Last year we planted three apple trees, two of which are Nittany. We discovered this variety on a chilly fall afternoon on Orcas Island. The burgundy red apples are tart yet sweet and crisp. Eldon decided on the spot we needed an orchard of Nittanys.
Now that we have our own house, it was time for our own apple trees. The compromise was three trees instead of an orchard. Apples do not self-pollinate. You need a 'pollinizer' to cross-pollinate with. This chart helped us figure out a companion tree for the Nittanys. We chose one Honecrisp.
Since our garden is small, the perfect solution to growing fruit trees is to espalier. The art of espalier allows trees to be trained against a wall or along a fence. There are many different patterns including cordon, candelabra, fan, and Belgian fence. Given our fence design and that I'm a beginner, I decided the cordon style would be the most manageable, but ours will be four to five tiers.
Over Memorial Day Weekend last year, we removed the dying arborvitae hedge that never had a chance since they were still balled and burlapped. The mystery of their death had been solved. A post and wire fence took its place in the front yard. Once those holes were dug and filled, more were dug for the trees. A light rain helped water in the new plantings.
Then came the hard part. It was time to head back the tree to the lowest wire. These trees were at least four feet tall. I couldn't do it, even though the planting instructions told me to do so immediately after planting. I made excuses not to: it was too late in the season; I didn't want to shock them; They may be burned in the south-west exposure. When they broke dormancy and started blooming, I felt it really was too late to head them back. And they provided a small screen between us and our new neighbors. They liked the new fence--what a relief!
Now, almost a year ago, I knew their time was coming. Off with their heads! I mustered up enough courage and headed them back at the end of March. All I could do now is wait and hope that the trees would be okay.
This type of pruning goes against everything I've been taught in school and in the field. Heading cuts are never encouraged, but when you're practicing espalier, no problem! To cover my bases, I attended Kristan Johnson's espalier lecture at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. He's from the Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation and what he said was exactly what all the books and the Internet said to do.
Holding my breath, I lopped the tops off each tree. I checked on the buds' progress weekly. Most of the lower branches had already been pruned at the nursery. Part of me didn't believe that I'd get a new leader and two side branches let alone a few buds breaking. My friends and neighbors asked me what I'm doing and if the trees were taller before. I start to second guess myself all over again, but I explain my plan for these trees.
Sure enough, they leafed out nicely. I wasn't expecting flowers, but I did have one on the southern-most Nittany. This is the same tree in the previous photo.
Eldon and I were careful to install the posts into concrete making sure each post was level. I wasn't careful though how taught the lower wires were. I unknowingly cranked them too tightly. After settling with the winter wet, the posts were pulled inward. To counteract this, we used copper pipe at the very top of the fence and we loosened the wire below. It adds a finished touch and ties in with the copper caps on each post.
(Thanks for your help, cousin Eamon!)
It will be awhile before the trees reach the top. Once they do, I will wrap the copper so it doesn't interfere with the tree branches. We'll see how the pipe resists the pull of the wire next year after another season of wind, rain, and snow.