Apple Tree Planting Guide: Growing An Apple Tree In Your Yard

By: Kathee Mierzejewski

Most apple tree planting guides will tell you that apple trees can take a long time to fruit. This will depend, of course, on the variety of apple tree you purchase. Some will produce fruit earlier than others.

Soil for Growing an Apple Tree

One thing to remember about growing an apple tree is that the pH of the soil has to be just what the tree needs. You should have a soil test done if you are thinking about how to grow an apple orchard or your trees might not survive.

Having a soil test done by the extension office is great because they provide the kit, do the test and then can give you a report of exactly what your soil needs in order to have the proper pH. Adding whatever is needed should be done to the depth of 12 to 18 inches (30-46 cm.) so that the roots get the proper pH, or they can burn.

How Do You Plant Apple Trees?

Most apple tree planting guides will tell you that higher ground is better for growing an apple tree. This is because low lying frost can kill the blossoms on the tree in the spring. Growing an apple tree on higher ground protects the blossoms from an early death, thus ensuring a good crop of apples.

Apple tree growing info also advises not to plant the trees near the woods or streams. Both of these environments can ruin the tree. Growing an apple tree requires full sunshine. You will know when to grow apple trees when you can actually dig the hole necessary to plant the tree. Obviously, springtime is best, but make sure the ground is good and thawed.

When planting apple trees, pay attention to how the root ball goes into the ground. Growing an apple tree will require that you dig your hole double the diameter of the root ball and at least two feet deep.

When you cover the roots with soil, you tamp it down as you go so you can ensure that the roots are completely touching the dirt. This makes certain your tree is going to get all the nutrients necessary from the soil because the air pockets were removed.

Apple Tree Care

When caring for an apple tree, you can add fertilizer, but don’t fertilize at planting time because you can burn the roots. Wait until the plant has established itself and then feed it according to the instructions on the fertilizer package. Most of the time, if your soil has the proper pH, you won’t need to fertilize your apple trees.

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How to Espalier an Apple Tree

The horizontal cordon system is one of the simplest espaliers to create.

Site your espalier fruit tree against a wall or building to create a warmer microclimate.

Many gardeners would love to grow apples, pears, peaches, and other tree fruits in their yard, but don't have the room or climate to accommodate them. While there are many dwarf tree fruit varieties on the market, sometimes even these trees are too large for a small yard. Plus, if you live in a cold winter or cool summer climate, some fruits just won't grow and mature well for you.

That was the same dilemma facing gardeners in northern France and England in the 16th century. Gardeners in cold winter areas wanted fruit trees, but didn't have the proper climate for it. So they developed a pruning technique that would allow these normally large trees to fit in small areas such as along a fence or wall. In this way they could create a microclimate along south, east, or west facing walls to grow fruit varieties that normally wouldn't produce in their area. They also found that trees trained in this way can be very productive. Espalier pruning continues to be popular in Europe, and is now done around the world.

What started as a way to grow trees in small spaces has turned into an art form. Espalier allows a gardener to create a beautiful work of art that will grace the landscape with interest in all four seasons. Espalier comes from the Italian word that means "something to rest the shoulder against." It's an appropriate term because all forms of espalier — cordon, fan, Belgium fence, candelabra — are all similar in that the trees are grown in a flat, two-dimensional plane, often against a wall or structure. One of the most common espalier designs is an apple tree trained to a horizontal cordon. You can now purchase fruit trees in an espalier form, but it's much more satisfying, and cost effective, to train your own. Here's how to get started.

Selecting Your Site and Tree

Plant your apple trees in full sun (6 to 8 hours a day) on well drained, fertile soil about 15 feet apart. A south, east, or west facing wall, fence, or building is best. You'll have to support the developing branches with a trellis system, so select a site where you can run a wire trellis outlining the ultimate shape of the tree. To help you along, if you have a rock, brick, or stone wall, sketch out the ultimate shape of the tree (usually three branch tiers spaced 2 feet apart with an ultimate height of 6 feet and width of 6 to 7 feet) with chalk on the wall. This will give you a design to follow. Anchor your wires into the wall or attach them to the fence.

While any apple can be espaliered, for a horizontal cordon system, choose a dwarf or semi-dwarf, spur-type apple variety. 'Macintosh' and its many crosses are good choices for the horizontal cordon system because their branches tend to grow horizontally already. 'Golden Delicious' is a nice choice if you only have room for one tree because it is self-fertile. 'Liberty' and 'Honeycrisp' are good modern varieties because they are disease resistant and require less spraying.

Make sure the espaliered tree is at least 6 inches away from the house so it doesn't effect the house siding.

Prune espaliered trees 2 to 3 times in winter and summer to keep the shape and growth habit.

Now the fun begins. Here's a step by step process of training your young tree.

