Help me winter and save my apple tree seedling, please!
July 8, 2013 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I need advice on wintering a special apple tree seedling; USDA zone 4, USA.

I have an apple tree seedling from the last apple on the last tree in what was left of our family's apple orchard. The orchard was planted in Southern Indiana before Indiana was even a state.

So this little guy is pretty special and has to live.

I sprouted him this Spring. Out of four seedlings, this one lived. So far so good. I sprouted him at our farm in Central/Eastern Wisconsin, Zone 4/5 (But our property acts more like zone 4, so zone 5 plants frequently freeze out.)

It is in perlite now, in a glass porch. I plan on transplanting it to a small pot in a week or two to live outside the rest of the Summer.

I am worried that coming from trees in zone 6-7 I may have a hardiness issue this Winter in zone 4. I know the original trees are similar to Winesap apples, but slightly more tangy. They weren't a recognized variety according to the county extension agent I talked to 25-30 years ago.

How can I best protect it after the leaves fall off? I've read about letting the leaves fall off and then moving it indoors, but I think that my emotional connection to this tree is making me freak out a bit.

I plan on taking it down to the IN/KY border next Spring, but won't be able to do it before May.

So how should I treat it over the Winter? I've built cold frames for other things, have an open garden, a basement, a garage, a barn, under-deck space protected from wind, and/or spare bedroom.

If anyone has babied a tree or plant like this, I would love to hear what you did. I've read a lot, but like I wrote: I am kind of emotionally clouded right now and would like some direction.

posted by Tchad to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You do know that virtually all table apples in this country are grafted to a different ('crab' apple) root stock? There's a fungus that will destroy the roots, so you shouldn't plant it directly.
I'd consult with the local County Extension office, or see if there's a local Fruit Club that could help.
posted by dbmcd at 8:54 AM on July 8, 2013

Yeah, the problem here is that a tree planted from seed will not produce apples like the tree it came from. Even if you're not worried about the root stock / eventual size of the tree, the way to get apples that taste the same is from a cutting, not a seed. Sorry; I know how much that sucks.
posted by jon1270 at 9:00 AM on July 8, 2013

I don't have direct experience with apple trees, but a term you might want to look for to help you prepare is "zone pushing." Here is an article about zone pushing tropical plants; here is another that elaborates on the challenges of weather, microclimates, and growing/hardiness zones as they relate to home fruit growing. Here is an article on overwintering containerized fruit trees, and another on protecting fruit trees from winter freeze injury.

Basically, gradually reduce water and don't fertilize over the winter, bring the tree indoors after it's lost its leaves (a chill period is especially important for apple trees), mulch heavily with hay, and to be on the safe side, wrap the container in insulation like hay or even foam for the duration of its 'hibernation.' Many apple tree owners in my (zone 5) neighborhood will also use a trunk guard, loosely wrapping the trunk of the tree in a protective covering like burlap or even regular aluminum foil, to help minimize scald.

Nothing can be made absolutely certain when it comes to flouting the laws and whims of nature, but following the tips in those articles will help to increase the likelihood that your tree will stay happy as it acclimates to its new environment. Good luck!
posted by divined by radio at 9:01 AM on July 8, 2013

Response by poster: I'm not too worried about the type of apple it produces or how big the tree gets. I'm aware that with only wild crab or wild hybrid apple trees to pollinate it, the odds of me getting anything similar to the parent are long. I am more interested in my nieces and nephews and their kids being able to point to this tree and say: "THAT tree came from yadda-yadda and was sprouted from yadda-yadda".

I am just interested in how to best overwinter this guy and give it the best chance I can. divined by radio's zone pushing articles are right up my alley, as are dbmcd's fungal warnings!
posted by Tchad at 9:10 AM on July 8, 2013

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