An apple orchard full of trees laden with fresh apples is quite a sight. Developing such an orchard is a great idea for landscaping, that gives a fresh look and earns you a generous amount of sweet and homemade apples. Of course the prerequisite here is that you have enough land at your disposal.
These trees are available in various types and sizes and you can select the best species according to your convenience. Apart from deciding whether you want the standard or dwarf fruit trees, the most important thing you need to consider is the species that will thrive well in the area you live.
The best way to find a suitable species by consulting the local County Extension Office. If you live in the hardy zone 3 to 8, then 'Golden Delicious', 'Haralred', 'Cortland', and 'Honeycrisp' are the suitable species for you, because they require chillier atmospheric conditions. Once you are aware of the tree varieties, the next question is the nature of that particular tree and the texture of its fruits. For instance, you should go for 'Honeycrisp' if you want sweet apples, while, you can go for 'Granny smith' apples if you wish to have tart apples. 'Macoun' apple trees have crispy fruits and species like 'Liberty', Northern Spy', and 'Golden Delicious' are great for making apple pies.
Another important factor is selecting the most disease-resistant variety. Some of the few common apple tree diseases are fire blight, powdery mildew, apple scab, and cedar apple rust. To keep your orchard safe from these diseases, you should go for apple tree species like 'Freedom', 'Liberty', 'Enterprise', 'Redfree', etc. Lastly, you should also be aware about their blooming season of your chosen variety. 'Beacon', 'Paulared', 'Ginger Gold', and 'State Fair' are the early-blooming apple species. Species like 'Cortland', 'Honeycrisp', 'Liberty', 'Gala', and 'McIntosh' bloom during mid-season, whereas 'Golden Delicious', 'Rome', 'Haralred', and 'Northern Spy' bloom very late in the season.
Planting the Trees
Planting can be performed anytime throughout winter and early spring season in October, November, and December.
These trees cannot pollinate on their own and hence, they require another variety or a crabapple tree to produce fruits. Yes, it is a fact that most apple species that are available in the market today are sold as self-pollinating, but they show great results if they are cross-pollinated. For better results, it is also important to plant a species that blooms at the same time. This way you can expect an early king blossom (opening and the largest blossom of the trees). But also remember that 'Winesap', 'Stayman', 'Jonagold', 'Mutsu', 'Red Gravenstein', and 'Northern Spy' should never be cross pollinated as they produce sterile pollen.
Make sure that you plant the tree in full sunlight and partial shade. Make it a point that the site that you have selected doesn't get water-logged or frost-packed (place where cold air settles down). Most soil conditions are suitable except extremely alkaline and acidic soils. The ideal pH for their growth ranges from 6 to 6.5, but can tolerate pH levels of 5.5 to 8.5. Trees also seek loamy and rich soil with good drainage qualities. If you are planting the trees on a previously fertilized soil, then never add any fertilizers while planting. If you are planting them in a lawn, then provide a bone meal or another good quality fertilizer at the time of planting.
Once you have selected the location, dig a 2' x 4' (60cm by 1.2m) square hole in the ground and make the soil crumbly with proper mulching. Place one sapling in one hole and cover the roots till the ground level. Do not add any fertilizers at this time as they can burn the tree roots. Keep the rootstock at least 2 inches above the surface of the ground. Now, firm down the soil so that it comes in close contact with the roots. Staking the plants is essential during this process. For that, place a 3 inch stake from the main stem and tie it to the trunk. Vigorous species may require staking for longer than the first two seasons.
Thinning out the plants is needed from the first blossom, no matter how large it is. For that, you need to cut off the central apple from each cluster, which is often a low-grade fruit, called the king apple. It is also important to give additional support to the branches that are loaded with too many apples. Pruning is also very essential from the first season of plantation itself. Giving proper shape to the plants, removing suckers, curly branches, and diseased leaves, etc. are some of the things that should be included in your pruning job.
The best way to find out the exact time of harvesting is to sample taste a fruit, before plucking it. You need to be careful while harvesting and handling the apples. Make sure that they don't get bruised. Store them in cool and well ventilated conditions of around 3ºC. If you cannot provide such storage conditions to the fruits, then you can also store them in the garage or a garden shed.