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Apple Trees

A red apple hanging from tree.

Although apples are an adapted species, they hold a significant place in West Virginia’s history. One of today’s most popular apple cultivars, Golden Delicious, was found in Clay County in 1912. West Virginia’s star apple was marketed by Stark Brother’s Nursery to obtain nationwide, and eventually worldwide, fame. The Golden Delicious apple was designated as the state fruit in 1995. However, West Virginia was growing apples long before the discovery of the Golden Delicious.

Johnny Appleseed is said to have crossed the northern panhandle of the state in the early 1800s, and he may have planted the seed that developed into West Virginia’s first successful and super sweet cultivar, Grimes Golden.

Both of West Virginia’s popular apple cultivars were discovered by happenstance. These cultivars were “found” when someone discovered a previously unknown apple tree bearing fruit with tasty characteristics.

Apples are not typically planted from seed, because each seed is genetically unique and may grow into a tree that produces apples with different characteristics and no guarantee of palatability. For gardeners and orchardists interested in maintaining certain cultivars, like Golden Delicious, the trees must be asexually propagated by grafting or budding.

Both grafting and budding involve combining the scion or upper portion of a tree with a rootstock, or root system. This ensures new trees will always produce fruit with the familiar characteristics we know and love.

Budding, usually completed in the late summer, involves taking a single leaf bud from a healthy, growing twig and placing it in a similar sized cut made on the rootstock. If the bud is successful, the cut will heal, and the leaf bud will start sending out new growth.

Grafting can be completed by many different methods, but usually involves combining a rootstock and piece of scion wood of similar diameter. Puzzle-like cuts are made into both the rootstock and the scion wood, so they fit together to encourage the growth of a single tree. 

By Candace DeLong, WVU Extension Agent – Hampshire County