Cold Weather Care: Apple Trees

I am a lover of apples. A crisp autumn day accompanied by applesauce with breakfast, a crunchy apple alongside my lunch (and maybe one for my horse) and some hot apple cider after dinner, is perfect for my Wisconsin-grown self.

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It would seem, no matter how many winters I experience, I get anxiety about how our young apple trees are faring. I have lived long enough to know that midwest fruit trees are pretty hardy, and will usually return each spring, without much work. However, I have also learned that there are some steps that can be taken to ensure strong growth and greater production. Plus, for those of us who are missing “garden time” around mid-February, and getting antsy for spring, hopefully you can add apple tree care to your list of cold weather activities, to keep you entertained.

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Apple Tree Activities for the Cold Weather Months:

  1. Assuring Insulation: Mulching is a great way to protect your fruit trees during the colder winter months. Ideally you want to mulch in the fall. So make sure you have a 3 to 6 inch layer of covering of wood chips, leaves or straw over the roots of your trees. The mulch is not only important as insulation, but it also helps create a fungal soil biome, as it decomposes, in the spring and summer. Grass, on the other hand, creates a bacterial soil biome. Snow is also a natural form of insulation, so remember to appreciate the white sparkles and fluff covering the ground! For more information on mulching, Check out my blog on mulching for more specific info.
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    This is not an apple tree, but a good depiction of the snow insulation. 🙂
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    Mulching in the food forest!

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    Toby loves picking up free mulch!
  2. Pruning: Cold weather puts your “pome fruit trees” (apples and pears) into a state of dormancy. They “take a break”, so to speak, from production. This time of year also eliminates the foliage, which allows you to clearly see the branches of the trees and make smart pruning decisions.
    1. To correctly prune your trees, start by following the 3 D’s. Get rid of anything Dead, Damaged or Diseased. During the winter, you should be able to clearly distinguish tiny “suckers” or severed branches, which should be removed. Then you want to thin the branches. Essentially, you want to make even spaces on all sides of the tree. Try to look at the tree with an aesthetic eye, if any area looks like the branches are “competing” with one another (crossing, growing downward, or just too thick) take some of the branches out. When choosing which branches to keep, look for a healthy appearance, and a tight connecting angle to the tree. The tighter this “crotch” angle the stronger the branch will be, when fruit starts to burden it. This thinning process might seem intense and will make the trees look sparse (almost naked!) but it will boost production later in the season. There are more specifics and some great images to guide this process in the article, “How to Prune Your Fruit Trees”, by Brian Barth on Modern Farmer. 
  3. Storing Clippings for Grafting: If you have some “healthy” looking clippings that were removed from the apple tree, you can store these to create more baby apple trees to sell or plant in the spring! Sometimes this can be a new variety that you want to graft to an existing tree or onto a new root stock. The best time to do this grafting preparation is the time between when the tree starts to bud and before the bud starts changing to leaf. There should be just a small bud showing, but if a leaf has started to form and is larger than a “squirrels ear”, then it is usually too late.
    1. To store our clippings (scion wood), taken off during February, for grafting we took the clipped pieces, wrapped them in a wet paper towel and placed them in our freezer. We will be able to use these clipping to graft onto older trees come April or May.

And after you have taken such great care of your apple trees, grab an apple or some cider and take a moment to relax and enjoy some of my favorite apple facts!!!

Andrea’s Apple Facts 🙂

  • Apples are on the dirty dozen list, so always remember to buy organic OR, better yet, grow your own!!
  • Apples are a great source of fiber!
  • Apple seeds contain cyanide, which is poisonous, but when eaten in small doses, our healthy cells are unaffected, while cancer cells are broken open and eliminated with the cyanide! This article, by Lea Ann Savage, explains the science,
    •  “The natural, form of cyanide found in apple seeds and other commonlyeaten foods is also called amygdalin aka Laetrile aka ‘vitamin B17’. Cyanide does NOT Bioaccumulate – it is completely cleared out of our body through our natural detoxification pathways. There is an enzyme in normal, healthy cells called rhodanese that catches any free cyanide molecules, and renders them harmless by combining them with sulfur. This chemical reaction converts the cyanide into cyanate, which is a neutral substance. Cyanate is then passed safely through the urine.”

      • But lucky for us, rhodanese is not found in cancer cells!! And the beta-glucosidase which is found in cancer cells reacts with the cyanide, and destroys the cancer cell, eliminating it as a toxin.
  • Apples take about 4-5 years before producing their first fruits.
  • Apples are a member of the rose family! Learned this little gem, from Farmflavor.com
  • Apples contain boron, which can help to strengthen bones, increase memory capabilities and heighten mental alertness.
  • My favorite varieties are Fugi, Gala, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Honey Crisp,
    and Pink Pearl!
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