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Planting Apple Trees

Planning

  • Select resistant varieties to minimize apple scab and other disease problems.
  • Apple trees are not self-fertile; plant at least one other variety that blooms at the same time. Flowering crab apples that bloom at the same time will also pollinate apples.
  • Spring planting is recommended in central and northern areas. Where fall and winter weather is generally mild and moist, fall planting is successful.
  • Buy dormant, bare-root, 1-year-old trees, if possible. Dwarfs and semi-dwarfs will bear in 3 to 4 years, yielding 1 to 2 bushels per year. Standard-size trees will start to bear in 4 to 8 years, yielding 4 to 5 bushels of apples.

Preparation

  • Choose a site with full sun, moderate fertility, and good air circulation and water drainage.
  • Apples will tolerate a wide range of soil types.

Planting

  • When planting trees on dwarfing and semi-dwarfing rootstocks, be sure the graft union stays at least 1 inch above ground.
  • Space standard trees 30 to 35 feet apart, semi-dwarfs 20 to 25 feet apart, and dwarf trees 15 to 20 feet apart.
  • Surround each tree with a mouse guard before filling the hole completely.
  • Water, prune, and mulch young trees right after planting.

Care

  • Water young trees regularly, especially those on semi-dwarfing or dwarfing rootstocks, to ensure that the root system becomes well established.
  • Renew the mulch periodically, but pull it away from the tree in the fall so mice don’t nest over the winter and eat the bark.
  • Begin training trees to their permanent framework in the first season.
  • Prune bearing trees annually.
  • See our article Fruit Pests and Diseases for controls of common apple pests such as apple maggot, plum curculio, green fruitworm, codling moth, fire blight, and powdery mildew.
  • The harvest season ranges from midsummer to late fall, depending on the variety.
  • To avoid pulling out the stem when you harvest, cup the apple in your hand, tilt it upward, and twist to separate it from the spur at the point of attachment.

Choose a site with full sun, moderate fertility, and good air circulation and water drainage. Apple trees will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. While you can improve your soil with fertilizer and mulch, other factors — full sun, good water drainage, the right varieties, and loving care — will go a long way toward overcoming less-than-perfect soil.

Planting Particulars

In the North, plant as early in the spring as possible. In the South where fall and winter weather is moist and mild, fall planting works well; it gives the roots a good headstart on spring.

Dig a hole a foot wider and a foot deeper than the root ball, then partially fill it with topsoil or compost. Space standard trees 30 to 35 feet apart, semidwarfs 20 to 25 feet apart, and dwarfs 15 to 20 feet apart. Pound in a stake on the downwind side for support. Support is not essential for semidwarfs, but it is still a good idea for the first few years.

Place your tree in the hole and spread the roots carefully. With dwarf or semi-dwarf trees that have only one graft, make sure that the graft union (a small swelling near the base of the trunk) remains at least 1 inch above ground, or the upper variety will take root and override the desired influence of the rootstock.

Deep planting of both rootstock-dwarfed and interstem-dwarfed trees results in better tree anchorage and fewer suckers growing up from the roots. However, planting trees much deeper than they grew in the nursery can increase problems with crown rot. With interstem varieties, the interstem section should be half above and half below the ground.

Before you fill the hole, place a mouse guard around the trunk to extend about 10 inches or so above the ground. Water your fledglings thoroughly. Then mulch with clean straw or some other weed-free organic material to keep the moist and to control weeds.