If you have been wondering how to grow apple trees as a beginner, then this post is for you! It is the stuff of many gardener’s dreams – juicy apples grown by their own hands. There is nothing better than being able to walk outside in your backyard and pick a crisp apple right from your own trees. The best thing is that you do not need acres and acres of land. Apple trees can be grown in smaller spaces as well!
Apple trees are a wonderful addition to your homestead. Not only do they look lovely when they flower, but the flowers provide much needed pollen for bees, who in turn will pollinate your garden! If you are new to fruit tree growing, you are best to start with the simple apple tree and expand your orchard as you feel more comfortable with the entire process. There is plenty of work for you to do if you are planting apple trees and lots to learn. Read on to find out everything you need to know to successfully grow your own apple trees at home!
- Types of apple trees
- Where do apple trees grow best?
- How to plant apple trees
- Do you need two apple trees?
- Can you plant apple trees in summer?
- Apple tree growth stages
- How fast do apple trees grow from seed?
- How many years does it take for an apple tree to bear fruit?
- How to make apple trees grow faster
- What is the best fertilizer for apple trees?
- Apple tree nutrient deficiencies
- What is the best soil for apple trees?
- Apple tree maintenance calendar
- How to prune an apple tree
- Got any advice to share on how to grow apple trees?
Types of apple trees
One of the things you will want to take into consideration is what type of apple trees you want to grow. There are more than 7500 varieties to choose from, but you are always best to purchase trees that are specific to your zone. Your local nursery will likely have apple trees for sale that are hardy to grow wherever you live. If they do not carry fruit trees, they can either point you in the right direction or perhaps even order them in for you. You should also consider whether you will plant dwarf trees or standard, and whether you are looking for a sweet variety or a sour one.
Below we have listed some of the most common types of apple trees:
Cortlands have a sweet-tart flavor that is best enjoyed right after being picked. This is one of the red apple varieties that does not hold up well under storage conditions, so it is not the best choice to fill your root cellar. Along with fresh eating, Cortlands are also great for cooking, juicing, and drying. It is a mid-season harvester and needs to be protected from diseases such as scab, fire blight, and cedar apple rust.
This versatile apple is rich and sweet. Used both for cooking and eating, they have an excellent shelf life when stored properly. Easy to grow and reliable croppers, the trees grow best in warmer climates, making them unsuitable for the North. They harvest late in the season and are one of the world’s most popular apples. Along with scab, fire blight, cedar apple rust, and mildew, Golden Delicious trees also need protection from canker.
Liberty makes an excellent addition to the backyard orchard because of growing ease and its resistance to scab and cedar apple rust. The well balanced, but sharp, flavor is best enjoyed dried or fresh after the late season harvest. It is a heavy producer every year and needs to be protected from mildew and fire blight.
This old-fashioned apple is one of the best that you can find for storage. It is picked late in the season and will easily store until the spring in a cold room. The tree is very winter hardy but does have a tendency to become biennial. Sweet and large, the apples from this tree are perfect for cooking, drying, juicing, or eating fresh. It is susceptible to both fire blight and cedar apple rust but has great pest resistance.
This well-known apple is bright green in color and has a flavor in between tangy and tart. It can be enjoyed fresh, dried, juiced, or cooked. In fact, this apple is a favorite for making apple pies. A reliably heavy cropper, Granny Smith harvests very late in the season, but it also stores well. Although it needs a warmer climate, this variety is self-fertile.
Likely the most well-known apple throughout the world, this variety is a staple in every home orchard. The flavor runs from tart to sweet and it is harvested late in the season. The colder the climate is, the better the flavor that growers are rewarded with. Although one of the easiest apple trees to grow, McIntosh is prone to cedar apple rust and fire blight. This fruit is also very versatile since it can be enjoyed dried, cooked, or eaten right off the tree.
Due to its need for a long growing season, Fujis are not grown as commercial crops in the North. This popular apple is juicy and crisp with a sweet and refreshing flavor. Best used in baking or eaten raw, apples are ready to harvest very late in the season. Fuji trees produce plenty of fruit that stores well over the winter. It leans slightly towards a biennial tendency and needs to be protected from scab, fire blight, mildew, and cedar apple rust.
Another late season harvester, this apple is reminiscent of McIntosh, but has slight raspberry and strawberry notes. The exceptional flavor is enjoyed by juicing, cooking, drying, or eating fresh. Although it does not have the long storage capabilities of some other varieties, this tree is still popular with home growers because of its ease. When it comes to diseases, Macoun is susceptible to scab, cedar apple rust, and fire blight.
