Grow honeycrisp Apple tree

Honeycrisp Apple Care – How To Grow A Honeycrisp Apple Tree

For apple lovers, fall is the best time of the year. That’s when markets are filled with Honeycrisp apples. If these are your favorite and you are thinking of growing Honeycrisp apples, we have some tips for optimal success. These sweet, crunchy fruits are consistently rated as one of the highest quality apples with a long storage life. Plant a tree and in just a few years you will have a bumper Honeycrisp apple harvest.

Honeycrisp Apple Information

Honeycrisp apples are noted for their creamy, juicy flesh and versatility. Whether you want a pie fruit, sauce apple or fresh crispy specimen, honey crisp apples are winners. The trees are widely available and Honeycrisp apple information touts their cold hardiness, making trees suitable into United States Department of Agriculture zone 4 and possibly 3 in protected locations. Learn how to grow a Honeycrisp apple tree and enjoy years of mid-season fruits with unparalleled flavor.

Honeycrisp trees are available on dwarf or regular rootstock. They are reliable bearers and produce fruit very early in maturity. The tree originated in Excelsior, Minnesota

in 1974 and has become one of the more popular modern varieties. Fruits are rosy red, medium sized and have thin skins. Fruits do not ripen uniformly on the tree and flavor doesn’t develop once harvested, so multiple harvests are required on this apple. However, this means fresh apples for weeks and they store wonderfully for up to 7 months in a cool, dark location.

In Europe, the fruit is known as the Honeycrunch apple and performs well in cooler regions.

How to Grow a Honeycrisp Apple Tree

Plant young apple trees in well amended and loosened loamy soil in a full sun location. Soil must drain freely and have a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. The tree does need a pollinating companion to set fruit. Choose an early to mid-season bloomer.

The trees seem to do best when trained to a central leader, so some staking will be required for the first few years. As the tree begins to bear, excess fruits on the lower stems should be removed to reduce breakage. Prune young trees in winter when they are dormant to produce a strong scaffold capable of holding the heavy fruits.

Most Honeycrisp apple harvest occurs in September but can last into October. Handle the delicate fruits carefully, as they are prone to bruising and damage due to the thin skins.

Honeycrisp Apple Care

These trees are prone to several diseases and pests, although they are resistant to apple scab. Young trees are susceptible to fire blight but mature trees seem unbothered by the disease. Mildew, flyspeck and sooty blotch are fungal diseases of concern.

Most pests cause cosmetic damage to the fruit such as codling moths and leafrollers, but aphids attack new growth and flower buds, reducing vigor and yield. Apply appropriate pesticides such as horticultural soap at 7-day intervals to control sucking insects. Codling moths are best controlled using sticky traps early in the season.

The curse of the Honeycrisp apple

Unlike the vast majority of modern commercial produce, the Honeycrisp apple wasn’t bred to grow, store or ship well. It was bred for taste: crisp, with balanced sweetness and acidity. Though it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, along the way it became a nightmare for some producers, forcing small Northeastern growers to compete with their massive, climatically advantaged counterparts on the West Coast.

The Honeycrisp wasn’t an immediate success. The original tree, known officially as MN1711, was discarded in 1977 over concerns about its winter hardiness. But Bedford, who joined the team in 1979, found four small clones that had miraculously escaped the garbage and decided to see if they’d yield fruit. “In 1983,” Bedford wrote in an email, “those small trees bore a few amazing fruit and the rest is history.”

The Honeycrisp variety is now so popular, consumers will spend three times the cost of other apples to experience it.

Production of Honeycrisps has doubled over the last four years, making it the fifth most-grown variety, according to Mark Seetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs at the U.S. Apple Association. But not everyone is a fan. Those who produce Honeycrisps often have the most cutting words for it.

“The first challenge is controlling its vigor,” said Brenda Briggs of Rice Fruit Co., which has been selling apples out of Adams County, Pennsylvania, for more than 100 years. Growers, she explains, have to train the trees so that their branches don’t get too tall too fast, with leaves that block the sunlight from the apples below.

The fruit is also vulnerable to bitter pit-small, sunken brown spots that sully an otherwise perfect orb. The flaw is a result of the trees’ inability to properly take up calcium from the soil. Growers are forced to spray their orchards with foliar calcium to boost their intake, but it’s not always enough.

