You can grow apples at home, even in a small garden

Apple Dwarf 'Royal Gala' Picture courtesy Dwarf 'Royal Gala' Picture courtesy are popular for their great taste and nutritional value, and are grown worldwide because they are the most versatile of fruit trees, with a wide range of cultivars. Apples can be grown in large pots and new dwarf hybrids are compact growers, suitable for small gardens. Read more below to find interesting facts about apples and everything you need to know to grow them successfully at home.

Description, History and Interesting Facts About Apples

Apples are members of the Rose family (Rosaceae), and the apples we know today are varieties of the species Malus domestica, which is descended from a species of wild apple known as Malus sieversii, which can still be found growing wild in the mountains of Central Asia, in southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and north-western China.

Malus domestica is thought to have been domesticated 4 000 to 10 000 years ago, and cultivation of the species most likely began on the forested western slopes of the Tian Shan Mountains, a large system of mountain ranges in Central Asia. Cultivation continued over millennia, facilitating the transfer of genetic material from other apple species into the open-pollinated seeds.  Soft dessert apples like Malus asiatica and Malus prunifolia have been cultivated for thousands of years in China, and are believed to be hybrids between Malus sieversii and Malus baccata.

Marco Polo’s journeys to the East, and the establishment of The Silk Road, an ancient trade route linking China with the West, led to these species being introduced to Europe. Hybridization between the species continued with Wild Crabapples from Siberia (Malus baccata), (Malus orientalis) from the Caucasus, and (Malus sylvestris) from Europe. Significant exchange with the Crab-apple (Malus sylvestris) resulted in many populations of apples being more related to crab-apples than to domesticated apples (Malus sieversii).

The earliest evidence for domesticated apples (Malus domestica) in Europe is from the Sammardenchia-Cueis site in north-eastern Italy, where apple seeds were found that were  carbon dated to around 4 000 BC. There was substantial apple production in the Greco-Roman era from around the 8th century BC to the 5th century AD. And, although it is unclear when apple tree grafting was invented, it was certainly known then.

In the 16th century AD many Europeans visited or moved to the newly-found Americas and some also searched for new routes to Asia.  The Spanish introduced apples to the indigenous people of the Chiloé Archipelago, a group of islands lying off the coast of Chile, in the Los Lagos Region, and the trees adapted well. The only apples indigenous to North America are crab apples, which were once called "common apples", but in the 17th century domesticated apples were introduced by the colonists, and by 1625 the first apple orchard on the North American continent was planted in Boston by Reverend William Blaxton.

The seeds of apple cultivars spread along the Native American trade routes, and were cultivated on many colonial farms, and by 1845 a United States Apples Nursery Catalogue sold 350 of the best cultivars, showing the proliferation of new North American cultivars by the early 19th century. The development of large irrigation projects in Eastern Washington in the 20th century allowed for the development of the multibillion-dollar fruit industry, of which the apple is still the leading product.

Winter apples, picked in late autumn and stored just above freezing, have been an important food in Asia and Europe for millennia, and until the 20th century, farmers stored apples in frost-proof cellars during the winter for their own use, or for resale. Later, improved transportation of fresh apples by train and road replaced the necessity for storage. Today, the controlled atmosphere facilities used to keep apples fresh year-round using high humidity, low oxygen, and controlled carbon dioxide levels, were first used in the United States in the 1960’s.

Apples have been produced commercially in South Africa since the 1880’s and have been exported from South Africa to the United Kingdom since the 1890’s. Initially, orchards were developed in the Western Cape's deciduous fruit production regions, but today apples are produced throughout the country.

The Domestic or Orchard Apple (Malus domestica)

Apples we know today are a far cry from their ancient ancestors. Years of breeding for selection of fruit size, acidity, colour, firmness, and soluble sugar, has led to the creation of more than 7 500 new cultivars that ripen at different times during the season, with skin colours ranging from yellow and green to bright red and pink, as well as blush types. Different cultivars are bred for various tastes and uses, including cooking, eating raw, and cider or apple juice production.

Apples grown from seed tend to be very different from those of their parents, and the resultant fruit frequently lacks desired characteristics. Apple trees grown without rootstocks also tend to be larger and much slower to fruit. Therefore, for commercial purposes, apple cultivars are propagated by clonal grafting onto rootstocks, which are used to control the speed of growth and the size of the resulting tree, allowing for easier harvesting.

The apple is a deciduous tree, and wild trees can reach up to 9m in height with an equal spread, but in cultivation, grafted rootstocks generally stand 2 to 4.5 tall with an equal spread, and exciting new dwarf cultivars are also now available. When apples are cultivated this way, the size, shape and branch density are determined by both rootstock selection and pruning methods.

The simple spring blossoms are white with a tinge of pink that gradually fades, appearing at the same time as the fresh new leaves to create a perfect picture of spring. The flowers are produced in small clusters of 4 to 6 flowers, called a “cyme”. The central flower of the inflorescence is called the "king bloom" as it opens first and can develop a larger fruit.

Popular Apples Cultivars for South African Gardens

It’s essential to get expert advice when selecting your apple trees and your local garden centre will stock the correct varieties for your climatic region, and will also help you to select the best cultivars and pollinators for your specific needs.

Malus domestica 'Golden Delicious'

Golden Delicious has sweet and crisp medium to large-sized apples with a pale green to golden-yellow skin. Its smaller growth habit makes it very suitable for small gardens and large pots. Due to its adaptability to a wide range of climates and various soil types, as well as its long storage life, golden delicious has remained popular with gardeners since the late 19th century. It starts flowering around early October and is ready to harvest from late February to early March. It needs cross pollination, and ‘Granny Smith’ or ‘Early Red One’ are recommended.

Malus domestica ‘Granny Smith’

Granny Smith is an apple cultivar named after Maria Ann Smith, who propagated it in 1868, in Australia. Granny Smith produces apples with bright green skins, and a texture that is crisp and firm, with a juicy, sweet and tart flavour that is perfect for cooking and baking. It flowers in October and ripens in late summer, from February to late March. Granny Smith needs to be cross pollinated with ‘Early Red One’ or ‘Golden Delicious’.

Malus domestica ‘Cripps Pink’

Cripps Pink is also called "Pink Lady", and this attractive modern apple variety comes from Australia, and is the only truly pink apple on the market. This relatively new cultivar is a cross between Golden Delicious and Lady Williams. Besides its reddish-pink skin colour, the flesh is very firm with a snappy tartness and crisp, sweet taste. The flesh resists browning when cut, making for a delicious fresh-eating apple with a long storage life. Pink lady is not self-pollinating, and requires Granny Smith to pollinate it.

