This time of year, who wouldn't love a couple of laden apple trees in their garden - heavy with fruit just ripe for the picking? The good thing is you need not own an expansive orchard to grow tasty apples in your own backyard.
Enough ground to plant a couple of trees is all the space you require.
Apples can thrive nicely in a cool climate, but the trick is to select the right cultivars. It is particularly important to choose one that is resistant to apple scab - a serious disease that can affect both the leaves and the fruit (more on this below).
Apple trees are grafted onto a different type of rootstock, which has been developed to control the growth. Grafting apples onto dwarf rootstock delays the maturity of the fruit - something we don't need in a cool climate. It is best to have apples that are grafted onto standard rootstock, which results in a tree that is a normal size at maturity.
To grow sweet apples in a cool climate, look for grafted trees that are early maturing. Late varieties, such as Red Delicious and McIntosh, will not mature properly in a short growing season like the one in Newfoundland and Labrador. I have found a number of cultivars available in Canada that are both early maturing and scab resistant. These include Britegold, Dayton, Murray, Redfree, Richelieu, Rouville and William's Pride.
Pollination and protection
You must always have at least two different cultivars of apple tree to ensure proper cross-pollination. Otherwise you may end up with very little fruit. In my experience, the so-called "five-in-one" apple tree is not suited to a cool climate. These trees have five cultivars grafted onto the same tree. A great idea in theory, but what happens in practice is that the most vigourous cultivar takes over the entire tree. You usually end up losing some of the other cultivars as a result. Also, some of the cultivars may not be early maturing or scab resistant.
When selecting the second cultivar, it is important to choose one that matures around the same time as your existing tree. A flowering crabapple tree can also function as a source of compatible pollen for an apple tree. In any case, bees do the pollinating so the two trees should be planted within flying distance of a bee - no more than 30 m apart.
If you only have one apple tree, there is a trick you can use to get it to fruit - a temporary measure until you plant another cultivar for cross-pollination: Ask someone who is growing a different variety to cut off a few branches when they are in flower. Put these in a container of water underneath your tree; they should provide sufficient pollen for the bees to carry to the blossoms.
Planting resistant cultivars is the most practical way to prevent apple scab from developing - a common disease of both apple and flowering crabapple trees. It is caused by a fungus, Venturia inaequalis, that grows on the surface of the leaves and on the fruit. The fungus over-winters in old leaves and fruit. A recommended means of controlling the disease is to rake up and discard fallen leaves and other plant debris. This will deprive the fungus of its winter habitat, and reduce the potential for infestation the following year. A fungicide spray such as liquid lime sulphur may help control the disease but you will have to spray several times during the growing season. Apply once before the blossoms come out and then two or three times after the fruit has started to form.
Keep things trim
Annual pruning of apple trees is best done in late winter or early spring while the trees are still dormant. It is not necessary to paint the cut surface - it will quickly heal over itself.
The important principle in pruning fruit trees, especially apple, is to create and maintain an umbrella shape. This pruning technique facilitates light penetration to the centre of the tree to ensure good fruit production.
Maintenance pruning involves removing any branches that are growing straight up, and any branches that are crossing over and rubbing other branches. All the suckers from the base of the tree should be removed each year. Suckers may be growing from below the graft and will not produce good fruit. Dead, damaged, and diseased branches should be removed as necessary.