Yardpost – While it is a good idea to fertilize mature shrubs and trees in the fall with a slow release granular fertilizer, fruit trees and berries should not be fertilized in the fall. Feed them in the spring.
Last week I visited our local farmer’s market and spotted a variety of apple I have been wanting to sample for several years. The Honeycrisp apple has been lauded for years as one of the best fresh eating apples ever produced. While it was developed at the University of Minnesota in the 70’s, the honeycrisp apple is just beginning to show up at farmer’s markets and some local apple orchards. It is projected to become available in super markets in Michigan in a few years.
After one bite, I was blown away by this apple. I am a texture freak when it comes to apples. I hate mealy apples. So when I took my first bite of a honeycrisp, I was in heaven. It is incredibly crisp, very juicy, and has a wonderful aromatic flavor; not too sweet. When I learned that you can store honeycrisp apples in refrigeration for up to six months without losing that crispness, I made a decision I have been putting off for several years. I will finally plant some dwarf apple trees this spring and two of them will be honeycrisps.
I had dwarf apple trees years ago when I lived in Pennsylvania, but had not gotten around to planting any here in Michigan. I’ve always been a proponent of dwarf fruit trees. They should be grown more in home landscapes, but they have never caught on. What is interesting is that a dwarf apple tree is just about the same size (four to six feet tall and three to four feet wide) as an indeterminate tomato plant and they both produce about the same number of fruits (25 to 35). Anyone already growing tomatoes should give serious thought to planting a few dwarf apples.
I suspect there are three issues that have prevented the dwarf apple tree from becoming common in the home landscape. Having to choose from over 100 varieties can be daunting. Then there is the reality that it takes 3 to 5 years after planting the tree before you get a full crop of apples; we are an impatient species. And finally, there is the need to spray an apple tree with a number of different pesticides a few times each year and that prospect can be off-putting to some folks.
The five most popular apples sold in grocery stores are Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Gala, Fuji, and Granny Smith. There is no need to grow any of these varieties since they are available in the stores almost year around. My bias is to grow varieties that have been introduced in the past 30 years. I want the most insect resistant and disease resistant apples that have great texture and taste. The Empire and Liberty are examples of varieties that are very tasty and generally free of disease or insect problems. Many folks grow these apples with no need to have any spray program.
A fun exercise is to visit some local apple orchards and buy varieties you have never tasted before. You might find an apple that you would really like to grow yourself. Another place to go for help in selecting varieties to grow is AppleSource, a specialty apple grower in Illinois (www.applesource.com). They offer over 100 varieties of apples to taste. They send apples by mail in boxes of 12. You can order just one variety in a box or order up to 6 varieties.
I’m going to plant Empire and Honeycrisp which are early bloomers and Braeburn and GoldRush which bloom later in the spring. You need two different varieties of apple to get proper pollination by the local honeybees.
On my web site, www.yardener.com, I offer an organic spray program for apple trees. In the search window type in “Caring For Apple Trees”. I suggest using least toxic products such as light horticultural oil, lime sulfur fungicide, insecticidal soap, and bacillus thuringiensis insecticide for controlling insects and disease. Four dwarf trees can be sprayed in fifteen to twenty minutes so we are not spending a lot of baseball watching time here.
In four or five years, I will expect to be harvesting over 125 apples from my five trees (two honeycrips). That gives me fresh eating apples, apple sauce and apple pies for five or six months. There is nothing more satisfying than picking and eating an apple from your own tree.