How can I grow better apples?

Q: How can I grow better apples? I have tons of apples on my trees, but they are small, covered with black and have holes in them.

• Matt from Boardman

A: Fresh apples are fantastic this time of year! But growing the perfect apple is not easy.

In a backyard garden situation, there are some basics to improve your crop without doing a ton of work. You will get bigger apples and you can reduce disease pressure. But, you will still have some disease and the regular apple insect issues.

1. Prune, prune, prune!

Pruning is best done in March and April. Only prune 20% or so each year. Don’t overprune, as suckers will be a bigger problem.

The tree should not be beautiful until you see that 5-inch-plus apple a few weeks before harvest.

Air and sunlight are the two most important things in producing fruit and decreasing disease pressure in the orchard or within your single fruit tree.

Apples should be pruned to the central leader system. The first set of branches should be more than 18 inches off the ground. Each set of branches should be at least 18 inches apart.

2. Control disease.

Does your tree lose lots of leaves every year? Are they covered in spots? Are there spots on the fruit that can be rubbed off?

Then you have apple scab. This is the most destructive disease on apple trees.

First, practice good sanitation in the orchard. Clean up branches and dead leaves, falling leaves and such. There should not be any apple leaves left on the ground for winter, as this disease survives on those leaves.

There are control recommendations, but they take a lot of work. You can refer to OSU Extension Bulletins 780, “Controlling Disease and Insects in Home Fruit Planting” for details.

IF you plan to buy a new tree (or replace your old one), choose a variety that does not get apple scab. From Pristine to Gold Rush and Enterprise to Crimson Crips, you have lots of options for trees with less disease.

Find more at http://go.osu.edu/noscab .

3. Eliminated weeds.

Trees in the forest don’t have weeds growing at their feet, do they? Thus, your home orchard shouldn’t have grass growing up to the truck.

Use a bark mulch or compost to mulch out to the drip line (the furthest point that the branches past the trunk.) This will help retain moisture and prevent the weeds from stealing moisture and nutrients from the tree.

Putting newspapers under the mulch each spring will eliminate weeds for the entire season.

4. Fertilize properly.

Using compost as your mulch is a good way to add extra nutrients to the soil. Simply look-up the equivalent rates of N-P-K. If you are using other types of mulch, then fertilizers may be the best option. There are organic and conventional fertilizers to choose from.

A rule of thumb is to apply a balanced fertilizer with the equivalent of 1/10 pound of actual nitrogen per year of tree age. Apply the fertilizer in early spring.

Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. The Plant and Pest Clinic is open 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Wednesdays for help with plant issues, soil testing and insect identification. Questions may be submitted at any time. For details, visit go.osu.edu/mahoningclinic.


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