Apple Trees: Everything you Ever Wanted to Know

When you purchase an Apple Tree you’re making a wonderful investment. Apple trees are one of the most widely cultivated fruit trees in the world. They are easy, fun, and cost effective trees to grow. Imagine having bushels of sweet flavorful apples that you can use for baking, canning, or eat right off the tree. You can save tons on your yearly fruit cost by having your very own tree right in your yard.

There are more than 8,000 different varieties of apples. Most are bred for their taste and uses including cooking and cider production. Apple Trees are generally produced by grafting or from seeds. One benefit of grafted trees is they will bear fruit much quicker than those grown from seed. Imagine planting your tree and having fruit the very next year.

So how do you select the correct trees to plant?

Getting Started

iStock_000002188077XSmallPlanning is important because your orchard will be in production for many years. In order to protect your investment it’s a good idea to make sure you choose the right variety to suit your needs. This guide will assist you with your search. It contains all the information you need to consider when purchasing and planting an apple tree.

Flavor: Sweet or Tart?

Think about what types of Apples you like. If you think about the type of apples you commonly purchase at the grocery store this will help you figure out what variety of tree you may want to grow.

Below are a few examples of popular apples you may find at your local market:

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Once you figure out what type of apples you like, think about what you plan to use your apples for. Are you planning on using them for snacking, baking, or canning? Dessert apples are best for eating fresh whereas culinary apples are best for cooking. Some apples have to be eaten within a few days of being picked, while others can be stored for a month or more before eating; and can actually improve in flavor over time.


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Once you determine their uses you will need to consider how many trees you need to plant. If you want to grow several trees this can also affect what type of trees you purchase. Different varieties can ripen at different times during late summer to late fall.

Zone Climate

Apple trees fall into 3 groups: Northern, Southern, and Western Apples. These groups represent the areas of the country the trees will do best in. Most apple trees fall into two or more groups. Knowing which trees will thrive in your area will help you choose the correct tree.

Most Apple Trees grow best in a warm climate with full sunlight and good air circulation. They can tolerate a wide range of soil types. However, they prefer well drained soil with high acidity levels. If you live in a northern state it is best to choose early to mid-season varieties that will ripen in an area with a shorter growing season.

If you live in a southern state you may want to find varieties suited for the south. We recommend finding a sheltered space facing the south part of your garden. Planting the trees near a hedge or wall can help protect the trees from wind damage.

Apple trees are very hardy. They can withstand most conditions including extreme cold and wind. It is best to plant your trees during the spring. Although, if you live in an area that has mild fall and your winter months have moisture in the air they can be planted during autumn. If you decide to plant during the fall it is best to plant six weeks prior to your first frost; this helps to ensure the tree establishes properly.

Below are a few examples of apple trees and zones they thrive in:

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USDA ZONE Average Yearly Minimum Temperature.

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Malus domesticaHow big do you want your Apple Trees to get? Keep in mind Apple Trees contain three parts the branches, trunk, and the root system. Our Columnar and Dwarf Apple Trees are grafted. Why do we graft our trees? By using a different root stock we can control the size the tree matures to. Most dwarf trees maintain heights of between 10-15 ft. This is great because the tree maintains a height that’s easier for picking fruit. Remember grafted trees also bear fruit much faster than those grown from seed.

Also, we recommend determining how much space you have in your yard before planting trees. We recommend spacing dwarfed trees at least 8-10 ft. apart. For non-dwarf or semi dwarf varieties we recommend planting those trees 20-35 ft. apart depending on the size of your lot.

Below is a chart with several varieties and their size, flavor, and color:

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Earlier we discussed choosing a tree based on what type of apple you like and what you intend to use them for. If you are not concerned with a specific variety but just want a delicious apple to eat, below are a few varieties that are both easy to grow and self-fertile.

Anna Southern
Granny Smith
Pink Lady
Scarlet Sentinel
Yellow Delicious


applesYour Apple Trees ability to cross pollinate is important. This also applies to self-fertile varieties. One of the causes of reduced apple tree crops is poor pollination. Apple trees greatly benefit from cross pollination. Most apple trees need another tree to produce fruit. Planting multiple trees of different varieties will help increase the amount of fruit your tree bears every year. Keep in mind in order to have pollination you have to have blossoms.

Some of the buds on the tree must be fruiting buds rather than leaf buds. An apple tree’s buds are formed the previous summer. You can actually encourage a tree to create more fruit buds by tying new growing branches horizontally during the summer months. Also, it’s possible to prune the areas of a tree where the fruit grows to encourage growth.

