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How & When to Plant Apple Trees: Tips, Facts, & FAQ

close up wet apple tree

Apples are a nutritious, delicious, and popular fruit. Although they’re widely available at farmer’s markets and grocery stores, several people want to grow apple trees in their yard. The good news is you don’t need a lot of yard space to grow apple trees. Also, they’re easy to grow, and their blossoms are beautiful in spring.

However, to be successful, you need to know a few dos and don’ts about how and when to grow apple trees. Read on to learn how to plant apple trees that produce fresh, tasty apples every year..

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When Is the Best Time of Year To Plant Apple Trees?

The best time of year to plant apple trees depends on where you live. For example, northern regions of the United States should plant apple trees in early spring. Wherever you live, pick a day to plant your apple trees when the ground in your yard isn’t frozen or saturated with water. If either one affects your yard, wait until the conditions are right.

Region Time of Year USDA Zone
Northeast Early Spring 3,4,5
Southwest Early Winter 7,8
Northwest Early Spring 3,4,5
Southeast Late Fall – Early Winter 8,9,10
Midwest Early Spring 5,6,7

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Where Is the Best Location To Plant an Apple Tree?

While easy to care for, apple trees need a few conditions to grow well and stay healthy. One is that they need full sunshine for at least 6–8 hours a day. The area should have excellent air circulation also so that, after it rains, the tree’s leaves dry quickly (this prevents fungal diseases). Apple trees should not be planted near a wooded area or close to other trees. Also, the soil should have a pH range between 6.0 to 7.0. Lastly, don’t plant an apple tree in a part of your yard where frost can occur.

apple tree blossoming
Image Credit: blickpixel, Pixabay

How To Plant an Apple Tree

Planting an apple tree isn’t rocket science but still needs to be done properly for the best results. Below are step-by-step instructions to plant your first apple tree.

Step-by-step instructions:
  • Clear a 4-foot diameter area of your yard of weeds and grass.
  • If planting more than one apple tree, space them 15 to 18 feet apart.
  • Measure the root ball of your apple tree.
  • Dig a hole that’s twice the diameter of the root ball and about 2 feet deep.
  • Loosen the soil in the “walls” of your hole, and place a 2” layer of loose soil back in the hole (This helps the roots to grow).
  • Spread the apple tree’s roots gently with your fingers and place the entire root system in the hole.
  • Replace the soil, tamping it down to ensure no air pockets form around the roots.
  • If your apple tree was grafted, ensure the graft union is 4” above the soil when you’re finished.
  • Water your new apple tree thoroughly and regularly.
  • Do not use fertilizer after planting (It can burn the roots).

What Is the Best Time of Year To Buy Apple Trees?

While early spring is typically the best time to plant apple trees, buying your trees is a whole different ballgame. That’s because apple trees are harvested for sale in late fall (based on annual growing cycles), so summer is the best time of year to buy apple trees. More sizes and varieties will be available during summer, giving you more choices. Don’t worry, you can plant them whenever it’s best for your region.

fuji apple tree
Image Credit: Alika Obraz, Shutterstock

Do I Need Two Apple Trees To Get Fruit?

Apple trees need pollen from other varieties of apple trees to grow fruit. The pollen is delivered by bees and flies, who visit one apple tree and then fly to others with the pollen stuck to their bodies. If you only have one apple tree, bees and flies can still fly in from other yards with apple trees, so having more than one tree might not be necessary. Then again, if yours is the only apple tree around, planting a 2nd, different species of apple tree will significantly increase your chance of growing apples.

How Far Apart To Plant Apple Trees?

We mentioned earlier that the spacing between apple trees should usually be from 15 to 18 feet. These numbers, however, are for standard, full-size apple tree varieties. If you’re planting dwarf apple trees, you can space them closer together, about 6 to 8 feet apart.

pink lady apple tree
Image Credit: Karen Christensen, Shutterstock

How Long Does It Take To Get Apples?

Different species of apple trees need more or less time to grow, mature, and produce fruit. For example, a standard, full-size apple tree can produce apples after 4 years but sometimes needs as many as 8. A dwarf (small) apple tree can start producing fruit in as little as 2 years. Both of these examples are for s trees that have been pre-cultivated and grafted. If you start your apple tree from seeds, you might not get apples until 5 to 10 years later.

What Is the Ideal Soil for Apple Trees?

Although they need well-draining soil, apple tree roots also require the soil to stay somewhat moist between waterings. In heavy soil that doesn’t drain well, an apple tree’s roots will struggle to remain healthy and can experience a disease called “root rot.” For that reason, light or medium-textured soil is the best choice for your apple trees.

How To Make Apple Trees Grow Faster

One of the best ways to help your apple trees grow and produce fruit faster is to prune them. Pruning is essential to ensure your apple-growing success, protect your apple trees, and keep them healthy.

Pruning stimulates fruit production and reduces the amount of “fruiting wood” an apple tree makes. With too much fruiting wood, your apple tree will eventually produce so many apples that their quality will drop significantly. Too many apples also weaken the apple tree, leading to a vicious cycle of overgrowth, weakness, and bad apples.

Experts recommend pruning your apple tree in late winter when it’s dormant. Pruning at this time will prevent branch congestion and allow primary fruiting branches to form. It will also create a successful fruiting wood cycle, with enough to keep your apple tree healthy.

red apples on a tree apple bunch
Image Credit: Konevi, Pixabay

Can You Grow an Apple Tree From a Seed?

Yes, you can grow an apple tree from a seed. Johnny Appleseed did it all over America! Surprisingly, the apple tree you get won’t be the same as the apple that gave you the seed. That’s because apple seeds are genetically unique from the parent tree that produced them.

For example, if you plant a seed from a Golden Delicious apple, the apple tree you get won’t produce Golden Delicious apples! Plus, an apple tree takes upwards of 10 years to start producing apples, so you’ll be waiting a long time to make apple pies! Horticuluralists recommend purchasing apple trees that have been grafted onto rootstocks, which is a common method. That way, the tree you choose will produce the apples you desire.

The 15 Best Varieties of Apple Tree for Home Growers

There are 7,500 apple varieties grown worldwide. Approximately 2,500 varieties grow in the United States, but only 100 varieties are grown commercially. For home apple tree growers, the following species are arguably the best:

Best Varieties:
  • Macoun
  • Honey-crisp
  • Early Harvest
  • Granny Smith
  • Gala
  • Red Delicious
  • Gravenstein
  • Jonagold
  • Red Rome
  • Lodi
  • McIntosh
  • Empire
  • Pink Lady
  • Arkansas Black
  • Fuji

General Growing Tips for Apple Trees

Tips:
  • Water your apple trees every two weeks. You want them to stay moist without drowning
  • When you lay mulch, make sure it’s not touching the trunk. Doing this will keep rodents away.
  • Apples are very prone to pests, so you’ll need to use pest control to keep the trees healthy. We suggest you research your specific apple tree variety and zone to determine the best pest control method.
  • Experts recommend buying apple trees when they’re dormant and about a year old. You’ll find them at your local nursery or big-box garden center.

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Final Thoughts

Growing apple trees takes the right soil and light conditions, plenty of watering, and annual pruning. A sunny, airy spot in your yard that’s not prone to frost is the ideal location. Also, grafted, 1-year-old apple trees are the best choice to produce a specific variety of apples. If done correctly and at the right time, your apple trees will produce delicious apples every season!


Featured Image Credit: Lichtsammler, Pixabay

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