Authored by Cathy L. Chambers in Gardening
Published on 09-28-2009
The apple tree is without a doubt the most popular fruit-bearing tree for home gardens. Apple trees grow in all fifty states and in Canada. Although the apple is a valuable commercially grown fruit, the trees originated in Asia. Apple trees are hardy and grow well in most soils. Apple trees require maintenance to ensure production of a good crop. The choice of fertilizer and the timing of application should be considered, along with the soil and the availability of other trees for cross-pollination.
Trees that are purchased from a nursery consist of two parts that are grafted together. The rootstock portion of the tree and the scion. The scion is the top portion of the tree that branches and bears fruit. The rootstock determines the size of the tree but has nothing to do with the quality or type of fruit the tree bears. A small tree with a good root system will be more productive than a large tree with a poor root system. A one year old whip, two to three feet tall, with a 1/2 diameter trunk is a good size tree to purchase. Protect the roots from drying before transplanting. If the roots dry before transplanting, soak them for 24 hours before planting.
Before planting, it is a good idea to have the soil tested. This sample can help determine if the soil needs additional phosphorus (P) or potassium (K). If the ph level of your soil is between 6 and 7.5, or if the sample indicates that you need additional P or K, use an initial fertilizer of 15-5-10. Otherwise, apple trees should be fertilized with nitrogen. During the first year, the young tree should be fertilized with one pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Spread the fertilizer in a six-foot circle around the tree, keeping the fertilizer six inches from the trunk of the tree. In the first year, the fertilizer can be applied one month after planting. A soil sample should be taken at the same time every year, before applying fertilizer to ensure the tree is adequately fertilized. Soil sampling and fertilization should be done in the late winter or early spring.
The amount of fertilizer should be adjusted to the growth of the tree. In the second year of growth, apply two pounds of 10-10-10, again staying six inches from the trunk and within the “drip line” of the tree. The drip line is the area at the outer ends of the branches. Broadcasting the fertilizer within this area will ensure that the tree receives adequate fertilization. In the third year, increase the amount of fertilizer to three pounds, in the fourth year, four pounds. After five or six years, the tree can be fertilized as a mature tree using five to six pounds of fertilizer. Once the tree reaches maturity, shoot growth and a soil samples can determine if fertilizer should be increased or decreased.
Once the tree has begun to bear fruit, continued attention to fertilization needs will ensure a good crop for many years to come.