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Tips for Growing Heirloom Apples

Plant native heirloom apple trees in your orchard to enjoy the authentic flavor and unique taste of apples. Growing heirloom apples is easy, if you select the varieties according to the prevailing climatic conditions in your area.
Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
Last Updated: Mar 20, 2019
The Red Fuji Apple Trees
Heirloom apples are true, non-hybrid cultivars, which undergo open and cross-pollination for fertilization. Grown since the earlier times, they are also called antique apples. You will be surprised to know that there are more than 17,000 varieties of cultivated apples.
Of these, majority are hybrids that are bred for imparting desirable traits. If you have sufficient space in the yard, add some flavorful heirloom apples. You will find varieties that are excellent for eating out of hand, baking, cooking, pickling, and also for making cider.
Growing Heirloom Apples
All types of apple trees require special attention for producing a good yield, and the antique apple is no exception. For planting heirloom apples successfully, do some research about the climatic conditions in your region and the basic growth requirements of the plants.
If they are matching, then only you can consider incorporating some antique apple trees in your yard. Listed next are some points that you ought to know for planting heirloom apples.
  • The antique apples are adapted for growing in USDA hardiness zones 4-9. As they have been cultivated for a long time, they are resistant to common pests and diseases.
  • Most of the cultivars are regionally adapted, i.e., they are suited for climatic conditions specific to an area. Hence, it is a good idea to take advice from the local horticulturist about the cultivars adapted to your region.
  • Heirloom apples are propagated from seeds, cuttings, and grafted plants. If you know fruit tree propagation, you can obtain cuttings or graft the twigs from a matured, antique apple tree.
  • Like other apple species, most of the heirloom types fertilize by cross-pollination. So, planting more than one apple tree in the same site is a must. Accordingly, choose the planting area and buy the starter seeds or plants.
  • While the native cultivars are relatively hardy, always inquire about the disease and pest resistance of the particular variety that you are interested in growing. Follow the basic tips for growing heirloom apples to maintain healthy trees.
The most challenging aspect about heirloom apple growing is finalizing the cultivars. You can make a list of the varieties and note their growth requisites for easy reference. And to choose the ideal fruit tree for your yard, consider the growth requirements, taste, uses, and height.
The most popularly opted antique apple types are Baldwin, Rhode Island, English Beauty, and Red Delicious. However, before planting a specific cultivar, make sure you taste the antique apples to know their flavor and taste. The following points focus on how to grow heirloom apples in your yard.
Apple Seeds or Whips
One advantage of antique apples is that the seeds are viable, which is not so for the hybrid ones. Commonly propagated by grafting, you will also get 1-year-old and 2-year-old whips.
But, the choice of sowing apple seeds or planting whips is up to you. While apple trees grown from seeds require 7-8 years to produce fruits, the grafted plants mature and bear fruits within 3-5 years. So, it is better to start with whips.
Purchasing Trees
When the planting time comes, purchase disease-free, healthy, semi-dwarf or dwarf whips of the chosen apple variety from your local nursery. Or else, place a mail order for the same in a reliable nursery.
You will receive bare root, unbranched, 2-3 feet tall apple trees in a dormant state. At maturity, expected height of the dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees are 6-8 feet and 10-12 feet, respectively.
Initial Preparation
Fall is the ideal time for growing apples, because they remain dormant at this time. Or else, consider growing them in spring. Selecting a proper growing site and preparing soil are the prerequisites of growing healthy heirloom apples.
Choose an area where the plants get exposed to full sun. The planting soil should be slightly acidic (pH 6-6.5), light, well-drained, and rich in organic matter and soil microbes.
Planting Whips
For growing the 1-year-old whips, dig planting holes that are about 2 feet deep and twice the size of the root system. In case, you are using a soil conditioner, make sure you mix it thoroughly with the upper soil (about 12 inch depth).
This will promote quick development of roots and branches. For introducing the plant, add some loose soil to the hole, spread the roots gently, and place it. Backfill soil and tamp down the soil to remove air pockets. Follow the same planting steps for the remaining trees.
Care for Newly Planted Trees
Aftercare of heirloom apples starts with watering the trees immediately after plantation. Provide sufficient water so that the roots come in good contact with the soil particles. Also, regular watering is necessary for 2 years, or till the plants get established.
Do not supplement fertilizer, as doing so will cause burning effects to the fragile roots. By next spring, the unbranched tree should be cut to about 36 inches above the soil to induce growth of lateral branches.
General Apple Tree Care
Caring for heirloom apple trees is not different from the hybrid apple varieties. Mulching is a good way to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. Other apple tree care tips involve fertilizing, pruning, thinning fruits, weeding, and controlling disease and pest infestations.
Look for signs of diseases, like black rot, rust, mildew, scab, and mosaic virus. Common apple tree pests are aphids, sawfly, moth, and worms. Early identification of the pathogen attacks is crucial to save the trees and get a good yield.
By growing antique apple trees, you can relish the true flavor of apple fruits every year. In terms of taste and flavor, you will find the heirloom apples incomparable to that of the store-bought ones. The native fruit trees will continue to give a high yield as long as you provide the basic growth requirements.
For ensuring healthy growth and good harvest, don't forget to water, prune, spray, and feed the apple trees on a regular basis.