We need Johnny Appleseed to come back and make another round of planting apple trees. People don’t plant apple trees in their yard as often as they did a few generations ago. While we can now buy a fair number of varieties in the grocery store all year round, none of them taste as good as an apple grown at home. Millions of Americans plant tomatoes each year for the same reason; better texture and better flavor. What is interesting is that two dwarf apple trees will take up about the same amount of room in the yard as three or four tomato plants, take about the same time to care for, and will produce a similar number of fruits per plant. Yet seldom does one see an apple tree included in the landscape design of any new homes these days.
One problem might be that most of us can remember grandma or a neighbor having an huge old apple tree in the back yard and it usually took an enormous amount of work to care for and while you harvested a ton of apples you still ended up with lots of apples rotting on the ground attracting yellow jackets and making a mess. Another concern might be the trouble and worry about having to spray an apple tree many times with pesticides. What folks today might not appreciate is that now those problems have either been eliminated or at least greatly minimized. It is not difficult to grow apples in the backyard and you do not need much space to grow them.
Small Is In
While the standard sized apple tree can be 20 feet high and 15 feet wide, the dwarf and mini-dwarf trees available today grow to be only 6 to 8 feet tall and may be only 2-3 feet wide. Any variety of apple can be grafted on to a dwarf root stock. Stark Brother’s Nursery (www.starkbros.com) has even developed anapple tree they call the ”Colonnade” which has branches only 6 to 10 inches long growing up a single stem to be only about eight feet tall at maturity; now that is about as compact as an apple tree can get. There are other advantages to having a dwarf apple tree. It is much easier to care for in terms of pruning time, spraying time, fertilizing and watering.
Fruit production on a dwarf tree is much more within human scale in my view. A mature dwarf tree will give you at least 20 to 30 apples a year. If you had three or four varieties, you would be harvesting at least 100 fresh, tasty apples; more than most of us eat in a year! Apple sauce made from fresh picked apples is to die for. You’ll never eat canned apple sauce again.
Low Spray Programs
Having to spray an apple tree ten or fifteen times a year is a situation only found in larger orchards with hundreds of apple trees. That is a monoculture that attracts all the insects and diseases of apples. When you intermingle two or three dwarf apples in amongst the diversity of your landscape, those problems are much less prevalent. You can find tasty varieties today that are almost completely disease resistant. By using lots of compost and proper mulch your trees will be able to resist most disease and insect attacks on their own. I sprayed my trees only two or three times a year and that did the job. It’s almost impossible to have perfect apples using no sprays at all.
Consider Being A Foster Parent
If you don’t have the space or sufficient light for even one apple tree, you can still have fresh apples. No matter where you live in metro Detroit,
you can find a home in your town or suburb with a huge overgrown apple tree in the back yard that has not been cared for in many years. Go to the owner and offer to take over the care of the tree for half the harvest which could be over ten bushels of apples, enough to think about making cider. Renovating an old untended apple tree takes about three years of careful and proper pruning. Done properly you can bring a 100 year old tree back into very respectable production. Be sure you check some references about the procedures for pruning overgrown and ancient apple trees. It can be very satisfying to bring an old tree back, and you can be sure that the tree’s owner is going to be delighted with the deal.