Derry's Orchard & Nursery

Planting a potted fruit tree

If the tree is on M9 or Bud 9 rootstock, it will need a stake for the life of the tree (3" x 8' wooden fence post with 2' in the ground, or studded tee-post, or regular tee-post). If on M26, Quince, SJA, M7, MM106, MM111, MM111-9, or Antonovka it will need a stake for a couple of months only.

Plant your tree as soon as possible.

Put the stake in first. Dig hole only as deep as the pot and
at least 2x width. Do not amend the soil. Form a mound of soil in the bottom of the hole.

Holding the rootstock portion of the tree, take the tree out of the pot, shake off all soil and/or potting mix. Straighten out the roots so they form a circle radiating around the trunk. Cut off any broken roots and any roots which will not radiate properly.

Place tree on top of the mound so the roots radiate evenly around the mound and all point downwards. Keep graft union as far above soil as it was in the pot. Backfill the hole with the native soil. Stake should be on the windward side of the tree and about 4" away from the trunk at soil level. Tie tree to the stake using an old stocking or a strip of rubber forming the tie into a figure of 8 so the tree will not bang against the stake when it is windy. Step on the soil to press it against the roots. Mulch with organic matter or the leftover soil from the pot or compost or leaf mulch (to retain water). Water tree well to settle it.

1) If it is Spring and if the tree is a whip (see photo of a whip under 'rootstocks') and you are going to grow it as a standard pyramid-shaped tree, cut it back to 30" if it is a weak variety or to 31-33" if it is a vigorous variety. If all goes well, the branches will form in the 6-8" below the cut. If it is Fall, do not cut back now, wait until Spring. Open cuts are vulnerable to diseases in our winter rainy season. Cut back in late February or early March just before the sap starts to rise.

2) If you are going to espalier it, follow the instructions in the Royal Horticultural Society's book: Pruning by Christopher Bricknell (references). Making your cuts in Springtime.

3) if it is a two-year old tree with branches, remove all branches below 18". Cut back the other branches to form a pyramid with the lowest branches being cut back to 12". Always make your cuts in Springtime.

Water well for the first two years. Keep area weed-free.

Once the tree has filled the space allotted for it, start Summer-Pruning using the Modified Lorette System (references).

How can I get an apple on my tree?

There are four stages to getting an apple: flower bud initiation, depositing of pollen on the stigma, pollen tube germination, and finally, fruit set.

Following are the optimum criteria for getting fruit on a fruit tree. Higher or lower temperatures, older or younger wood, more or less nutrients, less sunlight may produce a fruit, but that fruit is more likely to drop during the June drop or end up misshapen and/or small.

1. Flower bud initiation.

Before we can get any fruit, we must have flower buds. Apple and pear buds are 'mixed' buds when formed. They can become a flower bud or a leaf bud depending on how they are treated.

The flower buds which will open next April (2013) on apple trees were formed last May and early June (2012). Usually, apple flower bud initiation occurs during the six weeks after bloom time. The following are essential for flower bud initiation

a) adequate nutrients, especially nitrogen, boron, and zinc.
b) sunlight - flower bud initiation occurs only where there is lots of light; this is why dwarf trees are very good for flower bud initiation
c) the branches should have an angle of 45 to 60 degrees from the vertical. Very upright branches (e.g. water shoots) do not develop fruit buds.
d) don't allow too many apples to be set because the plant hormones in the seeds of the developing apples will inhibit flower bud initiation.
e) AND if you leave too many apples on the tree, the tree nutrients will go to the new apples and not to flower bud initiation
f) t
here must be plenty of two-year old wood on the tree every year.

Apple blossoms develop from mixed buds (buds which contain both leaves and flowers). The first blossom to develop and open is the King bloom (see drawing on left).

This blossom, if pollinated, will produce the biggest apple. There are usually 5-6 blossoms per cluster so if the weather is not good when the King bloom is out, there is a second and a third chance to get an apple from the secondary blossoms.

The temperature must be at least 14°C (57°F) for apple pollen to be viable and fertilize the ovule. Part of the pollen fertilizes the ovule and part of the pollen forms the flesh of the apple. Over time, this fertilized ovule will develop into a seed of the apple. The more ovules fertilized, the more seeds produced, the bigger and better the apple.

If pollination is poor and maybe only a few pollen grains arrive on the stigma, a fruitlet will be formed, but it will drop off. This is called 'June Drop'.

