Growing Apples in Interior Alaska
It's summer in Fairbanks! For many people in the Interior, that means that it is time to plant a garden. Anyone who has done a garden in Fairbanks has learned that Alaskan gardening is a completely different ball game than gardening in the "lower 48". There are several crops that one cannot produce in Alaska without creating an artificial environment: corn, watermelons, grapes, and peaches, to name a few. Many gardeners would add "apples" to the "can't grow here" list. If you are one of them, then I have a surprise for you today: you can, as a matter of fact, grow apples in Interior Alaska!
There are a few apple growers in Fairbanks, but the most notable and successful so far has been Clair Lammers. He started an orchard in the Fairbanks area that produces thousands of pounds of apples every year.
A few years ago, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Experimental Farm began experimenting with growing apples in the Interior's extreme climate. At the time of this writing, they have had difficulty producing apples outside. There best success has been with growing apples inside high tunnels. Unfortunately, one of their high tunnels collapsed this past winter. Their fruit tree trials have not progressed without challenges. Despite the farm's lack of success growing apples outside, other local apple growers have proven that it is possible. Hopefully the UAF's fruit tree trial program will continue, and continue smoothly.
How Apple Trees Can Survive Winters
Regular apple varieties are not hardy enough to survive Interior Alaskan winters, so apple growers take a different approach. Siberian Crabapples are hardy enough to survive the winter. So, to enable the regular apple to survive, it is grafted onto a hardy crabapple rootstock. This drastically increases its chances of survival.
Caring for the Tree
Once planted, the tree should not receive too much fertilizer. It is better that it is fertilized too little than too much. Another important tip is to avoid fertilizing after early summer. Some Alaskan apple growers say to fertilize no later than June 1st. Some say late June or early July, but don't push it. If they are fertilized too late, they will continue growing. When the frost comes, the tree will still have green growths that will not endure the deep cold of Alaskan Decembers or Januaries. When fertilizer is applied early, the trees can grow early, and then have time to harden off their new growths. The fertilizer should be low nitrogen, or an overall low fertilizer like 5-5-5. The apple trees do best with a lot of sun (a south-facing slope is recommended), water, and good drainage. Give them lots of water regularly. I give each tree a significant amount (quart, half-gallon, or even more sometimes) of water each day. After the first frost, water heavily once more so that the tree can store it up in it roots.
Moose love apple trees, so it is imperative to fence them off. Rodents and rabbits are also threats to a young tree. I protected mine by wrapping hardware cloth around the base of the small tree.
Other Helpful Resources
This was not at all an in-depth overview of fruit-growing in Alaska, but I hope you found it helpful. Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:
Posted June 1, 2012 at 6:44PM by Eli Mitchell in Gardening, Fairbanks, Alaska, Apples with 0 responses