How to Grow and Care for 'Early Harvest' Apple Tree

Early harvest apple tree with light green and red apples surrounded by leaves

The Spruce / K. Dave

Of the several dozen species within the Malus genus of flowering trees, virtually all edible table apples are domesticated varieties that carry the general label Malus domestica (or M. x domestica). 'Early Harvest' is one cultivar within this very large group. It is known for producing ripe apples quite early—as soon as late June in some regions; mid-September is the latest you can expect fruit. The apples are small- to medium-sized fruit with smoothish yellow-green skin and white juicy flesh that is ideal for baking. There are three size versions of this type of apple tree: full-sized, semi-dwarf, and dwarf.

'Early Harvest', like most apple trees, is sold both as a container-grown nursery plant or a dormant bare root specimen. Bare roots are best planted in spring; container-grown plants can be planted at any time up to mid fall. This tree grows quickly, at about 2 feet per year. You can expect your standard-sized early apple harvest tree to bear fruit within six to 10 years, while the semi-dwarf tree will grow fruit in four to six years, and the dwarf in three to four years.

The stems, leaves, and seeds of apple trees contain small amounts of a cyanide-producing compound, which is potentially deadly to both humans and animals. However, the seeds need to be crushed in order to release toxins, so inadvertently swallowing seeds while eating apples is rarely, if ever, dangerous. It is estimated that a person would need to eat several cups of pulverized apple seeds to be at any danger. Grazing animals that chew on leaves and branches, however, are at some risk.

Common Name 'Early Harvest' apple
Botanical Name Malus domestica
Family Rosaceae
Plant Type Tree, fruit
Mature Size 10-25 ft. tall, 10-25 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Spring, summer
Flower Color White, pink
Hardiness Zones 3–8 (USDA)
Native Area North America
Toxicity Toxic to pets.

'Early Harvest' Apple Tree Care

If you are planting this tree as a dormant bare-root specimen in the spring, make sure to soak the roots for several hours (but no more than six hours) before planting. Care should be taken to plant both bare root and container grown plants at the proper height so that any graft unions are kept exposed. Amending the soil with peat moss at the time of planting is recommended. Apple trees prefer slightly acidic soil, so it is best to take a soil sample and have an analysis done before planting. Alkaline soils may need to be amended with elemental sulfur or another amendment; otherwise, tree health and fruit production can be hindered. Regular pruning is useful for removing diseased branches and for creating a good structure that allows plenty of light to reach the inner branches to ripen the fruit.

Like all apple trees, 'Early Harvest' can be susceptible to certain diseases that affect apple trees. The tree's stem or trunk can also be destroyed by rodents and rabbits, and the fruit will attract feeding birds and mammals.

Early harvest apple tree branch with small white flowers and pink buds closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Early harvest apple trees in orchard surrounded by tall grass

The Spruce / K. Dave

Light

This tree will grow best in full sun, so be sure to plant your early harvest apple tree in a location where it will get at least six hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil

The early harvest apple tree will grow best in moist, well-drained soil. Like most fruit trees, apple trees prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0).

Water

These trees are not drought-tolerant, so you'll have to ensure that they are irrigated during dry spells. 'Early Harvest' requires regular watering—1 inch every 10 days or so. But if you are getting regular rainfall, additional irrigation is usually not required and may be harmful to the tree.

Temperature and Humidity

'Early Harvest' is hardy in zones 3 to 8 and thrives in warm temperatures. But a spring cold snap at temperatures below 24 degrees Fahrenheit can kill tender buds. Apple trees may be susceptible to gray mold and other fungal diseases in extremely humid growing conditions.

Fertilizer

When it comes to fertilizing, location is key. You can spread nitrogen-rich fertilizer around the base of the apple tree, but it has to be kept about 2 1/2 feet away from the trunk. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.

The fertilizer should be raked evenly into the soil, and this process should be repeated after three months (assuming it was first fertilized in the spring). The same fertilizer can be applied in a 3-foot circle around the apple tree after it reaches two years of age.

Types of 'Early Harvest' Apple Trees

Native to New York prior to 1800, the true 'Early Harvest' cultivar bears medium-sized golden apples that are ready to be picked as early as July in certain locations. There are three variations of 'Early Harvest':

· a full-sized tree that grows to a height of 20 to 25 feet and a spread of around 25 feet at its maturity
· a semi-dwarf variety that grows to a height of 12 to 15 feet (and also has a spread of 12 to 15 feet)
· a dwarf variety that grows to a height of about 10 feet with a similar spread of about 10 feet.

There are several similar types of early-ripening apple trees that are sometimes described as early harvest. Look for names such as: 'Yellow June', 'Yellow Harvest', 'Yellow Juneating', 'Canada', 'French Reinette', 'Early June Pippin', 'Early June', 'Early July', Early July Pippin', 'Prince's Early Harvest', 'Sinclair's Yellow'. All these varieties have the same basic performance characteristics and care needs as 'Early Harvest'.

