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Advice & More July 2017

The Midnight Gardener

Leave a Tasty Legacy – Plant an Apple Tree

By Lori Rose

With the popular Red Delicious and McIntosh for parents, Empire was destined to be a hit when it was developed in the 1940s. The Empire apple is a McIntosh type, but it keeps longer in storage.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
- Martin Luther (1483-1546)

The saying "As American as apple pie" is not quite true, since apples are not native to America. Settlers brought the apple tree over from Europe – where it had already been grown for centuries – and established it right here in our area. Apple trees love a cool climate (USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8), and are a rewarding addition to yards and gardens.

Most apple varieties can be pollinated by any other variety if they flower at or near the same time. Most white-blossomed crabapple trees are also good pollinators for many apple varieties. Crabapples are lovely native ornamental apple trees. Try one (or all) of these three varieties to keep you harvesting apples all autumn long:

McIntosh: Nothing smells more like fall than the aroma of McIntosh apples. This variety has been around since John McIntosh discovered the first seedling in 1811. McIntosh apples grow particularly well in our cool climate. Adaptable and very hardy, the fruits ripen in mid-late September. The sweet, juicy, tender white flesh has a tart tang.

Empire: With the popular Red Delicious and McIntosh for parents, Empire was destined to be a hit when it was developed in the 1940s. The Empire apple is a McIntosh type, but it keeps longer in storage. The fruits ripen in early October, two weeks after McIntosh. The combination of sweet and tart is very versatile.

Granny Smith apples originated in Australia in 1868 when Maria Ann (Granny) Smith found a seedling growing on her property. Granny Smiths are bright (apple) green with a strong lemon-like tartness that will literally make your mouth water. Granny Smiths ripen in mid-November. 

Apple trees can be planted in September and October, or in March and April. Since they need six hours of sunlight a day, a southern or western exposure is best.

Take these tips into consideration when planting a new tree:

  • Dig a hole as deep as the trees roots and at least twice as wide to give the roots room to grow. Loosen the soil on the bottom and sides of the hole.
  • Fill the planting hole with water. If it doesn't drain within an hour, choose another site for your apple tree.
  • Remove any labels attached to the tree before you plant it. Wires and even twine can bite into and damage the tree as it grows.
  • Water the tree in its pot or ball the day before and the day of planting.
  • Plant your apple tree when it is cool and cloudy. If you must plant it on a sunny day, use a tarp to cover the tree's roots before and after planting and watering. Leave this shade around the tree for a day or two if it remains sunny.
  • To plant the tree, remove it from the pot and gently loosen the root ball to allow the roots to grow outward instead of continuing in a circle. If your tree is balled with burlap and tied with twine, plant the whole thing as is, then untie the twine and move it and the burlap away from the trunk before filling the planting hole.
  • Set the tree in the soil at the same level that it grew in the nursery. Setting it higher may cause the tree to topple, and setting it too deeply can kill it. Then check it from all angles to see that it is standing straight before filling the hole.
  • After filling the hole, create a shallow ridge around the tree to prevent water from flowing away.
  • Give the tree a good soak right after planting, and again the next day. Water the tree every second or third day (if it doesn't rain) for the first few months until the tree is established. For best results, try laying a soaker hose around the root area between the tree's trunk and drip line.

Plant an apple tree or two this season. Depending on the size of the tree, you can expect a small harvest next year, and increasingly larger harvests each year to come.


Lori Rose, the Midnight Gardener, is a Temple University Certified Master Home Gardener and member of the GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators. She has gardened since childhood, and has been writing about gardening for more than 15 years.

Meet Lori