Apple Dwarf 'Fuji' Picture courtesy Dwarf 'Fuji' Picture courtesy domestica ‘Royal Beauty’

Royal Beauty is a crisp, red apple with red stripes and tasty, sweet flesh. It flowers from the first week in October and is ready to harvest towards the end of January. Royal Beauty requires a pollinator, and Golden Delicious or Granny Smith work well for this.

Malus domestica ‘Anna’

Anna is self-pollinating and was developed in Israel to suit warmer climates, or low-chill conditions. It is known for its generous crops, producing apples with a light, greenish-yellow skin and a distinctive red blush. The crisp white flesh is sweet with a little tang that is always refreshing. Anna blooms around mid-October and is harvested from February to March.

Malus domestica ‘Early Red One’

The Early Red Apple tree produces large fruits that are really sweet and delicious with deep-red skin and a crispy texture. It flowers around mid-October and is ready to harvest towards the end of February to early March. Granny Smith or Golden Delicious apples are used as pollinators.

Are Dwarf  Apple Trees Available in South Africa?

Dwarf fruit trees like apples are becoming increasingly popular in South Africa, and are available at selected garden centres, and online.

The dwarf apple trees mentioned below are available from Linda and Bev at Just Berry Plants. These sisters share a passion for teaching gardeners and communities how to grow their own produce. Whether you have a large garden or an indoor pot, Bev and Linda can guide you through the process of caring for and growing your own berry plants and fruit trees.

Their dwarf apple trees are grafted onto a dwarf M9 rootstock, which is small but very productive, and if cared for correctly the little trees will start bearing fruit only 1 year after planting out. The rootstock allows the tree to grow up to 3m tall, with a width of 1m.  Because the rootstock is small the branches may need support, especially when they are fruiting. Although some of these apples are self-fertile, they perform better if planted with a different variety for pollination. They also require winter temperatures below 7°C.

These delightful little apple trees are perfect for even the smallest of gardens, and they can be planted closely together to make an ‘apple tree hedge’. You can even espalier them against a wall or fence, or simply grown them singly in pots.

Click here to visit Just Berry Plants

Members can click here to read my article “How to Grow Fruit Trees in Small Spaces”

Dwarf ‘Granny Smith’ Apple Tree

Dwarf Granny Smith apples are the same as the famous bright green Granny Smith we all know and love, with its crisp and firm flesh with a juicy, sweet, and tarty flavour. It flowers in late September and the fruit ripens in late summer, from February to late March. It needs to be cross pollinated with ‘Early Red One’ or ‘Golden Delicious’.

Dwarf ‘Fuji’ Apple Tree

Dwarf Fuji apples have a lovely red and yellow skin and the texture of the flesh is crispy and firm, with a juicy, deliciously sweet flavour. It flowers in late September and the fruit will ripen during late summer, in February and March. It is essential to have another pollinator, and Granny Smith is recommended.

Dwarf ‘Royal Gala’ Apple Tree

Royal Gala is a red-striped yellow apple with a terrific crunch and reliably pleasant sweet flavour. It became well known in Australia, but it's actually about 90 years old, developed by New Zealander John Kidd in the 1930's as a cross between a ‘Golden Delicious’ and another one of his selections ‘Kidd's Orange Red’. This apple stores well and is suitable for warmer climates with low-chill conditions. It flowers in late September and the fruit ripens in late summer, from February to March. Although this apple is self-fertile, it performs much better if planted with a cross pollinator like Granny Smith.

Apple 'Anna' Picture courtesy 'Anna' Picture courtesy are the Health Benefits of Apples?

The adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” was said to be an old saying from Pembrokeshire in Wales, but it is believed that the original phrase was actually “eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread”, as first recorded in the 1860’s. In the 19th and early 20th century the rhyming evolved yet again to say “an apple a day, no doctor to pay” and “an apple a day sends the doctor away”.

The concept that apples are one of the healthiest of fruits is very old, and throughout the ages the apple has symbolized health and healthy habits. The fruit is documented in traditional Ayurveda medicine, dating back about 1 500 years in southern Asia, and the ancient Romans and Anglo-Saxons also knew about the healthful properties of apples. Today the apple is still used by governments and private health organizations to symbolize lifestyle choices that lead to health and wellness, for very good reasons.

Nutritional Facts about Apples

A single medium raw apple with its skin on provides about: 95 Calories, 0 grams of Fat, 1 gram Protein, 25 grams Carbohydrates, 19 grams of naturally occurring Sugars, 3 grams of Fibre, and 86% Water.

Apples are relatively high in vitamin C, and one medium apple contains 9% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C.  Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps the immune system work properly to fight off disease. It also helps improve the absorption of iron from plant foods, and is required for collagen production.

The fruit is high in phytochemicals, including quercetin, catechins, chlorogenic acids, and epicatechin, all of which have strong antioxidant properties.

Are Apples Good for the Teeth?

Although chomping on a raw apple a day won’t turn already bad teeth into shiny white ones, it can do wonders for your teeth and gums because its sweet and tender flesh produces lots of saliva which protects the surface of the teeth and gums, slowing down tooth decay.

Can Apples Help with Heart Health?

Apples are a rich source of fibre, polyphenols, and other nutrients that support heart health. Studies have linked apples to a lower risk of heart disease, and show that eating only one small apple a day, and especially with the skin on, can decrease the risk of heart disease, as well as risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Can Apples Reduce the Risk of Diabetes?

Research suggests that people who eat two servings of whole fruits like apples per day have a 36% lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The soluble fibre in apples may also protect against diabetes by slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates, preventing blood sugar spikes. The concentration of flavonoids, including quercetin in apples may help lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.
Since apples contain carbohydrates, people who already have diabetes should try to stick with one small apple, equal to around 15 carbohydrates per meal or snack.

Can Apples Help with Weight Management?

Apples are high in water and fibre, which is linked to weight loss, and because they are low in calories, can support weight management by keeping you feeling full and reducing your daily calorie intake.

Can Apples Help to Improve Digestion?

Because apples are a good source of pectin, a soluble fibre that absorbs water in the digestive tract, and also works as a prebiotic by encouraging the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut, apples are great at improving digestion.

Can Apples Decrease the Risk of Cancer?

Several observational studies suggest that apples may help decrease the risk of breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and certain cancers of the digestive tract. However, more human studies are needed to confirm the anti-cancer effects of apples.

Because apples are rich in antioxidants, they may decrease cancer risk by neutralizing cancer-causing free radicals. In addition, the phytochemicals in apples can help slow down the growth of cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying.

Adding fibre to your diet has been recommended by doctors for a very long time, for good reasons. The fibre found in apples may help protect against colorectal cancer, and recent findings from the American Institute for Cancer Research suggest that for every 10-gram increase in dietary fibre there is a 7% decrease in the risk of colorectal cancer.

