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Introduction: You probably like apples. Nearly everyone does. In fact, the average person in the United States eats more than 40 pounds of fresh apples and apple products each year! Still, most people don't know that much about the apples they eat. For instance, did you know that there are more than 7500 varieties (different kinds) of apples in the world or that more than 2500 varieties of apples are grown in the United States? Each of these varieties of apples is a little (or a lot) different. Some are very sweet; others are tart or even sour. Though many are red, others are yellow, green, or striped. Some are hard and crisp; others are soft or even a little mushy. Some are best for fresh eating; others are better for pies, or apple sauce, or cider.
Some may stay good and fresh in your refrigerator for months while others might spoil in just a couple of weeks.

And I'll bet you didn't know that the apple trees in an orchard are two-part trees. They are made up of a bottom part called a rootstock (the below-ground part of the tree that determines its eventual size) and an above-ground part called a scion (the c is silent) or cultivar that determines the variety or kind of fruit it produces. The place where these two parts join is called the graft.    

Apples can be grown in nearly every state, including Alaska. However, most varieties (or cultivars) will not grow and bear fruit in all geographic areas. Many have been bred for specific climates and are much more likely to live and do well near where they were developed or in other locations with similar climates. By completing this project, you will learn about the different varieties of apples that can be grown where you live. You will also learn about apple rootstocks, tree spacing,
and  pollination, as well as some additional things about apples and orchards.

Scenario: The gardening club in your area has just received the donation of a choice piece of property to be used as a community garden. It had been used as a pasture for horses and is on a gentle hillside. The soil is fertile and perfect for growing vegetables and fruits, particularly apples! The gardening club has decided that part of the property should be used as an apple orchard. The area they have set aside for the orchard is more than one-half acre in size and measures 210 feet by 150 feet. The gardening club has set aside $1500 for purchasing apple trees and supplies necessary for getting the trees off to a good start.

Task: The club has asked for help from your clas
s in planning the apple orchard because they know you have been studying apples and apple trees. So, in teams of four students, you are to research and learn about apples that would grow best and taste best in your location. You should also find which types of rootstocks are suitable for your area and learn about their advantages and disadvantages. Once these two tasks are accomplished, you and your team are to draw an orchard plan. To complete the orchard plan you will have to decide which rootstock you will use, which varieties you will include, how many of each variety you will plant, how far apart to space the trees, what supplies you will need, and whether you will plant the entire orchard this year or plant only a part of it now and wait until next year to finish it. Remember, your budget is $1500 for trees AND orchard supplies. It is okay to spend less than that, but you cannot spend more!

Process: 1. Each member of your group should choose one of the following articles: The Life of an Apple Tree, Home Fruit Production: Apples, How Apples are Grown, and Welcome to the Four Seasons of Growing Apples. They should carefully read the article they chose and then tell the other members of the group about some of the most important things they learned by reading it. These articles will give you good information that will help you in planning your orchard.

2. Take a look at the
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and find out what hardiness zone you live in. You must know your zone in order to pick apple trees that will do well in your area.

3. Go the
apple rootstocks page and decide whether you will plant standard (full-size), semi-dwarf, or dwarf trees. The information on that page will help you make this choice.

4. Draw a rough draft of your orchard to see how many trees you can plant in your orchard site. Remember, its dimensions are 210 feet by 150 feet. Dwarf trees must be planted at least 12 feet apart, semi-dwarf trees 20 feet apart, and standard (full-size) trees 30 feet apart. You must have at least 15 feet between your trees and the border of your orchard. You can choose to plant your trees further apart and further from the orchard boundaries, but no closer together than the distances listed above! See the sample apple orchard diagram for an example. Draw the boundaries of your orchard to scale. For instance, if you use 12 inch by 18 inch construction paper, one inch can equal 15 feet. So your orchard will be 14 inches long by 10 inches wide.
Draw a circle where each tree will go. If your trees will be planted 30 feet apart, the centers of your circles will be two inches apart.

