Apples are one of the most versatile, and sweetest, of fruits. Caring for an apple orchard can reward you with a bountiful harvest of juicy, succulent fruit that you can make into applesauce, cider, pies and many other treats, but you need to know a few basics about how to take care of your trees. Whether your orchard includes a combination of apple varieties, such as Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Fuji, Braeburn, Gravenstein or just one type, the care and maintenance of all types of apples is the same. But it does require a bit of effort.
Learn which types of apples are in your orchard if you inherited or purchased it and did not plant the trees yourself: some varieties are more resistant to diseases than others. For example, the “Pristine” variety is resistant to apple scab, a common disease of apple trees. If you learn that some or all of your trees are not resistant to common diseases, you’ll also need to learn how to treat diseases if they occur.
Evaluate the amount of sun your orchard receives and whether it receives good air circulation. Apple trees need full sun, especially in the morning. If tall trees or other plants throw shade on your orchard, you might need to remove them—you might be able to remove smaller trees yourself with a chain saw, but consider hiring a tree service to remove larger trees.
Determine if your trees need pruning. If you have purchased an older orchard, chances are you will need to do some serious pruning of your trees in order to provide better air circulation, to remove dead or diseased branches, to remove branches that emerge from the trunk lower than two feet above the soil and to maximize fruit production. You can lop off smaller branches with large garden loppers, but large branches will require you to use a chain saw. March is the best time of year to prune apple trees.
Test your soil to determine its pH by using an inexpensive test kit. Apple trees favor a soil pH of 6.5. To increase the soil pH, dig hydrated lime into the soil around each tree. If you need to lower the pH, dig in sulfur.
Fertilize your trees each year in the spring. Apply a fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 10-6-4 in the correct quantity for the trees’ age. For example, feed a 10-year-old tree five pounds of fertilizer; feed trees that are 15 to 35 years old 7-1/2 pounds of fertilizer.
Spray your trees for common diseases and insects in very early spring, when the first signs of new growth begin to appear. Apple scab and the apple maggot are frequent visitors to apple orchards. Scab can cause your trees to lose their leaves before fall and affects good production of fruit. See Reference #3 for information about the specific pesticides and fungicides that are commonly used in apple orchards.