Apples also contain flavonol, a known enemy of pancreatic cancers. If you consume apples a few times a day, you can reduce your risk of getting a tumour in your pancreas. There are also the so-called triterpenoids, compounds within the peel. By ingesting them, you reduce the risk of tumour growth. Research suggests that soon apple-based cancer medications will be on the market.

Can Apples Support Brain Health?

Apples do slow down mental aging, and recent studies done on mice have shown some startling data regarding the connection between apples and mental health.  The quercetin in apples may help protect neurons in the brain from oxidative damage, and the mice in the studies which consumed apples together with their normal diets showed greater intellectual capacities, and they also had higher levels of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter.  This can be an important breakthrough when it comes to defeating Alzheimer’s, and studies are ongoing.

Thanks to a few promising studies connecting apples and Parkinson’s, it was shown that the high concentration of antioxidants in apples prevented dopamine-producing cells from breaking down, and this slows down the process that leads to Parkinson’s.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Eating Apples?

Apples are unlikely to cause any serious side effects when consumed in moderation. However, some people experience bloating, gas, and digestive issues after eating apples. This is because apples are high in fibre and contain fructose and sorbitol, which are sugars that some people can't tolerate.

Some people have an apple allergy, and studies have shown that 70% of people with birch pollen allergy develop pollen-related food allergies, especially to apples. This is due to the similarity between apple proteins and birch pollen.

Lastly, while a few apple seeds are unlikely to cause harm, consuming too many can be dangerous. This is because chewed or crushed apple seeds release a highly toxic compound called cyanide.

Apple 'Pink Lady' Picture courtesy 'Pink Lady' Picture courtesy to Use Apples in the Kitchen?

Apples come in various colours and flavours which lend themselves to a variety of dishes. They are healthiest eaten raw with the skin on as a snack, or lightly cooked in baked goods, and certain varieties are more suitable for making ciders, juices, jams, and even wine.

There is a world of apple recipes out there, so go online to find your favourites. Besides the traditional uses of apples, why not try pairing sliced apples with nut butter, or use applesauce instead of butter in baking recipes. Apple slices are also delicious blended into smoothies using coconut milk, almond mild, or your favourite milk substitute, and you can add a variety of your favourite spices like cinnamon or ginger, and we all know how wonderful apples are if simply chopped fresh and added to salads.

How to Use Apple Trees in the Garden?

Today apples trees are cultivated in gardens worldwide because they are the most versatile of fruit trees, and the range of cultivars is such that they will suit most types of soil and climates. The various cultivars will also ripen at different times during the season, so you may be tempted to plant more than just one.

The lovely dark green leaves of apple trees provide welcome shade for the summer garden, whilst allowing the winter sunshine through. And in spring when the blossoms and new leaves appear apple trees are just picture perfect. In summer their fruits will inspire you to use them in the most innovative ways, and if there’s a bumper crop, baskets of freshly harvested apples are always welcomed by family, friends and neighbours. 

New dwarf apple trees are compact growers suitable for small gardens. They are charming if grown on espaliers, in a pot, or as a small apple hedge, and if they are surrounded by beautiful flowering companion plants that attract vital pollinators like bees, and also help to deter pests naturally, your tiny garden could be sustainable and quite delightful.

If you are interested, members can click here to read this article ‘How to Grow Fruit Trees in Small Spaces

Apple 'Granny Smith' Picture courtesy 'Granny Smith' Picture courtesy Planting with Apple Trees

For centuries gardeners have maximized the space in their gardens by growing fruits, veggies, herbs, and ornamental plants in combinations that benefit each other. These gardens are not only more functional, and especially for smaller gardens, but also much more aesthetically pleasing to the senses. Grouping companion plants together also protects the topsoil and helps to conserve moisture, acting as living mulch, and keeping the weeds down.

Just remember that the landscape and climate play a big factor in deciding which companion plants are right for your apple trees, and it is advisable to plant the companion plants at the same time as your small tree so they can grow up together. Ideally it would be best to plant herbs and perennials like mint, that prefer some shade, closer to the trunks of the trees, and the sun lovers further away where they will still catch the sunlight as the tree grows.

As your apple trees mature the branches will cast more shade over the years, so your garden will also need to evolve, and you may have to relocate some of your sun loving perennials, but this is not a problem as most perennials are easy to relocate. Growing herbs and perennials in pots underneath the trees can be a good solution for very small spaces, but ensure that the pots and the growing medium used are lightweight, so they can easily be moved out of the way to facilitate pruning, spraying and harvesting.


Marigolds are wonderful annuals to include because they have excellent pest control properties, warding off most common garden pests with their smell. They are also used as a ‘bait crop’ for red spider mites as these pests are attracted to marigolds, and will often attack them first. Once infested, you can simply uproot and dispose of the marigolds, and if you collect their seeds regularly, you will always have a constant supply to sow again.

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Chrysanthemums are as impressive as marigolds for pest control, and simply planting them every few meters around your apple trees will keep the vast majority of pests away. There are many types of Chrysanthemum, but for planting around apple trees, the charming little white flowering, carpet forming Chrysanthemum paludosum is highly recommended.

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Nasturtiums are also top of the list when it comes to apples, as they repel coddling moths. They are also typically used as a sacrificial trap plant, because pesky insects like aphids and worms really seem to love these guys and will go directly to them instead of bothering your apple trees. Once infested, the nasturtiums are easily disposed of, and if you collect their seeds, you will always have a constant supply to sow again.

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Due to their pungent oniony smell, all members of the onion family (Allium) are well known for being excellent natural pest controls and will help to prevent apple scab. Chives are highly recommended because they are so easy to grow and look stunning in the garden when in full bloom.

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Dill is a perfect companion plant to grow near apple trees as it attracts tons of beneficial insects, like bees to pollinate, and ladybirds and other predator bugs that feed on common garden pests.

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Fennel is a great deterrent to aphids if planted around apple trees, and particularly in spring when young aphids are rampantly devouring fresh green shoots.

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Mint wards off moths and other pests due to its menthol aroma. There are many types to choose from, and because it likes some shade is good to plant closer to the trunks of apple trees.

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Dandelions are definitely deserving of their place on this list, as these beautiful ‘weeds’ are not only good and healthy to eat, they help to strengthen the roots of plants, and also release ethylene gas which promotes the fruiting and ripening of fruit. Collect seeds in the wild to cultivate underneath your trees.

Click here to see Google Images of Dandelions


These beautiful perennial flowers attract beneficial insect predators to the garden to feast on a plethora of common garden pests. They also draw in local pollinators like bees to boost your apple tree’s flower and fruit production.

Members can click here to read more about Yarrow


This herb is the perfect low-key addition to sunny areas around your apple trees, as it attracts bees and other beneficial insects. Coriander is also great for helping drain an area with poor natural drainage, and improves the nutrient levels in the ground.

