Apples are one of the easiest and most dependable backyard fruits: plant an apple tree, and you will harvest the delicious rewards for years to come. Apple trees produce fruit at a young age and supply sweet memories for a lifetime. A couple of apple trees will soon turn even a brand-new suburban yard into a landscape with some significant family history.
Apple trees used to be common in home gardens, but they disappeared — along with berry bushes and big vegetable gardens — as people turned to ornamental gardening. In many gardens, flashy ornamental pears and crabapples replaced edible fruit trees. But new enthusiasm for home-grown vegetables has revived interest in fruit trees, too. There’s no fresher, sweeter, or more local apple than one you pick in your own garden.
You don’t need special skills to grow apples, and growing them organically is not difficult. Many modern cultivars, including Crimson Crisp, Pristine, and Gold Rush, are immune or resistant to apple scab. They also resist mildew and fire blight. These modern apples are juicy and crisp. Gold Rush is a hybrid with Golden Delicious apple, and Crimson Crisp is a good cider apple. Pristine apples ripen in mid summer and keep their crisp texture and sweet flavor for up to three months.
At Powell Gardens in Kansas City, several hundred apple trees are managed organically in the Heartland Harvest Garden. Apple varieties that ripen from summer through fall are grown together in an orchard laid out in a sweeping spiral. Companion plants among the trees encourage pollinators and discourage problems. Chives, for example, which help deter apple scab, bloom everywhere under the apple trees in late spring. Anise hyssop, strawberries, and mullein, all chosen because they are beneficial companion plants, flourish in the orchard.
Apple blossoms can’t pollinate themselves; they need bees, and another tree, for cross-pollination. Some gardeners depend on crabapples to do the work, but growing two compatible apple varieties assures success and a more robust harvest. When you have apple trees in your garden, the fall air isn’t the only thing that’s crisp.