Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: It's all about apples!

Sept./Oct. 2007 California Country magazine

Want to grow your own apples? Read on for some expert advice.

Autumn brings apples—and apples bring apple festivals. Some last a few days, some a few weeks and some up to a month long, but all promise lots of fun and a variety of suitable snacks—apple pies, apple butter, apple tarts, apple cider, you name it!

If you want to grow your own apples, consider this: There are hundreds of varieties available, whether for cooking or eating out of hand. And there are varieties suitable for almost every climate zone in the United States. When it comes to choosing apples, "chilling" is critical. No, not sitting around with friends, but hours of winter temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Different varieties of apples require varying hours of winter chill. Close to the coast in Southern California where I live, we generally get between 100 and 400 hours of winter chill, which limits the number of apple varieties we can grow successfully. However, over the last several years, more and more "mild climate" varieties have become available. Now, if someone wanted to, they could grow dozens of different varieties of apples in coastal Southern California.

A few favorite mild climate varieties of apples are: Anna, a heavy producer of sweet, crisp, good keeping apples; Dorsett Golden, a sweet, flavorful Golden Delicious type; Pettingill, a crisp, juicy red and green variety; and Pink Lady, an outstanding new variety from Australia.

In colder regions apples will get 1,000 hours and more of winter chill, opening the door to a whole different assortment of apples. In the colder regions, it is important to avoid mild winter types that will begin blooming when the first warm winter days arrive, only to have those blossoms killed by frosty nights not seen along the coast.

A few cold climate favorites are: Honeycrisp, a crisp, juicy variety with red stripes over yellow; Elstar, a high-quality Jonagold type from Holland; Northern Spy, whose large, tart fruit is perfect for cooking and is a good keeper; and Rome Beauty, another good cooking apple that is ideal for locations susceptible to late freezes.

The best time of year to purchase and plant apples is during the bare-root season in your area. In Southern California this starts in early January and lasts until about mid-February. It will be later in colder areas of the country. While that's several months down the road, now's the time to visit your local apple festivals and do the taste-testing on all the varieties you might be interested in planting. Bare-root season is when you will find the best selection of trees at the best prices of the year. You also won't have to dig as big of a hole! This is what we call a win-win-win in the horticultural industry.

Gardening to-do list for September/October

Look for and select fall bulbs now. Stores should have an abundant selection through the end of September. By late October, your choices will become limited. Shop early.

Feed warm season grasses such as Bermuda and St. Augustine now to extend the green color later into the fall. Overseed with annual ryegrass seed to keep your lawn green all winter. Annual rye will die in the spring as the weather warms, as Bermuda is greening up. Feed other lawn types as well.

Apply pre-emergent weed control to keep grassy weeds from sprouting this fall. Imagine your lawn and garden without grassy weeds this winter!

Plant cool season vegetables. Beets, broccoli, carrots, peas and much more can be planted now in warm winter areas.

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