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Rhubarb is an old-fashioned perennial plant that works wonderfully as a companion plant for apple trees. It not only solves nitrogen issues, but also wards off harmful bugs as well.

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Chamomile is sought after for its antibacterial and antifungal properties, and it helps to protect apple trees and other plants from harmful bacteria, fungi, and diseases like mould and mildew.

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Lavender is an excellent companion plant for apple trees because it attracts bees and its pungent smell wards off many garden insects, as well as large pests like deer and rabbits. It’s good to use further away from the trees in a sunny spot, and if clipped regularly, makes a lovely low hedge.

Members can click here to read more about Lavender

Apple 'Golden Delicious' Picture courtesy 'Golden Delicious' Picture courtesy to Cultivate Apple Trees?

If you’re planning on growing apples in South Africa, you will need to consider the climate and soil conditions of your region, and knowledge of pruning and pest control is also essential.

Which are the Main Apple Growing Regions in South Africa?

In South Africa, commercial apple production occurs primarily in the Western Cape, as its climate is perfect for apple production. Smaller plantings are also grown commercially in the Eastern and Northern Cape, and North West Province. Large areas in Mpumalanga and the Free State are now also devoted to commercial apple growing.

There is a very wide selection of apple varieties available to gardeners today, each with its own specific requirements, and if you select the correct cultivars, apples can be grown in gardens almost anywhere in South Africa. Your local nursery should have the correct cultivars available for your specific climate.

Do Apples Need a Cross Pollinator?

Most apples are self-infertile, which means that they won’t set a good crop with their own pollen but will crop consistently when pollinated by compatible cultivars. However, there are exceptions and some apples are self-fertile. To ensure good pollination and fruit set, choose cultivars that flower at the same time.

How Are Apple Trees Pollinated?

Bees are the main pollinators, and farmers often introduce them into their apple orchards during flowering season. As discussed above, home growers can attract bees by planting companion plants bees love close to the trees.

Which Climate Type and Temperature is Best Suited for Growing Apples?

Although there is a very diverse range of apple trees available for varying climate types, and apples hold the reputation of a robust autumn fruit crop which can grow in nearly any hardiness zone, apples thrive in temperate climates where it's cold in the winter ‘high chilling’, with hot and fairly dry summers with medium to high humidity; rather than an arid, hot and dry climate. If you live in warmer winter regions, select varieties that have ‘low-chilling’ requirements.

Apples are not recommended for areas where temperatures regularly fall near or below freezing or those prone to late frosts which can decimate the blossoms and affect fruit production. And while it is possible to grow apples in warmer climates, they grow best in regions where temperatures rarely rise above 32°C.

Extreme weather swings can alter that crisp, sweet flavour, and your apples could taste different from year to year based on prevailing weather and climatic conditions. For example, warmer than normal spring temperatures can cause an early bloom that may lead to changes in the firmness of the apple, and its acid concentration levels. Too much summer heat and sun can produce sunburnt fruit, altering the colour of the skin and leaving it pink or brown instead of red. A high number of very hot days will also often result in softer fruit that takes on a mushy or mealy texture.

What is Chill Units in Apples?

Apples flower in mid to late-spring, depending on the cultivar, and to flower well they need a long period at low temperatures, and the best flowering conditions are spring temperatures around 4 to 7°C. The time exposed to these particular temperatures is often referred to as “chill units” or “hours”, and refers to the total amount of time a deciduous fruit tree needs to be exposed to effective winter temperatures to help them break dormancy, and flower and set fruit normally.

For most deciduous fruit trees, the number of cold units for a specific region will determine the suitability of a cultivar. For apples, cold units are high, 900 to 1 200 hours or more, and insufficient cold hours will result in delayed foliation, which in turn leads to poor growth and inadequate fruit production.

Extreme cold can lead to a smaller crop, and even though apples might survive a cold snap of more than four hours below freezing, it can damage the crop. In areas subjected to heavy frosts, choose late-flowering or more frost-resistant cultivars.

What are Advection Freezes and Radiation Freezes?

Advection freezes and radiation freezes are two types of events that apple farmers are always on the lookout for.

An advection freeze hits when a dry, cold air mass hits and conditions are windy throughout the night and early morning, radiating away any heat held within the plant and soil surrounding it.

A radiation freeze happens when a layer of cold, dry air forms beneath a layer of warm air on a clear, calm night, and if the tree turns colder than the air, it can suffer damage.

This is why apple farmers pay close attention to local weather forecasts and gauge what times they may need to apply frost protection methods such as covers, wind machines, heaters and water applications.

How Much Sun Do Apple Trees Require?

Apples prefer a sheltered and full sun position in the garden, which means a daily dose of sun that exceeds six hours.

What Soil Type and pH is best for Growing Apples?

Apples grow best on well-drained loam soils having a depth of at least 60cm and a slightly acid to neutral pH range of 5.5 to 7. The soil should not be waterlogged and free from hard substrata like rocks. Soils with heavy clay or compacted subsoil are to be avoided. Apple trees also don’t do well in very sandy or very acidic soils. When planting, to get your trees off to a good start, add plenty of compost to the planting holes.

If you are growing apples in large pots, ensure that you use a good quality potting soil mixed with some compost. Adding vermiculite or a block of palm peat will further enhance the texture of the soil, allowing it to retain water, while at the same time allowing for excellent drainage. 

When is the Best Time to Plant Apple Trees?

Apple trees grown in nursery bags can be planted out at any time. In our mild and moist winter rainfall regions apples can be planted out in autumn or in spring, and in the central or northern regions of the country apples are usually planted in spring.

If you have planned on planting companion plants together with your apple trees, as discussed above, you should plant them at this stage so they can grow up together.

How to Plant an Apple Tree?

Growing a fruit tree will require that you dig your hole at least double the diameter of the plant bag  and at least 60cm to 1m deep. First cut out the round underside of the plant bag before placing the tree into the hole. Ensure that it is at the correct planting depth and is not planted deeper than it was in its nursery bag.  Then slide the plant bag off before adding your soil. When you cover the roots with soil, tamp it down as you go to ensure that the roots are completely touching the dirt.

How to Space Apple Trees?

While you’ll need to take a variety of factors into account, specifically the type and eventual size of the trees you are planting, apple trees are typically spaced with 4.5 to 5.5m between them, and in rows 5.5m wide. Dwarf cultivars are naturally spaced closer together.

How Much Water do Apple Trees Require?

Because it takes about one growing season for a young apple tree to establish its roots, young trees need to be watered regularly, using around 19 litres of water, about 2 to 3 times a week, depending on soil type and climate.

