How to Start an Apple Orchard

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How to Start an Apple Orchard
How to Start an Apple Orchard

How to Start an Apple Orchard

How to Start an Apple OrchardHow to Start an Apple Orchard

There are many things you need to consider before starting an apple orchard in your garden. You’ll need to plan the types of apples you will choose to grow, the size and placement of trees, the water system, and the control of pests and disease. In this article, we will cover how to start an apple orchard in your garden. The key to a successful apple orchard is quite a bit of planning and research, research and more research.

Find out what types of apples grow best in your area, you can refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones web page. Also, check with the County Extension office in your area as to what types of apples are the best to grow where you live. Apples vary in color, size, taste, harvest season, uses, storage and other characteristics. These are all factors to consider when planning your orchard.

Another key aspect to consider is pollination. Each variety of apple tree has a certain pollinator that must grow within close proximity to one another. Again, you can contact your local County Extension Office to find out what type of trees will pollinate each other. There are also self-pollinating trees available that have multiple grafts on a single rootstock.

Tree Size

The rootstock is the part of the tree that is underground. Rootstocks determine the size of the fully grown tree and are available in a standard size, semi-dwarf, and dwarf. The scion or cultivar is the part of the tree that is above ground. They are grafted onto the rootstock and determine the type of apples that the tree will produce.

Both semi-dwarf and dwarf sized apple trees will produce full-sized apples. You can consult a local nursery for prices and availability or you can order your trees from an online nursery but always keep in mind the above considerations. Sprouting apple trees from seeds is another option, but it requires skills and knowledge too involved to go into here.

Design the Layout

The size and shape of the area in which you wish to grow your orchard will influence the size and placement of the trees. Do you have a lot of room to grow trees and their appropriate pollinators or will space limit the number of trees making self-pollinating trees your best choice?

The size of adult trees determines the amount of spacing required for each tree. Dwarf trees need at least 12 feet between each other, semi-dwarf trees need at least 20 feet and full-sized trees require at least 30 feet of spacing between them. Before your shovel even touches the ground, you should have a diagram of the exact layout of your orchard.

If the space available is extremely limited you can still enjoy apple trees by planting dwarf-sized trees in large pots. This will save room and also enable you to take advantage of the available sunlight. Apple trees require at least 5 hours of full sunlight each day in order to thrive.

For moderately sized areas you can plant a row of trees along the border of your yard or garden. Apple trees can be trained to grow to fit into a particular area by using wires to control the direction of their new growth.

Watering System

The most common cause of failure is improper watering. Either too much or not enough water will affect the tree‘s success. A proper water delivery system is a must and should be planned for in the design layout of the orchard.

drip irrigation system is one type of watering system that works well and is inexpensive and easy to install during the planting of your trees. Some research into different types of a watering can be useful at this point in planning.

Soil and Fertilizers

An absolute must is healthy soil and a good fertilizer. You can have your soil tested for its ph and nutrient levels. This small investment is the only way to guarantee that you have healthy soil. You can purchase a soil testing kit but why not get it professionally done for a few more dollars.

Although apple trees are very hardy they are still susceptible to diseases and pests. Educate yourself about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of the most common problems associated with growing apple trees.

It cannot be said enough that the key to a successful apple orchard is in the research and the planning. Good luck with planting your own apple orchard!

How to Grow an Apple Orchard

Fruiting Apple TreeHow to grow an apple orchard? Well, it is a long term project and could take up to 40 years to approach maturity. Having said that, presuming you’re not looking to grow a commercial apple orchard – if you have a young family or grandchildren; by planting an orchard you could get all the family involved in helping with the development of it, rather than just passively watching it grow. As such it could become a real focus for family life for years to come.

Basics for How to Grow an Apple Orchard

Whilst you could literally grow apple trees from your own apple seeds, a more realistic option is to grow the apple orchard from saplings or even young trees that could be bearing fruit within a few years of planting them. However, in order to really feel you’re the one responsible for growing your own apple orchard start off with 2 or 3 year old trees, which will be about 4 or 5 foot tall.

In commercial orchards, since apples do not grow true to their seeds, young trees that have been grown in a nursery from cuttings are transplanted to the orchard site. These trees have a desired fruit variety grafted onto a root-stock selected for characteristics for size and vigor. Some apple trees planted today are on dwarf stock, allowing for more efficient use of valuable land and labor.

Apples do require a certain type of climate. Apples prefer warm days and cool nights. They also like to have full sun. Apples are known as a deciduous tree and they require that dormant season in the winter where they sleep. During this time, it is best if the temperatures get below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The specifics will depend on the particular variety of apple trees you decide on growing.

How big they then grow, and indeed the shape they grow into, will depend on how you prune them in the years to come and the variety of apples you choose. As a rule of thumb allow for each apple tree to grow to a diameter of about 8 foot and leave about the same distance between each plant.

