Tree-ripened fruit from a home apple orchard has great appeal. Many people remember with nostalgia the apple orchards of their childhood and would like to reclaim that memory. Others grow apples at home because they want to ensure organic growing techniques have been used on their food. An apple orchard can be as few as four trees in the backyard or as many as hundred on an acre.
Growing apple trees in the home orchard requires knowledge about cultivar selection, site selection, soil types, planting techniques, organic fertilization and pest management. Consider apple growing requirements for the local weather; apples require chilling in winter to produce good quality fruit. Consider fruit size and taste, bloom period, chill hours, disease resistance and pollination compatibility when choosing apple varieties to grow.
Many home apple orchardists choose dwarf and semi-dwarf tree varieties to grow. Standard apple trees reach 20 feet and above; semi-dwarf varieties grow to 15 feet and dwarf trees reach 10 feet in height. It is the rootstock that determines the height of a tree and all apple varieties can be grafted onto dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock. Dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties produce fruit earlier than standard trees.
Apple orchards do well on a site that receives full sun at least six to eight hours per day. Direct sun in the morning is important because it dries the dew that is a breeding ground for insects and disease. Sites that have good air circulation and are free of spring frosts are beneficial. Apple trees do well when grown in soil that has good drainage and average organic matter content.
Apple orchards cultivated at home provide the benefit of choosing favorite varieties and ensuring good growing practices. Disease resistant varieties that are frequently chosen for home growing are Enterprise, Goldrush, Liberty and Williams Pride. Many people prefer organic fruit and produce that is locally grown. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service offers education on low-spray, organic apple growing techniques.
Dwarf apple trees thrive with 8 feet between them and 14 feet between rows. Semi-dwarf trees grow best at 10 feet apart with 16 feet between rows. Apple trees are pruned yearly to give the tree energy for fruit production the following season. Removal of dead and broken branches each year contributes to tree health. Trees older than two years have all lower lateral branches removed each year.