Red alert: maples and apples

A week ago, one little bright red maple leaf fluttered to the ground just outside the back door of our cottage on the Bruce Peninsula in southwestern Ontario. Me and my guy were horrified.

Red maple leaf

The turning leaves in autumn in Ontario (as well as most of eastern Canada and parts of northeastern United States) is world renowned. People travel from all parts the world just to see our hills and dales lit up in blazing shades of red and gold. But every local that I know abhors the sighting of that first red leaf. It’s the undisputed signal that summer is on its way out and fall (followed rapidly by a long, long winter) is upon us.

Of course, there are other trees that contribute to our fabulous fall show but it’s the towering maple that adds that special drama, splashing its glorious colours up into a brilliant blue sky. Not to mention the impact of that maple leaf shape–an icon in Canada thanks to the fact that it’s emblazoned on our national flag and the jerseys of our notoriously unsuccessful Maple Leafs hockey team.

Timing is everything

Fall is not only great for some awesome leaf watching, it’s also good timing for planting a maple tree. Choose either container grown trees or larger balled-and-burlapped trees. Bare-root trees should only be purchased and planted in the spring.

READ UP AND GET MONEY BACK: For a very thorough guide on what kind of maple tree is right for your garden and how to plant and care for it, Maple Leaves Forever is a valuable resource. Check out the website for all the information you need for choosing and planting a tree and also GET MONEY BACK FOR PLANTING A TREE! Maple Leaves Forever offers a 25% rebate on eligible purchases of native maple trees. Why? Because Maple Leaves Forever is a registered charity supporting the planting and care of native Canadian maples. Fill out a Tree Rebate Application, offered from now until November 4th, 2022 and make sure you have the tree in the ground by November 15th.

GO NATIVE OR GET THE COMBO: There are 10 maple trees native to Canada, including the Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and the Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum). Red maples prefer a pretty consistently moist soil, so if you’re concerned about whether your garden might not be ideal for a red maple, try an Autumn Blaze Maple (Acer x Freemanii), a hybrid of red and silver maples. This tree offers the best of both maples–fast growing and with a good growth habit. You’ll also get the great colour of a red maple with the drought tolerance of a silver maple.

So, too, comes the apple

Besides living in an area that burns with beauty come fall, we’re also very lucky to have direct access to that quintessential taste of autumn: the apple. Yup, we live right next door to the region of South Georgian Bay also known as the “Apple Capital of Ontario” and home of the “Apple Pie Trail”. I kid you not.

THE THING ABOUT NORTH AMERICAN APPLES: I’d love to encourage you to plant a native apple tree but I can’t. Only crab apples are native to this part of the world. The wildly delectable eating apple we think of originally comes from central Asia, evidently. However, that import was so popular, it grew to offer 17,000 varieties in North America, way back in the day.

So apples aren’t only a taste of fall. Some of them are a true taste of antiquity.

Helen Humphreys, award-winning author of The Ghost Orchard, about apples and apple growers lost to the past, touches on this idea beautifully when explaining the meaning of her book’s title:

“It’s sort of a metaphor for how when somebody dies or is gone from your life, they are there as a sort of ghost that shows up — the absence highlights the presence that used to be there which is the same as the apple trees,” she said.

The apples she’s talking about go way back. We may think of apples as a gift to North America courtesy of colonizing settlers in the late 1700s–hello, Johnny Appleseed!–but…

“There were orchards planted by First Nations tribes from the 1600s and those orchards were often destroyed or taken over by the white settlers who wanted the fruit or wanted the orchards or wanted to displace the people,” she said.

Humphreys explores a history that’s been “lost or covered up” which includes stories of women, Indigenous people and artists who nurtured those incredible apple varieties long before Johnny Appleseed showed up.

Apples in trees

PLANT YOUR OWN HISTORY: Despite the apple’s chequered past, why not plant an apple tree as a promise to the future and the start of your garden’s beautiful history.

If you’re new to growing fruit-bearing trees, an apple is a good first choice because it’s very hardy. Although it’s recommended that most fruit trees be planted in the spring, container-grown (not bare root) apple trees are the exception to the rule because, well, they’re very hardy. And if you want to wave the Canadian flag a bit, choose a McIntosh, Spartan or Ambrosia. These cultivars actually originated in Canada.

IT TAKES TWO: The trick to apple trees is that you’re going to need more than one. A second apple tree of a differing cultivar ensures that you get cross-pollination (thanks to our good friends the bees) and that’s what you need for getting apples. But, before you go shopping for a companion tree, take a peek over your fence. You might find that a neighbour already has an apple growing on their property (crab apple trees work just as well for pollinating your apple tree, too), saving you from an additional purchase.

OR GO ALL IN: There’s a multitude-of-choice-in-one-tree option, advertised as a self-pollinator because it’s actually one tree with four or five different apple varieties grafted onto it. Called a ‘5-in-1’ or a ‘4-in-1’, depending on the number of grafts, you can find them offered seasonally at specialty nurseries and big box stores such as Lowes and Home Depot in Ontario.

Personally, I can’t see growing a bunch-of-different-apples-in-one tree. Don’t get me wrong. There aren’t many hybrids I’ve met that I didn’t take a liking to. And I’m not forgetting that any apple tree you buy is, in actual fact, a grafted tree–grafting ensures your new tree bears the same fruit as its parent tree, much like cloning. There’s also no denying that these multiple-kinds-of-apple trees are great space-savers. But, well, call me old-fashioned. I guess I’m old school, preferring the one tree, one kind of apple approach.

One more thing…

TIGHTS BEFORE BITES: Who knew that pantyhose for your wee apples was a thing? Evidently, specially designed tiny nylon socks are brilliant at protecting your growing apples from damage by undesirables such as apple maggots or coddling moths. They can also be used on other fruit crops including pears and apricots. Too bad they don’t come in fashion colours. That would really turn heads.

4 thoughts on “Red alert: maples and apples

  1. I want to school with Mary Anne and John Macintosh who were the #xgreat grandkids of the guy who discovered the apple growing on his farm. They lived a stones throw from the original farm.

    Sent from Alison’s iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Alison!! Thanks for checking out my blog. Digging into the history of apples and agriculture just a little bit is mind blowing. If you’re interested in reading more about the crazy history behind apples in North America you’ve got to read the totally absorbing (and sometimes laugh out loud funny) The Botany Of Desire by Michael Pollan. I highly recommend it.


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