Folks 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 apple varieties in the grocery store all year round, none of them taste as good as an apple grown at home. Homegrown fruits have a better texture and a better flavor, and millions of Americans plant tomatoes each year for this reason. Yet many people may not be aware that two dwarf apple trees will take up about the same amount of room the yard as two tomato plants, will take about the same time to care for, and will produce a similar number of fruits per plant.
The reason for the apple tree’s relative unpopularity these days might be that most of us can remember grandma or a neighbor having a huge old apple tree in the back yard that took an enormous amount of work to care for. While a large amount of apples could be harvested from these trees you still ended up with lots of fruits rotting on the ground, attracting yellow jackets and making a mess. Another concern might be the trouble with having to spray an apple tree with pesticides. What home gardeners today might not appreciate is that these problems have been greatly minimized. With today’s new varieties of apple trees, 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 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 2 to 3 feet wide. Any variety of apple can be grafted on to a dwarf root stock. Stark Brother’s Nursery has even developed an apple tree they call the “Colonnade,” which has 6 to 10 inch branches growing off a single stem, reaching only about eight feet tall at maturity—now that is about as compact as an apple tree can get. Besides space conservation, 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.
In my opinion, the fruit production on a dwarf tree is much more suited to the home landscape than larger varieties. A mature dwarf tree will give you 20 to 30 apples a year. This means that you can easily choose the number of apple trees you want to plant according to a fairly specific sense of how many apples you would like to produce. You can ensure that you grow enough fruit, and at the same time, you do not have to worry about surplus apples rotting on the ground. If you have three or four varieties, you will be harvesting at least 100 fresh, tasty apples; more than most of us eat in a year!