Ap­ple Pro­duc­tion in the Home Gar­den

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - SPORTS - Berni Kurz Colum­nist

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 bkurz@uaex.edu.

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