Growing a variety of apple trees has endless reasons why you would want to grow them in your home’s orchard, most importantly being in control of what your family eats. With countless recipe possibilities, you can be enjoying apples all year long.
When Planting Edibles, Always Start with a Plan:
Step 1: Comprise a wish list of plants.
Step 2: Experiment – Try something new!
Step 3: Know your land and location – Sunlight, space, and soil conditions.
Step 4: Growing methods – Raised beds, traditional rows, or containers?
Step 5: Choose your fruit – Start with trees, then berries and vegetables.
There is nothing more scrumptious than eating fruit harvested from your own crop, and your success begins with the planting site and method you use.
When you purchase your fruit trees from Herbein’s Garden Center, they should already be acclimated to our temperatures. If, however, you mail-order a plant, be sure to place them in a sheltered, shady area and gradually increase its time outdoors by 1-2 hours a day. After about 7 days, your plants should be ready to transplant into the ground.
BEFORE planting, consider these 4 things when planning your home orchard:
- Sun and soil
- Surrounding area
- Space for future plants
Most apple trees need a matching pollinator, meaning they need to be pollinated from another flower on a different variety of tree. When another variety is present, you will notice a higher fruit yield. Because insects and wind carry the pollen between the blossoms, you should have the apple trees planted within 50’ of one another.
Plant in full sun (at least 6-8 hours) and well-draining fertile soil. Light is critical to fruit production and fruit quality and helps minimize fungal problems.
Well-draining soil will keep your apple tree’s roots healthy which is the foundation of a healthy tree. If necessary, add soil amendments to heavy or fast-draining soils. Add coco fiber potting medium or 1/3 peat to the soil at planting time. Apple trees can be very adaptable and respond well to soil additives such as compost or fertilizers.
Check your soils pH before you dig. You can purchase a Penn State Soil Test Kit from us or a meter for a quick result. Apple trees need a soil pH between 6.0 – 7.0. Use Espoma Organic Garden Lime if your soil’s pH is too low, or Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier if the soil’s pH is too high.
Check for any wires, cables, underground utilities, or any other obstructions that could be a problem when your tree reaches full maturity. Once your tree is planted and is stable, it can be difficult to transplant later. If you start off by planting your fruit trees at the proper spacing, you can avoid any problems or issues in the future.
If you are new to planting fruit trees. it’s best to start with just a few trees and add more later. Plan out where you would plant future trees and be sure you have adequate space for them.
Space Between Trees
- Dwarf: 8-10’
- Semi-Dwarf: 12-15’
- Standard: 18-20’
- Columnar: 2-3’
*Most apple trees that we carry are semi-dwarf varieties.
Preparing Your Soil
Roots will grow faster if they are spread out. Dig your hole deep and wide enough so the root system has enough room to expand. If the soil needs loosened up, mix aged cow manure, peat moss or compost (up to 1/3 concentration) into the pile of soil you dig from the hole. Use this to backfill and cover the plant’s root system.
Adding organic matter will improve just about any type of soil condition by helping retain moisture and nutrients and break apart clay soils so that water can penetrate through and roots can spread.
The goal of soil prep is to give your fruit tree a strong foundation, the best chance for survival, and to yield an abundance of fruit. Replenishing nutrients and minerals that get used from the soil is an important process for the overall health of your tree.
Once you get your fruit tree home, if you cannot plant it right away, you will need to keep the roots hydrated, however, do NOT place in a bucket of water as this might cause root rot or even kill the tree.
Gently pull the tree from its pot and loosen the roots. Place the tree in the hole with roots down. Add Espoma Organic Bio-tone Starter Fertilizer at the time of planting to the backfill soil to help produce a large root system quicker. This will help ensure that your new plant gets maximum water and nutrients from the soil to minimize transplant loss. Backfill with the soil you dug out.
Create a 2” rim of soil around the planting hole to allow water to stand and soak in. In fall, level out this rim to avoid damage to your tree from freezing water.
At this point, remove any tags that are on your tree. If not removed, it could become tight and cause injury or be fatal to your tree. If you want to keep the tag with your tree, replace it with a loose piece of twine that you can keep an eye on as the tree grows and loosen as needed.
This is a good time to stake your tree to help it keep it straight.
Water thoroughly with a deep, slow soaking. If the soil settles, add more soil until it is ground level.
If you are planting your fruit tree in the fall, wait until spring to apply any fertilizers.
Adding a layer of mulch around your tree will help keep rodents out, discourage weed growth, and keep water from evaporating at a quick rate. Add another layer of mulch in the fall for extra protection during winter months.
When to Fertilize
Apple trees thrive from macronutrients that are present in the soil, specifically nitrogen, which encourages green vegetative growth.
Typically, fertilizers are used during the growing season and not after July 1st. After your fruit tree starts bearing fruit, their uptake of Nitrogen increases. In response to this, an application of high-nitrogen fertilizer is recommended once in early spring.