  1. Purchase one-year old whips (small, unbranched trunk) from your nursery and plant in spring.
  2. Plant your whip in the middle of your designed trellis wire system about 6 inches away from the wall or structure.
  3. Select a bud about 2 feet above the base of the graft union and prune off the rest of the whip just above it.
  4. Branches will begin to grow out from below the cut. Select the strongest 3 shoots and trim away the rest. When the shoots are 3 to 4 inches long, tie one to the right hand side wire and another one to the left hand side wire trellis.
  5. The third shoot will be allowed to grow vertically to the next horizontal level and repeat the pruning and training process.
  6. Any vertical or errant shoots that develop on the lateral tiers should be pruned back to 5 inches tall to create fruiting spurs (short branches with flower buds) which will be the locations of future fruits.
  7. You can create 3 to 4 horizontal trellises with your fruit tree depending on the size of the wall or structure.
Keeping it Going

It may take 3 to 5 years to get the entire fruit tree structure in place. Your tree, though, should start bearing fruit in a few years. Prune out any developing fruit the first few years. Remove any vertical shoots, suckers, and water sprouts each year and shorten horizontal branches back to create a fruiting spur. You may have to prune 2 to 3 times a year to keep the tree in shape. Because there will be more fruiting spurs produced on a horizontal branch than a vertical branch, eventually you will get a great number of fruits setting on your espaliered apple tree. Be sure to make the wire trellis and supports strong enough to hold the tree laden with fruit in place.

Each year continue pruning to maintain the shape of the espalier, and water and fertilize the tree to keep it healthy. Some old espaliered trees have lateral branches that are so thick they no longer need wire support and can be used to create an espaliered fence. Enjoy your work of art and once you're comfortable with apples, try other fruits and espaliered designs.

More stories on espalier:

Charlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.

Spread 2 inches of mulch around the base of your newly planted Granny Smith apple tree. This helps keep weeds from growing around the fragile sapling while also trapping moisture into the dirt. Mulch options include shredded leaves and coarse compost. Water the tree at a rate of approximately 1 gallon of water a week, keeping the dirt consistently moist to a depth of 18 inches.

Joshua Duvauchelle is a certified personal trainer and health journalist, relationships expert and gardening specialist. His articles and advice have appeared in dozens of magazines, including exercise workouts in Shape, relationship guides for Alive and lifestyle tips for Lifehacker. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and urban patio gardening.

Ask an expert: It’s not easy to root apple tree from cuttings

Apple tree cuttings are starting to bud. OSU Extension Service

Winter is here, but gardening questions keep coming in to Ask an Expert, an online question-and-answer tool from Oregon State University’s Extension Service. OSU Extension faculty and Master Gardeners reply to queries within two business days, usually less. To ask a question, simply go to the OSU Extension website and type in a question and the county where you live. Here are some questions asked by other gardeners. What’s yours?

Q: Last November, I visited the Sierra Mountains gold town of Quincy, Calif., to do family history research, and I took some cuttings from two historic apple trees there. One set of cuttings is from a Gravenstein that was planted (according to the history museum director) in 1876. The other cuttings I took from an unknown kind (but with yellow apples, not Gravenstein) in the backyard of my great-great grandfather's house, so it could date back to the late 19th century.

I dipped the cuttings in rooting compound and stuck them all in pots of a moist peat/compost/soil mixture. I put tomato cages on each one and hung dry cleaner's bags over the cages to create little greenhouses. They have been inside my house since then, and I have kept them very moist. They have leafed out a little – one even sent out a little blossom – but now the bud areas look kind of fuzzy. I'm not sure if they're molding or getting ready to leaf more. I haven't wanted to disturb them to see if they are rooting. I am not sure how to proceed at this point. Should I plant them in larger pots and set them outside and then put them in the ground later? I am going to be giving them to various friends and family, but they won't be able to get in the ground until March or even May. – Lane County

A: You may have difficulties getting the apples to root from a cutting. Apples are usually propagated by budding or grafting onto a hardy rootstock. Typically, cuttings (scion) are taken in January, refrigerated, and then grafted onto rootstock in the early spring. However, that doesn’t mean it is impossible to get an apple tree to root from a hardwood cutting, but the success rate will be low and it may take up to six months for the cutting to root.

I suspect you will need to give these cuttings a little more time to root (make sure the soil is kept moist but not soggy). Leaves should be removed from the bottom half of the cutting, and remove any blossoms or fruit as well, so that it puts all of its energy into producing new roots. In late March or April, check to see if the cuttings have rooted. If they have sent out 1- to 2-inch-long roots, then you can re-pot them into individual pots with a sterilized potting soil. Keep them growing in a protected area for another year and then plant them in the ground the following spring. Here is a little more information on propagating from cuttings.

With regards to the fuzzy growth on the blossoms, I suspect that there may be a little powdery mildew growing, which is most likely caused by the humid conditions. Remove and destroy the blossoms, and try to reduce the humidity (open up the plastic covering to increase aeration). – Erica Chernoh, OSU Extension horticulturist

How to Grow an Apple Tree from a Seed

Last Updated: January 25, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

There are 21 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 40 testimonials and 88% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

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You can grow apples from seed, but keep in mind that the type of apple tree you end up with might not be the same as the seed you planted. [1] X Research source For example, if you plant a Granny Smith apple seed, you might not end up with a Granny Smith apple tree. It might be some other type of apple from the Granny Smith lineage. If you want to plant an apple tree from seed, there are several things you will need to do to increase your chances of success.

