Kitchen Gardening

Columnar Apple Trees for Suburban Yards

These micro-trees will produce normal-sized apples the first year you plant them! God bless the experimenters.

  • Here's what we like to see! Lots of baby apples.
    Photo/Illustration: Chris McLaughlin
  • Picture by Jim under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • These are the columnar apple trees in my front yard. They're the second set I've planted - we left the others at our last home. Okay, they're not as big as the trees in the other picture, but give 'em a break - they're in their infancy; we planted them three years ago.
    Photo/Illustration: Chris McLaughlin

As a gardener who loves growing food, I had always aspired to have apple trees in my garden. Living in suburbia most of my life made space for growing fruit trees rather limited. Standard apple trees at maturity reach 20 feet tall and usually a little more in width.

Of course, I had the option of planting the semi-dwarf varieties, but they’re honestly only a dwarf compared to their larger cousins. I considered trying the even smaller dwarf apple tree, but I realized that I needed more than one variety in order to produce apples, so they would’ve still been too wide (8 feet or so) for my space.

  More on growing apples in the backyard orchard, plus links to apple recipes…

Then, about 10 years ago I discovered columnar apple trees. These compact dudes were the answer to my prayers. Columnar apple trees are created to grow predominantly straight up, reach a height of 8-10 feet and are usually less than 2 feet wide. Suburbanites, apartment-dwellers, people living on boats – anyone can have columnar apple trees.

They don’t have the side branches and the spread that the usual apple trees are known for. In fact, rather than looking relaxed and orchard-ish, the columnars look rather elegant and stately. Runway models would be jealous. Yet they bring a little extra somethin’-somethin’ as edible landscaping to your yard for about 20 years. Try them in huge pots flanking the front door or garden entrance or plant these little darlings along your boring good-neighbor fence to give it some class.

If that isn’t enough, these micro-trees will produce normal-sized apples the first year you plant them! God bless the experimenters.

Columnar apple tree varieties:

•    ‘Northpole’ will remind you of a McIntosh apple.
•    ‘Golden Sentinel’ is similar to Golden delicious in flavor.
•    ‘Scarlet Sentinel’ produces green-yellow apples with a red blush.

Columnar apple tree requirements:

•    Plant in full sun
•    Plant trees 2 feet apart or line them up planted in whiskey barrels.
•    Don’t forget to plant at least two, for cross-pollination
•    Regular watering during fruit development

*Hardy in zones 4-9

Three things I’d like to throw out there about these trees. First, you may need to thin the apples to help the tree support the weight in the first year. Second, you’re going to need at least two trees but different varieties. The apples will only be produced if the flowers are cross-pollinated by two varieties of apple. Third, the price tag is a little heavier than average apple trees. That said, like all trees, if you order them bare-root in the winter, you’ll get to save some bucks, too.

Are you infested with apple maggots? It’s possible to control them without spraying. Learn how to make an inexpensive, pesticide-free apple maggot trap.

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