Size can also be an issue. “The fruit tends to grow very big,” said Mark Nicholson of New York’s Red Jacket Orchards, whose business includes about 400 acres dedicated to apples. “That’s good, but at a certain point the consumer doesn’t want to buy an apple the size of a grapefruit.”

The thin skin that makes those first bites so juicy is also very delicate and easily sunburned. Birds love Honeycrisps more than other apples, forcing growers to buy and install netting to keep them away.

Even if a producer manages to grow a decent crop of Honeycrisps, harvesting and storage come with additional hurdles. The variety is so delicate that the stems have to be clipped off so the apples don’t tear each other. And while other apples can go right from tree to cold storage, Honeycrisps must first spend 5-10 days being “tempered” at a mild temperature before they can be refrigerated.

“It requires growers to do a lot more work,” Nicholson said. In the end, only 55 percent to 60 percent of the fruit makes it to retail, Seetin said.

It also means that even though Honeycrisps cost more than double the price of Red and Golden Delicious apples-at a national average of $2.19 a pound for the month of October-producers aren’t raking it in. “There’s a higher investment and production cost in places that are not Minnesota,” where the Honeycrisp was originally bred, said Karina Gallardo, an agricultural economist at Washington State University.

So why do farmers put up with the hassle? They simply don’t have a choice.

The demand for this one apple exceeds supply-it’s all consumers, and therefore supermarkets, want. So growers are planting with almost reckless abandon, pulling out old varieties, like the tired Red Delicious, and putting in Honeycrisp trees-even in places where they don’t grow well.

For the massive West Coast orchards, this isn’t much of a problem. But on the East Coast, which has smaller orchards and wet weather that makes organic growing impossible, the challenge is more acute. “There’s a lot of concentration of apple growing in the one place , and that makes it easier for those growers to supply big retailers,” said Susan Futrell, author of “Good Apples: Behind Every Bite” and director of marketing at Red Tomato, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit distributor for a network of over forty wholesale growers. “Decisions about what varieties to carry are getting made by fewer and fewer people and further away from where people are buying the apples.”

Even for such retailers as Whole Foods Market and FreshDirect, both of which have robust local programs, sourcing from the West Coast to sell in the East is inevitable if they want to carry the organic version of their most popular apple.

Meanwhile, everyone is nervously waiting for the day when the supply-demand equilibrium brings sticker prices down far enough that growing the Honeycrisp no longer makes economic sense.

But it’s not likely to happen soon, said Eric Rama, head of agricultural research at MetLife Inc. Even though production is increasing at a rapid pace, demand for premium apples isn’t waning. Retail prices, though slightly lower than last year’s, have stayed at appealing heights for farmers and probably won’t sink in the foreseeable future, he said.

Still, the industry is on the lookout for the next Honeycrisp. Something just as delicious, but less troublesome to cultivate.

Broetje Orchards in Prescott, Washington, is devoting 10 percent of its 7,000 acres to the non-browning Opal, Paul Esvelt, the orchard’s post harvest manager, told Bloomberg at a New York City event to promote the fruit. That’s the same amount of space the grower sets aside for the Honeycrisp. Esvelt expects 3 percent growth for the Opal next year, while Honeycrisp acreage will remain stagnant.

Washington State University plans to introduce the Cosmic Crisp as early as next year, said Gallardo. Tangy, sweet and-as the name implies-crispy, the apple could account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the state’s production.

Josh Morgenthau of Fishkill Farms in New York, meanwhile, would like to see more credit given to the Esopus Spitzenburg, a New York original known for its spicy profile and, some say, a particular favorite of Thomas Jefferson’s.

Despite the extra work, growers will keep planting, picking and selling the Honeycrisp, as long as the core economics makes sense.

“If they aren’t making money,” said Bedford, “I’d be the first to tell them to pull it out.”

This article was written by Deena Shanker and Lydia Mulvany, reporters for Bloomberg.

By Linda Green

Learn how to grow Honeycrisp apple tree. Honeycrisp apples are growing in popularity for their exceptional freshness, sweet taste and crisp and juicy flavor. They are a cross between “Macoun” and Honeygold” apples.

