How to Grow and Care for Apple Trees at Home

An Apple a day Keeps the Doctor Away! Studies show that phloridzin found in apples and only apples may protect older women from osteoporosis as they increase bone density. Another ingredient found in apples, boron also strengthens bones.

A study conducted at Cornell University found that apples may protect brain cells from Alzheimer’s disease. The pectin in apples lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, as well as supplying galacturonic acid to the body which lowers the body’s need for insulin and may help in the management of diabetes. Apples also lower the risk of liver, colon and lung cancer.But best of all – they taste good !

An apple tree can live for more than a century, a mature tree follows the same cycle year after year. In summer tiny buds appear on the branches. The buds develop and grow a protective covering in the fall. During the winter the buds are dormant. In spring, the buds develop into green leaves and the flower blossoms appear.

Planting Apple Trees

Starting Apples from Seed is a long drawn out process that takes years to see fruit or fruition. Most home grown apples are planted from transplants. If you’ve got a sense of curiosity, a smidgen of audacious courage, and a hefty glob of patience you might want to try growing apples from seed. See: Starting Apple Trees From Seed

Selecting Your Trees

When purchasing your trees for transplant common sense should dictate that you do not purchase trees that appear stunted, poorly grown, diseased or insect injured. Do not purchase dried, shriveled plants even at discount prices.

A healthy 1-year-old whip, approximately 2 to 3 feet tall with a 1/2-inch diameter trunk and a good root system, is preferable. A small tree with a good root system is actually much better than a large tree with a poor root system.

Apple Trees are most commonly planted in the Spring, but can also be planted in the Fall – See – Fall Planting Apple Trees

Planting Process

Step 1 – Your hole should be twice as wide and only as deep as the rootball of the tree. Be sure to leave space so that the tip of the rootball is 1″ to 2″ above the original grade{ground level}.

Step 2 – Remove the container. Plastic pots should be removed by gently laying it on its side and tapping at the pot until the plant slides out. I know it’s common sense but I’ll say it anyway — Try to avoid damaging the roots while doing this.

Step 3 – Refill the hole with a blended mixture of 1/3 Peat Moss and 2/3 of your garden soil. Firm the backfill by tamping it gently. Build a watering basin around the perimeter high enough to hold 3″ to 4″ of water.

Step 4 – Your basin should be at least as wide as the hole that was dug. Immediately water the tree deeply by filling the basin with water once, letting it soak in, and filling it up a second time. Remove the basin after this initial planting / watering as heavy rains and excessive moisture can lead to root rot.

Planting Tips

The use of Root StimulatorRoot Stimulator for planting fruit trees at planting time will reduce the risk of transplant shock which will encourage your trees to resume their normal growth habits more quickly.

If possible , Plant grass near to the base of the tree to hold the soil in place. Cutting the grass on a regular basis will add organic nutrients to the soil . However, let the grass grow tall and it will compete with the tree for nutrients.

Dusting the root ball with mycorrhizal fungus, a beneficial fungus can enhance nutrient and water absorption, improve drought and disease of the tree over its lifetime. See – Mychorizae Beneficial Fungus For Garden Plants

Choosing the Best Variety of Apple Tree

According to the Roman Historian Pliny there were 22 known varieties of Apples at his time, now there are an estimated 7,000 + . Choosing the best apple tree for your situation and locale is critical.

The simplest way is by checking with local reputable garden centers to determine which varieties do best in your area.

Different types of apples do better with different hours of chilling over the winter months , some that require maximum chill time naturally will not fare well in southern regions and vice versa. Most apple cultivars will quickly degenerate without an adequate annual chill below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

You may also want to consider “bloom time” . There are early, mid and late season bloomers. If you are planting several apple trees or a group of trees you might want to plant several varieties to ensure a steady supply all season long.

At least two different apple varieties are best in order to ensure proper pollination. Crab apple trees are also suitable to pollinate Apple Trees.

Apple varieties are self-incompatible for pollination, they can’t effectively pollinate themselves or other flowers of the same variety. The highest quality fruit is produced when cross-pollination occurs.

You will need to plant at least two varieties of apple trees together in order to maximize fruit production and quality. Make sure that the varieties you choose have overlapping bloom dates, so that both varieties bloom simultaneously.

