Apples

Apple trees grow in the temperate regions of the world i.e. areas that don't get too hot or too cold.

They are best adapted to places where the average winter temperature is near freezing for at least two months, although many varieties can withstand winter temperatures as low as -20°C.

Cultural notes:

Week 1: firm any trees that have lifted during the winter by frost.

Week 2: If established apple trees consistently make growth at the expense of fruit, try root pruning.

Week 7: Check trees for signs of canker.

To control leafy growth and promote fruiting shoots further prune the side shoots that were pruned the previous August. (Spur pruning)

Prune any remaining shoots back further to any fruiting spurs that are developing.

The aim is to control leafy growth, and promote fruiting shoots.

To do this, cut back the longer, smooth stems that produce leaves and leave the short nobbly shoots which form flower buds.

This pruning also helps to keep the trees in a more compact shape!

Week 8: Give an annual dressing of nitrogen and potash to the rooting area extending from a circle 150mm (6”) from the trunk to 300mm (12”) beyond the tips of the branches.

Nitrogen will promote both foliage and vigorous growth. (Cooking apples need less than dessert apples)

Phosphorus promotes healthy growth and fruit.

Potassium is necessary for good fruit colour, flavour, hardiness and fruit-bud development.

How much feeding fruit trees need depends on the soil and can be adjusted depending on growth, cropping and soil analysis.

Avoid excessive feeding as this reduces the quality of the fruits and may induce too-vigorous growth, with increased risk of disease.

For established bush and standard trees in cultivated soil apply Sulphate of Ammonia at 30gms /sq. metre (1oz/sq yd)

(Double the quantity for trees growing in grass covered land.)

Apply up to 100gms / sq metre*(4oz / sq yd) of general-purpose fertiliser mixed with sand to give an even application.

* Vary the rates according to the condition of the tree/s, giving less if growth is vigorous.

To improve fruit quality apply Sulphate of Potash at 15gms / sq metre (½oz / sq yd)

Maintain the phosphate level by applying Superphophate every third winter at 40-50 gms / sq metre (1-2oz / sq yd)

If the soil has been adequately prepared before planting, there is no need for extra fertiliser in the first year.

In this case leave until the following winter.

If cooking apples and pears have pale foliage, increase general-purpose fertiliser by half.

Ideally keep a grass-free zone at least 1 m wide around the base of the tree/s, this area should be mulched with low-nutrient mulch such as garden compost.

Week 10-14: Spray early flowering fruit trees with a general insecticide, as the buds burst to control pests such as aphids and caterpillars.

Alternatively, blast the tree branches with a solution of water and a squirt of washing-up liquid from a pressure sprayer.

Similarly spray with a suitable fungicide to prevent mildew disease.

Choose days when there is no wind and spray drift will not present any problems.

Protect fruit buds by means of scarers, humming lines, protective sprays or fine netting.

Week 13: Watch for drying out after bud-burst and water the soil if necessary mulch with straw or rotted manure after the soil has warmed up in the spring, and before it dries out, especially if the trees have been planted in grass.

Watering may be required to help the trees to become established.

Drought may also retard the growth of mature trees, though they may show no immediate signs of being affect.

Control weeds by shallow hoeing, taking care not to damage the root system, alternatively use chemical sprays.

Week 19: As a last resort to encourage flowering of over-vigorous apple trees, try Ring barking.

Using a very sharp and clean knife, make two parallel cuts about 6-13mm (1/4”-1/2”) apart encircling the trunk or large branch.

Carefully lift strip of bark to expose the white wood beneath.

Cover the strip with adhesive tape to prevent the wound from drying out.

Make several turns around the trunk or branch to ensure a good seal.

On smaller branches or main stems remove a spiral strip 6mm (1/4”) wide.

Week 20: During prolonged dry weather, water the ground around trees from May to July, giving 4 gal / sq. yd at each application.

Week 26: Apply a systemic fungicide to deter mildew, it will also control scab if it is present.

Keep an eye open for signs of woolly aphid, and other types of aphid and treat with a suitable pesticide.



Week 27: Thin out fruit after the June drop (natural thinning) to increase fruit size and quality

Thin dessert varieties to 100-150mm (3”-4”) apart.

Cooking varieties to 150-200mm (6”-8”) apart.

Week 31: Support heavily laden branches to prevent them breaking with the weight of the fruit.

Tie them to stout poles or prop them up with forked stakes.

Week 32: Prune apple trees grown as cordons or espaliers.

