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There are thousands of apple varieties available, each with its own individual characteristics. Select a variety that’s right for you taking into account flavor of fruit, size of tree, and climatic zone. Popular varieties include Gala, Golden Delicious and Braeburn.
Tip: An apple tree will not bear fruit without another variety of apple to cross-pollinate it. Always plant at least two different varieties of apples together.
Apple trees need at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day for decent fruit production. They will grow in a wide range of soil types, but avoid poorly drained sites. For this reason, and others regarding frost, it is wise to select raised sites within the landscape. Use a garden fork to work soil conditioner into the top 12" to 18" of soil.
In early to mid spring, dig a hole to the same depth and width as the root ball. Place the tree in the planting hole. Position the tree so that the point where the roots begin to spread out from the trunk is just above the soil line. Fill the hole to three-quarters full with soil and water well. Finish filling hole with soil and water again. Add a generous layer of mulch around the base of the tree.
Make sure the young trees get 1" to 2" of water a week for the first two years. One month after planting, apply a half-pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer around the base of each tree. For established trees, a pound of fertilizer per year may be needed. Prune in winter to allow for good air circulation and light penetration. If symptoms of fire blight appear, prune out and destroy the infected branches.
For the first two years after planting an apple tree, all the immature fruit should be removed. This allows the tree’s energy to go toward establishing a strong root and branch structure. Starting in year three and thereafter, young fruits should be thinned to one apple every 4" or 6" on the branch. This produces fewer but better fruits.
(image of fruit thinning helpful)
In general, apples are best harvested when they are sweet or tart, depending on the variety. They should be juicy and crunchy. If they're starchy and dry, they need some more time on the tree. Another trick for knowing when an apple is mature is to cut it open and look at its seeds. They should be very dark brown or black. Remove the fruit from the tree by pulling upward and outward while twisting slightly.