Planting Apple Trees

Gardening, Home & Family, Outdoors
on September 21, 2003

Most people associate springtime with planting season, and while apple trees can be planted through mid-March in most climates, the best time to plant them is soon after the leaves fall and the trees go dormant.

Choosing apple tree varieties may be the hardest part of the process. One important consideration is pollination. Unless nearby neighbors have apple trees, youll probably need to plant at least two trees that are compatible pollinators. Most nursery catalogs, and some plant tags, include information about the trees characteristics. Some varieties are better pollinators than others, and youll want to make sure your trees bloom at the same time so pollination can occur.

Apple trees are available in many sizes, from columnar and dwarf trees that grow 5 to 8 feet tall, to stately standard varieties that can grow 30 feet or taller. Smaller varieties produce fruit sooner than larger ones, but dwarfs may require extra support. Most varieties are adapted for any continental U.S. climate that has fertile soil and adequate rainfall, but some have specialized needs. Check the varietys care requirements before making a purchase.

Apple trees need to be planted in full sunlight and spaced far enough apart so they dont shade one another when they reach full size. If your tree arrives as a bare-root sapling, soak the roots in water for a half-hour before planting. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the roots and 2 feet deep. The bud union, where your tree was grafted onto its rootstock, should be buried 2 to 3 inches below the surface. Gently untangle and spread the roots, then fill the soil around the sapling and press the soil down firmly. Water thoroughly.

In order to produce the best quality fruit, your trees will need occasional pruning, thinning, and fertilizing. Pruning in the dormant season encourages bushier growth, while pruning in the growing season slows growth. Youll also want to thin out the fruits when they reach about the size of a dime, so that only one apple remains on each cluster. Use 10-10-10 fertilizer, spread on the ground at the trees drip line (the outer edge of the branches). Apple trees should grow 8 to 10 inches per year. If growth is slower, fertilize more.

Apple trees are a lovely addition to the landscape in any season. Give them a try, and enjoy fragrant spring blooms and delicious harvests for many years.