USDA Zones— 3 – 9a

Difficulty— Moderate

Soil pH— 6 – 7

Propagation and Growing Honeycrisp apples

If you are planning to grow honeycrisp apple tree, it is better to buy a grafted plant from nursery. Grafted trees are good annual bearers with increased productivity.

Spacing

Honeycrisp trees spread relatively large in compare to other apple cultivars. Without enough space they may become stunted and produce poor quality fruits.

Plant honeycrisp tree in less windy but clearest and sunniest spot of your garden, remember it must be protected in bad weather and storms as honeycrisp apple tree has relatively weak timber.

Dwarf honeycrisp trees should be planted 10 feet apart and semi-dwarf trees 15 feet away.

Also Read: How to Grow Asian Pears

Planting Honeycrisp Apple trees

Bareroot plant of Honeycrisp apple needs to be planted in spring. A grafted tree bought from nursery can be planted in spring or in fall.

Pollination

If you are growing Honeycrisp apple tree you should know it is self sterile, grow a tree or two of other apple cultivars to ensure cross-pollination and better fruit harvest. Grow pollinating tree within 50 feet range of Honeycrisp tree.

Requirements for Growing Honeycrisp Apple

Sun

For growing honeycrisp apple tree full sun is required.

Watering

Honeycrisp tree requires regular watering when it is establishing. It is important to keep the root ball moist during the first three months after planting.

Once established Honeycrisp apple tree needs water only when the soil is dry to a depth of 3 inches near the trunk of tree, the normal rainfall is sufficient to keep mature trees green.

Soil

For planting honeycrisp apples, soil should be well draining with a pH level around 6 to 7. It grows best in loamy soil: a mixture of sand, silt and light clay.

Honeycrisp Apple Tree Care

Honeycrisp apple trees are weak so you will need to acquire a trellis system to support your plant.

Mulching

Spread a ring of mulch 2 – 4 inches thick and deep and about 3 feet 6 inches wide from the beginning of the apple tree trunk. Do not allow the mulch to touch or accumulate against the bark, where it will cause rot.

Pruning

Prune your Honeycrisp apple tree when it is about 3 to 5 years old in early spring before new growth emerge. Clip off vertically growing branches, leaving 5 – 7 branches that grow horizontally to bear fruit. These branches should be spaced evenly around the trunk or central branch.

Fertilizer

Fertilize young Honeycrisp tree in its first year with 10-10-10 fertilizer, spread evenly on the soil 6 inches away from tree’s trunk in early spring.

For mature trees it is best to get your soil tested before fertilizing for best results.

Thinning

Honeycrisp apple tree requires extensive thinning to produce quality fruits. If all apples are allowed to stay on the tree, the result is low-quality fruits with poor color. The tree can also be deformed or even have branches break down from the half since the Honeycrisp apple tree tends to produce large, heavy fruits.

Thinning should happen when apples are about half an inch in diameter. Either do it by hand or using chemical solvents. Honeycrisp apple tree should not have more than 24 fruits per inch of trunk diameter.

Harvesting

Harvesting of Honeycrisp apples begins around late august to september. Best way to determine if apples are ready for harvest is to taste one. The longer the apples remain on the tree, the more crisp and sweet they become.

Also Read: How to Grow Strawberries

Pests and Diseases

Unfortunately honeycrisp apple trees are not resistant to most of the apple diseases albeit they are more susceptible, especially to rust juniper, black rot, cedar apple rust, fireblight, and penicillium.

In pests, honeycrisp apple tree can be attacked by codling moths, leafrollers, aphids and scales. They are also prone to powdery mildew.

Here’s Why Honeycrisp Apples Are So Expensive

The Honeycrisp Apple is an agricultural phenomenon. Consumers are paying double, sometimes triple, the price of more traditional varieties for the crunchy, sweet-tart fruit. While many think the apple’s high price is driven by its high demand, that’s not the case. It turns out that Honeycrisps are just really difficult to get from seed to shelf.

The Honeycrisp is unique in that it was bred solely for taste, not for easy growing, storing, or shipping, David Bedford, one of the original Honeycrisp breeders, told Bloomberg. Forty years ago there were only a few options for those who didn’t want to be stuck snacking on a soft, mealy apple. Thus, the Honeycrisp was born.