Pollen from apple blossoms is transferred primarily by bees, be careful not to spray insecticides during bloom when honey bees are present.

Early Season Varieties

  • Yellow Transparent Apple
  • Lodi
  • Pristine
  • Redfree
  • Beacon
  • Ginger Gold
  • Paulared
  • State Fair

Mid Season varieties

  • Cortland
  • Gala
  • Honey-Crisp
  • Liberty

Late Season Varieties

  • Golden Delicious
  • Haralred
  • Northern Spy
  • Rome

Other factors to consider are fruit size, taste, color, disease resistance, and pollen compatibility, all of which are important factors.

Care and Maintenance

Fertilizing Apple Trees

Apple trees should be fertilized every spring. For optimum growth and quality fruit.

About a month after the initial spring planting, apply about a half pound of 12-12-12 (or similar analysis) fertilizer per tree in a circular band around the edge of your original hole. The first year after planting, just before growth begins in early spring apply about one pound of 12-12-12 fertilizer per tree in a circular band under the trees drip line.

In subsequent years, fertilizer needs generally increase; the amount of fertilizer to apply can be gauged by the terminal growth made the preceding year. Young trees up to six years old should have 12 to 18 inches of new grow each year and 6 to 12 inches of growth thereafter. Growth above or below these figures would indicate too much or too little fertilizer.

Do not apply excessive fertilizer – It is Always better to under-fertilize rather than risking too much and “burning” the roots.

If the blossoms are injured by frost and the crop is lost, don’t apply fertilizer, your crop is already lost for that year, and fertilizer will only promote excessive nonproductive foliage growth.

Also See: Understanding Fertilizer Labels

Pruning Apple Trees

Apple trees require frequent pruning to maintain a good fruit production. Heavy pruning will not be required until the tree has been established and growing for several years.There shouldn’t be any pruning at all during the first year except to remove broken or dead twigs.

You can, however, train your one or two-year “whip” to develop a favorable branching habit. Branches that grow straight out from the trunk at a 90 degree angle (L shaped) are the strongest. V shaped crotches are weaker and less likely to support the weight of the branch in a storm or under a heavy fruit load.

Fruit Thinning of Apple Crops

The earlier hand thinning of Apple trees is completed, the better it will be in achieving optimum results. Midsummer thinning helps improve fruit size and aids formation of the subsequent year’s flower buds.

Most of the flower buds for next year are initiated during a 4-to 6-week period following full bloom this year. Therefore, thinning should be done before this time.

When hand thinning, leave one apple per cluster, and space the clusters about every 6 inches. Start at one end of a branch and systematically remove fruit.

To remove the fruit without damaging the spur or other apples on the spur, hold the stem between the thumb and forefinger and push the fruit from the stem with the other fingers. This method removes the apple and leaves the stem attached.

Well maintained apple trees grown under favorable conditions can generally set more fruit than they are capable of successfully carrying to maturity. Removing excess fruit from apple trees aids in the satisfactory development of the remaining apples.

Not removing excessive fruit will effect the following years harvest also as excessive fruit decreases formation of flower buds for the following year and can also cause trees to skip a year in crop formation.

Preventing Frost Damage

Temperatures below 28 degrees F during bloom will kill the blossoms and eliminate that years crop. Avoid planting in low-lying areas, a 10-foot increase in elevation can make the difference between a good crop and no crop at all. Cold air is heavier than warm air and flows into low areas much the same way as water flows into low areas.

Large bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes and large rivers, retain heat and help to protect crops during Autumn and early winter. Planting trees close to water can reduce the likelihood of frost injury. Water also cools the surrounding air in the spring and summer months and delays bloom.

Tree coverings are of little benefit unless a heat source is present such as a kerosene or Coleman heater.

Common Diseases of Apple Trees


Scab is a plant disease caused by a fungus scientifically known as venturia inaequalis. Scab / Venturia inaequalis also attacks pears, peaches and nectarines.

Damage to apple trees can be severe, affecting the fruit harvest, as well as the apple tree itself, it is the world’s most severe threat to apple harvests. Deformities, cracks and entire tree death are common in apple trees infected with scab.

