Growing Apples in Montana
Montana has a long history of growing apples. Depending on the cultivar and rootstock these often cold-hardy fruits can be grown in several areas of the state for both backyard enjoyment and commercial production. While cultivar and rootstock selection for dessert apples has been well-established, newer cultivars, rootstocks and cider apple cultivars require further research to determine their long-term success in our cold climate and under pressure from insects like codling moth and diseases like fire blight. Included in this guide are resources and tools to help growers finance, establish and manage apple orchards as well as market their final products.
Extension and External Resources
Several Extension programs in the U.S. and Canada address the universal needs of growers interested in apple production from establishing and managing an orchard to marketing apples and value added products. These resources can be helpful to Montana growers if they understand Montana's unique climate and keep a few key factors in mind:
Montana's climate varies. Diurnal temperature changes can exceed 40F and can be even greater from day to day with sudden freezing temperatures especially in crucial shoulder seasons. This can be hard on plants as they are breaking and going into dormancy, leaving trees vulnerable to frost damage and winter injury.
Montana has a short growing season with much of the state having only 135 or less frost free days.
Montana's precipitation in growing areas is often less than 14" requiring irrigation to grow a successful apple crop.
Montana's apple pests and diseases are different than other growing regions. Focus should be on controlling the most damaging pests including codling moth, fire blight, weeds, voles and other wildlife while keeping a close eye on secondary pests like aphids, thrips, powdery mildew, scab and cedar-apple rust.
Montana State University's Growing Fruit Trees Publication provides some initial considerations for growing fruit trees in Montana.
Keeping these items in mind, growers will find many helpful resources through the following Extension programs:
Washington State University: Serving the world's largest apple growing region, WSU tree fruit program offers several resources for establishing orchards to managing pests and diseases to planning strategically with enterprise budgets. Additionally, WSU is a leading resource for growers interested in cider production.
University of Minnesota: U of M is a world leader in cold-hardy apple breeding, their apple resources focus on growing apples in cold winters and hot dry summers similar to Montana. Check out their Before You Start an Apple Orchard publication.
University of Idaho, Utah State University and Colorado State University: These three universities have collaborated on a pest focused resource, Intermountain Tree Fruit Guide, in addition to having several of their own helpful resources such as Idaho's resources for small-acreage growers including a publication on Growing Apples for Local Markets in Cold Climates, and Utah State University's collection of recorded presentations from their Fruit Schools.
Michigan State University: Helpful resources for established growers. Some financial information for marketing and business development.
Cornell: Cornell is a resource for growers interested in cider and dessert apples. From pest management to business management the tools provided can be amended to help orchardists across the U.S. better manage their orchards.
Staying up to date
In addition to these resources growers may want to subscribe to one of the leading fruit production periodicals including Good Fruit Grower, The Western Fruit Grower, Capital Press and Fruit Grower News for current information on developing technologies, leading research and issues facing the industry.