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Growing Apples: Malus pumila

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A member of the rose family. The genus Malus contains 30-55 species of apples and crab apples from Asia, Europe, and North America. Apples originated in Central Asia, home of a wild ancestor, Malus sieversii. Most of the cultivated apple varieties are from the European apple (Malus pumila) and its hybrids. Apples are grown worldwide for their fruit and have more than 7500 cultivars.


Form: Tree.
Lifespan: 20-40 productive years.
Leaf retention: Deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate.
Mature Size: 30-50' high and as wide without a grafted rootstock.
Flowers: White tinged with fading pink, five petals, in a cluster of 4-6 flowers.
Bloom: Spring, at the same time leaves develop. Blossoming lasts about 30 days.
Self-fruitful: Some apple cultivars are self-fruitful, others require a different cultivar to provide pollen.
Years before fruiting: One, but number and quality of apples takes 3-5 years to reach full potential.
Fruit: Round, white to pale yellow flesh, waxy skin of various colors.
Months for fruit to ripen: 2.3-7, depending on cultivar.
Storage after harvest: Depending on cultivar, 2 weeks to 1 year in refrigerator.
Leaves: Yellow green to dark green, ovate to lanceolate shaped, finely toothed edges, lighter underneath.
Stems: Trunk bark reddish gray, thin, irregularly fissured.
Roots: The tree is usually grafted onto a rootstock that is pest and disease resistant. The rootstock reduces the height of the tree to 3-15', making the apples easier to harvest.
Cultivars of Note:
'Anna' Self-fruitful, greater production with Ein Shemer or Golden Dorsett nearby, 200 chill hours.
'Ein Shemer' Self-fruitful, 100 chill hours.
'Golden Dorsett' Self-fruitful, 100 chill hours.
'Sundowner' Self-fruitful, 200-300 chill hours.
Wildlife: Attracts bees, birds, mammals. Rabbits find the bark very tasty and chew it off. The bottom trunk of the tree must be surrounded by a layer of 1/2" wire mesh.
Toxic / Danger: Seeds and leaves contain tiny amounts of hydrogen cyanide. Fruit is edible. Seeds are toxic only if eaten in large quantities.
Origin: Central Asia. Domesticated for thousands of years.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 4-10, depending on cultivar.
Chill hours: For the hot desert USDA zones 9+, select a cultivar that has a chill requirement of 300 hours or less.
Heat tolerant: Depends on cultivar.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Moderate.
Water after becoming established: Using two-ring basin irrigation, flood until the soil is wet 18-20" deep, every 7-14 days, depending on soil and temperature.
Soil: Well drained, 3' deep or more, high organic content, slightly sandy, pH 6.1-7.5 (slightly acidic to neutral). Test the hole for drainage before you plant. Soil that remains wet can kill the tree from root rot. Plant on top of a 4' mound, or a slope, to get proper drainage.
Fertilize: Fertilize once a year early spring with an organic fertilizer. Spread the fertilizer out to the drip line and keep one foot away from the trunk. Water immediately.
Mulch: Not necessary in the home garden.
Prune: In winter, remove dead, broken and diseased branches. Remove any branches growing down, straight up, toward the trunk, crossing or rubbing against other branches. After fruit set, remove young apples when they are marble-sized so that only one remains every 6" along a branch. This will prevent the tree from being over stressed and malnourished, and the apples from ripening too small.
Litter: Leaf and apple litter in fall. Both must be removed quickly to prevent disease and avoid attracting mammals.
Propagation: Cuttings grafted onto special rootstock. Seeds do not breed true but can produce a large, vigorous tree.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit.


Former botanical names are Malus domestica and Malus communus.

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Apple: Malus pumila - flowers

Apple: Malus pumila - fruit

Apple: Malus pumila - fruit

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