Cut back all the mature laterals of the current year's growth to three leaves above the basal cluster, and back to one leaf where new growth is on an existing sideshoot or spur.

In the event you can not find a basal cluster as can sometimes happen with some varieties, cut back the current years growth to three to four pairs of leaves above the point where the growth emanates from the branch.

Alternatively cut back to six inches(150mm) above this point which ever is the greater.

Established full or half-standard apple trees that have shown a reluctance to flower can sometimes be encouraged to crop by lightly pruning laterals now.

Cut back to a convenient bud about 150mm (6”) from the base of the shoot.

New Growth

Basal cluster

Sever New growth

Pruning completed



Week 35: Tie down shoots of spindle trained apple trees to encourage the formation of fruit buds.

Where maiden trees were planted the previous year, it's time to tie down three or four lateral shoots (side shoots) to a near horizontal position.

Treat some newly-formed laterals on established plants similarly.

Use string to tie down the shoots to the lower part of the main trunk or to pegs knocked into the ground.

Week 38: Protect trees from infestations of winter moth caterpillars next year by trapping the wingless female moths as they attempt to climb the tree to lay their eggs.

Grease-banding is ideal for protecting large trees that are awkward to spray.

Either apply a 100-150mm (4”-6”) band of vegetable grease direct to the trunk, or alternatively, use a 150mm (6”) wide band of greaseproof paper tied tightly, top and bottom, to the trunk and apply the grease to this.

Another option is to buy ready-to-use Grease bands and secure these to the trunk about 900-1500mm (3’-5’) above the ground.

Rough bark may require smoothing with a rasp or file.

Protect fruit from birds by means of scarers, humming lines, protective sprays or fine netting.

Week 39 onwards: Pick fruit as it ripens.

Test for ripeness by cupping the fruit in the palm of the hand and gently lifting it upwards and twisting it, ripe fruit will part quite easily from the tree complete with stalk.

If it doesn't, even with a sharp tug, leave it for another week then try again!

Take care not to bruise the fruit during this process.

Leave the stalks intact if the fruits are to be stored, and place the best keeping varieties in store.

Ready for harvesting

Crop harvested

Ready for storing



Wrap apples in special oiled wraps or squares of newspaper, and place them in boxes or bins.

Alternatively use bread trays as these will allow air to percolate around the fruit,and save the need for unwrapping when checking fruit during the storage period.

Store in a cool, moist atmosphere, a temperature of 2-4°C (36-39°F) is ideal.

Cool storage slows ripening; a moist atmosphere prevents shriveling in store.

Check them over regularly, removing any that have started to decay.

Where trees are too large for picking by hand, use a long-armed picking tool.

These can be obtained from specialist tool suppliers, or make one from a plastic bottle.

Week 40: Prepare site for new apple trees.

For Cordon grow trees: construct a supporting framework of posts, 3 metres (10 ft) apart, and set 2 metres (7 ft) above ground and set in concrete 500 mm ( 18”) below soil level.

Fix wires 1 metre and 1.8 metres (3ft & 6ft) above ground level, with adjustable straining bolts at the ends of the row.

Attach bamboo canes at an angle of 45 degrees to span the wires at the points where the trees will be planted.

For espaliers: erect a supporting framework of posts and wires.

The wires corresponding with the number of tiers it is planned to grow. Four to six is usual, with 300-400mm (12”-15”) between wires.

Week 42: Plant trees from now until March, in well-drained, deep soil that does not dry out in summer.

Plant container-grown trees at any time.

Where necessary, improve the soil by adding bulky organic matter, such as compost or well rotted farm yard manure.

Choose a sunny position, but avoid exposed situations where possible, otherwise erect windbreaks to provide protection.

Avoid sites subject to spring frosts, such as those at the bottoms of slopes or where buildings or walls interrupt the flow of cold air to lower ground.

Keep root breakages to a minimum when planting, ideally the root ball and its soil should be planted intact.

Do not plant when the soil is frozen or saturated.

If planting cannot be carried out when the trees arrive, store them in a frost-free area and protect the roots from drying out until the conditions are suitable.

Apples rarely succeed near coasts because of damage from salt-laden winds.

When buying a new tree, look for is a well balanced branch system forming an open goblet-shape.

If this is not possible you may require to do some formative pruning to get your desired shape.

Week 48: When all the leaves have dropped, check over the tree for mummified fruit.

These carry the disease brown rot which will affect next year's fruit, making it inedible and reducing storage life.

At the same time, look far shrunken and wrinkled branches, a typical sign of canker.

If seen cut back affected area back.

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