With over 55 million tons produced each year, apples are one of the most widely cultivated fruits in the world. Apple trees thrive in many cool climates and when cared for properly a single tree can produce more than 400 pounds of apples per year. Apple trees are most recognizable when their blossoms are present in the spring, but there are several unique characteristics of apple trees that make the trees such a popular choice for home gardeners and orchard owners alike.
There are thousands of different apple varieties, but the basic characteristics of apple trees are the same. Apple trees are deciduous with alternate, toothed, oval leaves 1 to 2-1/2 inches long and 3/4 to 2 inches wide. The trees generally remain somewhat small, between 10 to 39 feet, and while they can grow taller. they are usually pruned to make for easier harvesting. Apple blossoms, perhaps the most beautiful and fragrant characteristic of apple trees, bloom in the spring and are white with a slight pink coloring. Mature apples are ready for harvesting in the fall.
The overall appearance of apple trees is one of the most noticeable characteristics of apple trees to many casual observers, even when they're not in bloom. Apple trees, when grown in full sun, divide into many large branches low on the trunk, resulting in a canopy of branches and leaves that is usually wider than the tree is tall.
One of the most important characteristics of apple trees for home gardeners to consider is the climate that their trees are best suited for. While apple trees can take warm temperatures, they do have a winter chilling requirement that can be different for each of the apple varieties. The chilling requirement, common in fruit and nut trees, is simply the amount of hours between 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 45 degrees Fahrenheit that the tree receives each winter. While apple trees can survive freezing temperatures, it is important that they receive between 300 and 1200 hours (depending on the variety) of the chilling requirement for even blooming and normal growth.
Home gardeners who want to grow apple trees should know that planting seeds from an apple will not always result in an apple tree of the same variety as the fruit from which the seeds came. Instead, the seeds are a mixture of the tree it was grown on and the tree that served as the cross pollinator. Instead, apple trees are grown from grafts designed to produce the desired variety of apple. Apple tree grafts are readily available from gardening centers and online retailers.
Most apple lovers are aware that Washington is the top apple growing state in the U.S., largely due to its favorable climate for apple tree growth and production. The characteristics of apple trees also make it suitable for growth in the other top states for apple production, which are New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and California. The top five apple varieties grown in the U.S. include Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji and Granny Smith.