Did you know that May 16 is National Love a Tree Day? It’s true — there’s a day for everything. One of the best ways to celebrate it is to plant America’s favorite tree in your own yard.
We are talking, of course, about the venerable apple tree.
Adding an apple tree to your property is a sure-fire way to raise your home’s value by 10 to 20 percent and add beauty to your landscape. An apple tree is covered with sweetly scented blossoms in the spring, wreathed in greenery in the summer and dotted with gorgeous apples right up until you pick them in the fall.
There’s nothing better than eating crisp, sun-ripened fruit right from your own tree! To make sure your apple tree gets off to the best possible start, follow these tips for planting success:
Apple trees require full sun to set fruit, so make sure that the area you have your eye on gets at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day. Apple trees also need soil with good drainage, so planting on a gentle slope is ideal.
Apple trees are a great choice for almost any climate — if you choose a tree bred for the weather in your area. Apples need a certain number of chilling hours in the winter, the time when the tree is dormant because temperatures are below 45 degrees.
Southern gardeners should look for apple varieties with low chilling hours while Northern gardeners should instead look for hardy trees that can stand late frosts. Read the description of each variety carefully before committing.
You don’t need a ton of open space to plant an apple tree — just choose a dwarf tree if you want something small and manageable. Grafting is common in most apple trees, meaning that you splice a branch from a mature tree onto rootstock. It’s this rootstock that determines the tree’s mature height.
Some rootstocks can keep your tree to just five feet while others will go all the way up to a standard 25 to 30 feet in height. Research the expected height of the tree to make sure it will fit into your landscape.
Young trees will do better without any competition from turf or weeds, so it’s a good idea to clear the ground in a four-foot radius around the area you plan to plant. Cut away sod and till the earth to loosen the soil and make it easy for your tree’s roots to spread. Dig a hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the root ball of your new tree. There’s no need for fertilizer in the first year, as it can damage tender roots, but mixing in a bucket of compost will improve your soil and offer some nutrients.
Gently place your tree in the hole and fan the roots out toward the edge of the hole. Use a stick or the handle of your garden spade to check the tree’s height. To do this place the handle horizontal across the hole, so either end is resting on the ground outside the hole.
Check to see that graft union (the knobby part of the tree where the main trunk was spliced to the root stock) is a good two to three inches above the line created by your handle. If not, remove the tree and add some soil back into the hole until you get the right height. When you’re happy with the placement, gently fill in the dirt, making sure your tree remains upright (this is a two-person job).
Water your tree thoroughly, and make sure it gets about an inch of water per week. If you don’t have enough rainfall, it’s better to do a weekly deep watering than daily sprinklings so the roots grow deep into the soil. If your tree blossoms during the first year, pinch off the pink flowers before they open. You won’t get any apples this fall, but all of the tree’s strength will go into forming a strong root system, which will make for a much healthier tree in the future.
Once your apple tree is set, you’ll be able to enjoy its fruits starting in the second fall that you have it. Don’t get discouraged if your tree takes a few years to set fruit: It’s common for it to take three to five years for a fruit tree to mature to bearing size. In the meantime, enjoy the blossoms and shade that the tree offers, and watch as it grows to be one of the best features of your landscape — the fruit will be a bonus!