Late autumn/winter is the perfect time to plant an apple tree. Apples are commonly grown in cooler areas of Australia, but nowadays, you can find ‘low-chill’ varieties that also grow and thrive in the subtropics. You don’t need an orchard or a large backyard to grow them either. Dwarf varieties are perfectly suited to small gardens and containers. So, if you’ve been tempted to grow your own, follow our tips for success.
Dwarf rootstocks require fertile and well-draining soils. Larger growing apples with more vigorous rootstocks, are better in heavier clay soils.
Sunny sheltered position is best.
You typically need two apple trees for pollination to occur and fruit to form, but if you have only room for one tree, make sure it’s self-pollinating. They can take 3-4 years to fruit, but a dwarf tree will fruit within two years. Thin fruit late spring or early summer.
Pests & Diseases
Apples are not fuss-free plants and growing them will test your patience. They are prone to canker, mosaic virus, scab, and powdery mildew. A battery-operated sprayer (Swagman) will be your best friend. Spray with Yates Leaf Curl Copper Fungicide at pink bud stage (when flower buds begin to open and reveal a pink colour) and again at 10 percent blossom stage (when 10 percent of the flowers have opened). Continue to spray apples regularly during the fruiting season with copper fungicide to prevent fungal diseases. Foliar seaweed sprays can also help improve vigour.
An open, vase-shaped tree is the best shape to yield the most fruit. Espalier fruit trees can be trained on fences, walls, along driveways, along a low ‘step-over’ trellis around a vegetable garden. Some dwarf rootstocks have dwarf growth cultivars grafted onto them producing short spurs that do not need pruning. These are perfect for the home garden.
Tips & Tricks
Dwarf apples grow well in large containers.
Espalier apples on a north or west-facing wall.
Columnar varieties require less pruning but offer a narrow profile.
Rake all fallen fruit and leaves to prevent spread of disease.
Climate is the most important factor when deciding on an apple variety for your garden, as a specific number of cold days (chilling) are required. Check with specialist apple nurseries or your local nursery for varieties best for your area.
‘Ballerina’ dwarf apples are compact, grow to 4m high x 30cm wide.
‘Rezista’ varieties are resistant to black spot and require little spraying.
‘Pinkabelle’ is dwarf, good for warm areas and containers (flavour like ‘Pink Lady’).
‘Dorsett Golden’ is dwarf, sweet, low chill requirement allows it to be grown in subtropical climates. Grafted on a dwarfing rootstock they are ideal for small gardens.
‘Tropical Anna’ is a low chill, delicious crunchy apple, like its cold climate cousin, Red Delicious. Grafted onto a semi dwarfing rootstock, it is ideal for garden and container growing.
‘Tropic Sweet’ is low chill, on semi-dwarfing rootstock, sweet and crunchy, bears fruit two weeks before ‘Tropical Anna’.
Harvest & Storage
Don’t pull apples from the tree, as you will remove next year’s fruiting spurs resulting in a smaller crop. Twist the apple around the stalk. Store apples in a cool basement as soon as the apples have been picked. Discard damaged fruit.