This sweet apple is a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious. The shiny red fruit is best enjoyed right after being picked, and the flavor leans towards its McIntosh parentage. It harvests late in the season, just in time for annual cider making. Empire apples are also wonderful for drying and cooking. Trees have some resistance to common diseases such as scab, cedar apple rust, fire blight, and mildew.
Cripps Pink (Pink Lady)
The sweet and pink fruit from this tree is used primarily for eating fresh. It is not popular in most home orchards because it requires a longer and hotter growing season than most other varieties. For this reason, it is grown primarily in Australia, and the southern regions of Europe, the USA, and South Africa. It harvests very late in the season but also stores very well. They are considered to be premium apples, and trees must be protected from fire blight, mildew, scab, and cedar apple rust.
This juicy and mildly sweet cooking apple flowers late in the season. It has bright red skin that is gaining it increasing popularity, especially because it does not lose its shape when cooked. Romes do not require as much chill time as other apple varieties so it can be grown in areas that have warmer winters. Additionally, it is self-fertile and produces fruit varying in size from medium to very large.
This tasty variety is normally eaten right off the tree. Flowering occurs early to mid-season. It is sweet and red, with flesh that is tart, juicy, and firm. Halareds store well so they are a good choice for the home orchard. Very resistant to both fire blight and mildew, this tree has the tendency to fruit biennially.
Where do apple trees grow best?
Apples are like most fruit in that the trees grow best when they have 6 to 8 hours of direct sun daily. There are also several other requirements that must be met so that you grow strong and healthy trees capable of providing food for you and your family.
Trees need the right type of exposure to the elements. It is important when learning how to grow apple trees that these requirements are strictly followed. For apple trees, this means on a rise, at the tree line, or on the northern side of a building. This way, if your climate allows for a winter warm up where new growth is stimulated, the next frost will not kill it. Never plant your trees in a low-lying “hole.” These areas are prone to frost pockets that do not allow the colder air to move away from the trees.
You also need to consider the amount of air circulation around your trees. After irrigation or rainfall, proper air circulation assists the leaves in drying out quickly. When this does not happen, your tree becomes susceptible to different fungal leaf diseases.
How to plant apple trees
Part of learning how to grow apple trees is learning how to plant them properly. Before you start to plant, clear all the grass and weeds in a 4-foot circle for each tree. Assuming that you have purchased your trees, ensure that you protect the tree until you can get it in the ground. Check the root ball to make sure it is moist. If not, soak the roots in water for about 24 hours before you put them in your holes. The rule of thumb for digging holes is that the hole should be about 2-feet deep, and it should be twice the diameter of the root ball.
How far apart you plant your trees really depends on soil fertility, rootstock, and pruning. If you are planting dwarf rootstock, they can be placed fairly close together at about 4 to 8 feet apart. When you are planting full-size trees or seedlings, the average spacing should be 15 to 18 feet apart. Keep in mind that for cross-pollination to occur, you must have another type of cultivar (tree variety) planted less than 2000 away.
Now that the holes are ready, throw some of the loose dirt back into the hole and loosen the soil walls. Work in some of the compost you are sure to have lying around. It is gardener’s gold and will give your trees that extra boost! Spread your roots out in the hole, taking care not to crowd, bend, or break them. Put in more loose soil and tamp in down gently. Keep repeating this process until the hole is full. If you have a grafted tree, the grafted union (in simple terms, the knot that joins together the rootstock and the scion) should rise above the soil line at a height of at least 2 inches.
Do you need two apple trees?
There are some apple tree varieties that self-pollinate, but you are always better off to have a second tree (cultivar) so that cross pollination can occur. Having a second tree also ensures that you will have a better yield than you would without one. If you are really hard up for space and just are not able to grow more than one tree, both Rome Beauty and Granny Smith are good choices for you because they are self-fertile. Choose the Granny Smith if you prefer a tart apple for eating and the Rome Beauty if you prefer something sweeter for cooking.
Can you plant apple trees in summer?
Apple trees can be planted in the summer, but it is not the desired time of the year to do so.When you plant in the summer, especially with seedlings, you run the risk that it will not become strong enough to survive the winter. Additionally, the heat of summer may set new trees up for failure due to the stress of heat and dry conditions. Trees lose strength quickly when they are under stressful conditions.
The only time summer planting goes off without a hitch is when you are planting trees growing in plastic containers. This is because their root system is already heathy, so they have less risk of transplant shock. Just make sure that they receive plenty of supplemental water!
