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Growing Apples in North Dakota

Growing apples can be fascinating and fun. Selecting a variety suited to the climate, and planting where it is protected from wind, is important in North Dakota. The short growing season places a limit on planting late-season varieties. Most apple trees do well on any good garden soil. But fruit trees do not like "wet feet," so good drainage is necessary. Early spring planting is recommended.

Buy fruit trees from your area nursery. Normally they handle trees propagated on hardy rootstocks. To date none of the dwarfing rootstocks have proved reliably hardy under North Dakota conditions. Therefore, we do not recommend planting dwarf apple trees.

Select apple varieties that are hardy, disease-resistant and that will mature their fruit before October 10th. It is necessary to plant two varieties of apples for cross pollination. The varieties Red Duchess, Hazen, and Haralson are the best varietal choices for general planting in North Dakota. For a crabapple, Chestnut is superb.

How to Prune Apple Trees

You can prune most apple trees during the fall or winter months, whenever weather permits.

Pruning renews tree growth and health, and encourages better production of high quality fruit. There are two main factors to keep in mind as you prune. First, prune the trees so more light will get through the leaf cover during the next growing season. This means "opening up" the tree canopy.

Follow these steps when you prune:

If the tree needs thinning, remove the weak spindly branches. You will usually find them in the lower and outer part of the tree beneath the more dense growth.

Fire Blight of Apples and Crabapples

Fireblight is a serious disease of apples, crabapples and pears. Blossoms, blossom spurs, and branch tips are infected, turning brown and dying rapidly. The tips of branches often curl to form what resembles a shepherd's crook, or the curved end of a walking cane. The dead leaves remain brown to almost black and may remain on the branch all winter. The disease is caused by a bacterium that lives in the conducting or vascular tissues of the plant. The bacterium progresses down the diseased shoots and spurs, and sometimes reaches a larger branch where a dark or discolored area is formed. This discolored area is called a canker. The bacterium lives over the winter in young cankers with smooth, indefinite margins. In the spring, bacteria ooze from the canker, forming a sticky, thick liquid that insects feed on. These insects transmit the bacteria to blossoms, where new infections start. Later, the disease may spread from infected blossoms and old cankers to the shoots. Rain, wind, and hail help spread the disease.

Successful fireblight control requires a combination of actions. For the first step, overwintering cankers should be pruned away by cutting at least six to ten inches below the edge of the canker. Smaller diseased branches should be pruned about ten inches below the edge of the diseased area. Pruning is best done in late fall after leaf drop, when the diseased shoots can be readily seen since they retain their leaves. Or, pruning can be done in late February to early March. Pruning tools should be sterilized between each cut, Lysol diluted 3/4 cup per gallon of water, or household bleach diluted 1 cups in each gallon of water. Household bleach works very well, but corrodes tools, which must be carefully washed and oiled after use to prevent rusting. For the second step, apples or pears can be sprayed with streptomycin at blossom time. Use streptomycin at 50-100 parts per million every 3-5 days during blossoming. It can also be used every 14 days after blossoming, but streptomycin is not as effective for control of shoot blight as it is for control of blossom blight. After a hail storm, streptomycin should be sprayed immediately to reduce infection in the hail-induced wounds. Uptake of streptomycin is improved if applied during the evening. Streptomycin should not be applied within 50 days of harvest for apples or within 30 days of harvest for pears. It is not registered for use on crabapple, cotoneaster, or mountain ash.

Fireblight is most severe on succulent shoots. Avoid overfertilizing trees, and do not fertilize in late spring or early summer.

Apple Maggot Control

If you have apple trees, one insect that can cause considerable damage to the fruit is the apple maggot. These maggots bore through the flesh of the apple, creating brown winding galleries.

Apple maggots will reduce early apple varieties to a brown rotten mass if the infestation is heavy. In later varieties the injury consists of corky streaks. When the fruit is slightly infested, there is no external indication of the presence of maggots. But when the fruit becomes ripe, the burrows show as dark lines under the skin.

Good sanitation will go a long way in controlling apple maggots. Pick up and destroy dropped apples once a week beginning in mid-July. This will help eliminate the maggots before they burrow out of the apples into the soil. As the last apples of the season are harvested, clean all fallen apples and other litter from under trees.

For effective apple maggot control, spray apple trees during the time that apple maggot flies appear in midsummer. Make the first spray application in early July followed by repeat spray applications at intervals of 7-10 days through August. Wettable powder formulations of Sevin or Malathion applied according to label directions can be used for apple tree spraying. If a spray application is followed by a heavy rain, you should respray.

Why Fruit Trees Fail to Bear

A fruit tree normally begins to bear fruit after it becomes old enough to blossom freely, provided other conditions are favorable. Tree health and environment, bearing habit, and the cultural practices used can all directly influence its ability to produce fruit.

Most nursery-produced fruit trees have tops that are one to two years old. The length of time required for them to bear fruit after planting varies with the kind of fruit. Apples usually bear fruit in 4-7 years while plums may bear as early as the third season after planting.

All fruit trees require pollination to produce fruit. Unless pollination takes place, trees can blossom abundantly but not bear. Bees are necessary for cross-pollination between two different tree fruit varieties. High winds, steady rainfall or cold temperatures can reduce bee movement during the flowering period. Consequently, poor pollination may occur under adverse weather conditions, resulting in poor fruit set. Cross-pollination is required for most tree fruits; therefore, it is essential to plant two or three different varieties to insure fruitfulness.

Extremely low temperatures during winter dormancy may kill or damage fruit buds. In addition, spring frosts during the flowering period may also drastically reduce fruit set.

Fruit trees that are grown near large shade trees are often poor producers. They are best planted in an area that receives full sun and less root competition from other trees.

Over fertilization (especially nitrogen fertilizers) will cause fruit trees to grow vigorously with delayed flowering. This can be overcome by allowing grass or weeds to compete with your trees for soil nutrients. Weeds should be mowed before going to seed.

Preventing Mouse and Rabbit Damage to Fruit Trees

Mice and rabbits can do considerable damage to fruit trees in your yard or orchard.

No single control procedure will get the job done. Nor is fall the only or best time to control these pests. Meadow mice and rabbit control should be as much a part of garden and orchard management as insect and disease control.

The following control procedures are offered as suggestions. You can use one or more of these measures depending upon your situation.

Storing Apples

The storage life of home grown apples is dependent upon the variety grown, the stage of maturity at harvest time, care in handling and storage temperatures. Early maturing varieties are not generally considered as long keepers. They should be utilized or processed within one or two months after harvest. A good storage apple such as Haralson, will keep for six months or more when cared for properly.

Apples remain alive after they are picked and they continue to respire or "breathe." The higher the storage temperature, the more rapid is the respiration and the more rapidly the apple fruit spoils. Apples keep best when stored near 32 F and at 85 to 90 percent relative humidity. Home storages have difficulty maintaining high humidity. In these cases, store small quantities of fruit in plastic bags.

Store only perfect fruits that are free from punctures or bruises. Check stored fruit periodically. One rotten apple can spoil the barrel if not removed. Light frosts are not harmful to apples while still on the tree. Do not harvest apples when temperatures are below freezing. Allow them to warm before picking to prevent bruise injury.

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This page was last updated on November 16, 2002