Only well-pollinated ovules will go on to produce an apple.

Artwork by Tish Davis, West Vancouver


2. Foreign pollen must be deposited on stigma

A few apple varieties are self-fertile and will produce some apples without another apple tree nearby. Most varieties need another apple variety that blooms at the same time planted nearby. Some apple varieties are triploids i.e. have sterile pollen. These triploids need two different apple varieties, that bloom at the same time, planted nearby OR (only) one crabapple that blooms at the same time. Even the self-fertile apple varieties will produce more fruit if there is another different variety nearby so cross-pollination occurs.

The Blue Orchard bees have fuzzy abdomens. When the bees are collecting pollen for their nests, they carry it on this fuzz and often accidentally leave some pollen on the stigma of each apple blossom they visit.

3. Germination of the pollen tube down the style.

If the temperature is above 14°C (57°F) and ideally 16-21°C (60-70°F).The pollen grows a long pollen tube which extends down the style to the ovule and fertilization occurs.

4. Fruit Set

In apples, double fertilization occurs - one part of the pollen fertilizes the egg and becomes the seed and the other part becomes the endosperm.

Crabapple trees

Crabapple trees can be planted as ornamentals or pollenizers or both ornamental and pollenizer.

White-blooming crabapples are preferred by bees so if you want a pollenizer choose a white-blooming crabapple variety.

Crabapples are more desirable as pollenizers than other apple trees because the crabapples have more blossoms per square foot, each blossom has more pollen, and each pollen grain has more protein.

Some crabapples, e.g. John Downie, bloom over a very long period.

The average flowering period for crabapples from bud opening to petal fall is ten days, but very hot days or windy days with rain can cut this down to 5 or 6 days.

Here are the crabapple trees I have for sale in February 2013. Some are one-year whips and some are two-year old branched trees. I never seem to make enough crabapple trees. If you see one you like, but I am sold out, let me know before the end of February and I can make you one which would be ready-to-go in September 2013.

(sold out) Chestnut (MM111 SF) England 1921. Red bud opening to white blossom. Blooms mid-season, Crabapples picked in early September are 5 cm yellow with a red stripe. This is a jelly crabapple with a unique nut-like flavour. It is one of the few crabapples which can be eaten fresh off the tree.

(sold out) Dolgo (M26) grown by N Hansen in S Dakota from seed collected in St Petersburg, Russia 1897. Used as a pollenizer for early blooming apple varieties especially Gravenstein. Flowers single, white (1.5”); fruit is oval in shape, 1", and bright carmine, ripens in late August. Excellent for jelly and pickling.

Hansen's Red-fleshed crab (MM106) . South Dakota c 1920. Rosy red blossoms with 1.5” crabs with dark red flesh. Unusual shape. Good for jelly and colouring cider.

John Downie (M9, MM111-9) England 1891. Used as a pollenizer for early-mid to late-mid apples. It will not pollenize Gravenstein (blooms too early) or Northern Spy (blooms too late). 1.5” fruit is yellow with red blush and is good for juice or jelly

(sold out) Kerr (MM106). Manitoba 1938. Blooms early with white blossoms. Fruits are 4 cm oval and yellow-red and are often used in juices and cider.

(sold out) Red Glow (MM111 SF). Ottawa, Canada. This is one of the ‘rosy-blooms’ developed by Isabella Preston in the 1920s. It blooms early-mid season with rose-coloured blossoms. The fruits are 2 cm and dark red with dark red flesh. They are not persistant. The tree is upright and spreading

(sold out) Red Jewel (MM111 SF). USA 1972. The blossoms are white and the blossom time is late. The fruits are cherry-red and hang like cherries until January. The tree is disease-resistance, upright and pyramidal. Red Jewel has been named as one of the Great Plant Picks in the ‘small tree’ category (Award of the Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden, Seattle).

Siberian crab (MM111) China 1784. white buds, fragrant. Blooms early. Crabapples 3 cm (slightly more than an inch), oval, yellow with red stripes. Ripens in August. Good for fresh-easting and jelly. Very hardy. I note some discrepancies in descriptions of Siberian crab on the Internet. I have the one that is described here.

Snowdrift (MM111 SF) USA 1965. Pink buds opening to white blossoms. Outstanding when in bloom. Excellent pollenizer for mid-season apples. Fruits are small and peach-coloured, and after a frost, the birds devour the fruits.


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