A Day at the Orchard: Spring Planting

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it is spring! That means it’s time to head to the orchard and plant some of my grafted trees. While I don’t own an orchard, I am lucky enough that a couple of the owners allow me to plant trees in their orchards. This gives me a means to experiment with grafting and growing trees because if they work out, I can then take them to the orchard and plant them in their permanent home. I find this effort to be very rewarding. This is because I get the opportunity to try different grafting techniques like bud grafting and scion grafting as well as propagation of rootstock. You can check out some of my earlier grafting experiments in the following posts.

Bud Grafting Apple Trees

When apple season is winding down and the leaves are starting to change, it becomes time to think about next year. Specifically, it’s time to start thinking about apple tree…

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Grafting: Bud Versus Scion

This is my second year learning to graft apple trees. Last year I learned the important lessons of making sure your rootstock is growing before you graft scion wood. I…

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Grafting: Lessons Learned

Whether you are making your first hard cider or grafting your first scion to a rootstock, everyone who has done it hundreds or even thousands of times had their first…

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However, one of the most exciting aspects of learning to graft was the ability to diversify and propagate the gene pool of apple trees. In America, it is estimated that there were over 14,000 different named apple varieties at one point in history. Sadly, most of those are now lost. There are groups of people that are actively seeking to rediscover many of these varieties. Check out the Lost Apple Project, which is one of these great organizations. For me, I love trying new apples and just like new ciders, I never found a new apple that I didn’t enjoy sampling. Nothing gets me excited like finding some new variety that I have only read about or some wild apple that was found on a forgotten or seedling tree. Nothing you read can prepare you for the first bite of a new apple and even if the apple turns out to be less than desirable, it’s always a joy to try a new one because it’s always a surprise.

When my grafting does succeed and I successfully propagated an apple, I get even more excited about taking the tree to the orchard for planting. That’s because while I know it will take a few years, it has the chance to give someone else the opportunity to experience that same exhilarating feeling of biting into an unknown apple variety for the very first time. It also means we will have more apple trees producing fruit that will work well with cider. Yes, I am guilty! I tend to propagate trees that I think will improve the craft cider market in the US. It’s nice that many American heirloom apples also contribute positively to cider making.

The other great part of spring planting is that I get to see the orchard in a different state. Usually, I’m spending time there only when the fruit is ripening and the leaves start turning color. This year, I got to see the leaves budding and many of the trees in bloom. It was a beautiful afternoon and while I got a few blisters digging holes for the trees, I have no regrets of a day spent among the apples blossoms and mountains of southeastern Arizona. Check out some of the wonderful scenery. If you are wondering, we planted Arkansas Black, Vilberie, Belle de Boskoop, Hewe’s Crab, Roxbury Russet, and one of my ”Super Yellow” trees.

Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to find, propagate, and plant some new or heirloom varieties in your part of the world.

Have you never made cider? Check out my book, it not only has useful tips and detailed methods for making cider but I have also included data for many of the apple varieties that I have used. It will explain everything from making hard cider to pairing cider with food. I even include my favorite food recipes along with the recipes for making your own hard cider. You can find it as an ebook and a 7×10 paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Vigo Presses in the UK. Click on these links to check them out.

Don’t forget to follow me to get weekly articles about ciderWould you like to get something similar each week? Follow me and I’ll send you similar articles about making, experiencing, and enjoying hard cider.

2 thoughts on “A Day at the Orchard: Spring Planting

  1. My first reply to your emails. . .

    I’ve enjoyed grafting as well. I received a couple of varieties of cuttings from the USDA germ plasm bank which collected them from Kazakhstan. I grafted them onto MM111 because that rootstock produces a smaller than full size tree and grows well in our clayey soil. Even though the trees are only a few years old and about 3 feet high, they have produced a fair number of apples. The apples are not the most exciting, but the satisfaction of propagating something completely different from commercial varieties is wonderful. The germ plasm bank grades all its Kazakhstan varieties for juice and sweetness, but the best for those two qualities were not available when I made my request. Still the results were satisfying.

    Jerry McCourt

    Lakebay, WA

    Where, unlike Arizona, the spring has been cold and wet.


    1. I tried for two years to get some Malus sieversii from the USDA but they have had severe fire blight and not sent any scion wood out. Instead, they sent me several packets of seeds from Malus sieversii apples. There is no guarantee the seeds are pollinated by only Malus sieversii but they have most of the M. sieversii trees in a common area so they thing they would be like the natural seeds from Kazakhstan.


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