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, since they’re easy, fun, and cost effective. Imagine having bushels of sweet, flavorful apples that you can use for baking, canning, or eating right off the tree. You can save tons on your yearly fruit cost by having your very own tree, right in your backyard.

Best of all, there are more than 8,000 different varieties of apples. Most are bred for their taste and utilitarian use, including cooking and cider production. And Apple Trees are generally produced by grafting or from seeds.

One benefit of grafted trees is they will bear fruit much more quickly than those grown from seed. Imagine planting your tree and having fruit the very next year. Seriously.

Getting Started

Apple Trees
Lush Apples

Planning 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 Apple Trees to suit your needs. Our guide will assist you with your search. It contains all the information you need to consider when purchasing and planting Apple Trees.

Flavor: Sweet or Tart?

Think about your favorite flavors. Once you figure out what type of apples you like, think about how you plan to use your apples. Are you planning on 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. For example, Red Delicious is one of the sweetest cultivars available.

Delicious Apple Slices
Delicious Apple Slices

Once you determine your desired use, 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 three groups: Northern, Southern, and Western. These groups represent the areas of the country the trees will thrive in. Most Apple Trees fall into two or more groups. Knowing which trees will thrive in your area will help you choose the correct variety!

However, most Apple Trees grow best in a warm climate with full sunlight and good air circulation. And though they can tolerate a wide range of soil types, they prefer well-drained soil with high acidity. 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 Southern part of your garden. Planting the trees near a hedge or wall can help protect the trees from wind damage.

All in all, Apple Trees are very hardy. They can withstand most conditions, including extreme cold and wind. It’s best to plant your trees during the spring, although, if you live in an area with mild autumns and your winter months have moisture in the air, they can be planted during autumn. In this case, ensure you plant six weeks prior to your first frost so the tree establishes properly.

Shop Apple Zones

USDA Zone Map
USDA Zone Map

Size

Malus Domestica
Apple Tree Size

Furthermore, how big do you want your Apple Trees to get? Keep in mind that Apple Trees contain three parts: the branches, trunk, and the root system. Therefore, our Columnar and Dwarf Apple Trees are grafted for a more controlled size. Most dwarf trees maintain heights of between 10 to 15 feet, which make them easier for picking fruit. Remember that grafted trees also bear fruit much faster than those grown from seed.

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

But if you’re not concerned with a specific variety and just want a delicious apple to eat, below are a few varieties that are both easy-to-grow and self-fertile:

  1. Anna Southern
  2. Gala
  3. Granny Smith
  4. Honeycrisp
  5. Pink Lady
  6. Yellow Delicious
  7. 3-in-1
  8. 4-in-1

Pollination Power

Apple Pollination
Apple Pollination

Your Apple Tree’s ability to cross-pollinate is important (and this also applies to self-fertile varieties). One of the causes of reduced crops is poor pollination, so Apple Trees greatly benefit from cross-pollination. And 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 that, in order to have pollination, you have to have blossoms.

Plus, 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.

Pollination Requirements

Some varieties of Apple Trees are actually sterile and cannot pollinate other apple trees. For example, the Gravenstein and Jonagold Apple Trees are sterile, so another apple tree needs to be planted with them to produce fruit. Pollinators should be no more than 50 feet apart from each other.

As mentioned, even if you have a self-fertile tree, we recommend having a pollinator. Bigger bounties of fruit result from having more than one tree, no matter the type of tree. See our apple pollination chart for more details.

Apple Trees
Pollination at Work

 

Selecting the Correct Tree

How do you select the correct trees for your garden? For starters, 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

Flowering Apples
Flowering Apple Trees

Many 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:

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

As we mentioned earlier in this guide, some cultivars have sterile pollen and need two other cultivars for good pollination. Because of this, it’s 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 crabapples 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 or heavy in clay. 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.

Crabapples
Versatile Crabapples

Crabapples differ from typical apples based on their fruit size. If the fruit is 2 inches or fewer in diameter, it’s considered a crabapple. If the fruit is larger, it’s considered an apple. All crabapples are Rosaceae in the genus Malus, meaning they’re technically 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, and their trees vary in height, measuring anywhere from 8 to 25 feet depending on the variety. Even though the fruit on these trees is smaller by comparison, they are similar to regular apples. Crabapples are ready for harvest in the summer and fall and will vary in color – from red and dark red to 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.

Flowering Crabapples
Flowering Crabapples

Concerns and Care

There are a few diseases that may affect 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 avoid.

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 this 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 tree’s 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 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 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 tree’s health. We recommend applying a fungicide spray on the growing trees. This will help reduce the likelihood of infection spreading from surrounding Junipers, Cedar and Apple Trees.

McIntosh
Disease Prevention for Health
Note: 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 tree’s leaves are pale in color, or the tree 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 to 6 inches of water every couple of weeks. Apple trees thrive best in full sun for at least 10 to 12 hours per day.

No 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. 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 no crop 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.

Pruning and Cropping

Apple Trees and Thinning
Apple Thinning

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 to 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, between the time the fruit sets and the flowers initiate. It is best to thin the tree when the fruits are about half an inch or the size of a dime. Most trees will also self-prune during June.

Pruning is helpful to the tree’s fruit production. Apple Trees will push out branches naturally 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, check out planting directions and our very own pollination guide!