Generally, about 25mm of rainfall every seven to ten days is sufficient for established apple trees, and if rainfall is good, you may only need to water when you experience drought. However, if rainfall is sparse in summer established apple trees should be irrigated deeply at least once a month, when the top eight to ten inches of the soil is dry. And if it is very hot and dry in your location, the trees may need even more frequent watering.

The frequency of watering depends on your soil type, and whether it is sandy or loamy. Sandy soils need a little water which is applied at short intervals, while loamy or slightly clayey soils need watering at longer intervals. Weather conditions also play a vital role, and if it rains a lot you don’t need to water at all, but if it’s really hot in summer, you will naturally need to water more. Although water is essential for good growth it is also most important not to overwater. If you see standing water after irrigating, this is a sure sign of overwatering, which can cause root rot and may deter the tree from absorbing necessary minerals.

Farmers will look at annual rainfall, and as a very general indication, young apple trees need 300 to 400mm of water per year, and this increases to 500 to 700mm per year for mature trees.

Post-harvest irrigation in late summer and autumn is also vital, as next season’s fruit buds are formed during this period. And even though apple trees are dormant, they still need water in winter, but much less frequently. In the summer rainfall regions, soak the roots once or twice a month depending on soil type, and do this during warmer winter days when daytime temperatures are above 4°C.

To water you can use a hosepipe, simply putting it down near the roots on a slow trickle in order to give your tree a deep soak without the water flowing everywhere. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are perfect for watering fruit trees and their companion plants.

A rainier summer season sometimes brings larger apples, and these apples are best for juicing and cooking. Excess rainfall can also cause apples to grow into a softer texture that is more prone to bruising, and can lead to moulding. A drier season will produce smaller, sweeter apples which are good for snacking on.

How to Feed Apple Trees?

When fruit trees are first planted, the priority is to encourage them to grow roots by planting them in good quality soil with lots of added compost, and watering them regularly to maintain even soil moisture. As long as the soil is good young fruit trees do not need to be fertilised, but if soil quality is not perfect, you can feed with nitrogen fertilisers or other balanced organic fertilisers. This, together with a good layer of mulch around their roots will keep them healthy, and also help to suppress weeds. Never pile mulch up directly on the stems of trees, rather start a couple of centimetres away from the trunk.

One to two years after planting, the young trees should have established their roots and you can start fertilising to promote strong, steady growth. Spring is the best time for fertilising fruit trees, and it is recommended to use slow release organic fertilisers like 3:1:5 for fruit trees, sprinkling it onto the surface of the soil, starting a couple of centimetres away from the trunk and spreading it over the entire root area to just beyond the drip line of the branch canopy. Lastly cover the area with compost or other organic mulch, and water it in well. This method of fertilising, using only organic products, helps the trees form relationships with beneficial soil microbes, forming a symbiotic relationship that benefits both.

For established apple trees fertilise regularly during the season according to the instructions on the product you have chosen to use. More is never better when it comes to fertilising your fruit trees, and it’s better to apply a little bit less fertiliser than the recommended dose, rather than too much.

Should your apple trees struggle despite attentive pruning and feeding, a spray made from liquid kelp is highly recommended, as micronutrient deficiencies are common in fruit trees, and kelp or seaweed sprays contain a buffet of micronutrients, including calcium and zinc, in a form that fruit trees can take up through their leaves as a foliar feed. The best times to apply kelp sprays are late spring, after the new leaves appear, and again in early summer when leaves show their mature green colour.

Healthy fruit trees that are watered and fed correctly to support sturdy new growth will be better able to stand up to insect pest and diseases. Control weeds around the trees which compete for water and fertiliser, and apply organic mulch around the trees annually to keep them vigorous.

How and When to Prune Apple Trees?

Pruning can stunt the growth of young trees and it can interfere with their development, so don’t rush to prune the entire tree, but rather focus on first removing any damaged or dead branches.

Once the tree has reached maturity you can prune it annually in winter. Mature trees are usually pruned to keep them around 4m tall and wide, and even the dwarf cultivars will need some pruning. Pruning is an important aspect of caring for apple trees as it decreases the risk of disease. Most pruning is carried out in winter when the trees are dormant, and because the trees will only bear on wood that grew the previous year, take care to not prune away these new fruit buds.

The open-centre pruning method is best, as it removes any excess branches from the middle of the tree that will prevent light from penetrating into the centre. This will ensure that fruit forms on these central branches, and not only on the outer branches of the tree. You will also need to cut off weak twigs and decrease the length of some stems during this process.

Summer pruning both before and after harvesting to remove excess water shoots is another effective way to improve the penetration of sunlight to the centre of trees. Water shoots are distinctive-looking vertical shoots that grow strongly. They usually sprout in spring, often in large numbers, and especially after a tree has been heavily pruned. Removing excess water shoots will also improve fruit colour and production in general.

Prune on a sunny day to prevent fungal infections from entering the tree through pruning wounds, and to prevent the spreading of diseases between trees, disinfect your pruning equipment after each tree pruned. Large pruning cuts should be sealed with a tree sealer.

Does the Fruit of Apples Trees Need to be Thinned Out?

Some seasons you may need to thin out the fruit by removing any abnormally shaped or damaged apples to ensure that the branches are not too burdened and susceptible to breaking.

Can I Grow Apple Trees From Seeds?

Yes you can, but apples grown from seed tend to be very different from those of their parents, and the resultant fruit often lacks desired characteristics. For these reasons it’s better to plant trees budded onto a clonal rootstock.

How Are Apple Trees Propagated?

Apple trees are best bought from reputable nurseries where all the cultivars are budded onto clonal rootstocks. This determines the ultimate size of the tree and also the time when it will bear fruit. Rootstocks are also selected which have resistance to soil-borne diseases.

What Spraying Programme is best for Apple Trees?

Growing quality deciduous stone fruits in the home garden can be very rewarding, and starts with providing the proper growing conditions, and planting recommended varieties for your region. A rigid pest and disease control program also needs to be maintained throughout the year, as preventative spraying with fungicides and pesticides will go a long way in preventing problems.

A well-rounded home spraying program for stone fruit trees includes dormant-season as well as growing-season sprays for pests and diseases at all these stages of growth:

Dormant: Late autumn to early spring

Bud break: Buds begin to swell.

Bud swell: Buds are noticeably swollen, but no green tissue is present.

Pink: Just before the flower buds open.

Bloom: Flowers open.

Petal fall: Last petals are falling.

Shuck-split: Most of the developing fruits have split away from the remains of the dried flower.

The entire spraying programme is too vast to cover here but members can click here to read my article “Spraying Programme for Deciduous Stone Fruits”.

Apple 'Early Red' Picture courtesy 'Early Red' Picture courtesy, Pests and Diseases of Apple Trees

What is that greyish-white powdery growth on the leaves of my apple tree?

