An apple tree can be grown almost anywhere, whether you have acres and acres of land or just a little area where you can plant a hedge of dwarf apple trees or an apple espalier and produce a successful crop. This is one of the main advantages of having an apple tree. In the central and northern regions, planting in the spring is advised. Only in areas with typically milder and moister autumn and winter weather can fall planting be successful. But when it comes to growing apples, climate is crucial. If an apple tree is described as “hardy,” it typically thrives best in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 5. The greatest zones for apples, if they are considered “long-season,” are Zones 5 to 8. It takes a specific number of chill hours for each variety’s fruit to set. More chill hours are required for an apple variety to avoid late spring freeze issues the further north you go.
Planting and Growing Information:
As soon as the soil can be handled, bare-root apple trees should be planted in the early spring. Apple trees, like the majority of fruit, grow best in full sun, which is considered as six or more hours of daily direct summer sunlight. Apple trees should be able to retain some moisture even though they require well-drained soil. It is recommended to have light- to medium-textured soil. Fruit trees struggle in heavy clay soil, and root rot disease is brought on by poorly drained soil. Fruit trees like apples or avocado trees risk developing fungal leaf diseases if they are not planted in an area with excellent air circulation so that leaves may quickly dry after irrigation or rainfall. Check to make sure the tree won’t be planted in a “frost pocket,” where cold air collects in low-lying areas. If you can, pick a higher location with a slip so that cold air can move away from the trees. It’s crucial to keep in mind not to put trees close to other trees or in wooded regions. Although a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0 is acceptable, 6.0 to 6.5 is the preferred range for soil.
Remove all weeds and the grass in a 4-foot-diameter circle before planting. Once the tree has been purchased, keep it safe from harm, drying out, freezing, or overheating. If the roots have dried out, soak them in water for about 24 hours prior to planting. Pruning, soil fertility, and rootstock all have an impact on tree spacing. In a row, seedlings or mature trees should be spaced roughly 15 to 18 feet apart. A row of dwarfing rootstocks may be spaced 4 to 8 feet apart. A different cultivar that blooms at the same time must be planted within 2,000 feet of apple trees if they are to cross-pollinate (preferably, nearer). Make a hole that is 2 feet deep and roughly double the size of the root system.
Refill the planting hole with some of the loose soil after loosening the soil on the walls so the roots can readily penetrate the soil. Make sure the tree roots are not twisted or crammed in the hole by spreading them out over the loose soil. Continue adding soil to the area around the roots. Firm the dirt as you start to cover the roots to make sure it completely encloses them and to get rid of any air pockets. Don’t fertilize before planting because the roots could become “burned” if you do. The loose soil should now be used to fill the remaining space in the hole. Apple trees are typically grafted. In order to prevent roots from emerging from the scion, the graft union needs to be at least 4 inches above the soil line. The swelling at the junction marks the graft union, where the scion is joined to the rootstock. You should support your hedge since dwarf apple trees (which grow well in five-gallon buckets) are notoriously prone to uprooting under the weight of a hefty crop. You can allow your trees to grow up a fence or use a trellis to offer free-standing support.
Young trees should be constantly watered to encourage a strong root system, especially those with semi-dwarfing or dwarfing rootstocks. Mulch should be replenished on a regular basis, but be sure to remove it off the trunk to prevent rot. This aids in avoiding rats using it as a winter nest and gnawing on the tree’s bark. In order for apple trees to support high apple crops, the trees must first receive training to develop a sturdy structure of branches. Dwarf plants need to be trained to a central leader system and supported with posts or trellises. It is best to train standard (and semi-dwarf) trees to a modified leader. The use of pest control techniques will be crucial. To prevent hurting the bees and compromising pollination, timing is crucial. Pesticides are sprayed as necessary and not in accordance with the calendar, but rather at a particular period of flower and fruit development.
Pruning apple trees, other than for the purpose of removing misplaced, broken, or dead branches, slows down a young tree’s overall growth and may postpone fruiting. There are several approaches to control growth without extensive trimming. Before they develop into misplaced branches, you can remove misplaced buds. For a few weeks, you might also bend a stem almost horizontally to halt development and encourage branching and fruiting. Attach strings to lower branches or ground stakes for tying down. Once your apple tree has filled out and is producing fruit, prune annually to preserve growth and shape. By allowing more light and air in, pruning lowers the risk of disease. Large trees, however, might require additional pruning.
Once it is dormant, prune your mature tree. Remove all stems that are too robust and upright (most common high up in the tree). Eliminate weak branches, which frequently dangle from limbs’ undersides. Fruiting spurs—stubby branches that only grow by approximately half an inch per year—become overcrowded and unhealthy after ten years. Don’t forget to shorten some of them and remove others. Cut back an entire branch of fruiting spurs when they begin to deteriorate with age to make room for a younger replacement.
Apples are often produced without any thinning aside from what nature offers during the annual spring drop. However, it’s beneficial to thin after the natural fruit drop (about 4 to 6 weeks after bloom) to one fruit per cluster, or around 6 to 8 inches between fruit, in order to avoid potential disease and insect concerns. This guarantees an even distribution of production, prevents limbs from being broken by a heavy crop, and results in a larger, better-tasting fruit crop. Remove the smallest or damaged fruits as soon as they have set, leaving about 4 inches between the remaining fruits.
After planting, give each tree plenty of water and fertilize with a liquid starter fertilizer with a high phosphorus content. For every year the tree has been alive, feed it half a pound of balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer, up to a maximum of 10 pounds per tree every year.
Harvest gradually. Following all of this pruning and nurturing, it’s critical to pick your apples when they are at their best. Pick your apples when the green color of their background has disappeared. When the fruit is cupped in the palm of your hand and given a gentle twist around, then up, the stem should easily separate from the branch; do not pull on the apple. The apple harvest season might last from August to October since different apple varieties develop at different times. For more fruit growing tips, see our strawberry growing guide.