How to Plant, Grow, and Care for 'Gala' Apple Trees (2024)

Contents

Why grow a ‘Gala’ apple tree? They are one of the best apples for the home gardener. They are tough trees in the landscape and reliable producers of annual crops.

In general, apple trees of all types are excellent fruit trees in temperate zones. I often see them growing wild in the Pacific Northwest, and their resilience in natural areas is impressive. Each year, they provide flower nectar for pollinators, delicious fruit for humans, and seeds that birds love to eat.

Want to grow ‘Gala’ apples? This guide has everything you need to grow a big and lush fruit tree.

‘Gala’ Apple Tree

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‘Gala’ Apple trees:

  • produce sweet, firm fruit for baking and fresh eating
  • have ornamental foliage and spring blossoms
  • are low-maintenance and great for beginner growers
  • thrive in zones 5-8

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Overview

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Plant Type Tree

Family Rosaceae

Genus Malus

Species Domestica

Native Area Central Asia, Afghanistan

Exposure Full sun

Height 10-15’

Watering Requirements Regular water during fruit development

Pests and Diseases Codling moth, apple maggot, fireblight, cedar-apple rust, powdery mildew, black rot, flyspeck and sooty blotch

Maintenance Average

Soil Type Deep, well-drained

Hardiness Zones 5 to 8

What is a ‘Gala’ Apple?

The ‘Gala’ variety is an iconic apple cultivar from the 1920s. This semi-dwarf tree reaches over 15’ tall in maturity. When grafted onto dwarf rootstock, it grows to a mature height of 10’ tall. Both the dwarf and semi-dwarfs’ short heights make them perfect specimens for small and large gardens alike.

Growers love this variety because it reliably produces an annual bountiful crop. Most apple varieties are alternate-bearing, meaning they produce a large crop of apples one year, and then they conserve their energy and produce fewer apples the next year. ‘Gala’ defies this trend by creating many juicy apples each growing season.

Apple trees are the most widely adapted fruit trees, and they are important to many cultures worldwide. Where I’m from, we bake apples into pies, make apple jelly, and eat apples fresh off the tree.

Native Area

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The original ancestor of apple trees is Malus domestica, the common apple. Native to parts of Central Asia and Afghanistan, it is a deciduous tree that often grows to 30’ tall in the wild.

Over centuries, apple growers selected and grew the apples they loved to eat. With time, this selection process developed thousands of different apple cultivars that readily adapt to new environments.

‘Gala’ is a cross between ‘Golden Delicious’ and ‘Kidd’s Orange Red’ varieties. After performing well in New Zealand in the 1930s, nursery growers in the U.S. planted orchards full of this cultivar in the 1970s. Now, ‘Gala’ is one of the top apples grown in the U.K. and the U.S.

Characteristics

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All apple trees share some commonalities. They are deciduous fruit trees with delicate white-pink blossoms and glossy green leaves. Their flowers and fruit are incredibly fragrant, and their fruit is round. ‘Gala’ apples are golden yellow with red coloration over the yellow.

Apples grow bisexual flowers with both male and female reproductive organs in the same flower. Although they have perfect flowers with both pollen and ovules, apples are not incredibly self-pollinating. Most varieties, including ‘Gala,’ require another cultivar near them that blooms at the same time, like ‘Fuji’ or ‘Granny Smith.’

Do you lack space for two trees in the garden? Place a bouquet of blooming crabapple or apple blossoms at the base of your flowering ‘Gala’ tree. This helps the pollinators near your tree access different apple pollen and leads to successful pollination and fruiting without having two full-sized trees.

Propagation

Grow ‘Gala’ apple trees from cuttings. Apple seeds are highly variable and grow offspring that are different from the parent tree. Ensure you have the ‘Gala’ variety and take cuttings off a healthy, mature tree.

Growing from cuttings is time-intensive, and it may take up to six months for roots to show. Skip the waiting process and find grafted trees for your climate at your local nursery, or order them online from a reputable source.

Cuttings

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If you are up for the challenge and have a ‘Gala’ tree in your area, try propagating it by cuttings! Take softwood cuttings from mature, healthy trees in January. Keep them cool in a refrigerator until spring.

In early spring, take your cuttings out and prepare them for planting. Remove any leaves from the bottom half of the cutting and place cuttings in pots with moist soil. As they grow, remove all flower buds. Cover each pot with a plastic bag or container to trap the humidity. Situate the cuttings in a protected area with dappled shade.

Keep your cuttings moist, and within three to six months, a few of them should grow roots. When new growth is visible and the cuttings have roots, transplant them into a larger container or plant them into the landscape. If your cuttings develop white powdery mildew, increase their airflow and open the humidity shields.

Planting

‘Gala’ apple trees love sun, water, and air. They thrive in open spots with adequate drainage in USDA garden zones 5-8. They benefit from afternoon shade and summer irrigation in zones with hot and dry summers.

For best results, plant your sapling in the fall or winter. In zones 4 and 5, plant in the early spring after the final frost to avoid frost damage. After a spring and summer in the ground, your ‘Gala’ tree will be hardy enough to survive winter.