Apple tree growth stages
Once the trees have been planted, you will likely want to know what to expect in the coming years. Beginners learning how to plant apple trees may not realize that these wonderful trees develop and change as they mature. There are several stages to the growth of an apple tree, and each is important in its own way.
During the first year, the tree will start off as a budded/grafted variety and an apple rootstock. The rootstock determines the final size of the tree. Full-size trees grow to between 18 – 25+ feet tall. Semi-dwarf trees have a final height of between 12 – 15 feet, and true dwarf apple trees grow to a height of between 8 – 10 feet. Keep in mind that apple trees grow almost as wide as they do high, so they need lots of room.
In year two, there are two stages of growth, and this is usually the age that nursery trees are sold at and it should be in the dormant stage. Once planted and the tree begins to establish itself, it will break dormancy and new grow will start to appear. This is when you will want to apply fertilizer – not when you are first putting the tree in the hole.
Years three and four
Years three and four will see the roots, limbs, and leaves grow and fill out. Once spring rolls around, you may notice that your tree is starting to flower. Once pollination occurs it will not take long before you start to see the growth of fruit.
Years five and six onwards
The fifth and sixth years onwards of your tree’s life will reward you with an established tree that has a predictable routine. Every tree and cultivar is different, but your tree should know when to grow, when to produce apples, and when to take a break. You should also be getting a reliable crop of fruit if your tree falls within normal parameters.
How fast do apple trees grow from seed?
With a tiny amount of preparation, it is easy to grow your own apple seeds at home. One benefit to growing a tree from seed rather than grafted rootstock is that the seedlings often grow more vigorously. This will leave you with a strong tree that is capable of providing fruit for decades, or perhaps even centuries.
Apple seeds are dormant until they undergo a process known as cold stratification for at least 6 weeks. This is a naturally occurring process in nature because the seeds are exposed to cold weather over the winter. It allows the seed to sprout by breaking the embryonic dormancy phase. Moisten a paper towel and place the seeds inside. You will need to put the paper towel with the seeds in a plastic sandwich bag. Do not close the bag completely. It will need a small crack so that proper air exchange can occur, and molding is prevented. Put it at the back of your refrigerator in a spot that you will not forget about it, but that you have easy access to. Check at least once per week to make sure that the paper towel is still moist. If it is not, add in some water as needed.
When you check your seeds after 6 weeks, you may notice that some have already started to sprout. There is a very low germination rate for apple seeds so don’t be surprised if only 5 seeds out of 10 sprout! Although the seeds can be directly planted outside if you are past your last frost, they are susceptible to being eaten by birds or rodents. You will also need warm soil temperatures (at least 75 degrees) for them to germinate properly. Putting them in seed pots is a much better idea if you have the space to do so.
You can use a 1-gallon pot for about 12 seeds. Fill the pot with a good quality seed starting mixture and lightly cover the seeds. Keep them moist and warm – as you would with any other seeds you start indoors. You should see the results in the form of small seedlings within a week or two. Once the seedlings have reached a height of roughly 4 to 6 inches, they can be planted outdoors.
How many years does it take for an apple tree to bear fruit?
On average it will take 3 to 5 years before your tree will start to give you some fruit. The biggest factor that will affect the length of time it takes to produce fruit is the size of the rootstock. For example, standard size trees will put much of their time and energy into growing themselves, rather than on putting out fruit. Most of the nutrients go towards ensuring the tree grows strong and healthy, rather than on growing fruit. On the other hand, a dwarf variety does not need as long to grow into a mature tree.
Different types of apple trees can also take longer than others to bear fruit. A Golden Delicious apple tree takes from 4 to 6 years to begin bearing fruit. A Red Delicious apple tree will begin to fruit in between 3 to 5 years.
How to make apple trees grow faster
The best ways to make your apple trees grow faster are by applying fertilizer and concentrating on root feeding. This way your trees are not searching for the nutrients they need the most of since you are doing the hard work for them. Water is the most important thing to get right down to the roots and there are a couple of ways you can accomplish this.
The easiest way is to place a PVC pipe in the ground near the roots. Pour your water down through the pipe so that the water directly goes down to where it is needed. You can also use a root irrigation stake that goes into the ground and directs the water in the right direction to the roots. Finally, the use of a drip hose is also quite effective. Because the water drips so slowly, the ground has plenty of time to draw the water all the way down to the roots.
What is the best fertilizer for apple trees?
