Growing Concerns 567: Growing apple trees, ash trees

Late Spring!

Nothing beats an apple picked from your own tree, but growing them does take work


Dear Janet,

I'd like to grow apples in my yard. I hear I need to plant two trees, is that true? Are they hard to grow? I want to be able to eat the apples off my tree. Where can I buy the trees? I haven't seen them at nurseries around here.


Dear S.W.,

You do need two different types of apple to insure cross-pollination for good fruiting. If you have a crabapple on your property within bee-flying range you may be able to get fruit from a single apple tree, since crabapple is the same species as apple.

Apples are not hard to grow but for fruit as clean as you buy at a grocer you will have to follow a program of spraying the tree throughout the growing season with fungicide and insecticide. For that reason, it's a good idea to look for a dwarf tree of the type of apple you select to grow -- they are simpler to spray.

There are disease resistant apple types, bred to produce clean fruit with less spraying. If grown without any sprays there may be blemishes, however, since disease resistance is not immunity. Also, a crop grown without any pesticide application may vary in appearance from year to year because the weather will vary and with it, disease infection opportunities. Last year my family ate apples right from our trees, which we never spray. They were the best apples we'd ever tasted and were pretty, too. Other years they are so ugly that my first thought is cider or pie, not eating them out of hand.

Some of the best disease resistant apples, bred for that quality and for good fruit, are Enterprise, Freedom, Goldrush, Liberty and Redfree. If I had room in my yard to plant more apple trees right now I would probably choose Liberty, reportedly the most resistant to all the common diseases, for its spicy fruit. I'd pick Redfree as its pollinator since it also has the spice that my family likes but its crop matures weeks earlier. Between the two we'd have fresh-picked fruit for many weeks.

To read more about these apples and about the program to breed for disease resistance, go to the University of Guelph,Ontario bulletin at

Some local garden centers carry fruit trees, although most do focus on ornamentals.

Short reports


There was no sarcasm in "silk flowers or sculpture."

Silk flowers and sculpture are two legitimate answers to impossible situations such as "it must be a no-maintenance garden," or "it will have to grow in the dark without water." In many gardens I've designed and tended I've placed non-plant features to provide otherwise unattainable height or color, or to meet unrealistic care criteria.

To those who wrote that this and others of my May 8 answers were flippant, pompous, unhelpful or mean, consider the observation made by F.K. of Beverly Hills, "The truth is not always comfortable.

Ash tree showing damage? Accept the loss and move on.

Can you protect your ash tree from emerald ash borer? MSU, Department of Agriculture and Forestry Service research so far indicates there is little chance of saving an ash by insecticide treatment if that tree has more than 15 percent damage.

In practice, this means the trees worth protecting are those that are not yet damaged, since the average person will not normally notice EAB damage until the tree is 25 to 50 percent dead.

So if your ash tree is thin or has dead branches don't waste money on treatments. Remove it.

This is not cold-hearted, just practical. I am grieving for the ashes, as many are. Winter's bareness masked the extent of the devastation for a time. Now the gaps are once again noticeable and very much larger.


Green thumbs up

to setting annuals free and giving them room. Slice or tear off any rootbound bottoms of flowers so roots will grow out more quickly. Leave at least eight inches between plants. If you can't give up the instant gratification of "cram planting", set the plants wide in one test area. Watch those flowers outshine their crowded counterparts from July to frost.


Green thumbs down

to  hidden burlap and cord. As you plant B&B (balled and burlapped) or large potted trees and shrubs, be on guard for these killers. More and more often I find old cord and fabric under new or a wrapped ball set into a pot. If you don't peel off all layers after you set the plant into its hole you may find the plant dead in a year or maimed for life by girdling cords or cloth.

 Originally published 5/22/04