Apple is probably the most popular fruit eaten globally today, and it comes from one of the oldest cultivated trees in history – the apple tree! Low in cost, adaptable to most conditions, and a source of nutrient-rich fruits, the tree is cultivated worldwide.
The apple tree, or Malus Domestica, belongs to the Rosaceae family and is propagated through grafting or seed. Many other fruits, including peaches, plums, cherries, strawberries, and raspberries, also belong to the same family.
Though it originated in Central Asia, the cultivation quickly spread across the globe, probably because of its tolerant growing habits.
If you want to follow the famous saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” or like to keep a tree in your backyard for the undying love of apple pies, here’s a post to help you out!
What is the apple tree, and how long has it existed? What kinds of conditions does it like to grow in? Keep reading, and you’ll know all about these mesmerizing trees.
|Botanical Name||Malus Domestica|
|Plant Type||A Perennial Fruit Tree|
|Size (Fully Grown)||Can Grow 10 To 40 Feet (About 3 to 12 Meters) Tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun|
|Soil Type||Best Results From Soils That Are Fertile And Drain Well|
|Soil pH||From 5.8 To 7.5|
|Flower Color||White, Pink|
|U.S. Hardiness Zones||3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, And 10|
|Native Area||Central Asia|
How Many Different Apple Varieties Are There?
Over the years, people have bred more than 7500 cultivars. These cultivars differ in their taste, color, and texture of the fruit to suit different purposes.
Apples aren’t just used for raw consumption but also for cooking and cider. The varieties also differ in their growth characteristics to suit different climates. Here are the most famous types you’ll find, along with their preferred uses:
- Fuji – Eating
- Gala – Eating
- Rome – Cooking
- Royal Gala – Eating
- Red Delicious – Eating
- Golden Delicious – Eating
- Jonagold – Eating And Cooking
- Pink Lady – Cooking And Eating
- Ginger Gold – Cooking And Eating
- Granny Smith – Cooking And Eating
- Winesap – Cider Production And Eating
- Golden Spire – Cider Production And Eating
- Golden Russet – Cider Production And Eating
- Stayman – Cider Production, Cooking, And Eating
A Short History Lesson: How Long Has The Apple Tree Existed?
The famous saying “As American As Apple Pie” is somewhat misleading since neither apple pies nor apples are American! The tree originated somewhere in Central Asia and can likely be the first fruit tree ever cultivated on the planet. Historians believe that the tree was first domesticated in Kazakhstan’s Tien Shan mountains thousands of years ago.
People have consumed apples in Asia and Europe for thousands of years. The famous Trojan War, a story from Greek mythology, is also believed to have started over an apple! Adding to the fruit’s cultural significance, the “Forbidden Fruit” eaten by Eve, as mentioned in the Bible, is often suggested as an apple.
The Journey To America
Apples came to North America in 1607 with the settlers from Europe in Jamestown. But, unfortunately, the seeds and cuttings they brought from Europe weren’t suitable for the New World’s growing conditions.
These varieties were used for breeding the American varieties, which were better suited to the local growing conditions. Unfortunately, these preliminary American apples weren’t as sweet as the ones we get today. The bitter taste made them only suitable for cider.
Over the years, apples have become an integral part of American culture and an essential part of its economy. Over 48,000 tons are grown each year in the United States. Of the worldwide production of 90.8 million tons annually, China leads the cultivation. The country alone produces 49% of the world’s apples.
How Can You Identify Apple And An Apple Tree?
Although there are plenty of different varieties, an apple tree’s physical characteristics are pretty much the same for all. They are deciduous trees that don’t grow that tall as other trees because they only grow 10 to 40 feet (about 3 to 12 meters) tall.
The situation where they can get that big is when you don’t prune them. That’s why growers usually prune them to keep them smaller; a size that is approximately 20 feet (about 6,1 meters) tall helps when growers are harvesting the apples.
An apple tree will have alternately arranged, oval, toothed leaves, 1 to 2.5 inches long (about 2,5 to 6 cm) and ¾ to 2 inches (about 2 to 5 cm) wide. The top is sharp, while the underside of the leaves is softer.
The tree blooms in spring, with pink or white small blossoms. Each flower is made up of 5 petals and has a diameter of about 0.98 to 1.4 inches (about 2,5 to 3,6 cm).
