Apple trees are often seen as a timeless representation of the abundance found in nature, offering delectable fruit that is equally pleasing to the eye and palate.
They belong to the Malus genus and are part of the larger Rosaceae family, which includes roses, strawberries, and many other plants.
Apple trees are known for their beautiful spring blossoms and their fruit, which can be used in a wide variety of culinary applications, from fresh eating to baking and cider making.
You’re probably wondering that with so many ways to use and enjoy them, why not grow your own, right? Can it really be that simple?
Growing apple trees requires some knowledge and effort, and they do present some challenges. They need regular watering, proper fertilization, and purposeful pruning. Most are not self-pollinating. There are a number of pests and diseases to watch for, and any issues should be treated promptly.
What you don’t want to do is to run out and buy the first apple tree you find, stick it in the ground, and hope for the best. You’ll just be setting yourself up for disappointment.
What you should do is take your time researching varieties that thrive in your area, and learn all about apple tree care and common problems before you purchase your tree.
Let’s start with the basics, including tree growth, care guidelines, pests and diseases, and companion plants.
- Apple trees require full sun, well-draining soil, and regular watering. They benefit from annual pruning and fertilization, and mulching can help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
- Apple trees can be affected by diseases like apple scab, fire blight, and powdery mildew and pests such as codling moths, apple maggots, and aphids.
- There are hundreds of apple tree varieties, each with unique characteristics.
- Companion plants like dill, fennel, nasturtiums, comfrey, chives, garlic, borage, yarrow, clover, and marigold can benefit apple trees by attracting beneficial insects, deterring pests, and improving soil health.
Apple Tree Overview
Everyone knows what an apple tree is, but few are familiar with the specifics like average size, flower and leaf characteristics, and number of chill hours needed for fruit production.
Tree Appearance & Size
Apple trees are medium-sized trees that typically reach heights of 10 to 30 feet, depending on the variety and rootstock.
They have a broad, spreading canopy that can be as wide as the tree is tall. The bark of an apple tree is grayish-brown and rough, and it may become scaly as the tree ages.
Apple Tree Flowers
One of the most charming aspects of apple trees is their spring blossoms. These flowers are typically white with a hint of pink and have five petals.
They appear in clusters and have a sweet, pleasant fragrance. Not only are these blossoms beautiful, but they also attract pollinators, which are essential for the tree to produce fruit.
Apple Tree Leaves
The leaves of an apple tree are simple, meaning they are made up of a single leaf blade. They are oval in shape with a pointed tip and have finely toothed edges.
The leaves are a dark-green color on the top and a lighter green on the underside. In the fall, apple tree leaves can turn yellow or orange before they drop from the tree.
Apple Tree Fruit
The fruit of the apple tree is what makes this tree so beloved. Apple fruits come in a range of colors, including red, yellow, and green, and can vary in size from small to large.
The inside of the apple is crisp and juicy, and the flavor can range from sweet to tart, depending on the variety.
Most varieties are ready for harvest in early fall.
Growth Habit & Rate
Apple trees have a moderate growth rate and can take several years to begin producing fruit, typically between 2 and 5 years for dwarf varieties and 4 to 8 years for standard varieties.
The trees have a spreading growth habit, which means their branches extend outward more than upward.
Apple Trees in Fall & Winter
In the fall, apple trees put on a show with their changing leaf colors and ripening fruit. Once the leaves have dropped, the tree enters a period of dormancy for the winter.
This dormant period is essential for the tree’s health and productivity as it allows the tree to conserve energy and prepare for the next growing season.
Apple Tree Grow Zones & Required Chill Hours
Apple trees can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 8, depending on the variety.
They require a period of cold temperatures during the winter, known as chill hours, to properly break dormancy and produce fruit in the spring.
The number of chill hours required can vary greatly between varieties with some needing just 200 hours and others requiring 1,000 hours.
It’s important to choose a variety that is suitable for your region’s winter temperatures to ensure successful fruit production.
Apple Tree Care and Maintenance
Now that we’ve covered what you can expect from your apple tree, let’s take a look at what’s required to get your tree off to a great start and keep it thriving and productive.
Apple trees prefer a location with full sun, which means at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
They can tolerate a range of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils, as long as the soil drains well.
