January 29, 2015

How to Grow Apples In Tight Spaces - Photo by Jessica Walliser (HobbyFarms.com)

Although we’ve been buried in snow for the past few days here in western Pennsylvania, I’ve been thinking about my garden—my fruit trees in particular. The deer have started nibbling on the buds in earnest, so I’ve had to cover them with deer netting, but more importantly, I’ve been hatching a new plan for the spring. I’m going to add a handful of columnar fruit trees!

Columnar trees are a great way to grow full-sized apples in a very small space. The trees are perfectly straight and have extremely short fruiting spurs that stay close to the main trunk while still producing fruits. Mature columnar trees reach about 8 to 10 feet tall and only need to be spaced 2-3 feet apart, making them a perfect fit for tight spaces. We have a row of immature boxwood bushes around the curve of our patio and fire pit. I’m going to put four or five columnar fruit trees in between the boxwoods so that when both are mature, I’ll have a hedge of boxwoods with columnar fruit trees extending out of the top. I can’t wait!

As for which varieties to plant, I’ve been browsing some of my favorite bare-root fruit tree catalogs and am considering using Raintree Nursery if I can’t find a local nursery that carries the trees. I’ve sourced bare-root fruit trees from Raintree before and have had good luck. Standard varieties of columnar apples include North Pole, Golden Sentinel and Scarlet Sentinel, though the Greenleaf Nursery Company has recently released a line of columnar trees called the Garden Debut. They were developed and bred in the Czech Republic to be cold hardy and easy to grow. This line of apples are branded under the name Urban Apple, and some of the names include Tasty Red, Blushing Delight, Golden Treat and Tangy Green. This line of trees is available from Stark Brothers, Raintree Nursery and other online sources.

If you’d like to include a few of these super-fun fruit trees in your own landscape, be aware that like all apples, columnar types are not self-fertile. To ensure proper fruit set, you’ll need at least two different varieties, but if you (or a close neighbor) have a mid-season standard apple in your yard, it could serve as pollinator, as well.

Site the trees in full sun and thin the fruits to one apple per fruiting branch (called a spur) when they are the size of a dime. This important step prevents the tree from toppling under the weight of the developing fruit.

Now I’m even more excited for spring to arrive. It’s going to be a long February!

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