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  • Writer's pictureBlake Nursery

Apple Tree FAQs

We probably have more inquiries about apple trees than anything, and this pleases us because apples are one of the most worthwhile, valuable trees for Montana homeowners to grow. They offer spring beauty with blossoms, summer shade with attractive green foliage, appeal to nesting birds, summer and fall value with fruit, and winter relief with interesting bark and branching.

When is the best time to prune apple trees?

Late fall or February to early March. This way tree wounds have time to heal before growth commences. Do not prune from late March on through the growing season as open wounds to apple trees at this time could spread diseases such as fireblight.

Should you plant dwarf or standard trees?

Dwarf trees bear fruit at a younger age, say 3-4 years rather than 5-6, take less space, and fruit is easier to harvest. Because they aren't quite as hardy as our standard, or regular, size apple trees, they need more protection and are not recommended if you are in some of the colder regions of Montana.

What are scions and rootstocks?

Apple trees are normally grafted - two trees joined together in order to improve the quality of both. In so doing the part of the tree that is above ground, the scion, is the variety that gives the tree its name, e.g., Wealthy or Red Baron. It has desirable, quality apples. The rootstock you don't see much of because most, though not all, of it is below ground level. It's important because it influences hardiness, disease and insect resistance, years to maturity, size, vigor, drought tolerance, and more. Both the scion and rootstock are dependent upon one another for total quality.

What rootstocks should you use?

Anybody in the business of selling fruit trees should be just as concerned about the rootstocks, for their customer's sake, as they are the fruiting part of the tree, the scion. Sometimes apple trees sold in this state have rootstocks that are not hardy here. For apple trees planted east of the Continental Divide, our experience indicates that the most reliable, hardy, standard rootstocks are Dolgo, Columbia, and Antonovka. (This is not to say these are the only ones to use.) For semi-dwarf rootstock, we recommend M7a, though it is not as hardy as any one of these three standard rootstocks.

How many apple trees should you plant if you want to be certain of getting fruit?

Since apple trees are generally not self-fertile, we recommend three different varieties for cross-pollination. Same variety apple trees won't pollinate one another. If you live in town and have close neighbors with apple trees, you may easily get away with having only one of your own. Flowering Crabs, by the way, as long as they aren't sterile or fruitless ones, would serve as pollinators for your apple tree. What you need essentially are trees that will flower at more or less the same time, i.e. they may not coincide exactly, but their flowering should at least overlap for a while. Length of bloom is usually 7 to 15 days. Trees should be no more than 100 feet apart for good pollination.

Should you plant apple varieties that will ripen at different times?

Yes, we recommend this so you can harvest ripe apples for several months - ideally August through October. The exception to this rule is if you live at a higher elevation and tend to get early hard freezes. Then there is no point in planting late-September, October ripening varieties. Instead you should stick with varieties that ripen in August or early September. The beauty of having some late-ripening apples is that they are usually better keepers, so if you have a proper storage place you may have edible apples into the following spring.

What is fireblight?

Fireblight is a bacterial disease spread by insects that attacks a number of plants. Unfortunately apples are especially susceptible. While some varieties are more susceptible than others, any of them can get fireblight if the conditions are right. An effective cure is antibiotics sprayed throughout the blossoming time. Also, affected areas of trees should be pruned out and disposed of. Pruning tools should be disinfected after each cut to prevent further spreading of this disease. At Blake Nursery we will advise you on apple varieties that are the most resistant.

How are apple trees pollinated?

By bees, not the wind. Bees are indispensible for apple production. If you have hives nearby, consider yourself fortunate!

Is it advisable to wrap the trunks of apple trees?

Yes, when they are young and their bark is still thin, because then they are very susceptible to sunscald. This damage usually occurs when there is a sharp change in temperature, i.e. warm daytime temperatures cause sap to rise in the tree, and then nighttime freezing occurs. This sudden swing can make the bark split and inflict severe damage on the tree. Tree wrap will reflect the sun and lessen the likelihood of heat buildup in the trunk, thereby reducing the danger of sunscald. Tree wrap is only needed during winter and spring, or when there is a possibility of snow lying on the ground, since it is such a fierce reflector. We recommend it be removed when danger of snow has passed so the trunk gets acclimated to the "real" world.

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