Planting Apple Trees
Although fall is the best time to plant apple trees, bareroot trees are difficult to find during autumn. If you plan to plant bareroot trees, early spring when the soil is workable but temperatures are still cool is the best time. Container grown trees can be planted any time during the growing season if you provide them with sufficient water.
When planting bareroot trees, hydrate the roots by soaking them in a pail of water for about an hour before planting. Using a sharp pruning shears, trim any broken or crossed roots and shorten all roots to about 18-inches long.
Dig a deep hole, two to three times the size of the root ball. Mix some of the soil with well-decomposed compost and add it to the hole. Gently spread the roots in the hole. Hold the tree in place, keeping the graft union 2 to 3-inches above ground. Otherwise, your dwarf or semi-dwarf will grow to standard size!
Starting with the top soil, refill the hole with the soil you have extracted, removing air pockets as you fill by tamping the soil with your feet.
Plant a container-grown tree at the same level it occupied in the pot.
You can hydrate your planting hole with water, depending on weather conditions. Add additional soil to maintain the soil at the same level as that surrounding the hole. To help control weeds and conserve moisture, extend the diameter of your planting with a two to three inch layer of mulch applied about a foot from the tree trunk.
Trees generally need to be spaced as far apart as they will reach in height at maturity. In other words, dwarf trees need to be 8 to 10-feet apart and semi-dwarf trees need to be spaced 10 to 15 feet.
Stake new trees during the first year to prevent strong winds from dislocating them and causing them to grow at an angle. Dwarf apple trees have a weaker root system and may need staking for the life of the tree. Secure stakes to your trees with soft tree tie or other wrap to keep the straps from damaging the trunk.
Young trees are a favorite food of many small animals like rabbits and field mice. Protect your newly planted apple trees with spiral tree guards placed around the trunk. As the tree matures, the spiral guard will expand with the tree.
Pruning and Training Apple Trees
Many gardeners prefer the central leadersystem for pruning trees. In this system, the trunk or central leader supports three to five scaffold branches (fruiting branches connected to the trunk). Your goal is to develop and maintain the scaffold branches at a minimum of 60° from the trunk, so that the tree is somewhat cone-shaped. This type of pruning allows light and air to reach every part of the tree, aiding in disease prevention and helping fruit to ripen.
Begin pruning at planting time. Remove any suckers from the base of your tree, any branches that are lower than 30 inches from the ground and any branches that compete with the leader. Next, select four to five of the remaining branches as your scaffold branches. Choose those that angle closest to 60° from the trunk. Scaffold branches should be spaced at least avertical half-foot apart. Prune out the rest of the branches. Trim scaffold branches so that the topmost branches are the shortest and the lowest branches have the widest spread.
After the initial pruning, your tree needs annual touchups to:
1) Maintain the conical shape
2) Remove any dead, broken, or diseased branches
3) Remove any vertical “water spouts” (these branches are vigorous vertical branches, which compete with the central leader).
4) Remove any suckers from the roots or the lower trunk of the tree
5) Remove any downward growing branches
6) New growth in the middle or upper part of the tree
Undertake annual pruning in late winter before the tree begins to bud
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