Powdery Mildew is a disease which initially appears as greyish-white blotches on the leaves and stems of the host plant, although it can also be present on fruits and flowers. As it takes hold it gradually spreads to form a powdery blanket-like coating, hence its common name. Powdery mildew can be particularly serious on woody plants like grapevines and fruit trees, where it attacks new growth, causing it to become dwarfed and distorted. Infected fruits develop web-like scars, and a rough, corky spot on the skin.

Powdery mildew is an umbrella term used to describe several types of fungus, the majority of which are host-specific. This means that they attack only one type of plant, for example, the powdery mildew on butternuts will not spread to apples. However, all forms of powdery mildew favour the same type of conditions and look very much alike.

The fungus produces microscopic spores that are spread in the air, or are transported by insects. Because the spores of powdery mildew have higher water content than those of most other fungi, they are able to survive and infect plants under much drier conditions than would normally be the case. It thrives in dry, shady areas where there is little air movement, and has a preferred temperature range of 15°C to 26°C.  In winter it goes dormant, overwintering on living plants, or amongst plant matter, and as the weather warms up in spring it starts asexual production of new spores for dispersal.

The fungus enters the cells on the leaf surface where it taps into the plant’s food store. In small infections, powdery mildew will have little effect on the plant, and although unsightly, is rarely fatal. As it begins to spread, however, and more of the leaf’s surface is covered, it can seriously inhibit the leaf’s ability to photosynthesise. This weakens and reduces plant growth, causing the leaves to turn yellow and it can also deform fruits and buds.

Click here to see Google Images of Powdery Mildew on Apple Trees

How to Prevent Powdery Mildew?

Reduce the amount of dead plant matter lying around the trees as these could harbour powdery mildew spores; and keep the plants well-watered, as this reduces water stress and their susceptibility to infection. Improve circulation around the trees by thinning or pruning.

Which Fungicides are used to Treat Powdery Mildew?

When conditions favour this disease, the best way to control powdery mildew is through preventative spraying. Margaret Roberts Organic Fungicide will control most fungal diseases and is very effective for powdery mildew. Neem oil is also very effective, as is Efekto Kumulus.

What is causing warty lesions on the fruit of my apples?

Scab, also known as “Verrucosis” is a fungal disease that affects both apples and pears, causing raised roughened warty lesions to form on the outside of the fruit. While the inside of the fruit remains unaffected, the disease gradually reduces the vigour of the tree.  Cool and damp weather conditions encourage the spread of disease spores, and trees suffering from water stress are also more susceptible to scab.

Click here to see Google Images of Apple Scab

How to Prevent Apple Scab?

Watering regularly and deeply during hot and dry summer spells will help apples and pears resist this disease; and a preventative approach to controlling fungal diseases by spraying regularly with an appropriate fungicide, will go a long way in preventing problems in the first place.

Which Fungicides are used to Treat Apple Scab?

To control this fungal disease, spray your fruit trees with Efekto Virikop or Efekto Kumulus WG.

What’s causing a brown, spreading rot in the fruit of my apple tree?

Brown rot is a fungal disease which can already be active at flowering time, causing both the blossoms and the leaves on fruiting spurs to turn brown and shrivel. Severity varies greatly from year to year, depending on weather conditions at flowering. It affects  apples, pears and other deciduous stone fruits, including peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, apricots; and even citrus trees.  

From mid-summer onwards, and usually under wet conditions, it shows as a brown, spreading rot in the fruit, and often the light brown pustules of spores are visible. Brown rot can spread to cover the stems, flowers and the fruit, and as it gets worse, it eventually mummifies the fruit, and you will clearly see the fuzzy tan or grey spores.

Click here to see Google Images of Brown Rot on Apples

How to Help Prevent Brown Rot?

Brown rot spreads from wounds in the fruit, and especially those made by birds, codling moths, and apple scab infection. Bird netting will protect the fruit from damage, and preventative spraying against coddling moths and scab will also help in preventing the spread of this disease. If practical, prune out and dispose of infected spurs and blossoms to reduce the amount of fungus available to infect fruit. Minimise carry-over of the pathogens by removing and disposing of all brown rotted fruit promptly, disposing of it by burying it at least 30cm deep under the soil, or bagging and disposing of it safely.

Which Fungicides Treat Brown Rot?

Any copper based fungicides will help prevent and control brown rot. Start spraying 2 to 3 weeks prior to harvesting, as the fruit is ripening.

What is stinging my apples and causing them to rot?

Small ‘stings’ on the fruit can be caused by one or two pests, or even both: Coddling Moths and Fruit Flies.

Coddling Moth (Cydia pomonella)

The most important cause of damage and fruit loss in apples are codling and false codling moths. If you notice small pinpricks or pitted spots on the surface of your apples, this indicates the presence of coddling moths, which lay their eggs on the leaves of apple trees. Once hatched, the immature larvae bore into the skin and start feeding on the flesh, and as they mature they cause brown or rotten trails running to the core of the fruit.

The Coddling Moth is thought to be native to Central Asia, but today, except for Japan and Western Australia, it is found on all continents wherever apples and pears are grown. The preferred host plants are pome fruits, especially apple, pear and quince. Other cultivated host plants are crab apple, apricot, peach, plum, prune, cherry, and walnut. Infestation of these fruits often takes place when in close proximity to primary host plants.

Since the coddling moth was first reported in South Africa in 1885, it has remained a major pest of apples and pears and, to a lesser extent, of apricots. If uncontrolled it has the potential to destroy the entire crop.

Click here to see Google Images of Cydia pomonella

What is the Lifecycle of Codling Moths (Cydia pomonella) on Apple Trees?

Cydia pomonella adult moths have a wingspan of about 15 to 22mm. Their forewings are grey to dark brown and bear a copper-coloured circular marking near the tip of the forewing, and the hindwings are brown. Adult females emit a pheromone which serves to attract male mates, and the males can sense this pheromone from over 1 000m away, using a specialized gland on the hindwing. For this reason, the use of pheromone traps for monitoring the incidence of codling moth and fruit fly is imperative.

In early spring the female moths lay their eggs singly on the twigs, leaves, and later in the season even directly on the fruit. Under ideal conditions a single female moth can produce up to 800 eggs. When first laid the tiny eggs have a cream to white colour which changes to a reddish as they develop. Once the larvae hatch they are only 2 to 3mm long with a creamy-white body and a black head capsule, but once mature they are 14 to 20mm long with an orange-pink colour. The young larvae bite their way into the fruit, but strangely, they reject the first few mouthfuls, and this ensures the safe entry and survival of at least some of the larvae, even when the fruit has been sprayed with a stomach poison. As the larvae grow and continue to burrow deeper into the fruit, they leave tunnels full of their excrement, and a discoloration on the skin at the wound site.