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Bedford noted this apple variety didn’t catch on immediately, as the issues regarding growing and transport seemed to outweigh its unique crispness and sweetly acidic flavor. However, since its inception in 1977, the cult following created by the texture and taste of this apple has required farmers to succumb to difficult growing and transportation practices.

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Production of the Honeycrisp has doubled in the last four years and has become the fifth most-grown variety of apple. This isn’t a problem for a majority of orchards on the West Coast, but Northeastern orchards are struggling to keep up.

West Coast orchards are typically much larger than their Northeastern counterparts, and thus, they can handle bigger losses during growth and transport. With only 55 to 60 percent of Honeycrisps actually making it to the consumer, it is a deficit the smaller, more rain-prone Northeastern orchards can’t keep up with. These states are having to look across the country to source their apples, instead of buying local.

When it comes to the growing process, Honeycrisps require lots of attention. Flaws in the apple trees can lead to calcium deficits in the fruit, and blocked sunlight from massive branches can stunt fruit growth. Plus, their crisp, juicy skin makes them vulnerable to sunburn (and an enjoyable snack for birds.)

If an apple makes it to the ripening stage, stems have to be delicately removed, and the apples must be stored tempered at a mild temperature for 5-10 days, instead of going straight to cold storage like most other varieties.

That being said, farmers aren’t making more money off of Honeycrisp enthusiasts; consumers are simply paying for the apples that didn’t make it to the grocery store or farmer’s market.

These apple farmers are in a tight spot, as much of their time and resources are dedicated to the Honeycrisp, but the high demand means they can’t afford to lower production.

Orchards around the country are attempting to introduce or promote other apple varieties with a similar flavor profile and crispness that require less work and are less vulnerable to consumers. While the Honeycrisp is still far from disappearing, there are several other apple varieties out there that can be a more economical purchase while still providing you with the crunch and sweet-tart flavor you love.

How to Prune Honeycrisp Apple Trees

The very popular Honeycrisp apple–famous for intense flavor and a crisp juicy bite–presents several challenges for growers. Bearing large crops at an early age, the tree may fruit so heavily that trunks break at the graft junction. Other common troubles include premature fruit drop and sunscald as well as a tendency to bear biennial harvests. Correct pruning and training can alleviate some of these problems.

Dig a 2-foot deep hole 18 inches away from the tree. Set your wooden post in the hole, and pack the dirt around it until it’s sturdy. Setting posts soon after planting avoids damaging new roots.

Train the honeycrisp to a central leader with a scaffold branch structure. Trees planted in early winter can be headed back by clipping the top at 3 feet high just after the first buds open in spring. This forces early development of branches.

Select one shoot out of the several that develop at the top of the tree. When the strongest shoot is 4 inches long, clip any competing shoots off at the branch collar (the swelling between limb and trunk).

Choose four strong lateral branches from the shoots growing between 6 inches and 14 inches down from the top cut. Select branches about 90 degrees apart on the trunk and staggered about 3 inches apart vertically. Growth should be slightly upward; if the branch saddle or junction with the trunk is V-shaped, use a branch spreader to push the branch towards horizontal. Trim out competing branches and any vertical suckers.

Cut the leader again in winter when the tree is dormant; head the leader off by clipping straight across at from 20 to 28 inches above the first top cut. Maintain the first years branch whorl by clipping out competing suckers and positioning branch spreaders if needed.

Select a new leader after spring growth begins and cut back any competing vertical shoots. Choose four new lateral branches using the same spacing as before. Each year follow the same pattern of winter and spring pruning to create a tree with a strong structure and a pyramidal shape.

Tie the trunk of the honeycrisp apple tree to the support post when the tree sets its first crop. Use several loose zip ties to hold the trunk upright. Typically a four year-old tree with a trunk diameter of 3 1/2 inches (several inches above the graft) should only be allowed about 60 apples. Thin fruit clusters by clipping fruiting spurs near the branch collar.

