Choosing rootstock for apple orchards

The horticulture sector plays an important role in the state and contributes significantly to the state economy and is a source of livelihood for 15 lakh families and provides direct and indirect employment to approximately 50 lakh people annually. J&K has been declared as agri-export zone, especially for apples. This important sector of the economy needs to be promoted and developed scientifically, by way of tapping our resources in a proper and judicious manner, to increase the gross turnover. Among the temperate fruits, the cultivation of apple forms the predominated part of horticulture activity in the valley, contributing to an annual return of around Rs 7000 crores. The low productivity of apple continues to haunt the stake holders, because of population and the purchasing power of people has correspondingly increased the demand for fruits. To meet with the requirement, the productivity per hectare has to be increased through innovative and scientific methods, like use of high density plantation, modern technology in apple cultivation, by which the objective can be achieved to a large extent.

Fortunately, from last three years orchardists of the valley begin to show keen interest in early varieties of apple and many private firms are operating in valley for high density orchard installation. But orchardists who plan for HD orchards should have basic information about the apple rootstocks used for better yields and infestation free. The growers in the state continue to rely on seedling method to propagate new plants and new orchards, but this method has proven to be poor practise, as it results in high disease probability for plants and low survival rates and as such has been discarded in all apple producing countries. The new method has been adopted worldwide while using rootstock. While the change over in adopting the rootstock for plantation was started by the growers in Kotgarh, where the growers association had first imported the latest EMLA rootstock from Oregon, and USA. Since then attempts have been reported of additional imports. However, availability of large scale reliable material and plantation techniques is largely absent. For the growth of apple production the availability of latest rootstock and new techniques are essential.

So before planting an apple orchard, proper decisions should be made on selection of varieties, rootstock, tree size, spacing, placement of pollination and planting layout. The planting distance varies accordingly to variety, vigour of rootstock, fertility of soil and climatic conditions. In flat and valley areas, the planting must be done in square or hexagonal system of layout. The arrangement of the trees will largely be determined by the shape and features of the site, and will vary from site to site. Traditionally, orchards are planted in a grid formation. In rows of trees from North to South to maximise how much sun reaches each tree. Some open, sunny urban sites with good soil will allow for this.

The most important thing is that, each tree is must be positioned in a place that receives sufficient sun and soil depth must be well drained and not too close to other trees or large shrubs. Spacing between fruit trees should be generous to allow for competition-free root and canopy growth. However on slopes, contour or terrace planting is preferred. Top soil must be filled first followed by sub soil on the top to improve fertility of lower soil of pit. While pit filling, 40-50 kg well rotten farmyard manure and 500g of super phosphate should be mixed in soil. Ideally there should be at least 2 feet of soil before you hit any solid substrate like rock, concrete foundations etc. Most of a tree’s feeder roots will occur in the top 2 feet of soil. Trees planted in shallow soils may need staking permanently to stop them falling over in the wind, as will many dwarf rootstocks.

In nutshell, it is better to consult an orchard architecture or specialised scientist for laying an orchard. Further the companies working on contract basis for HD apple orchard planting, should at least have a discussion with experts, agronomists, pathologists, pollination specialists, entomologists, pomologists, land owners, financing agencies and marketing agencies, so that in future the orchardists shall not suffer with any problem, so that such a prosperous industry of valley will add more to state economy, as the sector contributes immensely to strengthen the financial condition of the state, poverty alleviation, and employment generation.

Waseem Ahmad is an official at SKAUST-Kashmir and Shah Khalid is a columnist