No matter what type of apple tree is being considered, all apple trees follow the same basic pattern. They follow this pattern once a year until they die. Each time, apples are produced. If growing conditions (light, air, water, nutrients, lack of fungal infections or insect incursions) are favorable, the bounty is large. If conditions are less favorable, the health and number of apples available show it.
Apple Tree Life Cycle
Apple trees are deciduous (drop their old growth leaves and grow new ones once per year), and lose their leaves as the weather gets cold. They then go dormant for the winter. In spring, leaf and flower buds begin to break through the living branches on apple trees. Leaves grow so that the tree can take in light and make energy for the roots to take up water and nutrients from the soil. Flower buds blossom so that apple trees can bear fruit.
Like other flowering trees and plants, apple flowers must be pollinated to bear fruit. Apple flowers contain both male and female reproductive organs, but cannot pollinate themselves. Additionally, apple flowers from the same cultivar (type) cannot pollinate each other. Flowers of at least two cultivars must be in bloom at the same time in close proximity to one another for apple flowers to successfully pollinate and bear fruit. This may be done by bees or by hand. In the case of grafted apple tree rootstocks, some horticulturists graft two cultivars of apple tree onto a single rootstock so the tree can pollinate itself.
After the apple flowers have successfully been pollinated, apples form at the base of each flower. As the baby apple swells, the flower petals wither and fall off or blow away. The distinct smell of apples becomes stronger as the fruits ripen on the tree. They may also begin to change color, depending on the apple cultivar. Some apples, such as Granny Smith, remain green even when fully ripe. Apples come in a wide variety of colors, textures and sizes.
Although people and animals alike prize apples for their delicious and healthful eating properties, apple trees only have one purpose in growing them: propagation. Inside the core of each apple are tiny chambers, each bearing a single apple seed. Each apple is an apple tree's latest attempt at continuing its species. Apples that fall to the ground and wither away, uneaten, eventually deposit their seeds into the ground. Apples that are eaten inevitably have their seeds discarded in other ways, through which they may also find their way to fertile soil.
As with other plants and fruit-bearing trees, several disease-resistant varieties of apple tree are available for gardeners wishing to try their hand at growing them. Commercial trees and trees intended for home gardeners are somewhat different. Commercial types may not be as disease resistant and may require intensive treatments with fungicides on a regular basis to bear any worthwhile fruit. Gardeners considering creating a home orchard should choose dwarf apple tree. Not only is their size easier to manage, but they blossom and bear fruit much earlier than full-size apple trees.