June 5, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman
PRINCETON, Ky.

Apple growers in Kentucky are increasingly looking at high density production practices to allow them to gain a quicker return on their investment.

In high density production, the trees are planted more closely together and are staked or held up with a trellis. The advantage is that a grower can get production much faster, even as early as the second year, said John Strang, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service fruits specialist.

"The grower gets more fruit earlier in the life of the orchard," he said.

Little initial pruning is needed allowing the grower to get more product. However, early tree training is extremely important and the limbs must be tied down to initiate early fruit production.

Dwarf trees are more efficient fruit producers than larger ones. Growers also attain better spray coverage and the fruits are more exposed to the sun meaning better color, size and sugar content, Strang said. This allows growers to have more top quality apples for sale.

This type of production requires a "calm" tree – one that is not growing vigorously, he said. Frost can be a major concern. If frost wipes out the crop, it makes it difficult to control the tree's growth. In this event the use of growth regulators and/or tree girdling are necessary.

While the cold temperatures last month were a concern, most growers in the state are reporting their crop to be in good shape.

The expense of establishing a high density planting is higher than with a traditional planting, Strang said. Growers must be good managers and irrigation is necessary because at these close tree spacings the ground is honeycombed with roots and when it gets dry, it gets very dry, he said.

Kentucky growers have been fairly slow to adopt the high density concept because of dwarf rootstock susceptibility to winter injury and fire blight. The newer Bud 9 or B. 9 rootstock available today is more resistant to winter injury and fire blight, Strang said.

Commercial adoption of high density apple production started in Kentucky about fifteen years ago in Harlan County and has marched west. Most of the more progressive growers in the state have high density plantings, Strang said.

At the Apple Tree in Harlan County, high density production is the only type of planting that has taken place over the last 10 years, said Terry Creech, orchard manager. Creech said his parents, who own the orchard, saw this type of production elsewhere and knew it was the best way to produce apples.

"You get a high quality apple and it takes less labor," he said. "I take care of 8,000 to 10,000 trees and only hire labor to help pick."

This kind of production allows growers with smaller acreage to make a living and have a much quicker return on their investment.

"What's so good about it is that on five acres with high density you can make a good living," Creech said. "If things work right, you will get your investment back in four years."

Contact: 

John Strang, (859) 257-5685