Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Winterizing the Apple Trees

It has been a very busy autumn so far, canning apple butter, freezing pears, sprouting cherry seeds, baking all kinds of goodies, driving through the natural grandeur of northern New Mexico... Plenty of things we haven’t yet taken the time to blog about. We've been percolating blog post ideas, for sure—I've got vertical farms and cat litter (not together) on the brain lately—but tonight, I’m focusing on our apple trees.

Remember the little seedlings we were growing in six-inch clay pots? We've since re-potted them, and here is the largest of the five, standing waist-high in a ten-gallon crock. Another is behind it in the square container. With the onset of colder temperatures and less sunlight, it and the others are losing some leaves, and we will have to protect them from the Chicago winter. Last winter, they were inside the house. They were just babies then, had only been growing since the fall. But now that they have been outside all summer and are getting accustomed to the change in weather, we might actually kill them by bringing them inside. (And I'm not too keen on the idea that they might bring some bugs in with them.) They're big enough to safely go dormant—a healthy thing for a tree to do—but being in the containers instead of in the protection of solid ground, they are vulnerable to frozen roots—a very unhealthy thing. Like, fatal.

So, here's our plan. And, stay tuned for a post in the spring about whether the trees are alive and budding.

The smallest two trees, which are in temporary plastic containers about twice as tall as the six-inch pots and not much bigger around, are staying outside for the winter. The stems, or trunks if you will, are exposed to the elements, but the roots (still in their pots) are safely buried under some nice, insulating mulch. I dug holes for them in the front yard (sunniest and therefore warmest place) against the edge of our porch, behind some bushes, so they are also somewhat shielded from the wind.

The larger three seedlings (or are they saplings by now?) are in larger containers; digging holes big enough to keep them outdoors just isn't practical. These three will stay out on the front porch, adjusting as trees do to the change of season, until they lose all their leaves (meaning they are fully dormant) or temperatures consistently hover around or below freezing (meaning there's a risk their containers could freeze through, killing the roots, so I'm considering them close enough to dormant), whichever happens first. At that point, we will move them into an interior corner of our garage—the idea is to protect them from the wind and the coldest of the cold temps. I have already piled mulch over the dirt in the containers, insulating from the top. But we will also surround each container in layers of slightly crumpled newspaper and an old blanket or two, creating a bundle that will hopefully prevent the soil around the tree's precious roots from freezing all the way through. If we were in a rural or less-packed suburban area, I would just put the trees against a side of the house and pile hay or dead leaves over them as their winter coat. But I think our homeowners' association here would consider that not up to the neighborhood's aesthetic standards. So, newspaper in the garage it is.

You might be thinking that this is an awful lot of trouble for a few little seedlings that won't produce apples for years and even then might produce some weird, inedible variety. Well, maybe it is. But it's a long-term experiment that really doesn't take much of our time or resources, and I'm curious and optimistic. If we grow ourselves an orchard, I'll be sure to invite you all over for picking.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for us, will you?

UPDATE: We have now planted two and are still annually winterizing one of our apple saplings as of Winter 2012-2013! Click here to read a recap of our apple tree experience. 

1 comment:

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