Transplanting

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Apple trees can be purchased from most retail nurseries as bare-root material in the winter or as container saplings any time of year. Both types require different transplanting care. Follow these simple instructions and set your tree up for a lifetime of success.

In either case, you can wrap your tree after planting to protect it from late frosts. Painting the bottom of the tree white will protect it from sunscald.

Bare-Root

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Bare-root trees are dormant trees free of soil. Plant growers dig them up in the fall, clean their roots, and keep them in sawdust until they’re sold. These trees are cheaper than ones in containers, and they grow quickly in the ground after you plant them.

To plant a bare-root ‘Gala’ tree, first, soak your tree’s roots in water. While it is soaking, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the roots. Then, dig deeper on the edges of the hole than its center, leaving a raised base in the center. Bare-root trees will sink in the soil if they don’t have a hard base to sit on.

Place your tree in the hole on top of the raised center. Then, situate the roots out into the deep moat at the edges. Fill the hole with soil while holding the tree upright. Right before you fill it, water the hole’s soil to let it settle. Then, add more soil until it reaches the tree’s base. If your tree sinks, raise it so the base of the trunk is at ground level.

Water once more to let the soil settle. During winter dormancy, your ‘Gala’ tree won’t need a lot of water, and in areas that receive winter moisture, you won’t have to water it until the growing season.

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Container Grown

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Container-grown apple trees are bare-root trees that have had a season or two living inside a cozy container. They set out lots of feeder roots and can be bought year-round. Select a tree that looks healthy and isn’t rootbound.

The next step is digging a hole. Prepare the soil for your container-grown tree by digging three times as wide and as deep as the root ball. Place your tree in the center of the hole so that the base of the trunk is at ground level. If your tree needs staking, stake it now.

Backfill the hole with the soil you dug out until it is partially full. Water the soil and let it settle, then fill the site to ground level. Water again to let the dirt fully settle. Add mulch around the tree to protect the young roots, but be sure not to pile it around the trunk. Leaving space around the tree’s base allows it to breathe.

How to Grow

‘Gala’ is a vigorous variety compared to other apples and a great candidate for new apple growers. These hardy fruit trees prefer a few things to grow their best. With the right care, your apple tree will provide you with bounties of apples for decades to come.

Light

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‘Gala’ apples love the sun! Aim to have your tree soak up six to eight hours of direct sun each day during the growing season. In climates with hot, dry summers, your apple tree will benefit from afternoon shade during the hottest hours of the day.

Avoid crowding these trees. They reach widths of 14 feet in maturity, and two trees crowding each other will cause less-than-optimal fruit production. In small gardens, try pairing a ‘Gala’ with a dwarf apple tree variety to ensure both receive full sun with their proper spacing.

Water

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‘Gala’ trees also love water! When flowering and fruiting, these fruit trees require regular water. In areas that receive regular rainfall during spring and summer, you will only have to irrigate when there is a lack of rainfall.

I live in zone 8 in the Pacific Northwest. Our summers are dry, hot, and tough for apple trees without irrigation. In areas like without summer rainfall, aim to water your tree once every two to three weeks during the growing season. Water deeply for longer than thirty minutes to ensure the entire ground soaks. I like to let the hose trickle on low, and I set a timer for an hour. After the timer goes off, the ground is well-watered without any runoff.

In the fall and winter, your ‘Gala’ tree will enter dormancy and require little water. Only irrigate the soil if it is completely dry in these seasons.

Soil

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Apple trees’ optimal soil is deep, fertile, and well-drained. The beauty of apples lies in their ability to tolerate multiple different conditions. Although they prefer loam, they also tolerate heavy clay soils.

If your dirt is extremely heavy, dig a wider hole for the tree at planting. When you dig, you loosen up the hard soil. Then, when you plant your tree, you put the loosened-up soil back into the hole. This broken-up dirt allows your tree to establish itself despite the heavy clay conditions.

Avoid amending the soil, as this causes your tree to have a tough time expanding out of the amended soil into the native soil. After planting, add mulch around the tree’s root zone to add nutrients into the soil. Be sure not to pile mulch up around the base of the trunk, as this can lead to rot later in the season.

Temperature and Humidity

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‘Gala’ apples perform best in areas with 900 to 1,200 hours of temperatures below 45 °F (7°C). This winter chill requirement helps the tree develop properly later in the summer. ‘Gala’ is a variety with a standard winter chill requirement, and it struggles to produce a bountiful crop in zones 9 and warmer.

Other apple varieties are awesome for areas with mild winters, like Southern California. For zones 9 and above, try varieties with low winter chill requirements, like ‘Fuji’ and ‘Granny Smith.’

Fertilizing

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Newly planted trees will benefit from organic fertilizer feeding. Use a general fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, like a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Apply ¼ pound at planting.

Every subsequent year, at the start of spring, apply ¼ pound of the same fertilizer. Once your tree is producing a standard crop each year, it will not require additional fertilizer.

Maintenance

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Apple trees are low maintenance once they are established. Each year add a new layer of mulch in the early spring, making sure not to cover the base of the trunk.

