Hello fellow readers, Rebecca of Andover, NJ, received a dormant, bare-root apple tree via mail order and wondered the best way to take care of it until she plants it. What a wonderful gift! They are doing a backyard renovation and plan to include apple trees in the mix.
Apple trees sold commercially consist of the scion, the top portion that branches and bears fruit grafted onto rootstock. The variety of the scion determines the type of fruit. The rootstock can be a seedling, which produces a full-size tree, or a size-controlled rootstock that produces a smaller tree. Dwarfs and semi-dwarfs will bear fruit in 3 to 4 years; standard-size trees will fruit in 5 to 8.
I suggested Rebecca plant her baby tree in a large pot with organic potting soil. Then keep it in a protected spot outside, away from strong winds and intense sun, to keep it from drying out or freezing. Soon the ground will thaw, and she can plant it. Or heel it in by digging a trench, placing the tree roots evenly, and then covering them with soil. Trees can be kept for several weeks this way before permanently planting.
Avoid poorly-drained soil, and low spots as apple trees won’t survive in standing water. Good airflow is critical, too, especially during spring frosts which can kill the blossoms. Choose a higher site with a slope so cold air will flow down away from the trees, and be sure they’ll get at least six hours of full sun a day—plant seedlings or full-size trees 15 to 18 feet apart and dwarfing rootstock between 6 and 8.
It turns out apple trees prefer and more often need to be pollinated by other varieties than themselves. While there are self-pollinating trees, even these trees will bear more fruit if cross-pollinated by a different variety. Make sure that the varieties chosen have overlapping bloom times.
Pollen from apple blossoms is transferred primarily by honey bees, whose populations have sadly declined. Uh oh Rebecca, who has chickens and talks of goats, you may become a beekeeper too. Fun!
Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com (and your favorite Podcast App.)
Column Updated 8/6/21