Ever wish you could have an apple orchard in your backyard? You can—in the space of a single tree—if you plant a hedge of dwarf apple trees or an apple espalier.
To get started, let's talk about selection criteria first:
- Look for disease-resistant trees that give you the ability to grow organic fruit or to use fewer chemicals. Maintenance is easier, too.
- You need to choose a rootstock. All apple trees sold have 2 parts: a “rootstock” or foundation and a “scion” or top portion which determines the fruit variety. A rootstock can be a seeding (which produces a full-size tree) or it can be “dwarfing” or “size-controlling” (which produces a smaller tree for easier care and harvest).
- For dwarf trees, make sure that the rootstock is specified. A Bud 9 is a common, hardy tree that's easy to train for USDA Climate Zones 3 to 5. The M9 is probably the most widely planted rootstock, though it would die in frigid winters.
- Buy dormant, bare-root, 1-year-old nursery trees with good root systems. Dwarfs and semidwarfs will bear in 3 to 4 years, yielding 1 to 2 bushels per year. Standard-size trees will bear in 5 to 8 years, yielding 4 to 5 bushels of apples per year.
- The variety of apple selected should be based on fruit characteristics, bloom time and pollen compatibility. Consult a local nursery to see which trees are potential cross-pollinators in your area. For best results, include a 'Grimes Golden', 'Golden Delicious', 'Red Delicious', or 'Winter Banana' in your planting. These varieties are known pollinators. Crabapple trees can also be used as pollinizers if they bloom at the same time as the desired variety. Nursery catalogs will provide pollination charts.
- Most apple varieties do not pollinate themselves or any flowers of the same apple vareity; this requires planting at least two different apple tree varieties close to one another so that the bees can pollinate. (There are actually some self-pollinating apple tree varieties if you are really short on space. However, even these apple trees will bear more fruit if cross-pollinated.)