Trumbull County was host to more than 300 Master Gardeners from all over the state of Ohio last week when the educational program from The Ohio State University Extension held its annual affair.
And although we welcomed Master Gardeners from nearly all of the 70 Ohio counties that have this extension program, 65 of those attending were from our own county. Six northeast Ohio counties that included Trumbull, Geauga, Ashtabula, Portage, Mahoning and Lake hosted the event held at the Avalon Inn and Kent Trumbull Campus.
The OSU Extension has trained more than 4,000 Master Gardener volunteers throughout the state, and while less than 10 percent attend the convention each year, it is still one of the premier educational components of the program. Trumbull County has trained more than 75 Master Gardeners since 1998 and continues to hold training classes each winter for those interested in gardening as well as volunteering for community educational programs.
During last week's conference, one day was spent touring garden centers, nurseries and in the case of one tour last week, an apple orchard and a grape research facility, where gardeners were able to see research as it happens. Ohio, it turns out, is quite a popular wine making state, and vintners depend heavily on local grape-growers, who in turn, depend on university-based research to help them grow the best quality product.
Ohio also is quite well known for its apples. As well as being one of the favorite hang outs for pioneer nurseryman John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, local orchards heavily depend upon Ohio's apple research. Ranked 10th in the nation for apple production according to Ohio orchard listings, it's no wonder we see so many apple festivals in our state each autumn.
Apple growing isn't just for the commercial grower, however. Backyard home orchards can be equally as productive, not to mention fun, for all of us amateur growers, too. According to OSU research from the horticulture and crop science division, home growers can not only raise tasty, fresh fruit in their own backyards, but we also can grow cultivars that aren't readily available in our local grocery stores. Do you have a favorite apple variety that you can't seem to find anywhere else? Plant a tree and grow it!
One of my favorite early apple varieties is Honeycrisp, which is available in most grocery stores for a short time in early fall. The reason it is only available for a short time is because this variety ripens early and once its season is over, you won't find this apple any longer. Honeycrisp is a wonderful eating apple, just a bit on the tart side, but sweet enough to keep it from causing mouth-pucker.
When choosing apple varieties for your own budding orchard, try to find varieties that are resistant to diseases such as fire blight, apple scab and cedar apple rust. Home growers are better off choosing dwarf or semi-dwarf trees to make pruning easier to handle. Most apple tree varieties are grafted onto different rootstock. It is the rootstock that determines the ultimate size of the tree, but don't let the terms dwarf and semi-dwarf fool you. This usually means that instead of getting 80 feet tall, the tree will get 40 to 50 feet tall. To keep the trees at a manageable size, pruning is necessary.
A newly planted tree usually only needs light pruning to help maintain its shape. Trees are often pruned to maintain a shape that is wider at the bottom and tapers to a point. This means pruning off side branches that might cause the tree to have more than one central leading trunk. To keep the tree at a manageable height, cut the central leader in early spring while still dormant. Prune away all branches that criss-cross others or seem to grow sideways. Branches should be pruned for length as well, shortening them from bottom to top. Never allow top branches to get so long that they shade lower branches.
Apple trees should be fertilized each spring. A soil test can determine if you need to add any important nutrients as well as how much fertilizer should be applied. Follow the directions on the label for the correct application amounts and apply the fertilizer all the way to the drip line. The drip line is the distance from the trunk to the outer edges of the longest branch.
If you have apple trees that have been neglected and growing out of control, heavy pruning can help get them back in shape. Here are a few tips from OSU's horticulture and crop science department that apply to all fruit trees:
l Prune late in the dormant season, usually March in our area, to avoid cold injury to the trees.
l Prune heavily on neglected trees or vigorous growing cultivars.
l Make all heading back cuts just beyond a bud or branch.
l Make all thinning cuts just beyond the base of the branch being removed.
l Avoid pruning too close.
l Don't prune a large "shade" tree back to a dwarf fruit tree size all in one year.
l Wound dressings are not needed if trees are pruned in the dormant season.
l Use the right tools for the job. Hand shears can be used for small twigs and lopping shears for larger branches.
For more information on growing apples and other fruit trees in your own backyard, contact The Ohio State University Extension Trumbull County Master Gardener hotline at 330-637-3908 or e-mail email@example.com.