The return of apple season each year always brings back fond memories for me of growing up in the northeastern part of the country where apples are a big deal. It simply wouldn’t be October without fresh apples and cider. But there are times you wonder if you will survive your blessings and this seems to be the year that is true with apples. For this is one year that the spring frosts didn’t get the blossoms and we have found ourselves with a bumper crop.
Apples in Southwestern Colorado are actually one of the easier fruits to grow. Unlike the stone fruits, which can be fussy, the trees are fairly hardy and cold and drought-tolerant. Home orchards including apples abound.
Guidelines for your orchard
If you wish to plant your own home apple orchard, here are some guidelines:
Chose a location with full sun and well drained soil.
Be aware that apples attract deer and sometimes bears, as both of these animals are as fond of this fruit as we humans are, so you might want to consider a fenced area, or at least one that is away from your house or other things that might be damaged by these critters.
Apple trees are fairly easy to grow, if you select the correct varieties for your growing area or zone. One consideration is what you wish to use your apples for- sauce, eating, cooking, cider, pies, jam or jelly? Do you want a standard tree which may grow to be 20-30 feet tall, or would a semi-dwarf that will top out at 12 to 15 feet be suitable for you? The best thing to do is to visit your local garden center or nursery and ask their advice about what is right for your needs and in your area.
Your planting choices
In Cortez and surrounding regions, which are officially a zone 5, there are many good choices. Some of my favorites include the tarter apples, but there are many varieties from which to choose that will do well here. If you live in town, or in a protected area, you have an even greater selection from which to choose. As each Colorado gardener knows, success in this area is largely a matter of trial and error.
If you like red apples, your choices are seemingly limitless. Try Beacon, Cortland, Empire, Haralred, Hazen, McIntosh, Northern Spy, Red Baron, Red Delicious, and one of my personal favorites, Honeycrisp, for fresh eating. If sauce or pies or storage for use at a later date is what you’re after, try Empire, Enterprise, Haralson, Hazen, Honeycrisp, Jonathan, Liberty, McIntosh, Northern Spy, Red Baron, Winesap and Wolf River.
Gala is a relatively new variety, and you will see this apple on many grocers’ shelves. In between the red and yellow apples it’s an orange-red strain with red stripes, it ripens in September and is superior for fresh eating or cooking. The trees bear at an early age, and this has become one of my favorites for its reliability.
Yellow apples are generally sweeter and, in general, make great eating apples. There are many of these from which to choose, including some old favorites as well as exciting new varieties. Try Gingergold, Golden or Yellow Delicious, Goldrush, or Honeygold.
And if you like green apples, then Granny Smith is the one for you. An old variety, this apple is the classic apple with hard, juicy flesh and an excellent tart flavor. It is a great apple for eating if you like tart apples, but is most often used in cooking.
Apples are generally not self-fertile so two different varieties should be used in each planting. Cross pollination is possible only when varieties bloom at approximately the same time so early bloomers should be planted with other early or midseason bloomers and late bloomers with other late or midseason bloomers. Trees should be within 100 feet of one another as the wind will not carry the pollen from one tree to another. This makes bees and indispensable addition to your orchard. Keep this in mind when selecting your location- you may want to keep0 the orchard away from children’s play areas.
Caring for your tree
Once you have selected and planted your apple trees, they are relatively easy to care for. Fertilize them two or three times a year, generally about a month before they leaf out in the spring, again in early June and once more in late July. Spray after the flowers are finished to prevent coddling moth. Coddling moths lay the eggs that hatch into worms that will eventually get into and eat the apples, so this is very important. Spray twice during the summer for this but don’t spray before the flowers drop off as this will kill the bees which are necessary for pollination. Then water consistently and wait for the harvest!
There’s an old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” If this is indeed the case, I shouldn’t be going to see a doctor for many years! Although I love apples and love to cook, I must admit that I have been a bit overwhelmed by all of the apples from our little home orchard this season. And, if our experience is any indication, you should be able to find them in abundance at the local farmer’s markets. They are sweet, crisp and juicy right now. Take a minute, have an apple and enjoy the harvest!
Gail Vanik can be reached at Four Seasons Greenhouse and Nursery at 565-8274 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at Four Seasons Greenhouse and Nursery, or on the web at www.fourseasonsgreenhouse.com.