As you read this, the Chilhowie Apple Festival is in full swing. The Apple Festival Parade is one of the fond memories of my childhood; I looked forward to it every fall. In keeping with the Apple Festival celebration, let’s take a closer look at this Virginia staple.

Growing apples in the home garden can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but consistent production of high-quality fruit requires knowledge of tree and fruit growth and a willingness to perform certain practices at the appropriate time. Virginia is on the southern fringe of the U.S. apple producing region. Most apple varieties produce the highest quality fruit when night-time temperatures are cool (less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit) at harvest time. Apples grown under warmer conditions tend to be large, soft, poorly colored, and less flavorful than when grown under cooler conditions. Our warm humid summers are also conducive for infection of many diseases. For these reasons, the best Virginia apples are grown at elevations higher than 800 feet above sea level in the western part of the state. However, even apples grown in eastern Virginia usually have quality superior to apples purchased in the supermarkets.

The most important factor contributing to annual cropping is the avoidance of frost during bloom. Air temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit during bloom may kill flowers and eliminate the crop. Covering trees with various materials is of little benefit. In general, high areas, such as hill tops or hill sides that are surrounded by lower ground, have the least frost damage. Cold air is heavier that warm air and flows into low areas much as water flows into low areas.

There are more than 3,000 apple varieties in the world, but only about 25 varieties are commonly grown in Virginia. Many varieties perform satisfactorily in Virginia, but some should be grown only at higher elevations where night time temperatures are relatively low. Generally, apples grown with low (40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) night-time temperatures have better red color, firmer flesh, better storage characteristics, and better flavor than fruit grown in warmer regions. Because most apple varieties are adapted to certain climates, local environmental conditions should be considered.

Personal preference for a given variety is an important consideration in variety selection. For example, McIntosh-type varieties perform best in Northern states, but McIntosh grown in Virginia is harvested before northern-grown McIntosh is available in supermarkets. Therefore, Virginia-grown McIntosh is the only McIntosh available. Although the eating quality is only fair, it is acceptable.

Use of the fruit is another consideration. People differ in their opinions concerning the best varieties for sauce, pies, juice, and eating out of hand. Therefore, there may be select varieties you prefer to use for various purposes. Some varieties store better than others, and this may be an important consideration.  Apple varieties ripen in Virginia from late-June until mid-November. If desirable, different varieties can be planted to provide fresh apples over a four-month period.

During late winter or early spring within a few weeks before bloom, trees should be pruned. Pruning temporarily reduces tree cold hardiness. Pruning just before bloom, or even during bloom, reduces the likelihood of winter injury. The central leader will have two to four narrow-crotched upright shoots developing just below the previous year's pruning cut. Retain the longest straightest shoot and remove the top one third of it. Remove all narrow-crotched shoots below the new central leader. Retain all limbs with wide-angled crotches except those developing within two feet of the ground. Upright growing branches should be reoriented to 45 to 60 degrees from horizontal. Branches can be spread by placing stiff pieces of wire or wooden sticks between the trunk and upper surface of the branch. Branches can also be spread by tying the branch down with string or hanging weights on the ends of the branch. Prune as little as possible to encourage early fruiting.

Upcoming Events

Sept. 26-29 -- Chilhowie Apple Festival.

Sept. 27 – Oct. 6 --State Fair of Virginia.

Oct. 2 -- Pesticide Disposal (Commercial and Homeowners), Supergro, Seven Mile Ford.

Oct. 4 -- Deadline to Consign Calves for the Nov. 6 VQA Sale.

Oct. 5 -- Hokie Bugfest, Squires Student Center, Blacksburg.

Oct. 9 -- Smyth County AG Day for 4th Graders, WL Hanger, Chilhowie.

Nov. 1 -- Deadline to Consign Calves to December VQA Sale.

Nov. 6 -- VQA Sale, Tri State Livestock Market, 7 p.m.

Nov. 11 -- VQA Steer Take Up, Tri-State.                              

Nov. 13 -- VQA Heifer Take Up, Tri State.

Nov. 18 -- Smyth County Farm Management/Private Pesticide Recertification Meeting, 6 p.m., Farm Bureau Building in Marion.

Nov. 20 -- Pesticide Recertification, 8:30 a.m., Smyth County Extension Office.

Dec. 4 -- VQA Sale, Tri State Livestock Market, 7 p.m.

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Dr. Andy Overbay is Smyth County’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent.

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