Apple Trees in the South

Apple trees in the South? What?? Why, yes, Virginia, you can grow apple trees in the South! But you’re not alone in being surprised. I figured I could never grow apples down here in South Carolina. I grew up in Rhode Island where we could pick our own apples at local orchards, and I figured those days were over for me now that I live in Zone 8. However, I tasted a wonderful, new kind of apple a couple of months ago – a Pink Lady (a.k.a. Cripps Pink) – and I did some online research to find out more about that particular variety. During that research, I discovered that there ARE apple cultivars that will grow in hardiness zones with low chill hours! If you live in the Southern United States and thought you couldn’t grow apples, pull up a chair and read on for a pleasant surprise. (Above photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org)

THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR WHEN PLANTING APPLE TREES:

The most important factor you need to consider when choosing apple trees to plant is the number of chill hours required by that cultivar. The definition and calculation of chill hours can get rather complicated, but basically, one chill hour equals a temperature between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour between mid-November and February. (For more information, see my article “Chilling in the Garden.”) I always thought that all apple varieties required 1000 or more chill hours, and thus could be grown only up north. Well, I’m happy to say, there are numerous varieties of apple cultivars that require fewer chill hours and can be grown down South.

Apple blossoms Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Apple blossoms
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

HOW TO CHOOSE APPLE TREES FOR YOUR AREA:

If you wish to plant apple trees on your homestead, you must consider the following factors:

  • HARDINESS ZONE/NUMBER OF CHILL HOURS: Not only do you need to consider your hardiness zone, but you also have to consider the average number of chill hours your region receives. Where I live, the average chill hours is 400-600. For the number of chill hours in your area, look at this map of AVERAGE chill hours per region in the United States.
  • SIZE OF TREE AND SPACE AVAILABLE: Apple trees can grow very large, but there are dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties that can accommodate small yards. You also have to consider where to plant your tree so it gets enough sun; don’t forget to look at whether the area is overshadowed by larger trees nearby, as well as the amount of shade your new tree would cast on other trees or garden plants. Generally, dwarf trees grow 8-10 feet tall; semi-dwarf trees grow 12-15 feet tall; and standard trees grow 15 feet and taller.
  • COMPANION POLLINATOR: Most apple trees need a pollinator of a different cultivar in order to fruit; self-pollinating varieties should have a pollinator to set the most amount of fruit. So, it’s best to choose a pollinator and plant at least two apple trees. However, you can’t choose just any cultivar. Not only do your two trees have to have similar chill hour requirements, but they also have to have similar bloom times. Not every apple cultivar blooms at the same time. Your local or online nursery can help you with determining appropriate pollinator cultivars for the apple variety you wish to grow most.
  • PEST/DISEASE RESISTANCE: You will also want to consider varieties that are resistant to the pests and diseases common in your area. Again, your local or online nursery can help you with that.

APPLE CULTIVARS WITH LOW CHILL HOUR REQUIREMENT:

Although this list is not exhaustive, here is a sampling of the kinds of apple trees you can grow in the South with the average chill hours required:

  • Pink Lady (a.k.a. Cripps Pink) ~ An Australian cross between Golden Delicious and Lady Williams, it requires 200-400 chill hours
  • Granny Smith ~ 500-600 chill hours
  • Fuji ~ 200-400 chill hours
  • Gala ~ less than 600 chill hours
  • Golden Delicious ~ 600-700 chill hours

There are many websites that you can visit to give you ideas on apple varieties for your region. Here are a couple that might interest you:

Warm Climate Apple Variety List

General Apple Cultivar List

You can also get good information from online nurseries. Here are two I’ve ordered from:

Willis Orchard Company

Stark Brothers Nurseries and Orchards

This week, I placed an order with Stark Brothers for a Pink Lady apple tree and a Granny Smith apple tree. (I also ordered 3 grape vines – one each of red, white, and blue – and purple passion asparagus.) My order will be shipped next week, so stay tuned for my post on planting my trees!

Did this article wet your appetite for growing apples where YOU live?

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