Selecting a Tree

There are many things that go into selecting the perfect tree(s) for your orchard. When we have information available on bloom dates, chill factor, climate zone, pollination, storage, and rootstock for each of our varieties, it is specified in the variety description. You may use our search engine to refine your search for your tree(s) by plugging in key words.

Tree Spacing

The ultimate height of the tree will dictate your spacing requirement.  The great majority of our trees ultimate height will reach 12-16 ft.  If you decide to only winter prune for corrective measures, 12-16 ft. would be adequate spacing.  The trees can be spaced much closer if you decide to summer prune for height control.   Previous generations pruned fruit trees in winter because it was the one farming activity available during the frozen weather.  Once spring rolled around, the chores on the farm never allowed us time to prune our trees.  So it was left for the winter, but today that routine has begun to shift.   Simply summer prune when the trees grow taller than desired.  We often summer prune lightly in July.  Pruning in the winter will stimulate more growth, summer pruning reduces the vigor and  keeps the trees manageable.

Bloom Time

Bloom refers to the time of season when the trees produce flowers. In order for two varieties to pollenize each other, there must be substantial overlap of their blooming times. This is generally not a problem in California where the blooming season is so short that blooms for most varieties are likely to overlap. Although it is not recommended that a variety listed as "early" be counted on to pollenize a variety listed as "late". Use key words such as "Early", "Mid" and "Late" to search our website for your trees.

Chill Factor

The chill factor is the period of cold needed by apples and other deciduous fruits to break their winter rest. This adaptive feature prevents plants from breaking dormancy on warm winter days. Here in Paso Robles, there is sufficient winter chilling for most fruit and nut trees. Apples, pears, and peaches have chilling requirements of 200 to 1700 hours at a temperature between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit between November to mid-February. If the buds do not receive sufficient chilling temperatures during the winter to completely release dormancy, trees may develop pysiological symptoms such as delayed and extended bloom, delayed foliation, reduced fruit set and reduced fruit quality. Customers in low winter chill areas should look for varieties that need 400 hrs. or less.

Climate Zones

Climate zones are used as a tool for gardeners and orchardists to guide in selecting appropriate trees for particular areas. The climate zones are determined by average minimum yearly low temperatures. This is only a general guide because your own individual location (microclimate) has a significant influence that the general zones neglect to recognize. These variations may suggest that the zone adjacent to you may be more appropriate. Check our  "Climate Zone" link for more information.

Pollination

Apples and pears are generally cross-fertile, which means that a variety is pollinated by a different variety of the same fruit. If you have three or more varieties of apples, pollination will probably not be a problem. However, certain related apples will not pollinate each other and some apples have sterile pollen. So, theoretically it is possible to choose three varieties that will not pollinate each other at all. We have composed a list of three categories that should help clarify any confusion. Use these in the search engine to help select your tree(s).

Required: Trees that qualify as "require" pollination need another tree's pollen to fruit. They also provide pollen in return, allowing the other tree to also fruit.

Self: These are trees that accept their own pollen, although they will produce a larger crop with a pollinator. Most will also provide pollen for other trees.

None: These are trees with sterile pollen. They will not pollinate themselves or another apple tree and need another apple tree.

Storage

All apples will keep better in cold storage than on your kitchen shelf. Completely ripe apples will not keep as well as those harvested slightly immature. Storage life is shorter in climates over 100 degrees F. We have graded our apples according to their storage ability, but this scale should only be used as a guide and not as gospel. Plug in the words "Poor", "Fair", "Good", and "Excellent" in our search engine to find a tree that meets your needs.

Rootstock

The lower portion of the a fruit tree is called the rootstock. This is the portion of the tree that has been grafted over to a specific variety. Different rootstocks provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy the thrill of growing your own fruit. Most of our varieties are available only on semidwarf rootstock, but there are a few varieties offered on dwarf or standard rootstock. Also, summer pruning has a great impact on size and produces a dwarfing effect. If you need to maintain a certain height, then prune in the summer in addition to your winter "corrective" pruning. Check our "Rootstock" link for more information on what rootstocks our trees are available on. Our apples are primarily grafted to the semi-dwarf MM 111 rootstock.

Usages

We have included some suggested uses on our apple tree varieties to provide guidance on their historic uses. Please keep in mind these are only suggested uses and preferences may vary. Experiment and have fun! The usages are broken down into four categories:

Fresh eating/dessert: Great dessert apple or one that's delicious for fresh eating anytime.

Cooking: Apples recommended for making puree, applesauce, applebutter or other culinary delights.

Baking: An apple good for pies. Holds its shape when baked.

Juice/hard cider: An apple esteemed for its hard cider or juice quality.

