Whether you’re starting an orchard or growing a couple of trees at home, picking and enjoying apples from your own trees is incredibly rewarding.
Apple trees come in many different cultivars, which grow anywhere from zones 3-9, depending on hardiness. To plant your own, you’ll need two apple trees that can cross-pollinate successfully, a sunny spot, and well-draining soil.
Growing your own fruit takes a lot of research, maintenance, and patience. But as long as you have the time and motivation, your hard work will pay off. This article will take you through the planting process, and tell you how to care for your new trees.
Caring For Apple Trees
Apple trees require a fair amount of research and knowledge about care, training, pruning, fruit production, and pest management. Once you have your trees planted and a maintenance schedule in mind, though, they are fairly simple to manage.
Before you decide on planting an apple tree, keep in mind that:
- Apple trees are cross-pollinators, meaning that two different varieties are needed to produce fruit.
- You will need a spot that receives a minimum of 8 hours of sun for your apple trees.
- Dwarf apple trees start to produce fruit 2-3 years after planting, but standard size trees can take as many as 8 years to fruit.
- Certain cultivars are more susceptible to disease and pests than others, and will need a rigorous preventative care routine.
- Mature apple trees need to be pruned every year.
Let’s take a closer look at some aspects of apple tree care.
Planting Apple Trees
Before you plant your apple trees, decide which variety of fruit you’d like yours to produce. Most fruit trees, including apples, are almost always sold as two trees grafted together.
Grafting is a propagation technique that allows growers to choose which type of fruit they’d like their tree to bear. The tree’s top part (scion) determines the fruit variety, and the bottom part (rootstock) influences characteristics such as lifespan and size.
The best way to ensure accurate identification of what you want to purchase is to get your tree from a reputable local nursery. The staff there can also help you pick a tree that will flourish in your location.
Apple trees can grow in zones 3-9, but not every species will be successful in each of those zones. So, it’s important to acquire one that can be planted in your climate.
Another important thing to consider before going tree shopping is that apples need pollen from another apple variety to bear fruit. For successful pollination and subsequent harvest, you should buy two apple trees.
Once you have your new trees, wait for the proper time of year to grow them. If you’re planting a bare-root tree, wait until early spring, as soon as the ground is soft enough to dig into. If you have a container-grown tree, you can plant it anytime during the growing season.
Step One: Pick a Spot
Apple trees need full sun to thrive, so pick the sunniest part of your property to plant them. The soil should be relatively well-draining, but they can grow in mostly any type of soil.
If you don’t know your soil’s pH level, you can pick up a test kit to make sure the pH is between six and seven.
Step Two: Prepare Your Site
Clear out grass and weeds in a 4-foot diameter where you’d like to plant. Depending on the size your trees are expected to reach, the holes could be anywhere from 4-15 feet apart.
Check the tag on your trees or contact the grower to find out the proper spacing. For example, dwarf apple trees will not need as much space as standard varieties.
Step Three: Dig The Holes
The holes for apple trees should be twice as wide as the root system and about 2 feet deep.
Step Four: Place The Trees
First, line the hole with a small amount of loose soil so that the roots can establish themselves easily. Place each tree so that the top of the rootball is at ground level, and all of the roots are covered. The graft union should be about 4 inches above ground.
Spread the roots outward, making sure they aren’t twisted. Finally, fill the hole in with soil, gently firming the dirt around the roots to avoid air pockets.
Watering Apple Trees
The first time you water your apple trees will be immediately after planting them. Water them thoroughly, and add more soil if the dirt settles below the level you planted them.
It’s important to be vigilant about watering a newly planted tree. Dehydrated roots will struggle to establish themselves and begin to grow.
During the first several years of its life, an apple tree should be watered weekly. When the weather is especially hot and dry, it might be necessary to water every 2-3 days.
Depending on the variety, it could take anywhere from 4-8 years for your apple trees to mature. Mature trees don’t need to be watered as frequently, but they will appreciate it every 10-14 days during the growing season.