Use Espoma Organic Tree-tone fertilizer to provide your tree with Nitrogen (for leaf and branch growth), Phosphorous (for root and blossom development), and Potassium (for the tree’s natural disease-resistance and overall health).
Here is an easy way to remember what the (# – # – #) stands for = Up↑ leaf & branch growth – Down↓ root growth – All Around⸨⸩ overall health.
Pests & Disease Control
Apple trees may experience pest or disease problems during growth. Factors like location and weather will play a role in which issues your fruit tree will encounter. Practicing proper maintenance on your fruit tree such as watering, fertilizing, pruning, spraying, weeding, and cleanup will help keep most issues at bay.
Below is a list of pests that have been known to make an appearance on apple trees.
Apple Maggots Mites
Bud Moth Plum Curculio
Codling Moth Red Bug
Flatheaded Apple Tree Borer Tarnished Plant Bug
Gypsy Moth Tent Caterpillar
Japanese Beetle Thrips
Below is a list of diseases known to infect apple trees.
Anthracnose Fire Blight
Bitter Rot Powdery Mildew
Black Rot Scab
Cedar Apple Rust Sooty Blotch
Grab our brochure “Pest & Disease Control for Edibles” for more in-depth info.
Pruning Apple Trees
Pruning is essential for proper development of fruit growth.
Pruning vs. No Pruning
It is in the best interest of your apple tree to do some pruning versus none at all. If left unpruned, your apple tree may not produce fruit, grow as well, or may not grow at all.
- Plan on pruning your apple tree every year during its dormant season, in late winter. This stimulates stronger and more vigorous growth from the remaining buds and provides a structured shape.
- Make sharp, clean slanted cuts about a ¼” away from the next OUTWARD pointing bud so you don’t leave a messy stub that won’t heal over. Cutting just above the outward bud will help new growth to take on a spreading shape which keeps the inner area open to air circulation and light.
Prune to form a strong framework.
The purpose is to keep the apple tree’s canopy from growing too thick and crowded and to keep the tree at a manageable height. Remove weak or diseased branches, crossing branches, and branches that are growing inward toward the center. This will improve your apple tree and it will thank you with an abundance of beautiful fruit!
Growing to form a Central Leader.
The central leader is an extension of the trunk to the tallest point of the tree.
- The leader should be pruned back to about 24-30” above the highest set of branches. All remaining branches should be pruned vertically to about 4-6” apart and be growing horizontal in different upward directions. Smaller lateral branches should be cut back to an ideal bud to encourage stronger lateral branches.
Whips are unbranched trees, which are ideal if you want more control over which branches can develop, such as an espalier type. Prune whips back to about 24-36” above the ground at the time of planting. After new branches have grown 3-5”, pick a shoot that will be the leader and the rest become the tree’s scaffold limbs.
Sometimes off-season pruning is necessary.
This could be damaged branches broken by wind, diseased branches, or branches cracked by the heavy load of fruit. Fast-growing tree suckers and sprouts should be removed as soon as you notice them.
Thinning fruit can be done by hand in home orchards. In May and June, many apple trees will start to drop underripe fruit in a natural process that allows the tree to mature the remaining crop. If not corrected through thinning, apple trees could only produce biennially or perhaps light one year and heavy the next.
The best time to thin apple trees is within 20-40 days of full bloom. In clusters, leave the largest bloom.
Spraying Apple Trees
A well-rounded spray plan for apple trees includes spraying during the dormant season for pests and diseases.
General Preventative Maintenance:
- Spray with Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray every 14 days. Do not use more than 2 applications a year and do not spray for at least a week or two before harvesting. Be sure to follow product directions.
When to spray:
- Dormant Season (late winter/early spring, before bud break)
- Growing Season – Bud Break – (emergence of new growth)
- Growing Season – After Blossom – (*after petals drop)
*gives bees and other beneficials a chance to safely pollinate the blossoms.
Bonide® All Seasons® Dormant Spray Oil
Bonide® Captain Jack’s™ Deadbug Brew
Bonide® Insecticidal Soap
Bonide® Thuricide® BT
GardenTech® Sevin® Bug Killer
Bonide® Captan Fruit & Ornamental
Bonide® Copper Fungicide
Ferti-Lome® Fire Blight Spray
Serenade® Garden Disease Control
Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray
Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray
Bonide® Neem Oil
Unless you planted your apple trees in an area where you would water your plants for “normal” plant growth, you probably won’t need to water after the first growing season. However, don’t forget to water directly after planting at your site.
When to Harvest
Get ready to enjoy your delicious, juicy fruit! Harvesting in most cases can begin as early as July and as late as November.
- Your apples will tell you when it’s time to pick. They will lose the last traces of their green color and develop bright coloring.
- When picking, if you lift them upward quickly, and they come loose without any damage, they are ready. If you plan on storing your apples, pick them a little early – just as they start to ripen.
- The ideal storage condition is humid and cool, around 32° – 40° Keep them in a Ziplock bag in your refrigerator or any cool area in your home.