Pruning Apple Trees

Pruning is a very important part of proper apple tree care and maintenance; however, many people think the task overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be! Keep these things in mind when approaching pruning your apple trees:

  • Have confidence in knowing that not everyone will prune the exact same way – including the experts.
  • In the best interest of your tree, it is preferable to do some pruning versus no pruning.
  • If an apple tree is left unpruned, it may not become fruitful, it will not grow as well, and – in some cases – it may not be encouraged to grow at all.
  • There are three main reasons you should prune your apple tree: its survival, stimulation, and shaping.

NOTE: This is part 8 in a series of 11 articles. For a complete background on how to grow apple trees, we recommend starting from the beginning.

Survival

When your apple tree is dug up from our fields to be shipped to you, and any time a tree is transplanted, the root ball loses many of its fine feeder roots. These hairlike, delicate roots are important to the process of absorbing moisture and nutrients in the soil. Pruning, in this instance, helps balance the top growth of your tree with the root system, giving the roots time to re-establish in your yard to support existing top growth and new growth.

When your bare-root apple tree arrives from Stark Bro’s, our professionals have already pre-pruned your tree for you. Because of this, you do not need to prune them again at planting time. The only pruning necessary at planting time would be to remove any broken or damaged branches and roots.

Plan to prune your apple trees every year during their dormant season. In Zone 6 and north, you should wait until late winter. A good reference book, such as Pruning Made Easy, can be invaluable for providing additional visuals and answering questions you may have during the pruning process.

Stimulation

In addition to the survival benefits, pruning an apple tree stimulates stronger, more vigorous growth from the remaining buds. After a single growing season, an apple tree you prune will be bigger with stronger branching than a matching, unpruned apple tree.

Shape and Structure

Equally as important to the benefits above, your apple tree needs to be pruned to provide a strongly structured shape. The natural shape an apple tree takes on is not always the best for its maximum fruit production. Stark Bro’s apple trees are pruned in the nursery row for proper shaping to get you started and corrective pruning must continue at home. If you keep up with your pruning and shaping each year, it will be a reasonable task mostly involving small, easy-to-heal cuts.

Pruning Tips

Pruning angles

Narrow, V-shape crotch angles in the limbs are an open invitation to disastrous splitting later on, particularly when your apple tree is supporting a large fruit crop. For your tree’s branches, choose wide 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock angles.

Pruning to a bud

Make sharp, clean cuts close enough (about 1/4 inch away from the next outward-pointing bud) so you won’t leave a clumsy stub that’s hard to heal over. Stay far enough above the bud so it won’t die back. Slant the cuts and the new growth will develop beautifully.

Every branch has buds pointed in various directions. Since you want vigorous new growth to spread out and away from the center of the tree, make you cut above a bud that’s aimed outward. These are usually located on the underside of the branch. This helps your apple tree take on a more spreading shape, keeping it open to light and air circulation.

Prune for Success

Apple trees develop better if they’re pruned in a timely manner and with a bit of care and consideration. Here’s how:

Help the tree form a strong framework. This is what you should aim for when pruning:

  • Remove weak, diseased, injured, or narrow-angle branches.
  • Remove the weaker of any crossing or interfering branches, and one branch of forked limbs.
  • Remove upright branches and any that sweep back inward toward the center of tree.

The purpose is to keep your apple tree’s canopy from becoming too thick and crowded, so some thinning is necessary to permit light to enter the tree and also to keep its height reasonable. All these objectives promote the improved bearing and fruit quality of your apple tree – you’ll be pleased with the results!

Prune apple trees to a “Central Leader” shape.

Apple trees are productive and strong when pruned and trained to a central leader (or main leader) structure. This type of structure has a pyramidal shape with a single upright leader limb as its highest point. This central leader is the newest extension of a long, upright growing trunk from which all lateral branches arise.

As with all strong-growing branches, the leader should be headed (pruned back) at approximately 24- to 30-inches above the highest set of its surrounding “scaffold” branches. The uppermost remaining bud on the leader will then produce a vigorous new leader, and no other shoot should be allowed to grow taller.

Lateral limbs should be selected from shoots growing out from the central leader. These should be spaced vertically about 4- to 6-inches apart. They should also have growth that is more horizontal than vertical, and point in different compass directions from the trunk – thus creating a “scaffold” of branches. Any unbranched lateral branches should be headed back to the next ideal bud to encourage side branches and to stiffen long, lateral branches. All laterals should exhibit the stronger wide angles discussed above.