Fertilizing Apple Trees
Freshly planted trees should not be fertilized during the first month, since it could burn the roots during a vulnerable time. After a month, you can apply your fertilizer to the area – about 18 inches from the trunk. Spread a half pound of the fertilizer evenly in a circle.
From the second year on, you can fertilize every spring. For each year, increase the amount of fertilizer your tree receives by a half pound.
Generally, an all-purpose fertilizer formulated for fruit trees, or any 10-10-10 commercial fertilizer is sufficient for a healthy tree.
If your tree is struggling and you suspect a nutrient deficiency, consider testing your soil. The results will allow you to supplement with additional nutrients as needed.
fertilizer schedule for apple trees.
Do Apple Trees Need To Be Pruned Every Year?
Most experts agree that regular pruning is essential to your apple tree’s health and contributes to a successful harvest. However, pruning at the wrong time could do more harm than good.
When your apple trees are young, the first several years after planting are reserved for training it to grow into the desired form.
You should stick to minimal pruning during these years, and only cut what is necessary to achieve the shape you want. Diseased, dead, or broken limbs can be removed anytime.
When your trees are mature, yearly pruning will help them maintain their shape and continue to yield an optimal amount of fruit.
Aside from removing dead, diseased, or broken branches, pruning should be done during dormancy, just before the growing season starts. Pruning too early could leave your tree more vulnerable to injury and cold damage.
Apple Tree Pollination
Aside from a few exceptions, most apple trees require cross-pollination to grow fruit. Cross-pollination is when bees move pollen from one tree to another, providing that both varieties are compatible.
Crabapple trees are a favorite among orchard owners for cross pollination, since they usually have longer bloom times than other apples and are easy to maintain.
Pollination occurs in a short window – typically in a 9-day period. To make sure the odds are in your favor, it’s a good idea to be hospitable to your pollinators.
There are many things you can plant in the garden to attract honey bees, which are the most important pollinators for apple trees. You should also be careful about using pesticides and insecticides, which can hurt pollinators.
Apple Tree Diseases & Pests (Plus Remedies)
Even the most mature, healthy apple trees are prone to certain types of diseases and pests. Be sure to watch for the signs of the most common culprits and be proactive with treatment. Here are some diseases and pests to look out for:
- Apple Maggot: Potentially the most destructive pest, these maggots are a little smaller than a housefly, and have white stripes on their abdomen. Apple maggots lay eggs in the fruit, causing them to be deformed and eventually rot from the inside. Unfortunately, the only way to treat them once the damage is spotted is through use of insecticides.
- Apple Curculio: Curculio is a type of weevil that lay eggs inside of developing apples. Their larvae then burrow into the fruit and feed on its seeds. Affected fruit will rot and drop from the tree. A chemical spray is necessary to manage this pest, but removing any fruit that has dropped will help to reduce next year’s population.
- Apple Scab: Scab, which is caused by a fungus, is one of the most common apple tree diseases. The disease affects both foliage and fruit, and often renders apples inedible. Apple scab can be treated with an all-purpose fruit tree fungicide.
- Fire Blight: Blight is a bacterial infection that can lead to the death of the entire tree. It begins as a sunken in area of discolored bark, and causes the tree to appear burned as the spot gets bigger. To control the spread, remove the infected areas at least 6 inches behind the affected spot. Be sure to disinfect your pruning tools to avoid spreading the infection.
Taking on a pair of apple trees may seem intimidating at first, but knowledge and experience are powerful weapons. Even the most experienced gardeners have a long history of trial and error behind them.
To find books, courses, seeds, gardening supplies, and more, check out The Shop at Greenupside!
Hey – you can sign up for our weekly gardening newsletter here!
Join 1000+ gardeners to get access to news, tips, and information.
Delivered right to your inbox – once per week.
About the author:
Kathryn is a plant enthusiast and freelance content writer who specializes in home and garden topics. Based in New York, you can get in touch with Kathryn at https://kathrynflegal.journoportfolio.com/.