Many gardeners are growing their own food these days, with good reason. We've talked a lot about vegetables and herbs in this column, but lately I have been fielding some questions about growing fruit, particularly apple trees.
Apple trees are a highly productive fruit tree that is suitable for the home garden. There are a wide range of varieties available but here on the West Coast we need specific varieties that suit our balmy weather conditions.
Start by choosing a variety that is suitable for our area and your needs as a home gardener. I'll provide some selections at the end of the article but it is best to check with a fruit-growing specialist at a professional nursery.
Some popular apple cultivators need to have a long period of cold weather in order to set fruit. Even though these varieties are not the best for West Coast conditions, I often see them for sale. So check with an expert before you buy.
Unless you have room for two trees, try to find a tree that is self-pollinating. A tree that has multiple varieties grafted onto it works well too.
The site you select is very important when it comes time to plant your fruit tree. The most important requirement is full sun for the majority of the day. This means at least six hours of sunlight. I live on a shady lot with half-day sun and even though I would love to grow apples, they are not in the picture for my garden.
Apples thrive in moist, free-draining soil that leans toward the sandy/silty side. Clay and stony soil can usually be modified by adding lots of organic matter, but if this is your soil type, prepare the soil first before planting.
Many apples are small enough to be grown in containers, which makes a great option for gardeners with limited space. The ultra dwarf "Columnar" apple trees would fit perfectly in a container the size of a whiskey barrel.
Irrigation is necessary during the summer and early fall. To improve the soil's water-holding capacity, try adding organic matter and using a mulch. Good air circulation will help to reduce disease.
Apples are available in summer and fall harvest varieties. Summer varieties are generally soft, have a short shelf life and are best used for cooking. The late fall (October) ripening apples tend to be the best winter keepers and are used for fresh eating too.
Because we live in bear country, it's important to pick your apples as soon as they're ripe to prevent them from attracting hungry bears to your yard, increasing the chances of human-bear conflict.
Here are some of the recommended types of apples to grow for coastal gardens: Gravenstein, Chehalis, Jonamac, Elstar, Golden Delicious, Liberty, Jonagold, Akane or Prime Red, Discovery and Yellow Transparent.
Avoid Johnathan, Rome Beauty, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji and Winesap as they require a longer, hotter growing season than we generally have in Squamish gardens.
I can't stress enough that it is best to buy any fruit stock from a specialized nursery that can offer you particularly information for your growing needs.