The Life of a Tree

Growing an apple tree is much more complicated than planting a seed in the ground. This is because a seed from a McIntosh tree will not grow into a McIntosh tree. The reason for this is that the seed is only half McIntosh — the other half of the seed came from the pollen that the bee picked up from another tree. The other tree could have been any variety within a mile or two of the McIntosh. So when an apple seed is planted, you never know what the tree will look like, or what the apples will taste like. To make all of the trees the same, the grower uses a process called grafting.

To start with, the grower plants small apple trees on “rootstocks.” These rootstocks probably don’t produce apples which are good to eat, but they are selected because they grow smaller than other apple trees. This is called “dwarfing,” and it makes it easier for the grower to manage the trees.

During the first summer, a bud is taken from a tree of the variety the grower wants. A cut is made in the bark of the rootstock, and the bud is slipped under the bark. The bud is then wrapped tightly with an elastic band or secured with putty. The next spring, the rootstock is cut off above the bud, and a new tree grows from the single bud. This tree will be the same as the one the bud was taken from. The next spring the new trees are dug from the nursery and planted in the orchard.

Growers have to wait three to four years before the new trees produce any apples. Apple trees can live for over 100 years, although most are only kept for 20 to 30 years.