Growing Apple Trees

Apple Tree Planting & Care Guide

Malus domestica

The problem with growing apple trees from seed. When, where, and how to plant grafted trees. Apple tree care. Cultivating apples. Apple crop management and bearing idiosyncrasies. Trees for sale.

The boughs of this golden apple tree are heavy with fruit.

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Cultivating Apples

Most types of apples are self-fruitful, but they crop better when cross pollinated by another variety that blooms at the same time.

When grown in the climate of its choosing, an apple tree will be vigorous enough to grow and fruit without any help from us.  In places where apples grow well, you often see wild, untended trees bearing abundantly.

However, standard apples are fairly large trees when left to grow as they please, so in the interest of space and easy harvesting, gardeners usually trim the trees each year.

Providing regular water and food as needed will also ensure you of getting a good crop.  Where certain apple pests proliferate, a spray program may be necessary to insure that the fruits of your labor are not eaten by others.

The climate in which an apple is grown also strongly influences its flavor.  A Braeburn apple grown in Great Britain will taste different from the same variety grown in France or New Zealand.

Incidentally, where an apple variety originates does not determine where it will grow most productively.  For instance, Braeburn apple trees perform better in Great Britain than they do in their native New Zealand.

Planting Apple Trees

Apple Trees for Sale:

Dwarf Gala Apple

Dwarf Gravenstein Apple

Dwarf Honeycrisp Apple Tree

Planting Tip:

When planting a grafted apple tree, keep the graft union a few inches above the soil line.

If the graft union is buried, the top of the tree may root and overthrow the rootstock.

When to Plant Apple Trees: Plant apples in the fall if you live where winters are mild.  If winters are harsh in your area, plant them in early spring before the buds begin to swell.

Where: Most apple tree varieties will not grow where winter temps seldom fall below freezing, but there are special types (developed by the local universities) you can plant in the sub-tropics.

Another thing apples dislike is a very dry, hot climate.  Growing apple trees in a state with very short seasons or brutally cold winters will also be difficult.  If you live in South Florida, Montana or Nevada, search out special types like Tropical BeautyBeverly Hills or Honeygold.

Whichever varieties you choose to plant, site them in full sun for best performance.

How to Plant Apple Trees:

  1. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball.  If the soil is heavy, mix in some peat to lighten it before setting the tree in.
  2. Do not fertilize your apple tree at planting time.  If the soil in the planting area is infertile, mix organic compost, composted manure, and/or bonemeal into it before setting the tree in.  These three items are safe, but chemical fertilizer may burn the roots.
  3. Set the tree into the hole and water it.

Transplanting Apple Trees: When growing apple trees, if you change your mind about the location after the trees have been installed, you can safely move them to another site as long as the following criteria are met:

  • The trees are dormant.
  • The trees are younger than 4 years and have not yet come into bearing.
  • The weather favors the work.  A tree moved in mild, overcast, damp weather is less likely to suffer shock than one transplanted in hot, dry, sunny weather.

If the tree has been in the ground for more than 4 years or has begun to bear, it would be better to plant another apple tree in the new location and leave this one where it is.

The Problem with Growing Apple Trees from Seed

Apple Trees for Sale:

Jonagold Apple Tree

Dwarf Red Fuji Apple

Dwarf Granny Smith Apple

Growing apple trees from seed may not give the desired results because apples hybridize readily.  This means that the seeds are not likely to produce a plant similar to the one from which the seed is taken.

For example: You eat a particularly sumptuous apple.  Let’s say this apple contains 5 seeds.  You don’t know what type of apple it is, but you’d like to grow it so you plant the pips.

If each pip sprouts and grows into a bearing tree–which is likely as apples are not difficult to grow from seed–what you will probably end up with is 5 trees displaying different growth habits and bearing different fruits.  This happens because each seed is genetically dissimilar to the others despite having come from the same tree and having developed inside the same fruit.

The seed of your sweet apple is as apt to produce trees bearing sour fruit as sweet.  If you plant Golden Delicious seeds, you will not get Golden Delicious apples; you will get other types.  (This is why there are so many apple tree varieties.)  Some may be as good as Golden Delicious, some will certainly not be as good.  One–and herein lies the joy and pain of growing apple trees from seed–may be the next  apple to take the world by storm as GD did in its heyday.

Crop Management

Apple Trees for Sale:

Dwarf McIntosh Apple

Dwarf Yellow Delicious Apple

Dwarf Jonathan Apple

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Expect to wait 4-6 years for a newly planted standard apple tree to begin to crop.

Dwarf trees will bear in 2-3 years.

To get big, juicy fruit, thin the crop when the apples are the size of a walnut.  You can do this by snapping the fruits off at the stem with your thumb and forefinger or by using a thinning shear.

Whichever method you use, take care not to damage the spurs the fruits grow on as doing so may permanently reduce the size of future crops.

Thin the crop so that there are 6-7 inches between the remaining apples.

Harvesting Tip:  It is best not to store the ripe fruit on the tree.  Pick it  as soon as it reaches full size and the skin color brightens.

Bearing Idiosyncrasies

Some types of apple trees bear in alternate years.  this is normal.

A tree which bears just a few apples needs a pollinator.

Trees which are overfed or pruned excessively may not bloom.

Sometimes an apple tree will bear fruit by halves: one side this year; the other side of the tree will bear next year.  This is nothing to worry about.

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