Is Apple Production Right for Your Land?

This article on growing apples first appeared in My Wisconsin Woods.

According to the UW-Extension, apples are the most widely planted fruit tree in Wisconsin. Who wouldn’t like to step out the door and pick apples from their own trees?

For anyone thinking of growing apples, the first question to resolve should be site selection. Growing Apples in Wisconsin suggests that the ideal site for apple trees is on a gentle slope so that cold air can settle into adjacent lower areas. The bottoms of valleys are “frost pockets” and may be several degrees colder than nearby hillsides. And hilltops are undesirable as they can be very windy.

Apple trees grow best in a fertile, sandy loam, though they will grow in all but the rockiest or heavy-clay soils. They don’t like wet roots, so good internal water drainage is important. The soil should have a pH between 6 and 7, and apple trees require sun at least 3/4 of the day.

Before taking on an orchard, or even a handful of trees to supply friends and family, you need to consider how much time you are willing to spend tending them. Even if you have a good spot, apples are not a particularly easy crop to grow, especially if you want unblemished fruit.

“Apples are attacked by a wide group of insects and diseases that can reduce the health of the tree and also attack the fruit directly — creating holes, spots and deformities,” says Chris McGuire, co-owner of Two Onion Farm near Belmont. ”It’s a good idea to be clear about what your goals are. An average backyard gardener is not going to devote the time and attention to controlling the pests that a commercial grower must.”

Growing Apples in Wisconsin includes a chart that details when to monitor for insects and disease and how to react — such as hanging pheromone traps in early April to count spotted tent form leaf miners; spraying for green fruit worm at petal fall; applying sprays or using floating row covers as soon as adult Japanese beetles appear in June and July; and treating caterpillars that can damage fruit and foliage throughout the season as needed.

Another organic apple grower, Rami Aburomia, owner of Atoms to Apples near Mount Horeb, grows about 65 varieties on 4-1/2 acres. “Commercial apples are grown in high density these days — about 1,200 small trees supported by trellises per acre. It looks a lot different from a traditional orchard,” he says.

Both growers have taught apple growing in the past and have advice for those starting out. The size of apple trees is determined by the root stock on which particular species are grafted. “Short, narrow trees are easier to prune and harvest,” says Aburomia. “And the apples are exposed to more air and light.”

The small trees used by commercial growers are grown on dwarf root stock. “It can produce fruit in the second or third year,” says MxGuire. “With a full-size tree, you might wait seven to eight years, and 15 years for full production. For a home owner’s perspective, if you have five or six trees for variety, dwarf trees produce a bushel or two from each, and that is often enough for one household.”

To read more of this article, check it out at My Wisconsin Woods.

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