An apple tree in bloom is a spectacular sight. The light-pink buds open to a display of white flowers in clusters of five to eight blooms. To answer the question as to whether or not the leaves or flowers come first, examine the different types of buds and the stages when they open.
Stages of Flower Buds
Apple flower buds break dormancy and open in a calculated way that is categorised into nine stages. These stages include: 1-Silver Tip, 2-Green Tip, 3-Half-Inch Green, 4-Tight Cluster, 5-First Pink, 6-Full Pink, 7-First Bloom, 8-Full Bloom, 9-Post Bloom. Knowing and understanding these nine stages of flower bud morphology help growers know when to time pesticide applications and when to protect the buds from frost.
The Flower Bud
The apple tree flower bud is easily distinguished from a leaf bud. A flower bud is fatter and lighter in colour. Apple buds also contain leaves. When the flower bud reach a certain stage, a whorl of five leaves surrounds the clusters of newly formed, not-yet-opened flower buds. This opening of the leaves happens during stage 4, or Tight Cluster stage. The five whorled leaves are open around the cluster, but the flower buds have not fully opened yet. Leaves come before flowers.
The Leaf Bud
It is important to know the difference between flower buds and leaf buds. Pruning too many flower buds in the spring produces a small crop. Leaf buds are different from flower buds primarily by size and placement. Apple leaf buds are small and narrow and are on the stems' tips or terminal areas and along the stem's main portion. The buds along the stem are called lateral buds.
Spur vs. Nonspur
There are two different types of apple trees: spur and nonspur. Recognise spur trees by short, fat clusters of fat buds on short stems. These spurs hold the fruiting buds that form on 2-year old wood. Nonspur apples form side shoots on second year growth creating a larger canopy. Spur trees are recommended for home gardeners due to their smaller size and compact growing habit. Recognising a spur tree helps you to determine which buds are flower buds and which are leaf buds.