From the Extension: Apple of my eye

Franklin Living September/October 2022

As fall approaches, one favorite fruit starts getting a little more attention that it does the rest of the year: the humble apple.

Rich with history and folklore, apples were a favorite food of Europeans who settled in the New World. No other fruit is so widely grown around the world than the apple. Numerous books have been written about apples, such as the story about Johnny Appleseed, which mentions more than 4,000 varieties.

Apples are heterozygous: A new variety is born each time a seed is germinated and developed into a bearing tree. Although hundreds of varieties exist, 10-20 are seen by consumers in grocery stores.


  1. Two thirds of the apple crop grown in the U.S. is used to eat. The other one third is used for apple juice, apple sauce, apple butter and packaged apple slices.
  2. The most-grown apple variety is the Red Delicious.
  3. The top 10 apple-producing states are Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, Ohio and Idaho.
  4. Apples are a great source of fiber. The apple skin and flesh help lower blood cholesterol and support a healthy gut.
  5. Apple trees produce fruit in one of two ways: Spur-bearers produce fruit on the small, thorn-shaped branches that extend off the main tree branch, while tip-bearers produce fruit on the tips of the branches from the previous year.


Wondering what variety is best suited different types of recipes? Here’s an easy cheat sheet:

  • Fuji: fresh eating, salads, baking, applesauce, pies, freezing
  • Gala: fresh eating, salads, applesauce, baking, pies
  • Ginger gold: fresh eating, salads, applesauce, pies
  • Golden Delicious: fresh eating, salads, applesauce, baking, pies, desserts, freezing
  • Granny Smith: fresh eating, sautéing, applesauce, baking, pies, juice, freezing
  • Mutsu: fresh eating, applesauce, pies, desserts, juice
  • Ozark Gold: fresh eating, applesauce, cooking, baking, pies
  • Red Delicious: fresh eating, salads, applesauce


What is needed to grow apples?

Pick an area where apple trees will be in the sun all or most of the day. Morning sun dries dew from leaves, reducing diseases, and sunlight helps to increase fruit production.

Apple trees will not grow in soil that drains poorly; roots will die, resulting in stunted growth and death of the tree. Deep soil with a sandy loom to a sandy clay is a good choice.

When it comes to purchasing trees, buy them from a reliable resource. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • A small tree with a good root system is a better choice than a large tree with a poor root system.
  • 1-year-old trees grow better.
  • Do not purchase trees that are insect-ridden, diseased or injured, stunted or poorly grown.
  • Check trees for the desired variety and root stock.
  • Trees should feel firm and not spongy or brittle. If you cut through the roots, they should reveal a tissue that is white to creamy in color. Tan or brown indicates that the roots are damaged or dying.
  • While some apples are adaptable, make sure you choose an apple variety suitable for the zone area in which you live in.
  • Before planting, prepare the soil thoroughly by plowing or spading followed by disking or raking to smooth the surface. Check the pH of the soil, which should be 6.5, and ;ime the soil. Keep weeds out of a 3×3 area so they will not compete for moisture and nutrients. When fertilizing, nitrogen is the most important nutrient needed. Phosphorus and potassium should be applied before planting.


Apple trees grown under favorable conditions will set more fruit than they can successfully carry to maturity. The removal of excess fruit from the trees is essential to ensure satisfactory development of color, shape and size of the apples remaining on the tree.

Failure to remove the excess fruit will decrease flower formation for the following year and cause the tree to only produce a crop every other year.

Remove fruit by hand, reducing the apples to one per cluster, with fruiting clusters spaced about every 6 inches along the limb.

To remove fruit without damaging the spur or the other apples on the spur, hold the stem between the thumb and forefinger and push the fruit from the stem with the other fingers. This method will remove the apple, leaving the stem attached to the spur.

The earlier hand-thinning is completed, the more effective it will be. Mid-summer thinning will help improve fruit size, but it will not aid the formation of the next year’s flower buds. Most of the flower buds for next year are initiated during a 4-to-6-week period following full bloom, so you need to thin before this time.


When picking apples, be careful to avoid injuring the fruit. Remove the apple from the spur by pulling upward and outward while rotating the fruit slightly. On some of the thin, long-stemmed varieties, such as Golden Delicious, it might be necessary to firmly place the index finger at the point of attachment of the stem and spur to prevent the spur from breaking. Pick apples with their stems attached to the fruit; otherwise, they will not keep as long.

For more information on apples, check with your county Extension Office at 256-332-8880.

Sources: Alabama Cooperative Extension, University of Georgia, U.S. Apple Crop Data, USDA