DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Apples

If the early-fruiting apples are any indications, this year’s crop will be big. That’s unlike the 2014 harvest, which was down due to the awful winter the trees endured. The past winter was very mild, though, and we will have the apples as evidence.

Apples are the most-dependable fruit for this area, which is in Zone 3. A frequent question is when will apple trees bear fruit. Usually, fruiting will occur between three to five years after planting. Standard varieties of apples take longer; dwarf varieties have apples sooner. However, many gardeners don’t plant dwarf apples, as they are said to be less hardy than standard varieties.

A common problem in winter is damage from rabbits, mice or deer. Sunscald also can damage the bark. Check hardware stores for hard plastic protectors, tree wrap or screen.

Worms appear to be somewhat of a problem in an early crop like this year. Clearing all the apples off the ground right after they fall is a good idea. Don’t spray for worms unless you had a problem the previous year.

To prevent wormy apples, apply Sevin spray every two weeks when the apples begin to show a reddish color in the blooms.

Alan Linda of New York Mills, Minn., has a small orchard that he has cared for three decades or longer. Linda grew up on a farm near Riceville, Iowa, and writes a weekly column in the Perham, Minn., newspaper in which he sometimes writes about apples.

He said the most important thing he has learned was never to plant semi-dwarf apple trees.

Here a couple of more tips from Linda:

  • All fruit trees must be watered. Soil type makes no difference.
  • Secure trees with electrical wiring that is attached to steel fence posts that have been driven into the ground on two sides of the tree.
  • Use metal screening to keep varmints at bay as well as manicuring with weed trimmers.
  • It’s not necessary to fertilize.
  • Rather than spray for worms, place red balls with Tanglefoot, a very sticky substance, around your trees.

Linda speaks highly of Haralson and Haralred varieties. These are tart apples that will store well in a root cellar for up to seven months.

Both the Haralson and the Haralred bear heavy crops every other year (apple year) with a sparse harvest in the intervening years. Other varieties such as Honeycrisp provide smaller crops with some apples every year.

For those having problems with Honeycrisp, Linda suggests planting Sweet 16 trees instead. They do better, and they are related to the Honeycrisp. Plan on replanting about 10 percent of the trees each spring.


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