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Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Planting New Apple Orchards
in Ontario

Managing High Density Apple Orchards

The Ontario apple industry is entering a renaissance, and many growers are ready to plant new orchards. But your orchard investment needs to focus on producing what the consumer wants to buy, and to grow these apples profitably.  Planting an efficient orchard using new cultivars on dwarfing rootstocks in the right high density orchard system should allow you to do both.

McIntosh, Red Delicious, Idared and Northern Spy were the backbone of the Ontario industry for years. However, recent returns from the market have been disappointing to disastrous. New cultivars like Gala (Figure 1) were introduced in the1980’s, and proved to be exciting to consumers and successful for growers with good yields and quality.  More recently, consumers discovered Honeycrisp (Figure 2) and Ambrosia (Figure 3), and returns have been good. New cultivars may be harder to grow, but they provide better returns and are easier to sell. New orchards provide the opportunity to grow cultivars that the consumer wants for good returns to the grower.

The new high density orchard must harvest the maximum amount of sunlight to grow large, high quality apples. Trees on dwarfing rootstocks allow us to do that.  Although the perfect rootstock has not yet been developed, we know that an M9-sized tree keeps the crop closer to ground and provides good fruit size. Some newer rootstocks like the Geneva and Vineland series offer disease resistance, replant tolerance and other improvements. Our new orchards should take advantage of the smallest trees adapted to your location, climate and soil to maximize yields of quality apples.

Planting the optimum density is key to early yields and returns (Figure 4). Because a young tree is limited in crop load capacity, more trees are required for high early yields beginning in Year 2. Trees will eventually fill the space at most densities, but the reason to plant closer is to harvest fruit earlier in the orchard’s life. The intra-tree competition in close plantings actually influences trees to produce more fruit and less wood. So does the support system. Some are concerned that closely-planted trees will grow out of control in later years, but early and consistent cropping tends to mitigate this problem. So take the plunge, put your rows and trees closer, and enjoy those early returns.

Labour continues to be a large input cost in growing apples, although robots and mechanization may eventually reduce some needs. Even the best workers are more efficient when trees are uniform and tasks require less effort. High density orchards trained uniformly are more labour efficient. We are learning that the Tall Spindle system is uniform, easy to learn and allows orchard operations to be done efficiently.

New orchards in Ontario will need to produce high yields of quality fruit at a profit (Figure 5).  Using all these technologies – new cultivars, dwarfing rootstocks, high density supported plantings – will create uniform orchards that are labour efficient and profitable. This publication will provide you with recommendations to plant your new high density orchard and successfully bring it into production.

Gala's crisp texture, sweet and aromatic flavour and unique colour are a hit with the consumer.
Honeycrisp™ apples are inherently large, with a unique and distinctly crisp texture. Ambrosia™ is a bi-coloured apple with a pinkish red blush on creamy yellow background. Planting the optimum density is key to early yields and returns. New orchards in Ontario will need to produce high yields of quality fruit.Click to enlarge