Grow the Best Apple Trees


Today I want to talk about how to grow the best apple trees. We have started an apple orchard here at the Simongetti North. We have also planted other fruit bearing trees as well. Like everything there is history, and so does the apple. Apples as far as 8000 BC, the Nomad moved apples throughout the Middle East.

The history of the apple in China around 5000 BC, a diplomat was recorded as giving up his job to concentrate on grafting fruit trees and that included apples. There are apple trees for just about every climate but varies with cultivar.

Definition – cultivar is a subspecies classification describing plants varieties which are produced through artificial selection. Cultivar, the word, comes from a combination of cultivated variety. Different forms of the same species are considered varieties.Apple Blossom


Some quick apple facts;

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9 (varies with cultivar)
  • Height: Standard 20-30 feet, Semidwarf 12-15 feet, and Dwarf 7-10 feet.
  • Spacing: Standard 25-30 feet, Semidwarf 15-20 feet, and Dwarf 7-10 feet
  • Pollination: Apples need cross-pollination, plant at least two cultivars for good yields
  • Pruning: late winter
  • Special requirements; Thin the fruit to improve quality of harvest
  • Bearing years: Standard 5-8 years, Semidwarf 3-5 years, and Dwarf 1-6 years
  • Yield per Tree (Bushels); Standard 5-8, Semidwarf 4-10 and Dwarf 1-6

One of the best reasons that apples do well in just about every climate is, the apple’s popularity among home gardeners and its ability to adapt to the different soils and climates.  Apples are the hardiest of the fruit trees, where many cultivars will grow where apricots, peaches and pears may not grow.

Tips for Choosing which Apple Trees

For growing the best crop for the conditions of where you live, consider the following before purchasing apple trees.

  • Tree Size
  • Suitability – Climate, cold or warm
  • Resistance to pests and disease
  • Flowering time – need at lease 2 cultivars, flowering near the same time for cross-pollination
  • Fruit quality – color, flavor, texture (soft or crisp) and what are you using it for, cooking or just eating
  • Yield – how many apples do you want?

Before purchasing an apple tree you will want to consider the tips mentioned above to make sure you have the proper place to grow the apple tree. Take into consideration of your hardiness zone. If you are in a cold climate, you will want cold hardy apples and if you are in a warm climate you will want not cold hardy apples.

Apple Tree

Pollination and Apple Trees

For apples, pollination does matter. You must plant at least two cultivars near each other for cross-pollination by bees. The trees need to be within 75 feet for standard, 45 feet for semi dwarf and 20 feet for dwarf, from each other for cross-pollination.

There is a couple apple trees that are infertile; Jonagold, Mutsu and Winesap, which is normally mentioned in their description. These 3 apple trees do not produce pollen to participate in cross-pollination.

Take time to Understand Rootstocks

Just about any apple tree you purchase is grafted onto a rootstock. A rootstock is part of the plant, often an underground part, from which new above-ground growth can be produced.

It could also be described as a stem with a well-developed root system, to which a bud from another plant is grafted. The reason for is to control the size of the tree (not the fruit).

Rootstocks can also be used to make the tree hardier or even more tolerant of a particular soil or to combat pests or disease, to control suckering or to provide strong roots for better anchorage for windy days.

As you grow into apple orchard gardening you can custom-order root stock combinations from specialty nurseries or even create your own tree by grafting. Another term for grafting is “interstem” which refers to grafting the main cultivar onto the stem section, which in turn is grafted onto the rootstock, making a two graft union.

Planting Apple Trees

Depending on where you purchased the trees, if they came from a nursery or a garden center they are probably in large containers or with the roots wrapped in a burlap wrap. Both have their advantages over bare rooted plants. For those who aren’t going to plant right away, it helps to mound mulch or wood chips around the ball of the soil.

If you purchase mail-order trees are shipped bare-roots, packed in some sort of moisture-retaining wrap to help keep the roots moist. Once these bare-roots arrive, take them out immediately and get them in water for at least 3 to 6 hours but not over 24 hours. If the trees arrive on a cold day, slowly let them thaw before putting in water.

It is best to plant bare-rooted trees in the spring before growth starts in cold climate areas, zone 5 and colder. This will give the tree time to get well rooted and established before winter. If you live in zone 6 or higher where its warmer, you can safely plant in the fall.

