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Desert Gardener: Grow an apple tree to add shade, beauty to your yard

‘As American as Mom and apple pie” has become a slogan that some say had its beginning during World War II when soldiers were asked why they were headed to war. The soldiers replied, “For Mom and apple pie.” Whether or not this is true, moms still feel special whenever they hear this phrase.

The first apple seeds were planted by Pilgrims living in the Massachusetts colony in 1635. By the end of the 1800s, over 14,000 apple varieties were grown in America. Today, few of those heritage apples are grown, but the United States is still the world’s largest apple producer.

Apples are part of the Rosaceae family which includes roses, pears and strawberries. Apple trees hybridized for northern climates require 400 to 1,000 chill hours in winter to set fruit. Yuma, of course, does not receive that many chill hours, but you can grow a few apple varieties that require only 200 to 300 chill hours. These apples are not as firm and tart as northern varieties, but they are delicious and perfect for eating fresh from the tree or baked in an apple pie.

Anna apple (Rosaceae malus domestica Anna) and Dorsett Golden apple (Rosaceae malus domestica Dorsett Golden) are two varieties that do well here. They grow 10 to 20 feet tall and wide and survive our summer heat quite well. By the end of summer, you have apples ready to pick.

What must be considered when planting an apple tree? Pick a location where you can enjoy the tree’s beauty and where it will receive six hours of sun. It can handle partial shade but not full shade. Plant the tree in fall or early spring, depending when your nursery offers fruit trees for sale.

Anna apple trees self-pollinate, while Dorsett Golden requires cross-pollination with another tree. When planting more than one apple tree, place them 20 feet apart so their canopies are not crowded when the trees are mature.

Dig a hole only as deep as the tree’s container and twice as wide. Place the tree in the hole and fill in around its roots with soil dug from the hole. Lightly press the soil down as you fill in the hole to eliminate air pockets around the tree’s roots. Top with mulch to help retain moisture in the soil and lessen the amount of weeds.

As with most plants, keep the soil moist for a few weeks after planting to help the tree’s roots establish. As the tree matures, fertilizing is recommended on an annual basis. How much fertilizer depends on the type of soil you have. Two to three pounds of nitrogen in the form of ammonium sulfate can be applied annually around the outer edge of the tree’s canopy and watered in well.

Dorsett Golden was hybridized in Israel. Seeds were then carried to Nassau where it was developed further before making its way to Florida. It is one of the most popular apple trees grown in the U.S. As its name suggests, the fruit has a golden skin and a sweet inner flesh.

Anna apple was also developed in Israel where weather conditions are similar to Southern Arizona. It is a yellow-green apple with a pink blush when fully ripe. Its fruit grows in clusters, that should be thinned to ensure large, ripe fruit.

Clear weeds and grass from beneath the tree’s canopy to prevent diseases caused by too much moisture near the trunk.

This fall or spring, plant an apple tree to add shade and beauty to your yard for years to come. In a few years, you should have apples ready to pick and bake in an apple pie to help celebrate the Fourths of July to come.

Happy gardening!