Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print
Planting: Best in early spring. After planting a young tree, remove any shoots growing on the bottom 18 inches, and cut the leader, or main central trunk, down to 32 to 36 inches. However, if the tree already has many side branches, cut the leader by only 12 inches from the top. Stake after planting.
Years until fruit bearing: 3 to 5
Pollination: Two or more varieties should be planted to achieve the pollination required for fruit production.
Pruning: During the first year, when there is about an inch of new growth, choose a strong bud, usually the one just below the leader cut made at planting time, and remove the two or three buds below it, along with any flowers that on the tree. Afterward, when new growth reaches 2 to 4 inches, select several side shoots that are growing from the leader at wide angles, but not directly across from one another, and remove the others. Prune upper branches shorter than lower ones to retain a conical shape that will ensure sunlight reaches every part of the plant. In July, remove any side shoots that are competing with the central leader, and secure the leader to the stake. During the second and third years, again remove any competing side shoots, and if the central leader grew more than 18 inches in the prior season, cut it back by one-forth in late winter or early spring; if not, remove one-third of growth all around the tree. Continue to fasten the tree to the stake as it grows. Thereafter, prune annually, between February and April to remove crowded branches and establish a horizontal growth habit of branches and an overall conical shape. Pruning also encourages the growth of fruiting wood; unpruned trees can become unproductive. Still, be careful not to overdo it.
Fertilizing: Not required.
Storage: Apples keep best when chilled at 30 to 32 degrees, with a relative humidity of 90 percent (their freezing point doesn't kick in until around 28 degrees). For long-term storage, harvest a week before optimum ripeness is achieved. If you plan on eating within a few days or cooking or baking, allow to ripen fully on the tree.
Recommended varieties: Gala, Jonamac, Empire, Golden Delicious, Freedom, Priscilla, Sansa, Liberty, Keepsake, GoldRush, Williams Pride