Strong prices for apples during the past few seasons have prompted a spurt in orchard renewal and expansion, tree nurseries report. Demand for certain varieties and rootstocks is such that nurseries are taking orders for trees that will be planted as far out as 2020.

Washington nurseries should have a big crop of trees to sell for planting in 2014, but growers need to order early to make sure they find what they want, said Pete Van Well, Jr., at Van Well Nursery in East Wenatchee. “The Honeycrisp thing seems unreal, so people are trying to get Honeycrisp.”

Two years ago, nursery tree production in Washington was reduced significantly by a November freeze. Van Well said part of the current surge in planting could be because growers had to delay their plans.

Neal Manly, chief marketing officer at Willow Drive Nursery in Ephrata, Washington, said three varieties—Honeycrisp, Gala, and Fuji—account for the bulk of the company’s commercial open-release variety sales. Red sports of Honeycrisp are particularly sought after. Willow Drive has been very hesitant to promote its Royal Red Honeycrisp for fear of stimulating demand that it can’t meet, he said. “The backlog of orders is so big we don’t want to create a frenzy.”

Gala and Fuji

Paul Tvergyak at Cameron Nursery in Eltopia, Washington, said many growers are planting Gala and Fuji on new ground with the idea of removing their older blocks in three or four years when the new plantings are in production.

Nurseries report that the preferred Fuji strain is Aztec, which was discovered in New Zealand. Tvergyak said the variety owners have done a good job of marketing it and making sure trees are available. It’s been around for 10 to 12 years, so it’s been planted in a wide range of sites and conditions.

“All the bugs have been pretty much worked out,” he said. “It’s almost becoming like Red Delicious, where you know everything you need to know about it. It’s grower friendly and gives high production.”

Growers have also been planting more Red Delicious.

“When you take a look at where Reds are priced this year, it’s profitable to do that,” Manly said. “We have seen an uptick in Red Delicious in the last three to four years. Reds will continue to be a viable product as long as they’re selling for that price. It’s a low-input variety, easy to manage, and grower friendly.”

Although the variety is on an upswing, it still constitutes a minor part of Willow Drive’s tree inventory, he said.

Tvergyak has seen a similar trend. “I’ve had a couple of orders for Red Delicious, which is not totally surprising. Basically, our industry is still geared around Red Delicious. Warehouses are set up to run Red Delicious and are saying to growers, ‘Plant fifty acres of Reds while you’re planting a hundred acres of something else.’”

In the Midwest, where inclement weather almost wiped out this year’s crop, growers are still planning on updating their orchards, reported Katie Schuld at Summit Tree Sales in Lawrence, ­Michigan. “Most of the growers had trees ordered before the freeze ever hit, but we’ve not seen a lot of cancellations in orders,” she said.

Royal Red Honeycrisp is in high demand and being ordered for planting in 2019, Schuld said.

Also popular are Jona­star Jonagold, Aztec Fuji, and Buckeye Gala. Maslin, an early maturing strain of Cripps Pink, is in demand because growers in the East and Midwest have difficulty ­maturing the original Cripps Pink.

Rootstock supply

The limiting factor, the nurseries report, is a shortage of dwarfing rootstocks, particularly the Geneva stocks. They are resistant to fireblight and some also appear to have resistance to replant disease.

Tvergyak said if a grower wants to order trees on a popular rootstock, they’ll have to wait until 2015-2016. For Geneva rootstocks, they’ll have an even longer wait. Nurseries’ experience with Geneva rootstocks is they’re not easy to produce and scale up, he said, and only limited numbers have been produced so far.