I recently made a post o the farm’s Facebook page about some apple trees we plant as part of our USDA Conservation Stewardship Program. One of the comments was about how nice it would be if we could do fall apple picking, “like they do up north.”
Well, folks, it may be that we can all grow apples, even here in the humid, muggy, warm Gulf South.
In order to set fruit many plants need a certain number of chill hours, this is the number of hours a plant requires the temperature to dip below 45℉. Olives, blueberries, pears, apples, and other fruit producers require a certain number of chill hours to trigger a bloom and subsequent setting of fruit. If you want to grow fruit you need to make sure you plant a cultivar to match the chill hours in your USDA zone.
Nurseries and even the big box stores do some of the guesswork for you. For example, Home Depot or Lowe’s carry Flordahome and Pineapple pears. This is because these varieties do well in our Gulf Coast USDA Zones of 9 and 10. At Big Branch Apiary we grow Southern Highbush and Rabbiteye blueberries (150 to 800 chill hours), as opposed to Northern Highbush (800 to 1,000 chill hours) for the same reason.
I had no idea that apples had cultivars that would grow in our USDA zone until a friend of mine mentioned his apples. My gardening mind was blown so when we entered into our CSP agreement with the USDA I decided to try apples.
Like so many fruit trees, apples do not breed true from seed. Some other common fruits that this is true for are avocadoes, citrus, and pears. You can plant a seed from your favorite fruit but there’s no guarantee that what grows will even be edible. For this reason, most trees are almost always grafted.
So before you buy your tree decide what size you want: full, semi-dwarf, dwarf, miniature, etc., and chose the rootstock accordingly.
There are a lot of nurseries selling apple trees. After extensive searching, I opted to get the following varieties from Mehrabyan Nursery: Newton, King David, Rubinette, Pink Lady, and a Whickson Crab (plus 5 Persimmons), I ordered the Fuji and Ein Shemer from Willis Orchard. If hey do well we will likely buy more and plant a small orchard.
We already have pears and have a schedule of spraying (neem oil and copper sulphate0 for pests and diseases that is similar to the requirements for apples.
one more thing to note if you would like an apple tree–Like rabbiteye blueberries, they require cross-pollination to produce fruit. One tree may be lovely but two, that is going to get you something to stuff your apple pie with!
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