Fully grown larvae leave the fruit and crawl along the branches to find a sheltered place to settle down and spin a thick, silken cocoon, to pupate. Emergence of the adult moth from the pupa usually takes place within two weeks of the larva leaving the fruit, and several generations of coddling moths are produced each summer.

During autumn, the larva does not change into a pupa as it does in spring or summer, but instead goes into what is referred to as “diapause”, a dormant winter state of delayed biological development. Diapause allows the insect to synchronize its seasonal activity with the presence of developing fruits on its host trees, and is generally induced by shortening day-length and a fall in temperature.

When temperatures increase in spring the emergence of adult moths coincides with blossom and fruit set of the host plant. Moths are most active prior to and just after sunset, when most of them mate. The adults live from 11 to 22 days, and the total developmental time from egg to adult of non-diapause individuals is from 40 to 65 days. There are three larval generations per year in South Africa, but a partial fourth generation can occur.

The False Codling Moth (Thaumatotibia leucotreta)

The false coddling moth is native to, and a key pest in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and in  the wild it has a wide range of indigenous host trees such as Wild Figs, Wild Olives, Yellowwoods, the Kei Apple and Red Milkwood. It is a pest of many cultivated crops like apples, and in equatorial Africa it is a major pest of cotton. Over 70 possible exotic host plants are recorded which include a wide variety of crops like: citrus, avocado, coffee, mango, pineapple, litchi, macadamia and pecan nuts, peppers, olives and maize. Deciduous fruits known to be readily infested by false codling moth are apple, apricot, peach, plum, pear, grape, pomegranate and persimmon.

Click here to see Google Images of Thaumatotibia leucotreta

How to Control the Spread of Coddling Moths?

Codling moths are formidable adversaries because most chemical pesticides are only effective against the eggs and the newly hatched larvae, and once they have burrowed into the developing fruit codling moth larvae cannot be controlled, and apples that show obvious wounds or oozing holes should be picked, chopped and composted to interrupt the life cycle of this pest. Collecting and disposing of leaf litter from around trees in the autumn will expose any codling moth larvae on the ground to insectivorous birds and other predators.

How to Trap Coddling Moths?

Pheromone traps and sticky liners are essential to attract and contain adult male codling moths when they emerge. They are available for gardeners and can be found online from South African Suppliers.

Pheromone traps are effective for 4 to 5 weeks from placement. Place the trap in the top 1/3 of your fruit tree. This lure needs to be placed in the shade on the southern side of the tree. Check the trap, and clear out any trapped insects every 7 days.

How to Make DIY Codling Moth Traps?

You can also use homemade traps that catch both male and female moths. Fill a plastic one litre milk jug with 1 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup molasses, 1/8 teaspoon ammonia, and about 5 cups of water. Cut a 5cm hole in the jug, just below its shoulder. Hang up to 3 traps per tree, depending on the size of the tree. Remove trapped insects regularly and replace with fresh bait as required.

Does Preventative Spraying Help for Coddling Moths?

Spraying the trees as a preventative measure will go a long way in controlling these pests. The first spray should be done after 80% of the blossoms have fallen, and every 14 days thereafter. Insecticides are always applied after most of the petals of the blossoms have fallen, and never when the trees are in full bloom, because of the high risk of harming pollinators like bees.

Which are the Best Preventative Sprays for Controlling Coddling Moth Eggs and Larvae?

Bioneem is a great preventative bio-pesticide, from plant origin, for the control of various insects. In addition to deterring feeding insects, neem functions to suppress moulting of certain insects, including Codling Moth and Plum Curculio, disrupting the normal metabolic activity of insects. It is also used to control Aphids, Bollworm, Fruit Fly, Snout Beetle and Spider Mites on deciduous fruit trees, ornamentals and vegetables.

EcoBuz Pest Pro is another great preventative, fungal bio-insecticide that attacks various insect pests like: False Codling Moths, Whitefly, Red Spider Mites, Fall Army Worm, and the Tomato leaf Miner. Each gram contains billions of beneficial fungi spores of Beauvaria bassiana, a common soil borne fungi that occurs naturally in many soils. The strain used in Pest Pro was isolated from the soil beneath a rooibos plant in Clanwilliam, and is therefore well adapted to our hot and dry conditions. To ensure the best germination rates for these fungal spores they are encapsulated in tiny oil droplets to create an environment called a “Colony Forming Unit” (CFU), and once germinated they attack and destroy many common garden pests. Pest Pro is safe, non-toxic and friendly to beneficial insects including bees, ladybirds, parasitic wasps, lacewings, earthworms, birds and fish. Pest Pro is also OMRI certified (Organic).

What is causing pitted dimples on my apples and causing them to rot?

Fruit flies look like a small housefly with clear wings that have orange and brown patterns. When they rest on fruit their wings are usually horizontal. In South Africa the most common species are the Mediterranean and Natal Fruit fly. They emerge in early summer and the female lays her eggs in the fruit, leaving a tiny spot or dimple on the surface, which later forms a pitted dimple. Once hatched the larvae immediately start feeding, creating tunnels throughout the fruit (unlike codling moth which feeds primarily in the core of the fruit), causing dark, sunken pits on the fruit as rot sets in.

Click here to see Google Images of Fruit Fly Damage on Apples

Which are the Best Preventative Measures for Controlling Fruit Flies?

Because fruit flies emerge in spring and early summer, you need to start spraying every two weeks through spring, starting at bud break and continuing until petal fall. Putting out fruit fly bait stations and pheromone traps are also essential to control fruit flies.

Which Products are used for Controlling Fruit Flies?

Eco Fruit Fly Bait GF-120 is an environmentally friendly product by Efekto which is excellent for baiting stations. It consists of a plant protein and sugar formulation with Spinosad as the active ingredient. Spinosad is derived from a soil organism, making GF-120 one of the safest pesticide products available.

Various other natural sprays are available for fruit fly: Biogrow Bioneem has as its active ingredient, Azadirachtin from neem seeds, and it is used to control a wide range of insects (up to 200 insect types) including white flies, leafminers, mealybug, thrips, fruit flies, leaf hopper, red spider mite, weevils and many more. It is relatively harmless to insects that pollinate crops and trees, such as butterflies, spiders and bees, as well as ladybirds that consume aphids. This is because neem products must be ingested to be effective. Thus, insects that feed on plant tissue succumb, while those that feed on nectar or other insects rarely contact significant concentrations of neem products.

How to Make a DIY Fruit Fly Trap?

