Fruits of Your Labor
Ever thought of growing apples in Central Florida? You can, but be prepared to give your trees a lot of care and attention.
For many of us, fall’s cooler temperatures evoke yearnings for crisp, backyard apples transformed into pandowdies and lattice-crusted pies. If those yearnings are tempting you to plant an apple tree, proceed with caution.
“It’s really difficult” to grow apples in Central Florida, says Jennifer Pelham, a residential horticulturist at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
The problem is “chill time,” the number of hours of below-45 degree temperatures required for apples to prosper. Most varieties require anywhere from 500 to more than 2,000 hours of chill time.
“Typically, we get anywhere from 210 to 310 hours of below-45 degrees,” Pelham says. Without proper chill time, “the apples won’t set fruit and the trees may not even survive.”
But some of us are undaunted.
Trevor Toribio, a Florida-certified horticulturist with Lukas Nurseries & Butterfly Encounter in Oviedo, says the nursery carries a good selection of apple trees that will grow in Central Florida and even bear fruit. “They’re not going to be as big as grocery store fruit, but they’ll do well with proper care.”
Apple lovers willing to battle their tree’s foes for two or three years—excessive rain, which can cause rot, and high temperatures, which can fry the fruit—will be rewarded with “a good-tasting, decent-size apple,” he says.
What’s a decent size? “A little bit smaller than my fist,” says Toribio.
The varieties most commonly attempted in Central Florida are the Anna, the Dorsett Golden, the Ein Shemer and the University of Florida-developed Tropic Sweet. All have a cold requirement of 300 to 400 hours, according to UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. All should be cross-pollinated with another variety. Dorsett Goldens are pollinators for Annas and Ein Shemers. IFAS notes that “North Central to Central Florida has proven most reliable for Anna,” and recommends Tropic Sweet for those areas as well.
Tropic Sweets “have a good flavor if you can get them that far,” says Robert Bowden, director of Leu Gardens in Orlando. “They taste like a McIntosh, kind of tart and crisp.”
Bowden is an apple skeptic based on experience. “I bought a tree about 10 years ago,” he recalls. “I fertilize it like I’m supposed to, I water it like I’m supposed to. If that tree has grown a foot, I’d be very surprised.”
Growing Apple Trees in Central Florida
- Trees purchased in containers can be planted any time of the year provided adequate water is applied. Provide water through the dry spring months and other dry periods.
- Buy trees in 3-gallon containers.
- Select sites that get at least eight hours of daily sunlight.
- Dig each hole twice as large as the container.
- Prevent air pockets by alternately refilling the hole with a little bit of soil and a little water.
- With the leftover soil, create a ring around the edges of the hole to form a reservoir for water. Fill the reservoir with water to settle the soil around the roots.
- Water every day for the first 2 weeks. Afterward, just keep it moist.
- Do not fertilize trees at planting.
- Apply fertilizer first during the dormant season in January and then again at the start of the rainy season in June.
No green thumb? Visit Lukas Nursery & Butterfly Encounter in Oviedo for help and answers to your gardening questions (lukasnursery.com).