Me and my Shelties with an Apple Tree

Before getting ready to plant, take all the wrapping off but be careful to not disturb, and to not break the feeder roots. Make sure you chose a location with plenty of sun, at least 8 hours a day of sun, in a well drained soil, not in a low area in the spring where it will get too much water or freeze from standing water.

Follow the spacing recommendations before planting the tree. Set the tree in its hole so the graft union sits 2 to 4 inches above the soil. If the tree has an interstem, set the tree so that the lower graft (where the interstem joins) sit 2 to 4 inches above the soil.

Caring for the Apple Tree

Staking during the first 4 to 5 years will help trees get established better and more quickly. Its essential for apples trees grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks that don’t provide adequate anchorage for the tree. The apple tree is going to need some pruning.

Pruning is a little different depending on if you have spur and non-spur apples. Spurs are short, stubby wrinkled stems on a branch. Spurs make fewer limbs, which require less pruning. Spurs can live for many years, they only develop flower buds the second year and fruit beginning the third year. Non-Spur apple trees produce their fruits on spurs too, just spaced apart along the branches.

These are pruned normally.

  • Pruning Tips
  • Train a central leader
  • Remove upright branches that compete with the central leader
  • Identify the main scaffold branches and remove the others at an early age
  • If most branches grow upright, spread some to make horizontal scaffolds
  • Remove diseased, damaged, dead and rubbing branches

Watch for disease in the apple trees. Like any other living thing, they also suffer from illness. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your orchard. The insect that is most likely to encounter are apple maggots. You may also see spider mites, aphids, and sawflies.

Harvested Apples in Orchard

Schedule for Spraying Organic Apples

Only use a spray only if it’s essential and always follow label directions, even if displayed different in this post. Here is the list of sprays and the stage of the tree.

Do NOT spray apple trees during flowering stage, it will kill the bee’s.  If the tree is in bloom with flowers, do not spray.

  • Dormant – Dormant oil – kills eggs of aphids, mites; some diseases
  • Green Tip – Sulfur (not within 3 weeks of oil) for disease prevention, Bt to control caterpillars and Neem oil for Aphids.
  • Open Cluster – Sulfur Spray – for disease prevention
  • King/first bloom – Repeat Sulfur and Bt, if needed. Don’t want to hurt the pollinating bees
  • Petal Fall – repeat Sulfur and Bt and again 7-10 later, if needed
  • Fruit Set – Sulfur spray or Bordeaux, if signs of disease, use every 14 days as fruits develop. Stop all spraying 30 days before harvest.

Taking care of your apples is something that is needed to have a good crop and a healthy orchard.

Happy Planting!

I hope you found this informative and be able to use this information in your own apple orchard or if you just have a tree or 2. We started an orchard here at the Simongetti North when we moved here a couple years ago. There are some older apple trees here that the previous owners didn’t take care of, we let the deer have those apples!

Check out my review for online nurseries

Please leave a comment below and let me know if you have any apple trees on your property!



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16 thoughts on “Grow the Best Apple Trees”

  1. This is exactly why bookmarked your site! I seriously love the information you provide. Everything that has to do with organic growing has come from your sites. I really like that about your site as I am someone who appreciates organic products. Thank you so much for this valuable information, I will definitely come back for more

    • Thank you again!  We started an apple orchard here at the Simongetti North,  I have other fruit trees too.  I will be posting about those too.  Please share my site with your friends

  2. I love apples and growing them can be such a pleasure, especially when the flowers are out. In Australia, there can be a few challenges to growing apples in warmer areas as they seem to grow better in the cold, that said there is a cultivar that is adapted to most climates. This was such a comprehensive detailed plan to grow healthy apple trees and I will be using all your tips on planting, caring, pruning, and picking as mine grow ever taller.

    Loved the picture of you and your dogs in the garden, they are the perfect companion for us gardeners.

    • Yes most apple trees like the cold weather but just look for a more warm climate apple.  I have always wanted to go to Australia.  Thank you for your comment, I love my sheltie’s and they are the best gardening companions,

  3. As with most fruit, apples produce best when grown in full sun, which means six or more hours of direct summer sun daily. I would also like to state, that the best exposure for apples is a north side of a house, tree line, or rise rather than the south. Would you agree with me?