Pruning Whips (Unbranched Trees)

Whips are unbranched trees. Unbranched apple trees are ideal if you want more control over which branches are allowed to develop – as you might in certain artful pruning styles like espalier. Prune whips back to 28- to 36-inches above the ground at planting time. After the new branches have grown 3- to 5-inches in length, select a shoot to become the leader and the rest become the tree’s scaffold limbs.

Off-season pruning

Sometimes pruning needs to be done even when the season isn’t ideal. If a branch is broken by the wind or by a heavy load of fruit, emergency treatment is necessary. When taking action due to injury, prune to clean up any ragged edges; making a smooth cut that leaves no stubby stump.

It does not benefit the apple tree to wait until dormancy to prune damaged, dead, or diseased limbs or to remove unwanted growth like suckers and watersprouts. Fast-growing tree suckers and watersprouts should be completely removed as soon as you see them.

Spur pruning

You should not prune a spur-type apple tree as aggressively as you would a partial-tip or tip-bearing apple tree. Spur-bearing apple trees are naturally less vigorous than the others and do not require it. In apple trees with a spur-bearing habit, fruit develops on each limb and from the trunk out. They develop many small spurs rather than long shoots, so fewer should be removed. On the other hand, sometimes too many fruit spurs grow along a branch and may need to be thinned out to encourage bigger and better fruit on what remains.

Fruit Thinning

There are several reasons to thin fruit:

  • To reduce limb breakage
  • Increase fruit size
  • Improve fruit color and quality
  • Stimulate floral initiation for next year’s crop

Home gardeners are able to effectively thin apple trees by hand. During May and June in most areas, many apple trees will start to drop or abort underripe fruit. This is a natural process that allows the tree to mature the remaining crop load. If not corrected through thinning, apple trees may bear biennially (fruits only every other year) or bear heavily one year, then bear a comparatively light crop the next year. Thinning may seem counterproductive in theory, but it really is a benefit to your apple harvest in the end.

The best time to thin apple trees is within 20 to 40 days of full bloom. Thin so that each remaining apple is spaced 6 to 8 inches apart on the branch. In clusters, leave the king bloom (the center bloom in the cluster of five flowers) as it will develop into the largest fruit. On spur-type apple varieties, many fruit spurs grow along a branch and will need to be thinned out to encourage bigger and better fruit on what remains.

In This Series

  • Introduction

Getting Started

  • Acclimate
  • Location
  • Planting
  • Soil Preparation

Care & Maintenance

  • Fertilizing
  • Pest & Disease Control
  • Pruning
  • Spraying
  • Watering

Other Topics

  • Harvesting

We planted our Honey Crisp Apple Tree back in September of 2014…see it there on the left?

It’s grown quite a bit since then, and we hadn’t really done anything except let it grow…and grow…

But we knew that we needed to do something to our apple tree to make sure it stayed healthy, so we enlisted the help of our neighbor. Our neighbor has tons of fruit trees in his own yard, and actually learned to prune them from another neighbor in Dundee who use to be a orchardist. All sorts of neighborly love in Dundee!

The Renaissance Man is the keeper of this apple tree, so he and our neighbor talked a lot about the important components of pruning and then did a thorough inspection of the tree before making any cuts. It’s a good thing The Renaissance Man wanted to take the lead on this project, because I always shy away from cutting things…it makes me really nervous like I’m going to do something wrong and kill it!? We did our pruning in late February, which is a good time to prune because the “life of the tree is still in the roots.”

I was a bit shocked with the first cut (see above)…they basically cut out the center of the tree. It was an important cut, and one that I would have never confidently made by myself, good thing our neighbor has done this a time or two!

From there it was just cleaning up the branches. They left five main branches, and one of the five will get cut next February when we prune again. They also used stakes and twine to bend and pull the branches in directions to open up the center of tree.

And here is the damage…this is most of the cuttings from our pruning effort.

The before!

And the after!

I know we probably won’t get as many apples this year, but we’re playing the long game and I know this tree is going to thanks us!

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