The average apple tree will bear fruit in three years, with full production coming in eight to ten years. A fully-producing apple tree may grow up to 20 bushel boxes of apples a year. The dwarf trees have a shorter bearing season.

Planting an Apple Tree

You should plant your new apple trees between December and April, as at this time of year the plants are at their most dormant and will be less stressed by being uprooted and re-planted. Earth preparation shouldn’t be too much of an issue as being trees they’ll be getting their moisture and nutrients from deep down.

However, to give the plants a good start plowing over the earth where they’ll be planted and spreading mulch will be a good idea. The mulch will help to keep moisture in the earth but at the same time inhibit weeds from growing and competing with your new trees. Before ordering your apple trees consult with the supplier to check on ideal growing environments for the variety of apples you want.

As another rule of thumb, apple trees like sandy-clay or sandy-loam earth with a pH of around 6.5. At least during their first years of growth, the trees will need extra watering, so make sure your earth drains well too.

Apple Cultivars

Apple OrchardThe term cultivar means ‘cultivated variety’; which in turn means a variety of a plant that has been made by propagating it from another. When selecting the apple trees to grow in your orchard you need to buy at least two varieties, unless you are fortunate enough to have another orchard next to yours, with a different variety of apple trees planted in it. In this respect, most people opt for cultivars propagated from a common variety.

The reason you need cultivars of apple trees is that they are not compatible with one another. So what – you might well think. Well, this incompatibility means that trees of the same variety can’t fertilize each other to produce fruits. So, to successfully grow apples not only will you need birds and bees around to do the pollinating – but you’ll also need to have at least two varieties of apple trees that are compatible cultivars.

One of the problems that apple growers have is choosing rootstocks that are able to generate a good quality tree yielding high, early production. Finished tree quality for an apple tree is usually defined by tree caliper but the number of feathers and the angle of the feathers are also important criteria in evaluating tree quality.

Pest Control

Like most crops, apples have to be watched to make sure bugs and pests don’t damage the fruit. In spring, commercial growers use a type of pest prevention called Integrated Pest Management. This is when growers monitor the weather while hanging various insect traps around the orchard to collect data for the annual spray program. Temperature, humidity, and rainfall are recorded in orchard weather stations to predict disease outbreaks and identify effective management tools. Both harmful and beneficial insects are counted to determine spray schedules.

When used, spraying is done to protect apples from insects and disease. For example, one insect, the Light Brown Apple Moth, lays egg masses containing 20-50 eggs on the upper leaf surface or on fruit. Damage to the fruit happens as surface feeding by the larvae and causes millions of dollars in lost crops in Australia alone. Agricultural research is ongoing to find more effective and insecticide-free ways of controlling crop damage.

Pruning Apple Trees

The health, location, and value of an apple tree should be determined before pruning is done. If the trunk is rotten and appears to be split or if there are only one or two healthy branches, the tree may not be worth saving. Trees that are successful in producing fruit are exposed to the sun all day long. Disease and insects are more likely to affect trees located in a shady, damp area.

First efforts should be aimed at clearing around the tree so that the leaves and fruit get plenty of exposure to sunlight. In a situation where the tree has grown in a competitive forest, the apple tree should be pruned before competing trees are cleared from the area. Trees growing under these circumstances usually have shallow root systems and are easily windblown.

Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring before the leaves begin to appear. When there are no leaves on the branches, it is easier to see the structure of the tree and what cuts are necessary. By late winter, the tree is fully dormant and less susceptible to injury. Also, it has a chance to form a protective barrier behind the pruning cuts before insect and disease organisms become active.

Up to one-third of the live wood on an apple tree can be removed each year. If a tree has been abandoned for a long time, cut only diseased and damaged branches before removing one-third of the live wood. In a situation where the whole top needs to be cut off, the tree will be highly stressed and may not produce apples for a few years.

Pruning Guidelines

The following pruning rules will help improve the vigor and productivity of an old apple tree.

• Remove all dead wood and diseased branches. All diseased and insect-infested wood should be burned to prevent reinfestation. Coat cutting tools with bleach between cuttings to help prevent reinfestations.
• Prune more heavily in the upper part of the tree than in the lower. Sunlight will spread more evenly throughout the tree, helping to maintain the productivity of the lower limbs.
• Take out branches that grow toward the center of the tree. This also allows sunlight to reach the fruit.
• Cut out branches with narrow crotches. Narrow crotches are weak, causing branches heavy with fruit to split.
• Remove all vertical growth. Upright branches do not produce fruit. Cut out water sprouts; these are fast-growing, unbranching upright shoots.
• Encourage horizontal branches since they tend to bear more fruit. Branches at a 45 or 90-degree angle are the most desirable.
• Eliminate branches that hang below or across one another. A branch shaded by an upper one is not likely to be productive.
• Cut back drooping branches. Cutting a branch will strengthen it by encouraging growth further back along the branch.


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