How to grow six varieties of apples, ripening over five months, in the same space as one apple tree.

Choosing Apple Varieties for Your Back Yard

Here's where you may have to do a little bit of research, because planting the right varieties for your climate is critical and that's difficult to change once the tree is growing. The particular orchard that we're following is located in a Mediterranean-type climate, about a half-dozen miles from the ocean on the coast of northern California, and your location's climate may require a completely different choice of varieties. Planning is important, your orchard will be in production for many years, and a poorly-performing tree will just take up space and resources.

The Fortuna Orchard Variety List

These choices were made based on the location (seven miles from the Pacific in northern California) and in part because of the taste preferences of the family. Soil quality played a part because the orchard was planted in fairly heavy soil. Winters are wet here, and conditions during the growing season are cool and include early morning and late afternoon fog.

The following list of varieties were chosen to give a long window of ripening fruit in Fortuna. These are not dwarf trees, we purchased regular trees at the local garden center. The rootstock on these varieties was M-111, an excellent all-around rootstock for apples in this area because it tolerates wet and poor soil. This rootstock allows the trees to grow to about three-fourths of the standard size, but remember, we're going to train and prune them so that all parts of the trees can be reached from the ground.

Customizing Your Own Orchard

Choosing the varieties for your orchard can be confusing, considering that over 250 different strains of just Red Delicious apples have been cultivated. So how do you choose out of the 6,000 or so available varieties? Don't just buy something at your local GardenWorld just because it has a pretty package. See your local Agriculture Department Extension Service or a local professional nursery or two, and they will be able to assist you greatly in choosing the correct ones. Visit a local apple orchard, they'll be thrilled to help you out. Ask local master gardeners. Notice how the word 'local' has been used five times already in this paragraph? What works in the next county over may not work in yours, you may have a different soil or the climate may not be the same. Learn up on rootstocks and make sure you get a variety that likes your dirt. Make sure each apple variety will have a pollinator. Search the Internet for more information once you've narrowed it down to specific varieties.

Don't rush into this. This is a multi-year commitment and you'll want to get it as right as you can. Taste test apples that were recommended to see if you like them (both before and after they ripen) before you commit to growing and maintaining them for the next twenty years.

Remember also that early apples don't store well, not even in the refrigerator, but fruit from the late maturing varieties will keep well into the winter. You may wish to plant extra for storage.

Buying Quality Fruit Trees

Here's probably the most important item on this page. Buy the best stock you can find and refuse it if it's not in the best shape. Just like with garden seeds, where you can either buy top of the line quality merchandise or floor sweepings, the amount of work and resources your plants and trees will require in your yard are the same. Poor stock will handicap you from the very beginning. No matter how hard you try or how much work or money you put into it later, you can't make a mediocre bargain tree produce quality fruit. The few dollars you save at the beginning are a very bad trade-off for decades of poor harvests.

But whether you've fully chosen your varieties or not, the next step is figuring out the optimum location for your fruit trees. Grab a pencil and paper and we'll design the layout of your orchard in your back yard. You'll be surprised at what fits!

NEXT: Squeezing All This Into Your Back Yard