About this Fruit Tree
Apple trees are one of the most popular fruit trees gardeners plant and grow in our region because they like the cold winter temperatures and warm sunny summers. Apple trees also tend to bloom later in the season which helps offset the typical late killing frosts that can ruin other fruit crops.
How to Grow Apples
Most apples need to be cross-pollinated by a compatible (but not the same) cultivar. Trees with the same bloom time should be planted within 100 feet of each other. Make sure there’s room for two trees that can each grow to 15’ wide x 15’-20’ tall. A neighbor’s apple tree will also provide for cross-pollination.
Apples need at least 6 hours of sun each day during the growing season, especially when in full blossom. Find the best spot away from the house and other buildings and avoid south and west exposures which can contribute to frost injury.
Select a sunny spot in the landscape, but avoid planting an apple tree in the lawn. That’s because it’s challenging for a new tree to have to compete for water, oxygen and soil nutrients, plus apple trees don’t need as much water or fertilizer as lawns do.
Prepare the soil so it’s well-drained. For clay soils, amend the soil deeply with an organic amendment, like compost or well-aged manure. The best soil for fruit trees is one that allows for good air and water circulation. For sandy or loamy soils mix about 1/3 compost with 2/3 native soil for good drainage.
Dig a saucer-shaped planting hole that’s shallow, but wide, and also amend the backfill before the tree is planted. Make sure the hole is no deeper than the root ball. Planting too deep slows root growth.
To prevent problems in the future, give your tree the best start possible. Keep in mind these planting tips to reduce transplant shock and to encourage root growth:
- Plant the tree at least a foot away from the lawn area.
- Set the root ball on undisturbed soil 1-2 inches above the soil grade. Give roots plenty of oxygen and make sure there is no backfill over the root ball.
- Make sure the crown of the tree (where the tree trunk meets the tree roots) is above the soil line.
- Fill in around the root ball with the soil removed from the planting hole.
- Mulch over the root ball (keep mulch away from the trunk) and around the tree to maintain soil moisture and help eliminate weeds.
- Water newly planted trees deeply, but infrequently.
Fruit trees take time to grow and newly planted trees might not yield much fruit. The yield of fruit crops on older trees may also vary from year to year.
Be patient and continue to care for trees through the year, which may include watering during dry winters. Water once or twice over the winter when the temperatures are above 40 degrees and there is no snow cover. Water early in the day so it soaks in before freezing overnight.
Newly planted apple trees should be watered for about an hour once every two weeks, although more water may be needed to keep the root ball from drying out. Water at soil level, around the drip line, and avoid getting the leaves wet to prevent powdery mildew.
Apple trees have few fertilizer requirements, but they may need a boost of nitrogen if they aren’t growing or the leaves show signs of being stunted.
Another key to growing great apples is pruning. Trees need to be pruned annually so they are wide to allow for sunlight to reach the interior of the tree and enough space for the fruit to grow. Prune when trees are dormant in fall or in spring before buds start to grow. Prune lightly to remove crossing branches, dead branches or diseased branches.
Special Considerations for Growing Apple Trees
Apples will attract codling moths which make for wormy apples. To avoid worms, spray trees every two weeks from the end of blooming until harvest. A natural spray from chrysanthemums called pyrethrum is one option; another is carbaryl (Sevin). Follow label instructions for application. Some gardeners also grow their apples in brown paper bags to eliminate the need for spraying.
Watch for these other problems:
- Fire blight is a bacterial problem that causes branches to blacken and leaves to appear as burned. Pruning or antibiotic sprays help prevent blight.
- Apple scab and powdery mildew result from excessively wet leaves; keep leaves as dry as possible.
- Mites, aphids and scale insects can be stopped by spraying with dormant oil in late winter or early spring before buds start to swell.
Apples are ready to pick when they’ve reached their full size and pass the taste test. Harvest apples carefully and store in a cool dry place.
Materials for Apple Tree Success
- Spade or shovel
- High-quality compost or well-aged manure
- Soaker hose or other method for deep watering
- Dormant oil, pyrethrum, antibiotic spray or other specific disease treatment
- Nitrogen fertilizer
- Tree pruners