There are early-, mid-, and late-maturing apple varieties, so the harvest season can stretch from August to October.
Pick apples from the tree when they separate easily from the branch and have firm flesh. Soft apples are overripe, but can be used for cooking. Store them in a cool spot (under 40 degrees F) after harvest.
Check out these recipe ideas for using your homegrown apples.
Unfortunately, apples are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases.
Apple maggot larvae burrow into the fruit, causing infested apples to drop early. Prevent it by picking up and destroying all fallen apples every week in summer, and use apple-maggot traps in the tree to catch the adult moths.
Apple scab is most prevalent in areas with cool, wet spring weather. Look for olive-brown spots on the leaves and the fruits. Prevent it by cleaning up all fallen leaves in autumn, selecting scab-resistant varieties (such as 'Honey Crisp' or 'Liberty'), and using liquid-sulfur sprays on the tree as the flower buds begin to open.
Cedar-apple rust causes pale yellow spots on leaf surfaces and fruits. The spots grow, turn orange, and get tiny black dots in them. Prevent it by selecting rust-resistant varieties, spraying with a liquid-sulfur spray in spring, and removing any junipers nearby.
Codling moth is a common insect pest. Its larvae feed on the fruits, creating small holes. Prevent it by spraying Bt, a natural bacterium, two weeks after the petals drop from the blossoms.
Fireblight causes blossoms to turn brown and die and branches to wilt and die with the leaves still on. Prevent it by pruning out any infected shoots, cleaning up all fallen leaves in autumn, selecting scab-resistant varieties (such as 'Empire' or 'Freedom'), and using a copper-sulfur spray on the tree before the buds open.
Powdery mildew looks like there's a silvery-gray covering on plant leaves. It often distorts new growth. Prevent it by cleaning up all fallen leaves in autumn, selecting mildew varieties (such as 'Gala' or 'Goldrush'), and using liquid-sulfur sprays on the tree as the flower buds begin to open.
Test Garden Tip: If you want perfect, blemish-free apples, you'll probably have to use a spray program. Most garden centers sell home orchard sprays, which need to be applied up to four times a year. Follow label directions carefully.
You can grow apples organically, however. The trees produce heavily, and even without spraying, you should be able to harvest plenty of edible fruit as long as you're willing to tolerate a few superficial blemishes.