How to Grow a Liberty Apple Tree
Liberty apples are disease resistant trees with that will bear delicious McIntosh style crispy apples. We love growing liberty apple trees since they are easy to grow, great for cider, and won’t be as affected by certain diseases. Our family nursery has put together a guide on how to grow a Liberty apple tree so that you may have a similar easy experience. This will include information on watering, training, and pruning the tree.
General Information for How to Grow a Liberty Apple Tree
If you would like a McIntosh style apple that is not only easy to grow, but also a favorite for making cider, then Liberty apple tree is perfect. It matures in late September and has a sweet, juicy, and crisp taste. Moreover, the Liberty apple tree is very resistant to scab, cedar apple rust, mildew, and fireblight which will make your life much easier. Because of these characteristics and its sharp taste, growers love to grow the Liberty apple tree in the Northeastern Unites States. In fact, many grow it as a replacement to the McIntosh apple tree.
- Uses: Eating fresh. Also good for cooking, baking, and a favorite for making cider as well.
- Taste: Refreshingly sweet, juicy, and crisp
- Size: Medium to large
- Color: Dark red fruit with a yellowish base and flesh.
- Hardiness Zones: 4-7
- Disease resistance:
- Scab – Very resistant
- Mildew – Some resistance
- Fireblight – Some resistance
- Cedar apple rust – Very resistant
- Harvest period: Late September
- Flowering Group: 2
- Cross pollinates with: Freedom, Sansa, and Pristine to name a few.
- Cultivation: This apple tree is vigorous and upright spreading. Although it produces a lot of fruit, you need to thin it so that the fruit becomes large and doesn’t drop before ripening.
- Storage: Can keep up to two months, and the flavor will improve with time.
Liberty Apple Tree History
Robert Lamb form the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES)/Cornell AgriTech at Geneva (operated by Cornell University) specifically developed Liberty so that it would be free from diseases. He used the parent, Macoun and added pollen from Purdue 54-12. Although Cornell AgriTech developed it in the 1960s, they didn’t introduce it until 1974. Moreover this station traditionally names its fruit after towns in New York. Therefore, they named this tree “Liberty” not only because if was free from diseases but also because of the town of Liberty which is about 160 kilometers northwest from New York City.
How to Grow an Liberty Apple Tree: How to Water
Knowing how to water an apple tree the right way is a key ingredient to a tree’s success. If you water the wrong way, it can lead to insufficient growth and diseases. Generally, apple trees need about an inch of rainfall every seven to ten days for established trees. However there is a difference in how you water trees that you just plant and trees that have established themselves, which may take about 1-2 years.
You can use buckets, a hose, either a regular or soaker hose, or drip irrigation. With a hose, simply put near the roots on a slow trickle in order to give a deep soak without the water flowing everywhere.
- Just planted trees would need about 5 gallons of water (one large bucket) about 3 times a week in order for them to establish themselves.
- However the frequency also depends on your soil condition and weather. For example if it rains all week, then you don’t need to water but if it is really hot in the summer, you may need to water more.
- Established trees only need to be watered when there is little rainfall or when you experience drought.
- Generally, about an inch of rainfall every seven to ten days is enough.
- Where to water: Water only the ground where the roots are around the tree
- Frequency: In general, water deeply when the roots have dried out. This may mean once a week or once a month depending on the weather, soil condition, and the age of the tree. If it is very hot and dry in your location, it may even mean more.
- Watering in the winter: The tree still needs water even when it is dormant in the winter. If there are dry spells during the winter, soak the roots with water when it is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Where to water: Do not water the upper part of the tree which means the trunk, leaves, and branches. If you do, then this may lead to diseases.
- Frequency: If you see standing water or have roots that are waterlogged, then this is a sign of overwatering. This can cause root rot and may deter the tree from absorbing the necessary minerals.
- Watering in the winter: Don’t forget about the tree in the winter. It still needs water if there isn’t enough precipitation.
How to Train Liberty Apple Trees
Central Leader Training System
- After planting, the form should have one vertical leader with about four evenly spaced scaffold branches around it. If two scaffold branches are too close to one another, remove one.
