Apple trees are the perfect "starter" tree for those interested in growing fruit trees at home. They are easy to grow and very rewarding. Once you taste the first bite of your homegrown apple, you'll wonder why you didn't plant apples sooner.
Apples have been grown in the United States since the 17th century. First brought to our country by the colonists, the first apple orchard was established in Boston in 1625. Apples are currently grown in every state, and Americans eat on average 19 lbs of this tree fruit yearly.
When to Plant Apple Trees
Apple Trees can be planted just about any time of year. Most gardeners like to plant their apple trees in the very early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. This allows the tree to establish a good root system before the onset of summer. Most apple trees are not self-pollinating, so it is recommended to plant more than one variety of apple for proper cross-pollination.
Download our guide for the best pollinating companions.
Choosing the best location for your Apple Tree
Successful cultivation of apple trees in your yard starts with choosing the proper location. If you choose the right location, the tree will need very little assistance to thrive and provide you with many years of delicious apples.
Soil: Apples prefer soil that is fertile and well-drained. Choose a site where water does not sit after rain for extended periods. These fruit trees should also not be planted in extremely dry soil as this can cause drought stress and require frequent watering on the gardener's part. If you live in an area where heavy clay soil or poor drainage is a problem, it is recommended that you amend your existing soil with locally sourced compost.
Proper preparation of the soil will improve the performance of your apple tree and promote healthy new growth every year, which in turn will provide you with an ample crop of delicious apples. If you're concerned about your native soil, we suggest working with your county or state extension service. They will be able to test your soil and make recommendations based on the findings.
Sunlight: Apples need full sun to grow and produce their best harvest. By definition, full sun is a location that gets at least six to eight hours of sunlight. Proper sunlight is vital for the tree to produce a heavy crop of fruit.
Full sun also has the added benefit of helping to control fungal diseases that can affect apple trees. Leaf fungus is a problem with apple trees that remain wet after extended periods of rain and damp spring weather.
Planting an Apple Tree
After you've chosen the best location for your apple tree, there are a few easy steps to follow for planting your tree. Apple trees can be planted at any time of the year as long as the soil can be worked.
Step 1: Water the tree thoroughly while it is in the pot. Water until you see the water running out of the bottom of the pot. If you are planting bare-root apple trees, it is recommended to allow the roots to sit in a bucket of water for 1 to 2 hours to allow the roots to rehydrate.
Step 2: Dig a hole twice as wide as the pot the tree is growing in. The depth of the hole should be as deep as the root ball, but not deeper. After the tree is planted, you should still be able to see the original nursery soil. Planting the tree too deep is the leading cause of poor growth and death of newly planted trees.
Step 3: If your existing soil is of poor quality, you should amend the soil with local compost or peat moss at a 50/50 rate. This is also the time to mix in an organic starter fertilizer such as Bio-tone by Espoma.
Step 4: Place the Apple tree in the prepared hole, being careful not to overly disturb the roots. It is ok to fluff the roots if the tree is rootbound lightly. This will cause the tree roots to begin to grow out and down rather than circle the root ball.
Step 5: Begin back-filling with the amended soil in 3 to 4-inch layers being careful to tamp the soil between layers. This will remove air pockets and voids created by larger chunks of soil. Be cautious not to damage the existing roots of the tree during this process.
Step 6: Use the leftover soil to create a 3 to 4-inch rim around the planting hole's edges. This will allow water to pool around the newly planted tree and slowly seep into the root zone. Proper watering is essential to the survival of the tree.
We also recommended to mulch the newly planted apple tree. This helps prevent the sun from drying out the soil and damage the truck from mowing equipment such as string-trimmers.
Watering Apple Trees
Newly planted apple trees should be watered every 2 to 3 days for the first 4 weeks. After that, begin to cut back on the watering frequency but not the amount of water. When watering, be sure to soak the entire root system. Remember that the root system is usually 18 inches deep on a newly planted tree, and water should soak all the way through the bottom.
Two of the easiest ways to water newly planted trees is to lay the end of the hose at the base of the tree inside the rim and allow it to trickle at the base for 30 to 40 minutes or until you see the water begin to pool.
The second way and our favorite way is to use a Treegator Water Bag. Install the bag at the base of the tree and fill it with water. Water is allowed to slowly drain from the bag providing the perfect amount of water to the root zone.
Pruning of Apple Trees
Pruning Apple Trees can seem like a daunting task, but once you do it the first time, you will find it an enjoyable and fulfilling task.
Pruning apple trees should take place during the dormant season. The ideal time is in the late winter before the tree begins to wake up and begin growing. Pruning stimulates the tree and will make it stronger and more fruitful.
By reducing the branches' overall length, the tree will be able to support a heavy crop of apples and not risk the branches breaking under the weight of the crop. The fruits grown on a properly pruned apple tree will be larger and more colorful. Many of the new medium-sized to semi-dwarf trees have shorter branches, meaning that the weight of the crop will be less of a problem and you likely can skip pruning.
Cornell University has published an excellent paper on the proper pruning of Apple Trees.
Controlling pests and diseases on Apple Trees
Breeders of apple trees are continually working to create new disease-resistant apple varieties. However, Apple Trees do need to be sprayed occasionally to help control pests and diseases. Control is very simple and in most cases can be done organically and with very little effort.
Bonide Copper Fungicide is an easy to use and safe tool for the apple growers' toolbox. Copper is a natural way to control most diseases on apple trees.
For insect pests, Bonide Citrus and Orchard Spray is a good choice with the added benefit of controlling some diseases.
Remember proper pruning is the best disease control for Fruit Trees as this allows good airflow within the canopy of the tree.
If your planning to start planting your own orchard at home Garden Goods Direct is your one-stop-shop for fertilizers, insect and disease control products, and various types of fruit trees including Pear Trees, Citrus Trees, Peach Trees, and many more!