The great high-altitude apple experiment

Possibly against my better judgment I decided to attempt growing apple trees. Never mind that I’ve lived here at about 8,700 feet in the Wet Mountains 20 years now and know very well the schizophrenic nature of the climate and ecology.

After doing some research on varieties I decided upon a Harelred, which is rated to 9,000 feet, and a Honey Crisp, rated to 8,000 feet. The former was developed by the University of Minnesota for cold climates. Obviously we’re over the limit with the latter, but then rattlesnakes are not supposed to exist above 8,000 feet either and we’ve got plenty of them here. In fact my neighbor found one in her garage yesterday.

Both apple trees were purchased locally at Native Woods in Westcliffe and are about 5 feet tall. The Haralred actually has four small apples on it. While in a grocery the other day my son Harrison suggested we buy more apples for the trees, and that might not be a bad idea.

After choosing a location based on full sun exposure, I dug the holes wide and deep, then filled back in with topsoil, planting the trees so that the graft knot was just above the surface. I then constructed a four-foot-high circular fence around each tree to keep rabbits and especially deer from eating them.

And then the wind began to blow at gale force for more than 24 hours. I finally parked my truck and stock trailer alongside the trees as a sort of temporary windbreak.

In the process of researching and planting these American variety trees I also by happenstance located some Kazkhstan apple seedlings. It is believed the apple we know today originated in Kazakhstan, and these apples are closest to a wild variety. My geography meets the criteria as a test location for these apples and I hope to be planting one of these trees later this week.

5 thoughts on “The great high-altitude apple experiment

  1. About 5 – 6 years ago we started our little orchard of apple and cherry trees. We are at 8100′ but up against the Sangres so we end up in the shadows early every day. I have to say that the cherry has done the best with great production every year. The apples have grown well but not done much in the way of blossums much less apples.
    After talking to folks much more knowledgeable that us (which doesn’t take much) we added a lot of natural and organic fertilizers last fall. This spring “Harly”, our Harelred has 10 blossum clusters! We hold our breath every evening that it doesn’t get below 28 and according to the weather forecast we may have finally passed that danger point last night.
    We also have a State Fair (Fairalito) and a Sweet Sixteen (Sweety) apple tree. And yes, we name everything here to give us a more personal relationship with them. What can I say?
    Bali (our cherry tree) is in full bloom and we added another Bali cherry several weeks ago, also purchased from Native Woods. We now have to call them Big Bali and Little Bali. The Bali cherry trees are good to minus 50 and the buds are hardy to minus 40. You might want to add a Bali to your orchard some day.
    We also have two cherries of unknown type that were given to us as sprouts by friends. We named them Bob and Carol (after the friends) and they are blossuming for the first time this year.

    Best of luck with your apples!

  2. We have an apple tree at the cabin that I think is a Harelred—it’s from Minnesota. It has been there only two years and not yet blossomed, but it’s hanging in. Some of the neighbors’ trees do bear well—and the bears get the excess, as they do from the feral apples along the road.

  3. Keep an eye peeled for fire blight, gents. It took both our apple trees down here in Bibleburg. We’re test-driving a Canadian red cherry now, and so far so good. It’s not big enough for the cats to roost in yet, though. Turkish did love those apple trees.

  4. Fireblight is a bacterial infection spread by bee’s. Given the lack of other apple trees infected with fireblight I think you’re safe from that. But I would advise wrapping the truck each fall with burlap or a paper wrap to prevent sun scald that happens in the winter when there is no sap to help the bark survive.

    I have had great luck with sour cherry trees, they survive almost anything.

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