Before the European colonists and missionaries stomped their black boots down on the New England rocks, there was not a single apple, not apple one along the North American coast, the entire continent or even the Western Hemisphere for that matter. Now, 300 years later, there are over 2,500 varieties growing from "sea to shining sea."


"As American as apple pie."

So true.

But actually, apples are not any more indigenous to America than we are.

Before the European colonists and missionaries stomped their black boots down on the New England rocks, there was not a single apple, not apple one along the North American coast, the entire continent or even the Western Hemisphere for that matter.

Now, 300 years later, there are over 2,500 varieties growing from "sea to shining sea."

Apples, perhaps the most ubiquitous fruit of all, come from an obscure and tiny mountainous country, Kazakhstan, halfway around the world. Kazakhstan is one of the "new" countries, south of Russia and north of Iran, geographically determined after the fracturing of the USSR.

So apples came here as immigrants, just like all our ancestors.

Apples migrated here in pockets, bags, packs and hands, in the bottom of barrels and in ship's holds. That's what makes them so peculiarly American. Just like us.

Many trees were meticulously and carefully planted, the seeds given to certain indigenous tribes with an agrarian interest such as the Iroquois by French missionaries. And those trees were carefully planted and groomed. Indeed, evolving into huge orchards.

Indigenous wildlife from whitetails to grouse and raccoons to turkey and bear all relish apples.

Apple trees increased their variety and population, sprouted and spread their limbs along with farms and settlements, reaching across the United States including parts of western New York and Ohio by John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed.)  However, apple trees do not do well in the warmer climates in the Southern U.S., especially the subtropical zone states such as Florida and southern Louisiana, as they need cooler weather to thrive.

But over the years, as the woodlands and trees slowly reclaimed old family farms and cleared lands, these same apple trees which once stood young and vigorous next to a barn or farmhouse are now slowly being choked within second-or even third-growth woodlots.

The farm's outbuildings slowly crumble, discarded machinery rusts into the ground. But the apple trees get bigger and older and increasingly more shaded by the younger, taller trees with quicker growth and expanding canopies.

Shade is bad for apples. They don't like it.

Late winter is a good time to get out and literally give these old trees a hand. This wintertime work will literally bear fruit and help wildlife. As a bonus, whitetails munch the pruned twigs and limbs down to a pencil-sized diameter.

January and February are ideal times to prune and train neglected apple trees, not only for better fruit, but for the overall appearance of the landscape along with the health of the tree.

First trim out competing trees and brush when starting out, to help one of these old neglected trees. 

Seems like a heavily flowering apple tree in May can give pause to even the hardest heart, most preoccupied mind, obsessed turkey hunter or focused fisherman.

Trees should be pruned and trained while dormant in the dead of winter. And once their competition is removed, the tree's own limbs need to be worked on because it actually shades itself.

There are rules and aphorisms about pruning apple trees. One of my favorites is: "You know an apple tree is pruned just right if you can throw a cat through the branches."

But a general, oft-quoted rule is the "rule of thirds." And that is prune back a third of the tree each year for three years.

One of the first things to attack with the pruning cutters and bow saw are dead branches. Old branches, especially broken by snow, wind, ice, or even a bumper crop of apples in a prior year, give pathways and entrance to all sorts of debilitating critters from bacteria to fungal colonists, all looking for a home and a place to set up shop.

One key to good apple production, throughout the entire tree, is even sunlight distribution.

We've all seen old apple trees with all the fruit on one side, or in a couple places on the tree.

This is a potential disaster for the tree just waiting to happen.

All that needs to be done is a bit of judicious pruning, first to the competition and then to the tree, itself.

Apple trees should be pruned at the top first. There, they are often excessively vigorous and produce few apples, being overly concerned with leaf and wood growth. Apples there are big, soft and sparse.

At the bottom of the tree, in the lowest layers, it's just the opposite; small, hard and bunched. Branches are overly dense and shade each other too much there.

Good apples, like good ideas, are most often found in between the two extremes.

Contact Oak Duke at publisher@wellsvilledaily.com.