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OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312




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 Malus sylvestris var. domestica



 Description      Propagation      Cultivation        Harvest

Scientific name

Malus sylvestris var. domestica

Common names, modern

Apple, crab apple


Cold hardiness

Most apples require 900 hours of cold -- temperatures of between 32 and 45 degrees -- to produce fruit, and don't do well in tropical climates. Although the majority of apples grow and produce best in Zones 4-7, new varieties have been developed for warmer zones (see below).


On grafted apples trees (which is most apple trees), size is determined by rootstock. Tree sizes range from dwarf to standard.



6' to 12' tall
16' to 22' tall
25' to 30' tall


The performance, size, and shape of an apple tree is determined by its rootstock, by pruning and other management as it grows, and by its environment.

     Columnar apple

        Dwarf apple                      Espalier apple









Apples are one of the longest-lived fruit trees.

  • Standard apple trees easily live 25-35 years, and can live to be more than a century old, particularly if well-tended.

  • Semi-dwarves live for 20-25 years, longer with good care.

  • Dwarves are less sturdy, but typically live 10-15 years.


This Bramley apple, more than 200 years old
(it was planted in 1809 in Southwell, Notts.)
is still bearing fruit, and Bramleys grown

from grafts can be found in orchards in

Britain, the U.S.,  Canada, and Japan.

Bramley apples



Five-petalled apple blossoms come in many different shades of white, pink and red. If blossoms freeze, there will be no fruit, so varieties are carefully chosen on the basis of when they  bloom, with later blooming varieties grown in colder climates.


Apple foliage also varies in color, from dark purple to light green.


By seed

Most apple trees are self-incompatible: they can pollinate neither themselves nor any other apple trees of the same variety.


Grafting has been used for centuries to propagate apple trees that will have the qualities of their parents. It requires a scion (small, budding branch of the variety you want to grow) and a root stock.


Careful cutting of the scion and the root stock allow their cambium -- the inner layer of bark that produces the growth rings inside the tree -- to be carefully aligned. This allows the scion and root stock to grow together to make a healthy tree.


There are many different grafting techniques, but the two most basic are the cleft graft and the whip and tongue graft.


Cleft graft

For a cleft graft, two budded scions are cut
diagonally across the bottom of the scion. -->


<-- Next, the top of the root stock is cleanly cut across, and then slit vertically. The two halves are gently pried apart, being careful not to extend the slit.



Then the two scions are carefully inserted into the slit in the root stock, being careful to align the cambium layers.


When the scions are in place, the graft is wrapped with
grafting tape, then covered with wax or paraffin
to prevent desiccation.



Whip and tongue graft


The whip and tongue graft works well on root stock that isn't large enough for a cleft graft, but this technique requires more skill in making the cuts in both the scion and the root stock. Each is cut in a way that produces the center tongue that locks the two pieces together. If scion and root stock have the same diameter, cambium layers will match up well.


Again,the scion is bound in place with grafting tape, and coated with wax or paraffin.


From this short (and very superficial) summary, you will have gathered that grafting is an art. Learn more about it here.



Loamy, with a neutral pH




Full sun (6 or more hours of sun a day)

Natural habitat

Wild apples grow in forested areas, but most modern cultivars prefer full sun -- and wide spacing to promote good air circulation.


Apples are prone to a variety of diseases. The best strategy for avoiding the use of chemicals is to purchase disease resistant trees. An excellent list, provided by Purdue University, shows the susceptibilities of popular varieties; it can be found here.  Among the most disease-resistant varieties are:

Crimson Crisp




Gold Rush



Nova Easygrow


Nova Spy


Apples are susceptible to insect pests like apple maggots, codling moth, plum curculio, and the Asian lady beetle. The first step in caring for an apple tree is garden hygiene -- clean up windfalls and other debris in the fall so you don't give pests a head start in your orchard next spring.


More information about dealing with insects can be found in the University of Minnesota's Pest Management for the Home Apple Orchard. 



Season to bloom/bear

Pollination. Because so many apples aren't self-pollinating, their production requires a suitable pollinator. This means you must:

  • Plant at least two varieties of apple trees, or

  • Live in an area that includes the pollinating variety you need, or

  • Purchase an apple tree that has grafted branches from a pollinator

Apples are divided, depending upon climate, into 4-7 "pollination groups." The cross-pollination required for fruit production occurs primarily between closely related groups. Most catalogs will include information about the pollination requirements  of the apple trees they sell.


A few apples are self-pollinating -- such as Anna, Ein Shemer, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Golden Dorsett, Gordon, Granny Smith, Jonathan, and Red Rome -- but even these often produce better crops with cross-pollination.


Chilling requirements. Apples typically produce best when they are exposed to 900 hours (about 38 days) of temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees F. Some "low chill" varieties produce with 700 hours (~29 days) of <45 degree temps. Breeders are developing apples even more tolerant of warm climates, among them Anna and Ein Shemer, who produce with just 300-400 chilling hours, and  Dorsett Golden, from the Bahamas, which needs less than 100 hours. Good information about chilling requirements can be found here.


To choose the varieties that are best in your zone, pay special attention to when the trees bloom (to avoid late spring frosts in your part of the world) and when the fruit is ready for harvest (to avoid early fall frosts).


The good news is that there are literally thousands of apple varieties to choose from, some of which may well be perfect for your needs.



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Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt


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