Beginners guide to Apple tree planting


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I'm looking to plant roughly a half dozen or so apple trees this year and was looking for the basic information that I need to know in order to grow and maintain a small orchard to increase my whitetail habitat. I've searched this site, and haven't been able to find anything with all the information in one location on one thread for somebody that want's to start an orchard but doesn't know where to start.

Probably a good topic to start on would be how to decide what type of tree to plant? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Telling you what kind of apple tree to plant is like telling you what caliber rifle to buy. Apples to eat, apples for applesauce, apples for pie, and apples for deer may all be a bit different. Some varieties need certain other varieties for pollination. Some kinds will do better in your soil type, and some types are more disease resistant, if you're not planning to spray much. Hunters are usually looking for apples that drop during the season that they like to hunt. I like apples that are good for fresh eating, then I grab a few when I'm out hunting. For my personal preference, I think pears are the better deer attractant and easiest to grow for food plots, so I mix pears and apples. Check around, our County Conservation District has a tree sale every spring, nicer trees for the money than a nursery. Keep your trees together to make taking care of them and hunting easier, rather than scattering them all over the place. Ideally you should have an orchard site on a well drained eastern or southern slope with good wind drainage to avoid early frosts. You should get a machine to dig to plant trees so your holes aren't to small and crowd the root system of your planting stock. You should have some type of tree protector tubes to prevent mice and rabbits from girdling the trees, and keep bucks from rubbing them if your deer fence fails. Put the tubes tight down against the ground or the tube can turn into a solar chimney, and a rodent house. I put a 2" layer of 2B stone on top around the newly planted trees to discourage mice and moles. I use a little peat moss and a few handfuls of starter fertilizer when planting, this is optional. You should put a wire fence around the tree at least three feet in diameter, using steel posts to keep in place, or a flat horizontal piece of woven wire about 6'X6', raised up to about three feet high by a steel fencepost in each corner, centered on the tree to keep the deer from eating your trees. Don't wait, do this right after you plant them or you'll regret it. New trees often need to be staked and tied with rope to keep them straight, I do this by tying them to the round deer fence with baler twine, and these strings need to be adjusted from time to time. You need to study apple tree pruning online to do the necessary pruning each year, the shape of an apple tree is important to keep the limbs from breaking down under a heavy load. You should water the new trees over dry spells the first summer. You're almost going to have to spray your trees at least when they're small, or pests like the Japanese beetles will kill them.
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This is a really tough question and the short answer is really fairly simple; Choose tree varieties that are known to grow well in one or two zones colder than yours that are the least susceptible to the known diseases likely to arise in your area. Note-trees that are grown in local orchards may be grown successfully in the orchards with the help of well timed chemical sprays so just because trees are grown locally does not make them a great choice for us plotters unless you would be spraying regularly as the orchards are doing. It does show though that at least they are hardy to your areas' climate.

There are many people on this forum that can direct you to trees and rootstock hardy to this area better than I. My input on the question though is to grow trees that are shown to grow well in the wild here. If young enough and wanting to start an orchard, in addition to going the faster route of grafted trees, I would also gather wild apples from as many New York/Vermont trees as I could find and plant as many seeds from those apples as I could take care of. The production of many seedlings would produce some trees that don't make the grade as well as some trees that do. Seeds from many local wild trees up your chances of growing trees that thrive well here, ripen and drop over a long, varied schedule and don't require orchard like maintenance.
Me personally I've got to where I prefer full standard trees. They take longer to fruit but will be much more resilient in the long run.

As far as varieties I definitely would look at disease resistance. I like to span tree drop times so that I have trees dropping early mid season and late. This way deer are coming year around.

Example would be:
Pricilla - early
Liberty - early/mid season
Black limbertwig - mid season
Dolgo - mid season (great pollinator)
Yates - late season
Galarina - late season
To the OP - there is a reason there isn't just one post and one location for the info.....that is because the amount of information and the different "what if's" is huge! Everything from which fruit in general, to diseases, to root stocks, to pollination needs, to different species every within a particular fruit family is literally volumes and volumes of information. Fruit trees for deer is a like food plots for deer.....even narrowing it down to apples.....isn't really enough.

Apples - especially typical apples you will see at big-box stores can seem enticing.....but don't go down that path. I did.....I was told not to, but I did anyway....and I am now changing direction and considering getting away from a traditional apple altogether.

Look into pears and crab-apples....these seem to be much easier to get decent results with far less maintenance and human input. As for a traditional apple all I will say is this is like talking about corn's extremely complicated. As such try to find out what grows well in your area and may suit your need and use that as your guide. You can experiment with other varieties, but it can be a long process to define success or failure.

