Fall means apple harvest time! See our tips on harvesting apples—as well as caring for apple trees, apple tree problems, and everything about planting and growing juicy apples in the home garden!
Apples trees aren’t just for people with acres upon acres of land. Even in a small space, you can plant a hedge of dwarf apple trees or an apple espalier and yield a successful crop. Spring planting is recommended in central and northern areas. Fall planting can also be successful but only in areas where autumn and winter weather is generally more mild and moist.
Where Do Apples Grow?
However, climate considerations are very important for growing apples. As a general rule, if an apple tree is called “hardy,” it grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 5. If termed “long-season,” apple quality will be best in Zones 5 to 8. Check your zone here.
Tree tags don’t always tell you where the variety grows best, but many catalogs do. Also check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for a recommendation specific to your area. Each variety has a number of chill hours needed to set fruit (i.e., the amount of time temperatures are between 32 and 45 degrees F). The farther north you go, the more chill hours an apple variety needs to avoid late spring freeze problems. Check tree tags for chill hour information or ask the seller.
Can You Grow Apple Trees From Seed?
A common question is whether it’s possible to simply plant the seed of a variety that you like rather than buy a young tree. While it’s certainly possible to grow an apple tree from a seed, the apple tree you get probably won’t be the kind you hoped for!
Apple seeds are genetically different from their parent tree, which means that things like tree size, hardiness, and fruit quality will differ (and will usually be poorer). So, if you plant a Honeycrisp seed, you won’t end up with Honeycrisp apples. Plus, it can take 8-10 years for an apple seedling to grow big enough to produce apples, so you may end up waiting awhile!
Nevertheless, growing an apple seedling can still be a fun experiment. Here’s how to plant apple seeds: Apple seeds need to be exposed to cool, moist conditions before they are ready to germinate and grow. Sow them outdoors ½ inch deep in the fall and the natural seasonal cycle will take care of the seed’s chilling needs for you. Alternatively, place the seeds in moistened sand in a plastic container and keep the container in the fridge for 3 to 4 months. Then, sow them outdoors ½ inch deep once the threat of frost has passed. Once the seedling emerges, be sure to keep it well watered and protected from pests.
Apples Need Pest Control
Also, it’s important to recognize that there are many diseases and fruit pests that attack apples so it’s rare for this fruit to be grown without any type of pesticides. Growing apples organically is much more difficult in the East coast than the West due to incidence of fungal diseases and types of pests that aren’t even present in the West. It will take much research and persistance to grow apples is you wish to avoid any type of spraying program.
Apple Trees Need Friends
Most apples need pollen from another apple tree to produce fruit. This is called cross-pollination. This second tree must be a different cultivar but also one that will flower at the same time. The presence of bees will be very important; poor pollination can reduce the number of fruit and cause misshapen fruit; some orchards rent or maintain bee hives for good pollination. Overusing broad-spectrium insecticides can reduce the number of bees.