As I prepared to plant a new apple tree in our yard, I learned that apples are fruit trees that prefer a relatively cool climate, where summer temperatures don’t exceed 90°F. But they also need lots of sunlight, for ripening fruits. Which raised an interesting question for me: do apples grow in winter? Like all deciduous plants, apples have a dormant period in winter when they lose their leaves and don’t grow. But apple trees handle cold weather quite well, and some cultivars continue to grow for all but a few weeks of winter. Since there are thousands of varieties, not all of them behave the same way over winter. This article is all about what winter means for apple trees, and what care they need from us during cold weather to ensure bumper harvests the following year.
- Do apples grow in winter?
- What temperatures do apple trees need?
- Different climates for different varieties
- Do apples grow in winter if it snows?
- Winter pests of apples trees
- How to care for your apple tree in winter
Do Apples Grow in Winter?
Apple trees are deciduous, which means they need a dormant period every year when they lose their leaves in the coldest months. However, apples also prefer relatively cold climates, and continue to grow for more of the winter period than a lot of other deciduous species. And certain varieties, referred to as late-season or winter apples, thrive especially well and even bear fruit in the cold season. If you’re looking to grow apples for winter harvests, take stock of how chilly it gets in your region and the apple varieties that can cope with that frigidity. But if you live somewhere truly cold in winter, bear in mind that there probably isn’t a dessert or cooking apple variety which won’t go dormant in the coldest months. You could still try growing the Siberian crab apple as an interesting alternative though!
Apples and “Chill Hours”
Almost all varieties of apple trees require a certain level of exposure to temperatures below 53°F in winter, known as ‘chill hours’ or ‘chill units’. Like all deciduous trees, they need the cold conditions in order to trigger strong regrowth in spring. The total number of chill hours they need is usually 500 to 1,000 non-consecutive hours. But some apples require more than 1,000 chill hours. And then are others that need fewer than 500 hours of cold weather exposure—which include Dorsett Golden (300 to 400), Beverly Hills (300), Fuji (400), and Granny Smith (400). These are the apples which grow the most in winter, because they require fewer dormant chill hours.
What Temperatures Do Apples Trees Need?
Generally, less than 42°F constitutes “cold” for apple trees, with the ideal temperature range being 32-45°F. Anything colder than 32°F could spell trouble. For instance, during a freeze or hard frost, when temperatures fall close to 24°F, the plant will suffer, even if it’s one night.
In summer, apple trees don’t like conditions warmer than 32°F. Farmers, in fact, employ massive fans to cool off their apple trees when the temperatures rise above this threshold. This is why temperate regions such as China, New Zealand and Europe are so successful at growing apples.
Climate Needs Vary According to Variety
There are more varieties of apple than any other fruit – more than 7,500. Although one type doesn’t look completely different from another, there are discernible differences in how they look and taste. Their growth requirements vary too. Three late fruiting apple varieties which are tolerant of overall cold climates are
- Laxton’s Superb
- Newton Wonder
Three apples developed specifically to perform well in warm climates are
- Ein Shemer
- Early Dawn
- Dorsett’s Golden
But they, and all other cultivars for warm climates, grow fruit in late spring and early summer.
Do Apples Grow In Winter When It Snows?
Most apple varieties can tolerate snow in winter, but they won’t grow during such cold conditions. It’s a good idea to plant new apple trees when it’s only mildly cold, and the ground has no snow cover. Before planting, check if the cold tolerance of your apple tree matches the climate in your area. Dig a roomy hole to accommodate the plant’s roots so they do not clump together or bend. After filling in the hole around the rootball, cover the base of the plant with a few inches of mulch so that the soil retains heat and moisture. Ensure the layer of mulch is no thicker than four inches, and doesn’t quite reach the trunk of the plant, as that could cause excessive moisture and fungus concerns.
Protect Your Apple Trees from Winter Pests
If you live in a cold region and are considering growing apple trees, take measures to protect the plant from animals and pests. Moose, for instance, are notorious for chomping on any semblance of living thing in their vicinity, including apple trees. If you live in Alaska, Canada, or the northern parts of America, moose attacks on your apple orchard are likely. In other cold regions, moose could be replaced by hungry deer. Voles and rabbits may also chew on your apple tree’s trunks. Erect fences to protect new apple saplings from being munched over winter. Dwarf varieties might need protecting every winter.
Smaller insects such as ants, moths, worms, and caterpillars could also look for shelter in the crevices of your apple tree’s trunks when it’s cold outside, and cause damage from within. Use chemicals like pest barriers to trap the bugs and not let them anywhere near your apple trees.
Take Good Care of Your Apple Trees Pre-Winter
Apple trees require protection during summer and spring. When taken good care of beforehand, the tree is better positioned to battle winter if temperatures drop below ideal numbers. And it will emerge stronger post-winter, ready for the next growing season. Water and feed your apple trees with the right kind and amount of nutrients during summer and fall. Well-watered apple plants develop long roots, which are less vulnerable to cold damage, and help a fledgling plant to hold its ground better.
Winter is Ideal for Pruning
Apple trees are deciduous trees, which means they shed leaves during winter – called “abscission.” Besides the natural sloughing, the trees also enter the dormant state during the period, making the time ideal for pruning. Pruning during the dormant winter season causes less stress on the plant and encourages fresh growth immediately after the weather starts to warm. The relatively sparse foliage makes it easier to detect branches and limbs that need to be removed. The cold weather also means the new cuts are less susceptible to insects.
Apples Don’t Like It Icy Cold
Although apple trees don’t mind winter weather in most regions, it is possible for them to get too cold. Especially varieties developed for warmer regions. If you live somewhere with very cold winters, choose one of the cold-climate cultivars above. Then think carefully about where you plant it – choose a sheltered spot, with minimal wind chill. Adding organic mulch at the start of winter can help protect your apple trees from freezing conditions too – like a cosy blanket.
Do Apples Grow in Winter – Summary
It’s late November as I type, and the apple tree we already have in our yard has finished fruiting, but my neighbor’s tree still has fruit left to pick. I’m excited to find out whether my new tree will spend much of next winter in active growth too, but only time will tell. All apples need some period of dormancy over winter, to trigger vigorous new growth with lots of flowers and fruit next year. But some varieties stay in growth for more winter months than others, and even produce late-season fruit in early winter, depending on your region.
Use the comments box down below to tell us how your apple tree performs in winter. Is it dormant for long? What is the latest in the year you’ve harvested fruit from it?
More Help Growing Apples
- Storing apples