One common fear most growers have of apple care is the pruning and shaping process. Do not fear, though, as this process is simpler than it seems.

Pruning

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‘Gala’ trees grow to 14 feet tall, so you have some options for shaping your tree. Some common shapes are a central leader shape, a modified leader shape, or an espalier.

A central leader shape looks aesthetically pleasing, although the modified central leader shape is the best option for apple trees. Apples are heavy, and so on a central leader tree, their weight can cause the topmost branches to fall over and break.

Create the modified central leader shape by selecting one leader branch growing up. Use pruners to cut at the top so that it branches out over time. The goal is to have multiple branches growing up and out around the crown. Also thin weak branches, branches growing downward, and dead wood.

For an espalier, select a strong and sturdy trellis for your tree to grow on. Tie the trunk to the trellis and tie each branch so that they lie flat along it. The plant’s shape will be two-dimensional instead of three-dimensional. With time, the espaliered tree will grow thick and produce nearly the same amount of apples as a mature tree.This is a great way to maximize growth in smaller spaces along a wall or fence.

The best time to prune an apple tree depends on your area, but it is generally best to prune in late winter before the tree leafs out. Its structure is easily visible, while it lacks leaves and flowers. This time is also when diseases and pests are at a minimum, and the tree can better protect its wounds than in the summer.

Harvesting

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‘Gala’ apple trees are an early to midseason ripening variety, meaning their apples are ripe earlier than most other varieties. They will typically be ready to eat from July through September. Apples are bright yellow with splotches and lines of red. Highly ornamental, they put on a show each summer while they ripen.

Eat these apples fresh. They lose their flavor in storage and taste their best right after they’re picked.

Uses

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An American favorite, ‘Gala’ apples have many different uses in the kitchen. Slice them open to see their gorgeous yellow flesh and smell their sweet aroma. Eat them fresh, or enjoy their sweet and juicy nature by blending the apples and straining their juice.

They also make excellent apple pie, apple fritters, and apple jam. I like to boil my apples in water and sugar and mix them with pectin to make apple jam. It lasts an entire year, and I get to enjoy apples in the winter.

Common Problems

‘Gala’ apples are vigorous growers, and they face some issues because of this. Read on to identify what’s happening with your tree, and learn how to fix it.

Weak Branches

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Because ‘Gala’ trees grow quickly, they will sometimes create weak branches that extend further than they should and can break easily. You can opt to prune these larger branches back and encourage a modified central leader shape, or you can add support beneath the thick branches so they can strengthen over time.

Fireblight

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Most apples are susceptible to fireblight, a bacterial disease that affects plants in the Rosaceae family. ‘Gala’ is particularly susceptible to fireblight. Although copper pesticides reduce fireblight infections, they are not a foolproof way of prevention.

Avoid adding unnecessary chemicals and use mechanical prevention methods. In summer or winter, the fireblight infection stops growing, and you can easily see the damaged branches. Prune off all infected wood. Fireblight cannot enter the apple tree through pruning cuts, and it is more important to remove all the infected wood from the tree.

Mild-Flavored Apples

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Are your ‘Gala’ apples not tasting great? They lose their flavor in storage. Avoid weak-flavored apples by consuming them fresh or preparing them into apple dishes soon after harvest.

Pests

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Codling moths, apple maggots, leaf rollers, and aphids all attack apple trees. Keep your apple in tip-top shape by cleaning up fruit litter in the fall. This prevents infections and pests from overwintering below the tree. Keep your tree well pruned and prune in late winter to further lower the risk of infection.

Mesh netting is an awesome pest prevention tool. Simply bag up apples on the tree when they are small and let them ripen inside the netting. Use pheromone traps or an organic horticultural oil for extreme infections.

Trichogramma wasps are parasitic wasps that lay eggs inside the eggs of other moths and caterpillars. Growers release these critters in apple orchards, and they prey on the larvae that prey on apples. Attract them to your yard with yarrow, asters, and coreopsis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why isn’t my ‘Gala’ apple tree producing fruit?

Apple trees need full sun to fruit properly. If your tree is in full sun but still has issues with production, it might need fertilizer. Apply a ¼ pound of 10-10-10 organic fertilizer and water well. It may also need another nearby apple variety to aid in flower pollination.

Why do my ‘Gala’ apples not taste good?

‘Gala’ apples are best consumed fresh, as they lose their flavor in storage. If you cannot consume them fresh, prepare them into an apple dish or dessert to preserve their flavor.

How should I prune my ‘Gala’ apple tree?

A modified central leader shape is best for this tree. It allows the long branches to extend over time, and it helps the tree produce a reliable crop each year. Another option is to espalier your tree for comparable fruit production on a smaller specimen.

Final Thoughts

‘Gala’ apples are delicious, nutritious, and juicy. With a maximum spread of 14 feet wide by 14 feet tall, this medium-sized tree will fit in most home gardens. Plant it alongside another apple variety and you’ll enjoy a bountiful fruit crop each year. Say hello to fresh apples, apple jam, and apple pies, and plant a ‘Gala’ apple tree today!

How to Plant, Grow, and Care for 'Gala' Apple Trees (2024)
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