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Ask Matt ... why apples grow where they grow

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Q. Is there any particular reason that most orchards are located east of Hendersonville and very few west, north or south of the city?

There are only three commercial orchards south of Hendersonville with Sky Top in Flat Rock being the largest. In the past, there might have been more but we all know that orchards have given way to houses.
So why are apples grown on the east end of the county? “Apple trees need two things – good soils and good topography,” said Marvin Owings, Henderson County’s Cooperative Extension Director. The east side of the county has both. In the Mills River basin the soils are good but low lying, and fruit trees can’t tolerate moist ground, what Owings calls “wet feet.” Fortunately, that’s not a problem for tomatoes. Another reason there are fewer apple orchards on the west side of the county is because of cold air drainage. This condition occurs in the spring growing season when cooler air drops off the hills into the valleys. Apple trees grow better on the upper slopes or on flat mountaintops. Owings said that conceivably, one can grow apples on a steep mountain side if you have good soil, but then orchard maintenance becomes more difficult. It’s hard to operate equipment on steep slopes and tractors are essential for pruning, spraying, fertilizing and of course, picking.
Another contributing factor to orchard location has nothing to do with soils or climate. Basically, orchards begat orchards. There are more orchards in Dana, Fruitland and Edneyville because of their proximity to local fertilizer businesses, packinghouses and storage units. Owings said that there are basically two kinds of storage facilities — cold storage and what is called controlled atmosphere storage. Three of Henderson County’s 20 apple warehouses have controlled atmosphere where the level of oxygen is reduced and carbon dioxide is increased. He calls this “putting the fruit to sleep.” A controlled storage facility can preserve an apple for 12 months or more. That’s why you can get crisp and delicious apples in December.

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