Having an apple tree in your backyard can be very rewarding. In the fall, it’s lovely to pick the fruit, eat it as a snack, and use it in pies and other sweet desserts. However, apple trees do require careful, year-round care if you want to ensure a good harvest of fruit. Follow this seasonal guide to give your backyard apple trees the care they need at the times when they need it most.
Even though apple trees are dormant in the winter, you cannot just ignore them for the season. In fact, late winter is the ideal time to give your apple tree’s their annual pruning. Trimming away old and damaged branches before the tree starts budding helps reduce stress on the tree. Regular trimming is important to ensure even airflow to the branches and to reduce the spread of disease.
Trimming a tree is a more intricate process than many homeowners assume. You need to be able to tell the difference between dead or diseased branches and healthy ones, and you need to trim away the right branches to maintain the tree’s shape. In most cases, it’s best to have certified arborist trim your apple trees so you can be sure the job is done correctly.
When springtime arrives, it’s time to kick your apple tree care routine into high gear. There are a few different things you must do in the spring to ensure a healthy apple crop.
It’s best to apply fertilizer or compost in the spring before the fruit sets. Always test your soil before applying fertilizer. You can purchase a test kit at most home improvement stores. Just follow the instructions to conduct the test, and then apply fertilizer according to the results of the test, as specified in the instructions.
Apple trees use a lot of nitrogen, so expect to add a high-nitrogen fertilizer to your soil. Depending on the soil quality in your area, you may also need to add potassium and phosphate.
Spray for Bacterial and Fungal Diseases
A bacterial or fungal infection can quickly ruin your apple crop. As soon as the tree’s flowers appear, have the tree sprayed with a fire blight spray containing streptomycin sulfate. Fire blight is a bacterial infection, and this antibacterial ingredient will protect your tree. Once the petals drop from your tree, have it sprayed with copper sulfate to protect against various fungal diseases like apple scab and brown rot.
If you notice a lot of insects around your tree, you can also have it sprayed with an insecticide. However, you should never do this until the petals have dropped from the flowers, since the insecticide will repel bees that are necessary for pollination.
By the time summer arrives, your apple tree should have tiny apples on its branches. Take some time to remove the smallest of these apples. This will leave more nutrients for the remaining fruits, causing them to grow larger and sweeter. Try to do this in July, at the latest.
In most cases, apple trees don’t require frequent watering because they have deep, developed root systems. But if it is a dry summer, you may want to dig about 8 to 10 inches down into the soil and see how moist the area is. If the soil is dry to a depth of 8 inches or more, water the tree. Make sure you apply water in a wide circle around the tree to ensure contact with the roots.
Watch your tree for signs of insects. If there seem to be a lot of insects around, you may need to have the tree sprayed with insecticides again. Also keep an eye on weed growth. Keep weeds trimmed back so they don’t trap moisture against the tree trunk or attract pests. Be careful not to damage the trunk as you trim around your apple tree.
Fall is the best season for apple tree owners because the fruit ripens during this season. Red apple varieties are ready to pick when their skins darken and the yellow undertones dissipate. Yellow varieties are generally ready when they start to look truly yellow rather than green. If you’re not sure whether or not your apples are ready, try one! If it seems overly tart or has a sawdust-like texture, it’s not quite ripe yet.
Once the harvest season is over, your tree will begin dropping its leaves and any remaining fruit. Make sure you rake up the leaves and fruit and dispose of them either in your compost pile or by burning them. Leaving leaves and fruit around the base of the tree gives fungi a place to replicate, increasing the chances of your tree developing a disease the following season.
If you provide your apple tree with proper, year-round care, it should reward you with a delicious crop of apples. Contact Smitty’s Tree Service if you’re looking for someone to trim, spray, fertilize, or otherwise care for your backyard apple tree.