Growing Apple Trees

Growing apple trees on the farm or in the home garden has been a tradition in our country since the 1660s, when Europeans began settling North America. Founded in 1866, Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co. has a long history of working with the finest apple breeding programs in the nation. And when selecting apple varieties for our customers to grow, we consider a variety of criteria, including flavor, ease of growing and disease resistance.

The varieties of apple trees available to grow are numerous. We have whittled down our list to some of the finest, most delicious apples the home gardener can grow. When buying apple trees, there are a few factors to consider before selecting an apple variety for your yard or garden.

Pick the right apple for your plans

Are you planting an apple tree solely to have apples for fresh eating? Do you want to cook with them? Would you like to store apples away for the winter? Do you want to be totally hands off after planting the tree and need a variety with great disease resistance? As you can see, personal preferences and the fruits' final use play a role in deciding what to choose. Once you have decided which variety suits your needs, then you need to make sure it will grow in your region. After those decisions are made, you may need to choose another variety for cross-pollination. The final consideration is whether you want a standard (full-sized) apple tree or a dwarf apple tree.

Best Fresh-Eating Apple Trees

Which apple varieties grow in my zone?

Most of the fruiting trees offered by Gurney's can be grown throughout much of the United States. However, there are a few issues to keep in mind, especially if you live in an extreme Northern climate or in a warm winter area. All fruit trees need a certain number of chill hours. Chill hours are the number of hours that the temperature stays at 32-45°F. Chill hours start accumulating once your tree goes dormant in the fall. Most of the United States receives at least 800-1,000 hours of chill. As you get into the South, the Southwest and some parts of coastal California, chill hours decrease, and variety selection becomes more important. In the very deep South, choices become even more limited.

If the fruiting tree does not receive the correct amount of chill, it may not bloom or even leaf out in the spring. For several varieties, however, chill hours are not written in stone. Many people report having had success in low chill areas with varieties that were thought to have higher chill requirements. While we do not include chilling hours within our product descriptions, you can use the hardiness zone information that follows each description to determine whether a tree will thrive in your area. The higher the hardiness zone rating, the less amount of chill is needed. For example, a tree that is rated zone 7 or 8 will need less chill than one listed for zone 4 or 5.

Also pay attention to the harvest date in the product description. If you are in Minnesota and the description has a late October harvest date, this might not be the best apple for your area.

Best Selling Cold-Hardy Apples Trees

How do apple trees cross-pollinate?

To ensure fruit set, most apple trees need to be cross-pollinated by another variety. Apple varieties are placed in flowering groups based on their flowering time. However, not all varieties can cross-pollinate each other even if they are blooming at the same time. We recommend you refer to Gurney's Pollinator and Rootstock Chart to pick varieties that will cross-pollinate. The nearest pollinator should be at least 50 feet or closer. The benefits of growing two or more varieties go beyond pollination. You can extend your apple harvest by planting apple trees with different harvest windows. When in doubt, it is always good to plant a crab apple tree because they can pollinate a wide range of apple varieties. Even better, you may already have a crab apple growing in your yard.

Cross-Pollinating Apples

Should I buy a standard or a dwarf apple tree?

Rootstock are what your favorite apples are grafted or budded on to help control size. There are three general categories of rootstock based on how they affect tree size: dwarf, semi-dwarf and standard (full-sized). Gurney's offers apple varieties on standard and dwarf. Selecting a rootstock depends on your available space and ability to maintain the apple tree. Standard trees grow 15-25 feet and our Reachables® dwarf trees top out at 6-8 feet tall.

The particular rootstock we chose for standard apple trees offers many advantages. They develop a very strong and vigorous root system. This helps them tolerate drought conditions and provides a strong anchor for the top growth. Our standard trees are the best rootstock for clay-soil conditions and are resistant to soil pests and blights. Compared to dwarf trees, standard trees take a few more years to produce fruit but once they do, production is very high. Standard trees are also very long lived. In fact, there are a few trees scattered around the country that are 200 years old or older.

Gurney's dwarf apple trees, marketed under the Reachables brand, also have many advantages for the home gardener. Reachables branded apple trees produce full-sized leaves and fruits, but on a smaller tree. That makes it easier to fit into your garden, orchard or even a container. The small size allows you to plant several apple trees in the same amount of space as one standard apple tree. Reachables are also easier to manage than standard trees. One person can prune, spray, net and harvest the tree—all while standing on the ground. They also start to bear fruit much sooner than standard trees, sometimes in their second year after planting. Since Reachables produce full-sized fruit on a small tree, a tree support is required.

Once you order from Gurney's, homegrown apples are only a few years away, and the tree that bears them can last you a lifetime!

Watch the video: Apple Seed Germination Step By Step with Time Lapse

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