Pruning

The best time to prune apple trees is either late in the winter or very early in the spring when the trees are in their dormant state. It's the time when leaves have shed but before new buds appear. Try to aim for just before the growth starts in the spring so that the cuts have time to heal and won't be left unprotected against the coldest winter temperatures.

Pruning is important for apple trees because it will allow growers to choose a basic structure for the tree, as well as make it easier to care for and potentially obtain a higher yield of fruit. You'll want to be sure to remove dead or diseased wood to help the tree remain healthy, and pruning can also allow sunlight into the center of the tree to help the apples evenly ripen.

  • When pruning, try to eliminate narrow crotches, which can be prone to splitting when the branches become heavy with fruit. Aim for roughly "10:00" or "2:00" angles between branches.
  • On individual branches, make cuts just above an outward-facing bud, which will encourage outward growth and keep the inside of the tree open to light and air.
  • Regularly prune away suckers that appear at the base of the tree, especially when they fall below a graft union.
  • Finally, pruning away a good percentage of the developing fruit can force the tree into putting its energy into making the remaining fruit much larger.

Propagating Early Harvest Apple Trees

'Early Harvest' is usually produced by grafting fruiting branches (scions) onto a hardier rootstock to form a compound plant that combines two different varieties or species. For this reason, neither the normal vegetative methods (rooting stem cuttings) nor collecting and planting seeds will produce new trees that reliably copy the parent plant.

Propagation of a tree by grafting is best done by professionals.

Overwintering

It's a good idea to apply a thick layer of bark mulch over the root zone of an apple tree to protect the roots from winter cold, especially at the northern end of Early Harvest's hardiness range (zones 3, 4). But make sure to keep the mulch well back away from the trunk of the tree. And because the bark is attractive to rabbits and other gnawing creatures, it's best to protect the trunk with tree wrap for several years as the tree becomes established.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Although 'Early Harvest' has a reputation for being less susceptible to disease problems than other varieties, apple trees in general are prone to quite a large number of pest and disease problems. Just about all common garden pests may also affect apple trees, including aphids, Japanese beetles, mites, gypsy moths, leafhoppers, and scale. Horticultural oil is the preferred method for treating these pests on plants producing edible fruit.

Major diseases of apple trees include:

  • Fire blight, a bacterial infection that that causes branches and leaves to assume a dark, burned appearance. Control is a matter of pruning out affected limbs and keeping areas clean of infected debris.
  • Anthracnose is a fungal disease that causes red or purple cankers to form on the bark and fruit. Control is with spray fungicides.

A variety of other fungal diseases cause spots on leaves and fruit, Powdery mildew is another common fungal illness. These diseases are rarely serious, though they can be somewhat disfiguring to the tree. Providing good air circulation and spraying with fungicides can help reduce and prevent infections.

How to Get 'Early Harvest' Apple Trees to Bloom (and Fruit)

'Early Harvest' is not normally grown as an ornamental tree for its seasonal blossoms, but the white to pink spring flowers are essential if you want your tree to produce fruit. Reasons why your tree might not blossom or produce fruit include:

  • Tree is too young. These apple trees may not produce ample flowers and fruit until they are about eight years old.
  • Tree is not being properly pollinated. To ensure pollination and fruit production, 'Early Harvest' will require a compatible cultivar (a second tree to cross-pollinate with) planted nearby. The seller should have information on other apple varieties that are good pollinators for your 'Early Harvest' tree. Lacking other information, 'Lodi', 'Red Delicious', or 'Red Jonathan' are all good pollinating varieties. And any variety of crabapple is usually a good pollinator.
  • Improper or inadequate pruning. Apple trees need to be regularly pruned to keep a good ratio of fruiting to non-fruiting wood, and to make sure plenty of sunlight reaches the inner branches

Common Problems With 'Early Harvest' Apple Trees

Leaves Turn Brown and Crispy at Edges

On an otherwise healthy tree, this symptom usually occurs during very hot, dry weather, and is simply the result of heat burning the leaves. Treat it by increasing the pace of watering, especially for young trees, which are more vulnerable.

Bark Splits

Known as sunscald, this symptom often appears on the southwest side of tree, where the winter sun causes expansion of bark, which then contracts during cold night temps. This alternating expansion and contraction causes the bark to split. It can be prevented by shielding the trunk with tree guards or white paint.

Leaves Turn Yellow

This symptom usually indicates some problem with watering—the tree is either getting too much water or too little.

FAQ
  • How long do early harvest apple trees live?

    It isn't unusual for an apple tree to live for 35 years or more.

  • What plants are similar to 'Early Harvest'?

    The 'Lodi' apple tree is an early producer of fruit. So are 'Bevan's Favorite', 'Pristine', and 'William's Pride', all of which tend to produce good harvests in July or even June.

  • Can 'Early Harvest" grow indoors?

    While it might be tempting to grow the dwarf varieties indoors, these trees need the nutrients they can only get from outdoor soil in order to spread their roots and truly thrive well enough to produce fruit. And it is nearly impossible to provide the amount of sunlight necessary when growing them indoors.

Article Sources
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