Plant at least one other compatible variety that blooms either at the same time as your tree for larger fruit yields; or different times as your tree so you can harvest fresh apples at different times of the year. Trees of the same variety will not cross pollinate so it is important that you have another tree of a different variety for the trees to produce fruit.

Pollination requirements

Some varieties of apple trees are sterile and cannot pollinate other apple trees. The Gravenstein and Jonagold Apple trees are examples of sterile trees; so another apple tree needs to be planted with them in order for them to produce fruit. Pollinators should be no more than 50 ft. apart from each other.

As mentioned, even if you have a self-fertile tree we recommend having a pollinator. Imagine your frustration at planting a tree and waiting a few years only to find it produces minimal to no fruit due to the lack of a pollinator. In the descriptions of most self-fertile trees you’ll notice that it’s highly recommended to get more than one tree.


Below is a link for an Apple Pollination Chart:

How to select the correct tree

How do you select the correct trees for your garden? This can prove to be confusing when you consider how many varieties of trees there are. Do not purchase the first tree you come across. Invest some time into shopping around at several nurseries in order to choose the right trees. Also, research the trees you are interested in purchasing. Taste apples on trees that you’re interested in.

Contact your Local Agricultural Extension Agency and ask questions about the trees ability to thrive in your area. You can also speak with a local horticulturist or master gardener. They will be able to provide you with information about the root stocks, local soil types, and pollination.

Purchase quality trees. Locate the best stock available. Poor quality trees will hurt your chance for successful growth and fruit production.

Flowering Apple Trees

iStock_000039711600_LargeMany varieties of apple trees are triploid, meaning they have three sets of chromosomes. How does this factor in with pollination? Triploid varieties cannot cross-pollinate the same varieties. If you planted a triploid variety you would also need two other trees of different varieties nearby to achieve cross-pollination.

So, how does one choose the correct varieties to cross pollinate? One of the simplest ways to see if two varieties can pollinate each other is to check their flowering or pollination groups. Each group contains varieties that will flower around the same time. To help ensure a good crop and pollination it’s best to grow two or more different cultivars from the same or adjacent Flowering Groups.

Flowering Group Examples

Group 1: Gravenstein
Group 2: 4 in 1, McIntosh
Group 3: Granny Smith, Jonathan, Pink Lady, 4 in 1
Group 4: Gala, Yellow Delicious, Red Delicious, Fuji
Group 5: Jonagold.

As we mentioned earlier in this guide some cultivars have sterile pollen and need two other cultivars for good pollination.It is because of this reason that it is good to grow at least two other non-sterile cultivars with each one. These varieties are naturally prone to produce a lot of blossoms over a long period and are therefore compatible with many other varieties; which make them good pollinators. Most crab apples fall into this group and are planted by orchards because of their
pollination abilities.

Below are a few examples of compatible apple varieties:

• Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Red and Yellow Delicious, McIntosh
• 4 in 1 and Jonagold
• Gravenstein Apple
• Jonathan Apple

Remember: Gravenstein and Jonagold trees have sterile pollen, so another apple tree variety needs to be planted with them in order for them to produce fruit. They will not serve as a pollinator.

Crabapples as pollinators

Crabapple trees are popular trees that grow all over the country. They can often act as pollinators for apple trees. Although, they won’t work with all varieties they will work with most. They grow well in a huge variety of different soil conditions, sandy soil or soil that’s heavy in clay poses no threats. Crabapple trees are the envy of other trees because of their vivid colors. Their colors can range from pearl to whitish pink and intense red. There are some trees that even have a coral like appearance.

crabapplesCrabapples differ from apples based of their fruit size. If the fruit is two inches or less in diameter it’s considered a crabapple. If the fruit is larger than two inches it is considered an apple. All crabapples are Rosaceae, in the genus Malus; meaning they’re part of the rose family.

Crabapple trees are best known for their blooms and produce a lot of flowers and pollen over an extended period of time. The flowers can bloom into late April early May. These trees vary in height and can measure anywhere from 8-25 ft., depending on the variety. Even though the fruit on these trees are smaller by comparison to those on regular apple trees they’re similar to apples. Crabapples are ready for harvest in the summer and fall. They vary in color from red, dark red, golden yellow, orange, and even green.

Flowering Crabapples can be planted almost any time of the year. It’s best to plant them after the final frost in spring through fall prior to the ground freezing. The only exception would be bare-root trees. If you are planting a bare-root tree it’s best to plant during early spring in order to give the roots time to become established.