The infection cycle starts when temperatures and moisture promote the release of V. inaequalis ascospores in the spring The spores are released from leaves of the previous season near the base of previously infected trees. These spores rise into the air and land on the surface of a susceptible tree, where they germinate and renew the cycle.

Trimmings and leaf litter should be removed from the orchard and incinerated. This will reduce the amount of new ascospores in the spring. Scab lesions on the tree itself should also be excised from the tree if possible and destroyed.

Scab infections can be prevented by applying fungicides at regular intervals throughout the season. The objective is to provide a protective coating that will inactivate any spores landing on the fruit and foliage.

It is critical to control scab early in the season from bud emergence through the second spray after blossom petals fall . If scab infection can be prevented when all the ascospores are discharged from the fruiting bodies in the fallen leaves, the disease cycle is broken and no further source of infection remains.

Bitter Rot

Bitter rot is caused by a fungus and affects both apples and pears. The fungus attacks the fruit as it approaches maturity. Under hot, and humid conditions, it can destroy an entire crop in a short time. It is common in southern states, and occurs infrequently in the north.

Bitter rot in apples causes light-brown circular spots on the fruit. In more advanced stages, these spots often show concentric rings .Under very moist conditions, masses of pink spores occur on the rings. Often there will be more than one spot, and by growing and joining together, the entire fruit rots.

Some fruit will mummify and if not removed cling to the tree over winter perpetuating the disease into the following season, Other fruits will fall to the ground. All should be removed and destroyed.

Fire Blight

Fire blight is caused by a bacteria rather than a fungus, it makes leaves and twigs appear burnt. Wind blown rain and insects spread fire blight which attacks the leaves and twigs as well as the fruit.

Cedar-Apple Rust

Cedar-apple rust is a common disease and easily identified. On cedars, the distinctive orange galls (referred to as “cedar-apples”) appear in the early spring following rainy weather.

Spores produced on these blow to apple trees where they infect young leaves, primarily during wet periods. Within several weeks, most of the leaves are covered with orange fungus.

Later in the season, heavily infected leaves defoliate. Defoliation several years in a row leaves trees weak and nonproductive.

Common Insect Pests of Apple Trees

A myriad of Insects voraciously attack apples, worms and moths being the most common.

Codling moth, flat headed apple tree borer, oriental fruit moth are a few of the most common. See Worms and Moths in the Garden.

Beetles, aphids, and mites can also be a big pain in the Apple. The wooly apple aphid is the most destructive aphid attacking apple trees. It does a lot damage to the foliage, but the most extensive damage is to the roots. Beneficial Nematodes can reduce this aphid population to a harmless level.

A variety of snout beetle known as plum curculio is another regular insect that likes apples. They spend the winter in the adult stage underneath leaves and trash. During the bloom period they become active. Egg-laying punctures by adult beetles and larvae feeding in the fruit can cause extensive damage. Bioneem is effective against this pest.

Several varieties of Spider Mites also attack apples as well as pears. 2-spotted spider mite, and the European red mite are the most common.

The European red mite  (aka eriophyed mite) creates a rust-like symptom on the fruit. These mites will overwinter as eggs on tree trunks. If problems are present at the end of the growing season, apply a dormant oil spray before bud-break the following spring to help control these pests.

Harvesting and Storage of Apples

Apples mature at various times, depending on the variety and climatic conditions. You should observe your apples as their growth progresses and inspect them for certain changes indicative of maturity. Flesh color loses its greenish tint and turns yellow or white.

Depending on the variety the skin color also changes. When you think the apples look ripe, taste one. If it’s to your satisfaction – Bon Apple teit !

Apples that are to be stored, should be picked when hard but mature, showing the mature skin color but a hard flesh. Storage apples should be harvested before eating apples.

Proper storage conditions help prolong the shelf-life of your apples. Store apples at 32 degrees F and maintain a high humidity.

Keep the fruit away from vegetables as ripening fruit gives off gases that will spoil some vegetables. Apples can also be stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator to prevent fruit dehydration.

  • Malus Domestica
  • USDA Zones 4 – 8
  • Maturity 4 -5 years
  • NOT Self Pollinating
  • Life Expectancy 80 to 100 Years
  • National Apple Month October