MALUS: Pacific Northwest Apples
Don't miss our Annual Apple Tasting Event held each year in October.
Anyone who has grown up in the Pacific Northwest or has lived here for very long is apt to answer ‘The Apple’ to the Trivial Pursuit question, “What is the most commonly cultivated fruit in the world?” It turns out that when we are talking globally, the answer is the mango but for most of the western world, the apple is probably the fruit that comes to mind as most familiar.
Apple lore dates back to ancient times, but this adaptable member of the rose family was probably first cultivated in North America in the early 17th century. Early Americans used apples more as a source of alcoholic drink, substituting costly imports with hard cider or something harder. Since then, over 1000 varieties have entered cultivation, bred to fit various use and climate needs for this continent’s vastly diverse environments. The Pacific Northwest is one of the very best growing areas for this varied and popular fruit.
The seasonal availability of the apple is fairly amazing. With the possible exception of the banana, I can’t think of another fruit that is found 12 months of the year in the markets. Apples in the Portland area begin to be ready from July (Yellow Transparent) to November (Granny Smith).
For the home gardener, there are many possible choices. At Portland Nursery, we generally carry 16 to 20 varieties of apple trees each season. We stock varieties which we feel do well in our climate with both dwarf and semi-dwarf trees available. An apple grown on either a semi-dwarf or dwarfing rootstock can be an attractive choice as a small flowering tree for an urban garden. If you are considering adding a flowering tree, why not one that bears a crop of fruit?
Before selecting the apple tree for your yard, there are a few important things to consider.
- Choose the site where a rose would grow. Apples are members of the rose family, and need a lot of sunshine and good air circulation for healthy growth and production.
- Urban gardens often have limited space so choosing a dwarf, columnar or espalier tree are all good space-saving options.
- Be unique. Choose a variety that is not readily available in the grocery stores. Portland Nursery’s Apple Tasting Event is a wonderful place to sample lesser-known apple varieties and get an idea of the types of apple trees you would like to grow.
Genus: Malus, Latin for Apple
Common Name: Apple or Crabapple
Origin: Apples originate in the Caucasus Mountains of Western Asia with 20-30 Crabapple species native mainly to China, Japan and the U.S.
Characteristics: Leaves are alternate, simple, ovate and covered in downy white fuzz in youth. Pink flower buds open to white or pale pink single flowers in spring at the same time as leaves emerge.
Branches have smooth gray bark that thickens and flakes with age, forming an interesting trunk. Fruit matures from July to October in the Portland area. Crabapples have fruit that measures less than 2 inches in diameter.
Size: Apple trees are grafted at the base of the trunk to rootstock which greatly affects the ultimate size of the tree. Read through our rootstock list.
Pollination: Most apples grown for fruit need to have another apple near by that produces flowers at the same time of year, and is a different variety of apple. We've provided you with this handy pollination list.
In ideal weather, wind and bees may be relied upon to spread pollen from flower to flower. If weather is excessively wet and rainy during the bloom-period, pollen may be washed away and bees may not be present. This will cause a poor fruit set. Spreading pollen by hand using a small paint brush can help to increase fruit set.
Culture: Apple trees are happiest growing in full sun, with regular water during the time while the fruit is developing, and with good air circulation. Fertilizing with a fruit tree fertilizer can be very beneficial in aiding with vigor and fruit set.
Apples also need to experience a ‘chilling period’, a certain amount of time with temperatures below 45 degrees. This allows leaf and flower buds to form properly. The Portland area typically has plenty of winter days with such weather, so chilling should not pose a problem.
Pests and Diseases: Apples are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases which can be very problematic in Portland. Many trees have been bred to resist disease, and starting with a healthy, vigorous, disease-resistant tree is a step in the right direction.
Improving the soil drainage and air circulation in the area of the tree lends a healthier environment for a tree to become established. Select from our Apple Disease-Resistance chart.
Dormant sprays can be applied in late fall and winter, mainly to prevent and fight fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, scab and rust. Wormy apples can be prevented!
Traps for Coddling Moth and Apple Maggot can be set to alert the grower to their presence. Once insects are present insecticides can be applied.