You may prefer to make your own fruit fly baiting station, and there are many recipes online, but a very simple trap can be made by pouring apple cider vinegar in a bowl and covering it with cling film and piercing several small holes through the cling film to allow the smell to escape, and the fruit flies to enter. Fruit flies don’t seem to be able to resist the aroma of apple cider vinegar, and they get trapped in the bowl and can’t find their way out. Change the vinegar regularly to keep its efficacy and watch the fruit flies flock to it.

What is that mass of white woolly wax on the bark of my apple tree?

Woolly aphids produce masses of white woolly wax on spurs or branches that have been pruned as well as within cracks in the bark of trees. These pests suck on the plants, from the roots to the leaves and twigs, causing curled and twisted leaves as well as yellowing of the foliage, and if left untreated will result in a reduction of the plant’s vigour. Their feeding also causes the formation of galls which destroys developing buds and damages the wood. The galls can split to allow cankers and other diseases to develop within the tree. Under-ground feeding also causes galls, which adversely affects the translocation of water and nutrients.

Woolly aphids are found in temperate regions of the world, and in South Africa this aphid propagates entirely parthenogenetically, a form of asexual reproduction whereby offspring are produced without the embryo being fertilised by a male. Because the females do not need males, a single aphid can start a whole new colony.

During the winter months woolly apple aphids live and feed on the roots of plants, and in spring and summer an endless migration of crawlers emerge from their colonies on the roots and crawl up the tree to start new colonies in the aerial parts of the plant. Under mild climates woolly aphids are also able to overwinter in protected sites on the tree.

Click here to see Google Images of Woolly Aphids on Apple Trees

How to Control and Treat Woolly Aphids on Apple Trees?

The control of subterranean colonies of woolly aphids is very important, and can be the most important step to minimise aerial infestation, and delay their spread.

Which are the Best Products and Sprays for Controlling Woolly Aphids?

Applying sticky bands around the trunks of the trees goes a long way in preventing aerial infestations, as you may be surprised at how many crawlers you find on your traps. Sticky traps also prevent ants from crawling up the trees, as ants are known for their ability to form symbiotic relationships with aphids in exchange for the honeydew they produce, and ants will protect the aphids from their natural predators. Often you will also notice a black sooty mould growing on the sticky surfaces of the leaves. This mutually beneficial relationship between ants and aphids can make it even more difficult to control a woolly aphid infestation.

Ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps are all beneficial insects that can help control aphids, and earwigs are also known to predate on woolly apple aphids. For this reason organic farmers often purchase these beneficial insects and release them into their orchards.

Check your trees often and for small outbreaks you can either squash them or remove the developing colony with a stiff paint brush. A high-pressure spray from the garden hose can also help remove aphids from the trees.

Which Insecticides are best for controlling Woolly Apple Aphids?

If you suspect woolly aphids in the soil, you can drench the soil with systemic products like Koinor, which also treats mealybugs, another pest of apples.

Regular spraying with contact insecticides is also needed for control and insecticidal soaps and oils are the best choices. Oils may include petroleum-based horticultural oils or plant-derived oils such as Neem or Canola oil. Thorough coverage of infested foliage is required, so apply with a pressure sprayer, and target the underside of the leaves as well as the top. Because soaps and horticultural oils only kill aphids present on the day they are sprayed, applications may need to be repeated.

Although these materials can kill some natural enemies that are present on the plant and are directly hit by the spray, they leave no toxic residue, so they won’t kill natural predators that migrate in after the spray. Never apply soaps or oils on water-stressed plants or when the temperature exceeds 32°C.

If they are applied in winter after pruning, and again, just as the eggs are beginning to hatch in early spring, Horticultural Oils will kill overwintering eggs of aphids on fruit trees.  These types of oils also control many other apple pests like red spider and two-spotted mites.

What is that white waxy mass on my apple tree?

Mealybugs may be confused for woolly aphids and cottony cushion scale in appearance, and a heavy infestation manifests as a white waxy mass on the stems, fruits, and the undersides of the leaves, usually along the veins. There are several species of Mealybugs, and more than 120 species have been identified in South Africa alone. Mealybugs are related to scale insects, but unlike their close relatives, mealybugs retain their legs throughout their life. Male mealybugs are 3mm to 4mm in length with a single pair of wings. They lack mouthparts and are short-lived, spending their time flying around searching for females. The females are 4 to 5mm long, with soft, segmented bodies covered in waxy secretions.

Click here to see Google Images of Mealybugs on Apple Trees

Why are the leaves of my apple tree curling, turning yellow and dropping off?

Mealybugs suck sap from young leaves, growth points, fruit, and also the root system, and apples are susceptible to attack during summer when they are actively growing, flowering and fruiting. A severe outbreak can lead to yellowing of the leaves, which eventually fall off, as do the inflorescences and young fruit. If not treated, fruit yield may be greatly reduced.

Why is the fruit on my apple tree discoloured, with lumps, and falling off?

Later in the season mealybugs feed on the fruit and can severely reduce its market value.
Fruit drop, fruit deformation and development of discoloured welts on the rind of the fruit are all indications of mealybug infestation.

Why is there a black sooty mould growing on my apple trees?

Black sooty mould is a by-product of sap sucking by insects like mealybugs and aphids which produce sticky honeydew that encourages the growth of the mould. This sticks to the plant and can inhibit photosynthesis. As with aphids, the honeydew is harvested by ants who also protect the mealybugs from predators. If the mealybugs and their ant friends are controlled, the mould will disappear.

Click here to see Google Images of Black Sooty Mould

Members can click here to read more about mealybugs

Which Sprays Work Best for Mealybugs?

Mealybugs are treated in the same way as scale insects, and you can typically control small populations by removing any badly infested plant material, and then washing the rest of the insects off using a strong jet of water, or you can rub the colonies off the leaves with a soft brush or cloth before washing with water. Mealybugs knocked to the floor will fall victim to ground predators.

Insecticidal soaps work well for mealybugs and many other insect pests, and they work fast, even on heavy infestations. Insecticidal soaps are short-lived natural pesticides which work by damaging the outer layer of soft-bodied insect pests, causing dehydration and death within hours.

Spraying with Neem oil disrupts the growth and development of pest insects and has repellent and anti-feedant properties. Best of all, it’s non-toxic to honey bees and many other beneficial insects. Canola Oil, and Natural Pyrethrins will also kill insects on contact.

Biogrow Neudosan; Biogrow Bioneem; Biogrow Pyrol; Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide; and Oleum, all work well for both mealybugs and scale insects. And, if you suspect mealybugs in the soil, you can drench the soil with systemic products like Koinor.

Natural predators include ladybird beetles and their larvae, lacewing larvae, hoverfly larvae and several species of parasitic wasps. However, the effectiveness of natural predators will be limited if ants are present, as they will protect the mealybug.

Members can click here to find a Detailed Spraying Programme for Deciduous Stone Fruits