Apple Growing Advice from Orchardist David Gilbertson

Mar 15, 2017

When David and Janet Gilbertson moved to their farm in 2002, Janet told her husband she'd like to grow some apple trees...so David planted 400 of them! Since then the Gilbertsons have been adding trees every year at what has become Gilby's Nursery and Orchard in Aitkin.

David Gilbertson talks about apple trees with knowledge and enthusiasm. He said it was a good winter for apple trees, and right now is the time to prune them. He recommends a 6-step pruning process:

  • Gather tools: a bypass pruner and 1/2 cup bleach to 1 gallon water to rinse them in to prevent the spread of fireblight
  • Remove vertical branches (aka water sprouts)
  • Use a thinning cut to within about 1/8" of the hormone ring (see slideshow...the hormone ring is a raised ring where a smaller branch joins a larger one)
  • Remove any branches that jut back into the tree or that cross other branches
  • Remove new branches on the leader. The leader should only have 4-8 branches. The better job you do pruning the less problem you will have with fungal issues
  • Make sure you can run your hat through the tree

Early spring care includes feeding the tree. David recommends getting a soil test, but if not that, at least provide a handful of 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 fertilizer around the drip line of each tree before it starts its spring growth.

Gilby's is a nursery as well as an orchard. They sell bare-root trees and have lots of information about trees on their website at gilbysorchard.com. A brand new variety for home growers is Kinderkrisp. Kinderkrisp possibly has the same "parents" as Sweetango, ripens early in the season, and will keep for a long time in storage. First Kiss is another new apple, licensed for planting in orchards. Customers will have the opportunity to try a First Kiss at Gilby's and other orchards this fall. David said he believes First Kiss' parentage is Honeycrisp and Black Arkansas.

David recommends that home apple growers in northern Minnesota consider high density planting--or trellised trees--on Bud 9 dwarf rootstock. Rootstock controls the size of a tree. Bud 9 is extremely cold-hardy for Zone 3 growers. Dwarf trees are planted about 3 feet apart on wire supports and will bear fruit in about 2 years.

Customers at Gilby's have always asked for advice, so David now offers beginning and advanced apple growing classes each spring. Classes are coming up April 22, at 9 am and 12:30 pm. They cover root stock selection, tree selection, planting, degree days, pollination, growth stages, fungal diseases, blight, bitter pit, insects, nutrition, tree training, cover crops, and pruning--among other things. Registration is $25 for each class (beginning and advanced), or you can take both classes for $45.

The Gilbertsons' plans for the nursery this summer include another high density planting of 300 trees and many family activities. Gilby's was voted a Minnesota Top 10 Pumpkin Patch in 2016.