Our apple trees, like many fruit trees, are propagated by grafting: joining a scion (which becomes the fruiting part, or top of the tree) to a rootstock (which becomes the root of the tree). This grafting allows the two parts to grow together and function as a single plant. Although the rootstock has an influence on the ultimate size and hardiness of the tree, the scion alone determines what kind of fruit the tree will yield. Therefore, when we produce fruit trees for northern climates, there are two things to consider:
- Which cultivars (cultivated varieties) to graft onto that rootstock
Both must be hardy and vigorous enough to withstand the lowest Winter temperatures and bear fruit during a short season.
The rootstock determines the ultimate size of the tree. Generally, there are "standard," "dwarf," and "semi-dwarf" rootstocks. Choosing one or the other of these rootstocks does not influence the type of fruit yielded by a tree, but for other growers, it can have a huge effect on how winter-hardy the tree is, how well it grows, and whether it produces a crop. "Dwarf" trees are made by grafting onto rootstocks that are inherently weak growers; they stunt the growth of the tree intentionally. There is a popular notion that dwarf trees will produce fruit sooner, but in USDA Zone 3 or 4, the use of the dwarfing rootstock can cause even a hardy cultivar to winter kill or to simply linger season after season with minimal growth and no fruit. If you live in a Northern climate with a short growing season, dwarf trees will not work for you. You need a rootstock that will grow vigorously for 2-3 months and then start hardening off for winter at the proper time.
We do not grow or sell dwarf or semi-dwarf trees, because they do not have the hardiness, vigor, or disease resistance needed to thrive in our northern climate.
For our apple trees we use the Russian rootstock Antonovka, an extremely hardy and vigorous standard size rootstock which can produce strong growth during our limited growing season. "Standard" means the Antonovka is not a "dwarfing" rootstock; it will not limit the growth and thus the ultimate size of the tree, but rather will allow it to grow freely to full size- about 20 feet. For growers in Zones 3 and 4, an apple on Antonovka "standard" rootstock will be much hardier, grow more vigorously, and bear fruit sooner and in greater unity the the same apple on "dwarfing" rootstock. If you wish a smaller tree, this can be accomplished by pruning. A well-pruned apple tree on Antonovka rootstock, when grown in Zones 3-5, will be equivalent to a "semi-dwarf" tree in size (10-12 feet at maturity), and it will have many advantages. For instance, your tree will have the vigor to complete with grass that grows near the base of the tree, while a dwarf tree must have "clean culture" (no sod) to the drip line. It will not need to be guyed or staked, whereas dwarf trees tend to be shallow-rooted and almost always require support. Your tree might well be producing fruit for your great-grandchildren, while dwarf trees must be replanted every 10-20 years. Finally, the crop yielded by your mature standard tree will be many times greater than that of a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree.
We have a collection of over 200 varieties of apples that can be grown in our climate. The hardiness ratings (from hardiest to least hardy): E-V-M-P can help narrow the choices for those in colder areas,
Most of the apple cultivars that we offer are self-fruitful, i.e. they do not need to be planted near a different variety of apple to produce fruit. However, since even self-fruitful varieties can often produce better crops with cross-pollination, we recommend that the backyard gardener plant more than one apple variety in his/her orchard location.