The ideal soil pH for apple trees is slightly acidic, between 6.0 and 7.0. Because apple trees benefit from soil that is high in organic matter, the richness of the soil is also important.
Apple trees need regular watering, especially during dry periods. While they are somewhat tolerant of drought once established, young trees and trees that are bearing fruit require consistent moisture.
However, it’s important to avoid overwatering as this can lead to root rot and other problems.
Apple trees benefit from regular fertilization. A balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 or something similar, can be applied in the spring before the tree begins to leaf out.
I use this fertilizer, which is approved for organic gardening, and have never been disappointed.
It’s also beneficial to add organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to the soil around the tree.
Pruning is an essential part of apple tree care. It helps to maintain the tree’s shape, promotes better air circulation, and encourages the growth of fruiting wood.
Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring before the tree starts to bud.
Mulching around the base of the apple tree can help to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and add organic matter to the soil.
Use organic mulch, such as wood chips or straw, and avoid piling the mulch against the trunk of the tree, which can lead to rot.
Apple trees typically begin to bear fruit 2 to 5 years after planting, depending on the variety and rootstock.
Apples are ready to harvest when they are fully colored and come off the tree easily when lifted and twisted. It’s important to handle the fruit gently to prevent bruising.
Apple Tree Diseases and Pests
Apple trees can be affected by a number of diseases and pests.
Regular monitoring and appropriate, swift treatment can help to keep these problems in check.
Propagating Apple Trees
Because apple cuttings are notoriously difficult to root, apple trees are typically propagated by grafting.
This involves attaching a piece of an apple tree, known as a scion, to a rootstock. The scion will grow into the above-ground portion of the tree, and the rootstock will form the roots.
Grafting allows for the propagation of specific apple varieties and can also be used to control the size of the tree.
Apple Tree Varieties
There are hundreds of apple tree varieties, each with its own unique characteristics. Here are a few popular ones:
- Dorset Golden: This variety produces sweet, crisp apples that are excellent for fresh eating. It’s also one of the few apple varieties that can produce fruit in warmer climates.
- Gala: Gala apples are sweet and crisp with a thin skin. They’re excellent for fresh eating and also good for cooking.
- Granny Smith: Known for their tart flavor, Granny Smith apples are excellent for baking. They’re also good for fresh eating if you like a tart apple.
- Honeycrisp: As the name suggests, Honeycrisp apples are sweet and crisp. They’re excellent for both fresh eating and cooking. The dwarf variety is popular with those facing limited space.
- Fuji: Fuji apples are among the sweetest apple varieties. They’re excellent fresh and store well, maintaining their texture and flavor for several months when refrigerated. Dwarf Fuji trees tend to stay under 10 feet tall.
Apple Tree Companion Plants
Companion planting is a practice that can benefit apple trees in various ways, from attracting beneficial insects to improving soil health. Here are some suitable companion plants for apple trees:
- Dill: This herb attracts beneficial insects like wasps and ladybugs that prey on common apple tree pests.
- Fennel: Similar to dill, fennel also attracts beneficial insects that can help keep pest populations in check.
- Nasturtiums: These vibrant flowers are known to deter aphids, a common pest of apple trees.
- Comfrey: This plant is a dynamic accumulator, meaning it draws up nutrients from deep in the soil and brings them to the surface. These nutrients can benefit apple trees when the comfrey leaves decompose.
- Chives: Planting chives near apple trees can help deter pests and prevent apple scab, a common fungal disease.
- Garlic: Garlic can deter pests and may also help to prevent fungal diseases.
- Borage: This plant attracts bees and other pollinators, which are essential for apple tree fruit production.
- Yarrow: Yarrow attracts beneficial insects and can also improve soil quality.
- Clover: Clover can be used as a ground cover to suppress weeds and also helps to fix nitrogen in the soil, which can benefit apple trees.
- Marigold: Marigolds can deter a range of pests and are also known to improve soil health.
Best Places To Buy Apple Trees
There are many places to buy apple trees, including local nurseries, garden centers, and online retailers.
Some reputable online sources for apple trees include:
Growing apple trees can be a rewarding experience, providing not only a beautiful addition to your landscape but also the joy of harvesting your own fruit.
With the right care and attention, apple trees can thrive in many different climates and conditions.
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, we hope this guide has provided you with the knowledge you need to successfully grow and care for apple trees. Best of luck!