5. Now that you know how many apple trees will fit in your orchard, you will need to see if you have enough money in your budget to buy them all this year. Remember, you have $1500 for trees AND supplies. Use the following prices:

Trees on standard rootstock - $17 each
Trees on semi-dwarf rootstock - $19 each
Trees on dwarf rootstock - $20 each

Shipping and Handling:  Add 5% to the total amount for the purchase of your trees.
(If you think these prices are too high, take a trip to a local nursery or garden shop and substitute their prices) 

Supplies: Add $1.00 per tree for a plastic spiral wrap (for protection against animals and weather), plus an additional $1.50 per tree for wood-chip mulch (one $3.00 bag will be enough for two trees). The mulch will keep the soil moist and help get your trees off to a good start. Also add 50 cents per tree for protective sprays to keep insects and tree diseases from harming your orchard during the first year. Finally, if you are planting dwarf trees, add another 50 cents per tree for stakes to keep the trees from falling over.

So, add $3.00 per tree for standard or semi-dwarf trees or $3.50 per tree if you are planting dwarf trees.

Remember, your total cannot be more that $1500. It is okay to spend less! And you can buy some trees this year and the rest next year.

6. Now that you know how many trees you will plant, go to the choosing apple varieties page and pick the varieties (kinds of apples) you want to grow in your orchard. Your orchard must have at least five different kinds (varieties) of apples; you must include at least one early-season apple, one mid-season apple, and one late-season apple. At least two varieties in your orchard must be good for cooking and two for fresh eating. And most importantly, the apple varieties you pick must be ones that are recommended for growing where you live!

7. Decide how many trees of each of the varieties you will plant.

8. Go to the apple pollination page and read about cross-pollination before you decide where to put the trees in your orchard.

9. Draw a final diagram of your orchard. As you decide where to place each tree, it is important to think about pollination.  Number each tree, and either on the side of your diagram or on another piece of paper, write the names of the apple varieties you have chosen. Next to each variety, list the numbers of the trees that represent that variety. (See the sample apple orchard diagram for an example.)

10. On a separate piece of paper, list the apple varieties you chose to include in your orchard and write a brief description of each. In your descriptions, include information on color (red, yellow, green, striped), size (large, medium, small), season (early, mid-season, late),  use (fresh eating, baking, sauce, cider), characteristics (hard, soft, crisp, juicy), taste (sweet, tart), storage (how long it will stay fresh), and any other qualities you think should be noted. Use the sites on the choosing apple varieties page to find this information. If you need additional information about an apple variety, try a search on Type in the variety name, then a plus (+) sign, and then the word apple (for instance, Haralson+apple).    

11. Compare your orchard diagram to those of other groups. What rootstock did most groups choose? Did the groups make similar choices of apple varieties? How much of the $1500 did groups spend? Why did some spend more than others?

12. Decide as a class which orchard plan would you choose for the garden club orchard. Discuss the reasons for your choice.

Want to learn more about growing apples and other fruits? Try the activities below:
1. Visit the nursery sites page (Some Nurseries which Sell Apple Trees)
and find out where you could order the varieties of apple trees you picked for your orchard. Compare the prices at the nursery sites to those listed in part five of the process section above.
2. Learn more about apple rootstocks by visiting the links at the bottom of the
apple rootstocks page.
3. Investigate the history of apples in your area. When were apples first planted? Who planted them? What varieties did they plant? Go to Apple History and Information Links to get started.
4. Add other types of fruit trees to the orchard you planned. Replace some of the apple trees with pears, plums, cherries, and other types of fruit that will grow well in your area.
5. Have a back yard? Pick the two apple varieties suited for your area that sound the best to you. Talk to your parents about purchasing and planting them in your back yard!

AppleQuest Teachers' Page

Apple Rootstocks Page

Choosing Apple Varieties

Apple Pollination

Some Nurseries which Sell Apple Trees

Apple History and Information Links

Sample Apple Orchard Diagram

Have questions or comments about this page? My name is

Edmund J. Sass, Ed.D.
Professor of Education
College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University
You can reach me at