Growing apple trees in RI?
August 26, 2012 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone tell me about growing an apple tree in Rhode Island (zone 6b) without too many chemicals? Is it possible? Are Golden Delicious a good choice?

We buy a lot of apples each fall from a nearby orchard (Jaswell's Farms -- we love them!), and we are thinking about having a couple of trees of our own as we plan a yard overhaul this winter.

Our area has a lot of orchards, so I know the climate here in northern Rhode Island isn't the challenge. We would like to limit the use of chemicals; is this possible?

And we love the Golden Delicious that we get at the nearby orchards. Are they fussy? Are there easier varieties that are as sweet?

Thanks for nay ideas!
posted by wenestvedt to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
And are there better sources -- online or nearby -- that I should know about? (And any to avoid?)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:43 PM on August 26, 2012

Cooperative Extension at URI will give you all the info you need - I'm sure you can just call or email. The Master Gardener program, specifically can probably help you.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:04 PM on August 26, 2012

For gardening information call our Master Gardener Hotline: 1-800-448-1011
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:04 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many of the insect pests that affect fruit trees have a life cycle involving larvae feeding on fallen fruit and/or pupating in the soil around the base of the tree. If you get a few chooks and give them access to your trees, you will have less trouble with this kind of pest and a constant supply of delicious fresh eggs.
posted by flabdablet at 10:27 PM on August 26, 2012

My feeling is that if you can get the same apples locally and you like them, you should continue to do that. It's not clear from your post why you want trees of your own, but if it is to save money, this is unlikely to be the case. If it is because you like apples and want to know more about pruning, training, and cultivation of apple trees and have time to spare, then by all means go ahead. However, fruit trees are high maintenance, and apple trees are generally very high. You' need to choose the proper rootstock for local conditions, so ask a nursery about that. You'll need the correct pollinator for Golden Delicious, so research which one grows best in your area. I suggest getting a multi-budded apple, to reduce yearly pruning and maintenance by half. You need to learn to prune to produce a balance of year-old and new side shoots, because apples produce on two-year old wood. You'll have to be meticulous about weekly cleanup of fallen leaves and fruit to minimize pests and pathogens. For the first few years, your tree may not produce; once it begins producing you may need to thin the fruit if the tree has not yet developed a strong scaffold. Depending on local conditions, you may still have to spray annually, sometimes multiple times, in order to prevent fungal diseases. Ideally you'll have a garden that supports pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Fruit trees are a pain, and I say that as someone who takes care of plants for a living. Definitely plant one if you are down to put in extra work and research to insure their health and productivity. Unfortunately, many people like the idea of fruit trees, but not the extra work involved (I apologize if you are aware of all this already, but in my experience most people do not). Apples that are not properly pruned and cared for become disease and pest vectors not only for other apples in the vicinity, but many other fruit trees and plants in the Rose family. If you still think that you have the time and energy to devote to fruit tree, definitely look for information from your local agricultural extension office.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:04 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

The best chemical free tip I have for apple trees is to wrap cardboard around the base of the trunk. This will trap caterpillars looking to pupate, so you need to inspect and kill every so often.

A horticultural glue will also stop the females crawling up the trunk to lay eggs.

You can also hang pheromone traps which attracts the males
posted by insomniax at 2:09 AM on August 27, 2012

Chooks = chickens
posted by blue_beetle at 5:30 AM on August 27, 2012

And we love the Golden Delicious that we get at the nearby orchards.

You should plant what you like but I would encourage you to talk to your extension agent about alternatives. The lack of diversity in contemporary apples is actually an effect of big agri and supermarkets, pretty much the exact opposite of growing your own for home consumption. There are actually thousands of apple varieties but the average consumer can only buy four of them. If you could find two alternative apple types you like, you would be less suseptible to being wiped out by variety-specific fungus, you could potentially have both early and late season varieties, and you would be helping to preserve a heritage fruit.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

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