 

Mature Size

This describes the "relative" size of the tree when it is considered mature (approximately 5-7 years). Many of our trees are detailed in this way and the sizes small, medium, and large refer to the size of the tree on its respective rootstock. For example, trees on the same semi-dwarf rootstock may grow differently, leading us to classify perhaps a vigorous grower on semi-dwarf as "large" whereas a less vigorous grower on the same rootstock would be classified as "small". These key words may also be used in our search engine to refine your search.

Ripening Time

 Our apple descriptions also detail the relative ripening time for each variety. This estimates when you can expect to enjoy tasting your fruit. "Very Early", "Early", "Mid", "Late" and "Very Late" refer to the time of harvest. For example, out here on the west coast, we begin harvesting Yellow Transparent in June, which is "very early" and we conclude our harvest with the Granny Smith in early November. This would be classified as "very late". Use these key words in our search engine to narrow your search.

Harvesting Tips

When you harvest an apple plays a big part in how an apple tastes. To determine whether the crop is ripe enough to start picking, pluck an apple from the tree, cut it in half, and look at the seeds. If the seeds are dark, the apples should be ready to harvest (tasting always confirms it). If the weather is cool, you have a wider window for harvest--up to 2 weeks for optimum flavor (but just a matter of days for early apples). If it's hot, you should harvest right away. Early and midseason apples generally don't keep well. Late apples are good keepers.

Pruning Ideas

Garden literature is full of pruning information, but beginners can easily be overwhelmed. The most important thing is to understand how the tree grows and the benefits of making a cut. Observe the tree's natural growth habit. What will its form be when it matures? Start slowly; always have a good reason before making any cut.

Pruning is said to be “what man does in his efforts to grow plants the way he wants them.” Yet nature prunes ruthlessly using shade, wind, fruit overload, ice and snow. These natural operations often destroy the tree, allowing decay to enter. Human efforts can enhance beauty, form, and fruit production, strengthen structure, and prevent wounds and disease, ultimately extending the tree's health and life. Proper pruning shapes the tree to allow good sun exposure. This encourages optimal photosynthesis. Sunlight actually strengthens the fruiting wood; shading inhibits growth. The “open center” and “central leader” systems are two pruning methods the gardener can choose. “Open center” is designed to produce a smaller tree. The fruit can be harvested without a ladder and pruning is done from the ground. Three to four strong scaffold (or main structural) branches are chosen, evenly distributed around the trunk. The total height is below 6 feet. This creates a more open tree, increasing fruit quality by allowing greater light penetration and air circulation, which discourages disease and insects. “Central leader” produces a taller tree, allowing a larger harvest and more shade. A central branch becomes dominant, and the lower scaffolding branches are chosen to grow evenly below and around the leader.

Once the system is decided upon, pruning should be done in February or March after severe winter weather is over. Never prune on a wet day as fungal disease spores are spread by water. Tools should be sharp, of high quality, so that cuts will be clean (not tearing the wood jaggedly).

You may be asking which branches to cut first. The easiest way to see the tree's framework is in the winter without the leaves. First cut branches that are broken, dead or diseased. Branches growing straight down, straight up or directly into another branch can also be removed. If there are suckers around the bottom of the trunk, remove them. Remove small branches before larger branches are selected. Next, choose the structure or scaffolding branches, usually 3 or 4, to be evenly distributed around the trunk. Pruning during the first 4-5 years establishes framework and is called training.

Cuts made at the main trunk are called thinning. The branch should be removed just above the wrinkled “shoulder” where it attaches, making the smallest cut possible. Wounds left after the cut should not be covered with ointment or paint. Natural drying seals the tree from infection.

Cuts, made at a lateral outward-facing bud, are called heading back, and encourage growth in a specific direction. Each bud allowed to remain will swell into growth, ultimately becoming a branch. This determines which way growth proceeds. It is important to cut just above the bud, leaving only ¼ inch. Otherwise, a dead stub will develop which is unsightly and may allow entrance of disease.

Pruning is essential for quality fruit. Sun exposed wood produces the best fruit. Some fruit is produced on longer-lived spurs or branches. This influences whether pruning should be light or heavy. Cherry, European plum and pear trees bear on long- lived spurs, so retain most spurs for fruiting. They should be lightly pruned which means removing approximately 20% of the branches. Apple trees can be pruned a bit more. Apricot, peaches, nectarine, fig and Japanese plum bear on one-year growth, so pruning can be heavier, up to 50%. If a tree lacks vigor, it should be heavily pruned while dormant to encourage new growth. If a tree is overly vigorous, pruning can be done in the summer in addition to winter to reduce the volume of leaf growth.

Resist the urge to spray pesticides on your fruit trees since beneficial insects will be destroyed before pollination can occur. Bees are an integral part of the life cycle of flower to fruit. Now is the time to spray the entire tree with dormant oil to suffocate over-wintering pests, but don't spray when temperatures are below 40 degrees

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