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February 21, 2024

LSU AgCenter's Weekly Message

You May be Better Off Buying Your Apples

Some fruit species are better suited to our climate than others. Rabbiteye blueberries, muscadines, blackberries, persimmons (native and Japanese), figs, and cold-hardy citrus are often grown successfully in the Florida Parishes with appropriate variety selection, good site selection and preparation, and adequate care. Apples fall in the harder-to-grow category, along with peaches, plums, and most pears.

Few apple varieties are suited to the number of chilling hours that we reliably get. We’d like to have varieties that get enough chilling to come out of dormancy but don’t bloom so early that their flowers are often killed by late freezes.

Another important consideration for the warm, wet southeastern US is resistance to the bacterial disease fire blight. The bacteria infect through open flowers when appropriate temperatures and wet conditions exist. Fire blight can spread through the tree and severely damage or kill susceptible varieties of apples, pears, and mayhaws.

Even with appropriate variety selection, a good deal of attention is needed to training/pruning and management of diseases and pest insects.

Apple varieties recommended for the Florida Parishes area of Louisiana include Anna, Dorsett Golden, and Ein Shemer. Nominally, some of these require too few chilling hours for most of the region, and they do indeed flower too early in some years, but they remain among the better choices. Apple trees typically need cross-pollination (i.e., more than one variety) to produce, but Anna is partially self-fertile.

Most apple trees are grafted. Many rootstocks exist, and they affect the size of the tree. In some places, apples are grown commercially on rootstocks that reduce the trees’ size to such an extent that they are supported by trellises, similar to how grapes are grown. These trees typically bear earlier in their life, and it’s easier for workers to harvest them. However, trees on very dwarfing rootstocks do not tend to perform well in Louisiana. Trees grafted onto seedling rootstocks or ones like MM.111 or MM.106 are expected to perform better here than more dwarfing rootstocks. Trees should be planted so that the graft union (where the rootstock and scion join) is at least 2 inches above the ground.

People are sometimes tempted to buy larger, older trees, thinking they will produce fruit earlier. However, larger trees are often hard to train into a desirable form. Planting trees that are 4 to 5 feet tall and have trunks about 0.5 to 0.75 inch in diameter is recommended.

As when planting almost any type of fruiting plant, choose a well-drained site that gets direct sun exposure for most of the day (at least 8 hours).

I’ll follow up next week with more information on apple tree training and care.

Let me know if you have questions.

Click here for previous LSU AgCenter's Weekly Messages

Dr. Mary Helen Ferguson is an Extension Agent with the LSU AgCenter, with horticulture responsibilities in Washington and Tangipahoa Parishes. Contact Mary Helen at mhferguson@agcenter.lsu.edu or 985-277-1850 (Hammond) or 985-839-7855 (Franklinton).

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