One Perfect Apple

Despite getting a late start on planting, our four new columnar apple trees are doing quite well.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

In a previous post, I extolled the merits of columnar apple trees and outlined my plans to add some to my own garden this past spring. Well, my husband and I followed through with our plans and added four columnar apple trees to the bed around the edge of our patio. There’s a row of boxwoods already planted there, and we planted one apple tree between every few boxwoods for a total of four new fruit trees.

I was curious to see how well the trees would adjust, especially since they weren’t planted until mid-May and they were bare-root specimens that had been held in cold storage for far longer than they should have been. Typically, bare-root fruit trees are purchased and planted in March and April here in USDA zone 6, but time got away from us and I forgot to order them. I ended up mentioning it in passing to a friend who owns a local garden center, and he said he had some in cold storage; his nursery manager had forgotten to pot them up and they were just sitting there, waiting for a new home. I took him up on his offer of a “good deal” and planted them (with fingers crossed!) the second week of May.

The branches were still flexible, so I knew the trees were still alive. I soaked the roots in tepid water overnight and planted them the next morning. These particular trees are extra unique, as they’re grafted columnars that have buds from three different columnar varieties grafted onto the same trunk. Rather than growing as a single, straight spire—as traditional columnar apples do—these trees will grow three tall, straight, narrow spires out of the same trunk, and each spire will bear a different variety. Golden Sentinel, Scarlet Sentinel and North Pole are the three columnar varieties grafted onto each one of our new trees. Unfortunately, after a quick Internet search, I couldn’t find an online source for the same kind of grafted columnar apple trees that I have, but you can check with your own local nursery or online fruit specialists to see what they have available.

The main benefit to these multi-variety columnar apples is that each one of the three different branches can pollinate the other two. All apples need a cross-pollinator of a different, compatible variety, and trees with multiple varieties grafted onto the same plant will be able to pollinate themselves, as long as two or more of the different variety’s branches are in bloom at the same time. This means you can still get fruit, without having to have a separate pollinator tree, and that’s good news for gardeners with limited space. With our four new, multi-variety columnar trees and our two regular apple trees, we should have plenty of cross-pollination occurring every spring.

Much to my surprise, about two weeks after we planted our new columnar apples, the trees began to flower. There were several dozen blooms on each tree, and I really hated pulling them all off before they produced fruit. I wanted to let the trees put all their energy into producing a good root system their first year, rather than producing fruit. But, I couldn’t help myself, and I did allow one apple to grow and reach maturity, just to see how it would do. As soon as the apple was as big as a dime, I covered it with a nylon footie and used a twist-tie to fasten it securely around the stem. The footie stayed on the entire season, until the apple was ready to harvest in late September. The fabric kept the coddling moths and apple maggot flies from affecting the fruit and protected it from other fruit-munching pests. As a result, we got one near-perfect apple from our new trees, and my husband, my son, and I each had a third of the apple. It was delicious!

I can’t wait for next year when, with any luck, all four of the trees will be loaded with delicious fruit. I guess I better plan a trip to the shoe store for some more nylon footies.

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