    And it’s very important that apple trees have well-drained soil, in order of being able to retain some moisture.

    • Hi Ann,

      Thank you for your comments.  We have our apple orchard going north and south, and get more than 6+ hours of sun.  Apples also like cold weather, really cold.  This helps with apple production the spring.  Apple tree’s do need well drained soil.

  4. This is great information on growing the best apple trees. With Spring approaching, it seems like the perfect time to plan and purchase apple trees so that they can be planted this coming season. Thank you for the details about how close the pollinators need to be to each other. This is a critical step to apple growing success!

    • Hi Aly,

      We just purchased more apple tree’s and other fruit tree’s from our county conservation office.  We get to pick them up the end of April.  We got some other stuff to plant too.  I can’t wait until spring!  It’s actually 46 degree’s and melting snow!  There is hope of spring!

  5. Wow, I am not for gardening at all but even so I am amazed on how many details there are about planting apple trees. You would think that in order to bear fruits it’s as simple as planting a single tree but from what I see there is so much more than that. Nice information article really.

    • Hi Stratos,

      Thank you for your comments.  Yes, I have to get my tree’s sprayed to prepare them for spring.  I use an organic spray for my apple tree’s.  The snow is starting to melt this week, spring is looking like it’s getting closer

  6. It’s funny but though it occurred to me a couple of times that we should try planting some fruit trees, we haven’t got round to it yet. When I was 9 years old we moved to a new house across the country and our new garden had I think three small apple trees and two pear trees. What blew us away was the first year we arrived we had this massive bumper harvest of apples and pears. The pears were absolutely huge, certainly larger than anything you see in supermarkets. But I also remember we had an infestation of wasps who were also extremely fond of the pears and the apples. I remember we spent much of our time bottling both apples and especially the pears. The sad thing is the years after that the apple and pear crops just went rapidly downhill. So I guess we arrived just at their peak producing time. There were also all kinds of problems, sicknesses, and rot, etc and I guess my dad just didn’t know how to deal with them. It is clear from reading this that there are many things to take care of if you plant apple trees, even though, as you say, apples are the hardiest. It seems like they still need care. I am quite sure where we live now would be great for apples. Not far away there are many large apple orchards and we have made outings to them at harvest time. So the climate conditions must be good. Something to look into . . .  Thanks and best regards, Andy

    • Hi Andy,

      Thank you for your comments.  I love having fresh apple around.  We started an orchard.  I also have pear, peach, sour cherry, and plum tree’s.  The end of April we are getting another peach, sweet cherry and more apple tree’s for the orchard.  Apples do better in the northern, colder climates.

  7. I planted an apple tree a few years ago and also a peach tree. Each year a few more blossoms and this past year hundreds of blossoms.  Yet only a few apples and even those few weren’t all that great.  I live in NY state and apples grow here like crazy!!!  I will figure this out for sure.  Thank You for all the pointers.  


    • Hi Connie,

      We just planted a few new apple tree’s a couple years ago, last year and we have new ones coming this year as well.  I think they need to be older for more fruit.  Also keep the bugs away with some organic spray.  They will produce, it just needs some time.  Stop back for more gardening tips

  8. I really admire your work and the knowledge you share with us. Anyone involved in gardening can always find some useful tips on your site.
    Thanks for all the interesting information about the origin of apples, what variety of apples to choose, how to plant them, and how to care for them. We used to have more apple trees, now we have three left, and for years I have noticed that they bear abundant fruit every other year, and every other year there is only a couple of fruits on the tree. Do you think it depends on the variety, or should I change something in the way we take care of them (we prune them in early spring before they start to sprout, but we don’t spray them)? Thanks!
    Friendly greeting,

    • Hi Nina,

      Thank you for your comments.  We have some really old apple tree’s on our property and we don’t do anything to them.  They kind of went wild from the previous owners.  I think we pruned them back a bit but that was it.  They have tons of apples every year so far.  This will be our 3rd season.  We let the deer eat those apples.  We have planted new apple tree’s each year so far and we have some ordered from our county conservation to pick up 3 more apple tree’s the end of April.


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