- However if there aren’t great scaffold branches, then you can stimulate their growth by cutting the tree back to 30 inches and removing the lateral branches.
- During the first growing season in late June-early July, you can train the branches so that they are 45-60 degrees from the leader.
- In the spring of the second season, you can remove any competing leaders.
- Then, in the spring of the third season, prune the branches into a pyramidal form.
- When the tree is established, you can decrease the height by cutting back the central leader to a lateral branch. This will also promote the growth of another leader.
Pruning a Liberty Apple Tree
- We prune apple trees for four main reasons.
- First, to make the tree easy to maintain and harvest by controlling the height and shape.
- Secondly, to maintain a healthy tree by removing dead, diseased or damaged wood.
- Thirdly, to improve air circulation which reduces pests and diseases.
- Fourthly, to let sunlight reach the fruits so they can grow healthy and large.
When to Prune Apple Trees
- It is best to prune an apple tree when it’s still dormant, this means early spring, about two weeks after the late frost. Not only are the buds easier to see and cut, but the cuts will also heal more quickly.
- If you prune in the fall, then new growth will start but a cold winter will damage it. Moreover, if you prune in the early winter, then the open cut can be susceptible to diseases.
- If you see dead, diseased, or damaged, wood, you should cut these off as soon as you notice no matter the time in the year. Consequently, this damage won’t cause further damage.
How to Prune a Liberty Apple Tree
Step 0: Aim for a Central Leader, Pyramidal Form
- Apple trees should have a pyramidal and conical shape, with shorter branches at the top so that they can allow sunlight to reach the lower branches.
- Additionally, you should prune apple trees with a central leader form, with one central branch growing vertically from the trunk.
Step 1: Remove Any Dead, Diseased, or Damaged Limbs (3 D’s)
- You know if a branch is dead if it’s brittle and breaks very easily.
- You usually know if a branch is diseased if the wood is a different color than the other branches around it.
- You’ll see a damaged branch when it has partially broken from the weight of the fruits. Additionally, when two branches have crossed and rubbed against one another this can also damage the wood.
- Once you have identified the branches with the 3 D’s, then cut the wood back to the nearest bud where the wood is still healthy.
Step 2: Prune Competing Central Leader Branches
- Your apple tree should have one central leading branch which grows vertically from the trunk.
- If there are multiple central leading branches, then choose the healthier and stronger one and cut the rest so that the tree remains strong.
Step 3: Prune Non-Primary Scaffold Branches
- Your apple tree should have 2-6 primary scaffold branches (depending on the size of the tree) which connect to the central lead branch. Additionally, they should be evenly spaced around it.
- If two scaffold branches are too close to one another, remove one.
- If you look at the tree from the top, it should look like a star.
- These scaffold branches should have a 45 to 50 degree angle from the trunk.
- When the angle is less than this, then the branch will fall from the weight of the fruit.
- When the angle is more than this, then there won’t be as much fruit on the branches.
Step 4: Prune Suckers
- When shoots or branches grow near the base of the trunk prune them so that you can preserve the shape. Suckers shouldn’t grow below the canopy of the tree.
Step 5: Prune Downward, Upward, & Inward Growing Branches
- First, identify the branches growing downward, upward, or inward. Then prune them since they won’t be able to bear the weight of the fruit.
- This will also ensure that the branches don’t rub against one another.
Step 6: Prune the Whorls
- Whorls are places where three or more small branches grow from the same location. Once you identify the whorls then choose the healthier and strongest one, and prune the rest. After all, the branch won’t be able to support all of the small branches growing in this one location.
Step 7: Prune Back All Branches
- In order for the stems to become thicker and develop flowers cut all branches back by ⅓ of their original length. However, make sure to make these cuts just above a bud that faces outward in order for the tree to have a healthy shape.
Step 8: Thin the Buds
- Lastly, thin out the fruiting buds so that they are 4-6” apart. This will ensure that the branch bears just enough weight from the apples.
Knowing how to grow a Liberty apple tree is an important step in getting delicious fruit from these trees. If how to grow a Liberty apple tree is the second step and you would like to know the first of planting, check out our article on how to plant an apple tree.
If you would like to discover other trees, explore our tree catalog or shop page.