Crabapple Varieties

There are several varieties to consider when purchasing a crabapple tree to plant. A few popular varieties include columnar, vase-shaped, pyramid-shaped, rounded, and weeping. All of these varieties are considered flowering trees.


Concerns & Care

There are a few diseases that can be a serious concern to Apple Trees. The best defense is a healthy tree. Maintaining proper soil conditions, adequate water levels, and fertilization can help your trees thrive successfully. Below are a few diseases to watch out for.

Fire blight – A bacterial disease that causes the branches to blacken giving them a scorched look and will kill the tree eventually. You can control Fire blight by either choosing trees that are genetically resistant to the disease or removing blighted branches off the tree.

Powdery mildew – Attacks the foliage and fruit on apple trees. It is a white fungus that will appear on the leaves, fruit, and flowers. If left untreated it will eventually cause the trees health to decline. You can help control this disease by applying a fungicide to the tree during early spring just as the leaves are starting to push out.

Apple Scab – A fungus that leaves black soot like spots on the leaves and fruit. This disease mostly affects new leaves in the spring, during moist conditions. However, it can affect mature leaves during May and early June. The fungus appears as black velvet spot on the leaves. As a result the leaves turn yellow and eventually drop. You can control this disease by either choosing disease resistant Apples, or applying fungicides as the leaves begin to come out during the spring.

Cedar Apple Rust – A fungus that leaves rusty spots on the leaves of the tree. This disease commonly affects juniper, cedar, and apple trees. When this fungus attacks apple trees the leaves will develop small yellow spots on the leaves in late spring. As the tree becomes more stressed both leaves and fruit will drop off the tree prematurely. Cedar Apple Rust cannot be controlled once the tree is infected. However, you can take preventative steps to maintain your trees health. We recommend applying a fungicide spray during the growing trees. This will help reduce the likelihood of infection spreading from surrounding junipers, cedar and apple trees.

McIntoshNote: We recommend removing dead, damaged, or diseased branches from the trees; this includes suckers. Tree suckers are shoots that come up from the roots or base of your tree. You can also treat your trees with insecticide to help prevent these diseases from occurring.

Apples Trees are otherwise hearty trees that do not require much care when they are first planted. We recommend planting them in rich soil. Your apple tree will benefit most from being fertilized yearly with a 10-10-10 formula. Especially, if you notice that the trees leaves are pale in color or it has grown less than inches per year.

Apple trees often thrive without much water once they become established. However, if you live in a dry area or experience a prolonged period of drought we recommend 4-6 inches of water every couple of weeks. Apple trees thrive best in full sun for at least 10-12 hours per day.

Why is my Apple Tree not bearing Fruit?

Apple trees can have good and bad years. This is another reason to have more than one tree even if your tree is self-fertile. That way you are more likely to get apples from each tree or at least one tree every year. This is also a good idea if you are growing a variety not recommended for your area and want to give it a shot anyway.

At times a tree may have very few blossoms even when the spring weather is good. This can often be the cause of incorrect pruning during the previous summer. The tree may also have trouble bearing fruit due to prolonged stress from lack of water and or nutrients. Giving your tree adequate water and fertilizer will help prevent this issue.

Poor weather conditions can also affect your apple crops. When the tree loses its blossoms during a storm or severe cold weather it may either have a reduced crop or none at all the next season. It may also have an excessive crop following the next year. This can be strenuous on the tree because Apple trees typically grow too much fruit. If all the apples grow to maturity that quickly, the tree will soon exhaust itself and begin to produce much smaller crops in the following years.

In order to grow normal apples we recommend early cropping. Thinning out young fruit in early summer is beneficial so that the next year’s crop is normal. Thinning involves pruning off the smallest fruits on the tree. To put it simply, we recommend leaving one fruit for every 40-60 leaves. The fruit should also be evenly spaced along the branch.

There’s a short window in which you can thin your Apple trees. This falls between the time the fruit sets and the flowers initiate. It is best to thin the tree when the fruits are about ½ in. or the size of a dime. Most trees will also self-prune during June.

Pruning is helpful to the tree’s fruit production. Naturally apple trees will push out branches in every direction and fill them out with fruit. This can make for smaller fruit, uneven development, and reduced productivity. Proper pruning allows for the fruit to be properly spaced out. It also allows for better access to sunlight and airflow in the trees canopy.

For more information on caring for your apple tree visit: