This year’s crop is a right-off. The apples are already infested and the fruit is suitable for horses. However, there are things that she can do now to help next year’s crop.
First thing is to make sure each and every apple, leaf and branch is raked clean from the yard and tossed in the garbage (not the compost bin). This removes larvae and diseases from her tree. She has two boys, so she plans on making a game of the pick-up chores.
Then, come February, it’s time to pull out the old pruning saw. The University of Minnesota recommends keeping one main trunk, then pruning scaffold (horizontal) branches so that you can pass a football through them. You also need to cut any branches that are growing straight up (sucker branches). That seems like quite a bit of pruning, but it is better for the tree. It is best to do this BEFORE any warm weather.
Good pruning really gives the trees a head start in the Spring. Imagine if the roots have stored up enough energy for the tree, then suddenly, there is 1/3 less tree therefore 1/3 more “food” available in the Spring, that all goes to good use by the tree making it healthier and stronger.
The third thing I recommended to my friend is thinning. Once the apples are about the size of a quarter, bring out the bucket and start plucking off the apples. Ouch, it is difficult because as you thin, all you can think is that you are tossing away future snacks. But this is REALLY important. They should be thinned so there is one apple every four inches.
After that, unless you choose to spray, the only thing is to bag the apples. Yep, take a sandwich bag and twist tie and put the baby apple inside to grow. Cut the corner of the bag so any rain can come out. This might look silly, it prevents the adult fly from laying maggots into the fruit. AND it allows her boys to enjoy a worm-free snack.
My friend may not be able to make apple cobbler this year from her backyard tree, but with a little care (and the right weather), she will enjoy some next Fall. I know there are better apple growers out there than me (I still have my share of horses-apples). Any furter advice for a mother of two with four apple trees in her back yard?