How to best plant and care for apple trees

Apple tree with red apples
ARTICLE Patricia Moore

We consume around 70,000 tonnes of fresh apples a year – not counting those we pick off the trees in the backyard.

But backyards are not what they were. They’re way smaller, but so are the apple trees. Advances in dwarfing rootstock have seen the development of apple trees, which even the smallest garden patch can support. And if space is truly at a premium, or you’re cultivating a deck garden, dwarf varieties like Blush babe and Croquella, can be container grown and still produce a taste-tempting crop. (Dwarf trees frequently produce bumper crops because they’re growing fruit, rather than wood). New cultivars also include slimmed down trees, such as the Ballerina, which grow in a column-like fashion and bear fruit on short branches close to the main trunk.

Apples grow best in areas with a mild summer and cool winter. They need fertile, well-drained soil and plenty of sun and shelter from strong winds. And while dwarf and upright varieties adapt readily to containers, they require more attention when it comes to watering and feeding. The apple also adapts well to being espaliered, a solution that’s both decorative and productive – and has become increasingly popular in urban garden design. Dwarf Cultivars adapt particularly well to this method of growing.

Very few varieties are self-fertile and most benefit from cross-pollination with another flowering at the same time. However, rather than buying two trees, the space-saving solution is choosing a double, even triple-grafted tree with two or more varieties on one set of root.

Apple trees, regardless of their type, are comparatively easy care. Choose a variety that will deliver what you’re after – whether it’s eating cooking, or both – plant in the right position in winter when dormant, feed in spring and prune to keep in shape.

Pruning, which may not be necessary with dwarf varieties, serves several purposes; it keeps the size of the tree under control, encourages new growths and allows more sunlight and air to penetrate the tree, with a consequent increase in yield. Always keep in mind the old saying about a small bird being able to fly through the tree.

A plus with many of the newer varieties of apple is their resistance to disease. Codling moth is probably the best know apple pest, but they’re also prone to whitefly, scale, woolly aphid and fungal diseases like powdery mildew. While the best solution is a disease resistant variety, garden centres have a wide range of preventative measures available. Choosing companion plants that deter pests is another solution. Garlic, horseradish, nasturtiums, lavender and wallflowers are all recommended companions.

There are around 130 different varieties of apples grown in New Zealand. These range from old favorites such as Cox’s orange pippin, Gravenstein and Golden delicious, to new cultivars like Gal, Royal gala, Braeburn and Jazz. All developed here and now grown around the world. And for gardeners who like to make a brew, consider specific cider apples like Slack ma girdle and Broxwood foxwhelp.

You might be interested in reading: How to plant and care for peonies.

This article by Patricia Moore featured in Issue 019 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine . New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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