple Production in the Home Garden
The production of beautiful, blemish-free apples in a backyard setting is challenging in the Ozarks. Temperature extremes, high humidity, and intense insect and disease pressure make it difficult to produce perfect fruit like that purchased in a grocery store. However, careful planning in selecting the apple cultivar and rootstock, locating and preparing the site for planting, and establishing a season-long routine for pruning, fertilizing, watering, and spraying will greatly enhance the flavor and appearance of apples grown at home.
Because the area’s climate is favorable for fire blight, powdery mildew, scab, and cedar apple rust, disease-resistant cultivars are recommended to minimize the need for spraying fungicides. Popular cultivars such as Jonathan and Gala are extremely susceptible to fire blight and thus are difficult to grow because they require diligent spraying. Liberty is a high-quality tart apple that is resistant to the four major diseases mentioned and therefore can be successfully grown in this area. Other varieties with good disease resistance are William’s Pride and Enterprise. Much is talked about Arkansas Black. This variety is very susceptible to two major disease, fire blight and apple scab.
The best time to plant a new apple tree is as soon as new trees
arrive at local nurseries which will be in February to March. Trees should be planted while dormant. Apple trees purchased in containers can be planted in mid- to late October. While fall is a good time to plant fruit trees, bare root trees are only available in late winter. When planting, dig holes large enough to receive the roots freely without cramping or bending from their natural position. Cut off all broken or damaged parts of roots with pruning shears. Set the plants with the graft or bud union 2 to 4 inches above the soil line.
Apple trees on dwarfing rootstocks are recommended to facilitate training, pruning, spraying and harvesting. Trees on dwarfing rootstocks also start producing fruit the second season after planting and generally have a life span of about 20 years. A dwarf tree can still be 15 feet tall.
The day you plant your trees is the day you begin to prune and train for future production. Neglect will result in poor growth and delayed fruiting. Pruning a young tree controls its shape by developing a strong, well-balanced framework of scaffold branches. Unwanted branches should be removed or cut back early to avoid the necessity of large cuts in later years. The preferred method of pruning and training in the home orchard is the Central Leader System. Pruning should be done in late winter. Winter pruning of apple trees consists of removing undesirable limbs as well as tipping terminals to encourage branching.
You can request a free handout from the County Extension office for a complete guide in growing apples in the home garden. Call, 479-444-1755 or email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.