Apple trees require granular fertilizer at a ration of 20-10-10. In order, the numbers are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They also have a need for a number of different trace minerals. Both calcium and potassium are used heavily by apple trees and should be applied to your orchard yearly. Other nutrient requirements can be met if a deficiency occurs. Beginners learning how to grow apple trees should follow the formula of 1 pound of fertilizer times the age of the tree, to a maximum of 6 years. So, a 3-pound tree would require 3 pounds of fertilizer per year.
Apple tree nutrient deficiencies
You will know that your apple trees are lacking in calcium if their storage time decreases and you see soft depressions in the skin. This can be corrected by adding lime at a ratio of 2 – 5 pounds per 100 sq. feet.
A potassium deficiency makes itself known by pale colored fruit and curly brown leaves on the tree. This can be rectified by using 3/10 to 2/5 of a pound of potassium per 100 sq. feet.
A nitrogen deficiency can be identified by early leaf drops in August or September, pale green leaves in the summer, or new growth equaling 8 inches or less. Using 1/10 of a pound of nitrogen per diameter inch of the trunk should set the tree back on the road to health.
Finally, boron is another common nutrient deficiency in apple tree. If new shoots have dead buds at the end or the inside of your fruit has corky brown spots, you are deficient in boron. Use a half a pound of borax powder every 3 to 4 years to keep your tree’s boron levels stable.
What is the best soil for apple trees?
Apple trees require a light to medium textured soil for air flow that drains well. Trees like these do not do well when they are planted in soil with a heavy clay base. Likewise, to prevent root rot, it is essential that water in not allowed to pool around the roots. When it comes to the pH of the soil, apple trees will accept a range of 5.5 to 7.0. However, the ideal pH (and you should test your soil before you plant) is between 6.0 and 6.5. Your local co-op or garden center will have soil test kits for sale, and they can explain how to use them.
Apple tree maintenance calendar
For every month of the year, there is at least one chore to do in your home orchard. The routine will come naturally to you after you have done it a couple of times, but you can keep this list handy for now!
- Jan/Feb: Check your orchard often for any signs that deer or pests have been eating and damaging your trees. Order any supplies you may need for the coming season, and ensure maintenance is up to date on all tools. Check stored apples weekly for signs of rot.
- March: Prune your trees. Keep any scions to use for grafting. Remove and dispose of disease cankers or mummified fruit. Top up mulch.
- April: Plant your new trees. Secure any grafts onto rootstock. Use your pruning clippings as mulch chips.
- May: Check weekly for borer signs. Train the limbs on younger trees. Hang pheromone traps for codling moth, and cards for apple sawflies. Remove any tent caterpillars you find.
- June: On a weekly basis, apply Surround spray. Remove any damaged fruit and thin out. Work cut grass into your mulch. Apply natural or purchased pesticide for codling moths.
- July: Stop Surround spraying. Hang red sphere traps for apple maggot fly. Encircle the trunks of your trees with cardboard tree guards.
- Aug: Harvest the start of the summer apples. Prune away summer suckers. Apply pesticides for codling moth and apple maggot flies.
- Sept: Remove fallen and rotten fruit from around the trees. Finish the summer apple harvest and begin with the early fall varieties.
- Oct: Harvest the remaining fall and winter apples and prepare for storage. Remove any bug traps or limb spreaders you may have used.
- Nov: Apply compost or lime to the leaves on the ground to help them break down quicker and then mow into mulch.
- Dec: Pull mulch back from around the trunks. Put up guards for rodents.
How to prune an apple tree
The best time to prune your apple trees is early in the spring, or late in the winter. This way you can be certain that they are still in their dormant phase. Even for a beginner learning how to grow apple trees, pruning is not difficult. This is an extremely basic introduction to pruning but it is enough to get you started.
A conical shape is what most orchard owners prune their trees into because it allows for higher yields. Begin by removing any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. Then remove any branches that are facing downwards or that cross another branch. Identify your leader branch. This will be the tallest and strongest branch growing up from the trunk. Then you will want to remove any other vertical branches that could be competing with your leader.
Next you are going to thin out your tree. Keep in mind that you never want to take away more than one third of the remaining branches. For the upper branches, they should be cut so that they are shorted than the ones below. This way the sun will reach the entire tree.
Finally, look at your clusters of flower buds. If there are more than four or five in a cluster, get rid of the excess. Otherwise, you may end up with fruit that does not develop properly.
Got any advice to share on how to grow apple trees?
Enjoying the fruits of your labors (literally!) is within the reach of any gardener. Armed with all the information above, even a novice can learn how to grow apple trees properly. All you really need is a little bit of luck, a lot of wisdom, and the desire to put in the time and effort. If you have that, you will certainly be a success! If you have any advice for beginners on how to grow apple trees, please leave it below!