Once you select the tree - the planting process is a breeze. First issue is selecting the proper site for your orchard. You will want full sunlight exposure AND with good air circulation and to avoid frost pockets. A frost pocket is where the cooler air will naturally settle and can damage blossoms in the spring. Soil type will need to be considered when selecting your tree. Actual planting I like to plant in rows for ease of mowing and I try for 30' spacing. Now I grow semi-dwarf trees so this should allow me enough space for them to not really grow together. Dig your hole, plant your tree. Do NOT set your tree deeper than the surrounding surface - this can hold too much water. you want the top of the soil in your hole to be just above the surrounding grade as it will settle some over time and be just right. You will want to put down a weed barrier cloth - something that will allow air and moisture to pass (don't use plastic). I cover about a 3' diameter circle. I then add hardware cloth (height is dependent on your amount of snowfall) to the tree to protect the bark from critters chewing it in the winter time and killing it. Make sure the bottom goes all the way to the ground. I then apply a decent layer of rock/gravel over the landscape fabric (I use rock over mulch as I have had mulch harbor critters that led to issues). This simply holds the landscape fabric in place and allow the rain to pass. Then I install a 3 foot diameter x 5 feet tall wire fence cage to keep the deer from browsing the tree. I hold that cage in place by using some sort of post - I prefer metal T-post. Also create a way to label the tree. You want to list when it was planted and what variety it is. At some point you will forget and the tag will be there. I tend to water my trees thru the first summer with 5 gallons of water on a weekly basis to ensure they survive. I have done minimal watering if any in following years. Planting the tree is the easy part. You will spend just as much on protecting the tree properly as you will the tree itself, but if you don't the deer will eat your tree to a stick and potentially kill it or at least severely damage it.
What about when it’s a good time to plant? Is this time of year the best to plant?

Also; where is the best place to purchase trees from?
What about when it’s a good time to plant? Is this time of year the best to plant?

Also; where is the best place to purchase trees from?
I like to buy from Turkey Creek. Just send him a message, tell him where you live (climate zone), and what is important to you. I request the following (in order of importance): disease resistant, disease resistance, compatible with my climate, and late drop dates. Planting dates are easy... plant when he ships them to you.
I have had success planting trees both spring and fall. Either may require watering their first summer. I am getting some trees from Turkey creek for the first time this spring. My dunstans I get from big-box stores (Chestnut Hill nursery) and the apples I do have currently came from a big-box store as well.....dunstans are fine.....don't get you fruit trees there. You have no idea what root stock they are and that makes a difference on how soon they will fruit and how big the trees will get.
What is a full standard tree?


It could be a tree grown on its own roots (which I love) or a tree grafted on a rootstock that supposedly makes a full sized tree such as Antonovka. But even an Antonovka will not allow some cultivars to get as large as they can on their own roots.

Some nurseries call MM111 standard, but it is really semi dwarfing.

In recent years I have planted some trees with the graft 14 inches below grade. What should happen is that they will develop their own roots above the graft and grow into full sized trees. So far, all of the ones I've done like this are outgrowing the ones planted the traditional way - with the graft above grade.

I think a guy needs some of both - full sized for the long haul and some semis to keep you pacified while waiting on the real thing. At least that's what I've been doing, and its keeping me happy!!!! Puny trees are fun to play with but give me a real tree to bring me true joy.
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As far as rootstocks, go with M111 or B118, here is a good article that summarizes the differences.

Definitely buy standard trees, not the kind they sell at the box retailers which are usually dwarf or semidwarf. One of the benefits is you get a much bigger root system, translates to significantly more apple production and stronger drought tolerance. Downside is get ready to wait 5-6 years before you see any apples. I started planting them in 2012, this year was the first year i saw decent production on a couple of the trees. Be warned, it is addicting. I started with 7 the first year, been adding about that many more every year. Probably have 35 trees now. I would throw in a few pear trees as these are no maintenance, vigorous growth trees, at least on my place.

You have a great apple source in NY, Cummins Nursery. They are not cheap, but you can get full size trees that I've found to be very high quality. You need to make the order now for delivery in spring. They ill arrive in Mar/April. The first couple of years best if they get water every week, especially through June/July. I generally lose 1-2 a year, which is about normal i believe, I just plant 5-6 more! I'm now out of space, so have to cut back on that. You do need to cage the trees, I also put window screen around the trunk and staple it together to keep the mice/voles from eating the bark off in the winter. I think they evenually outgrow this, but younger trees can be susceptible. Cummins has a bunch of info on their website, check it out. For wildlife I would consider enterprise, freedom, liberty, dolgo. All those are highly disease resistant and low maintenance which was high on my priority list. Ask the people at Cummins, they were also a good resource for me.

Hope this helps...