These fragrant flowers that bloom around the same time that the leaves begin to appear are among the tree’s most attractive characteristics. They attract many bees and birds to the tree, including honeybees, for pollination.
In late summers to early fall, you’ll find beautiful fruits hanging from the branches. However, the fruit’s size and color and the time it takes for the fruits to reach maturity may vary between the variety you are growing.
The distinct, round fruit is 2 to 3.5 inches (about 5 to 9 cm) in diameter and usually red or yellow. Bicolored and green apples are also a possibility. The flesh can be white or ivory and with five carpels arranged in the shape of a star through the center. Each carpel will carry one to three seeds.
What Conditions Are Needed To Grow An Apple Tree?
If you dream of having a beautiful apple tree in your garden, you should know that it will take some commitment to grow one, but it is rewarding nonetheless.
If you’re living in USDA zones 3 to 10, your climate is suitable for the tree, and with a little bit of effort, you can have lots of juicy apples to harvest every autumn!
In What Temperature Do Apple Trees Grow Best?
All apple varieties need a specific number of chill hours per year to set fruit. And for most trees, the number is somewhere around 500 and 1,000, but some varieties come along with just under 300 hours.
Now, your question may be, what are chill hours? Well, by “chill hours,” I mean the number of hours per year that an apple tree needs in a temperature range of 32 to 45°F (about 0 to 7°C).
The needed chill hours are also why apple trees grow best in most temperate regions of the world, where there is cold in winters and summers that are moderately warm.
It’s challenging to find a suitable variety that grows ideally in the far south with these requirements. As you go far north, an apple tree will need more chill hours to protect itself against late spring frost. So, make sure you choose a cultivar that’s suited to your climate.
Soil And Sun
Choose a location with full sun to plant your tree. Apple trees growing in the partial shade won’t produce as many fruits as those getting all the sunlight they need.
As for the soil, even though they'll tolerate sandy or partially clayey soil, they still prefer a well-draining loamy soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
Choose an open spot where you haven’t grown apple trees in the past couple of years. Plant in a location with good air circulation, so the branches don’t have a chance to harbor diseases but are sheltered from heavy winds.
Also, make sure that you don’t plant the tree in a “frost pocket.” These are spots in low-lying areas where cold air or frost settles and can destroy the blooms before fruits get a chance to set.
Water And Fertilizing
Young apple trees need regular watering until the roots get established. As the tree grows, it develops more drought tolerance. Older, well-established trees will only need watering in prolonged hot, dry periods.
Remember not to add fertilizer in the planting hole, or you’ll “burn” the roots. Instead, you can add a pinch of starter fertilizer to the water for the sapling you’ve just planted. Then, after a month of planting the sapling, spread a balanced 10-10-10 granular fertilizer in an 18-inch (approximately 48 cm) radius from the trunk. As they develop, they’ll need yearly fertilization with 10-10-10, applied in a circle around the tree, a little distance away from the trunk.
Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Apples?
Often called a nutritional powerhouse, apples are one of the healthiest foods you can consume. But are there any side effects worth knowing? Let’s find out if it’s safe for everyone.
Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
Apples are a healthy addition to the regular diet of pregnant and breastfeeding women. They offer lots of nutrients and other benefits, and there are no known side effects of consuming them during this time. But, stick to the safe side and consume them in moderation only.
Apples are safe and healthy for children as long as they don’t consume the seeds. Seeds contain cyanide and are poisonous to children as well as adults in high amounts. Although, it’s tough to eat them in massive quantities (unless you do that intentionally), so I wouldn’t worry too much.
People With Allergies
Consumption may cause an allergic reaction in people sensitive to foods from the Rosaceae family. Other plants belonging to the same family include peaches, apricots, almonds, plums, and strawberries. Other than that, people allergic to birch pollen can also be allergic to apples.
People With Diabetes
Excessive consumption of apples or apple juice can raise blood sugar levels. But, since they are rich in fibers and nutrients, they are safe and healthy for type 1 and type 2 diabetics, as long as they’re consumed in moderate amounts.
Apples, with seeds removed, are a healthy treat for your pets. However, together with its stems, leaves, and seeds, the tree itself is toxic since the parts contain cyanide. In addition, the tree itself is incredibly harmful when it’s wilting.