Growing Apple Trees:
How to Grow Apple Trees Organically

Growing apple trees and producing fruit you can eat is a satisfying experience any gardener should feel confident to try. And once you learn how to grow apple trees organically, you’ll be able to save money at the grocery store and keep your family stocked with delicious fruit for months.

If you’ve got a sunny spot, well-drained soil and the desire to spend a little time pruning your tree to make sure it performs well and bears lots of fruit, you can join many others throughout the world who grow one of the most popular fruits.

Growing Apple Trees: Plant Snapshot (Malus domestica)

Growing Apple Trees
  • Recommended Varieties: Keepsake, Williams Pride, Gala, Priscilla, Jonamac, Sansa, Liberty, Freedom, Empire, Golden Delicious, GoldRush
  • When planning crop rotation, group with crops from: Rosaceae, pear and blackberry family
  • Easiest to grow from: Rootstock
  • Planting timeframe range (varies by climate): Late fall/early winter or late winter/early spring
  • Low winter temperatures that damage fruit plants: -30°F (-62°C)
  • Time until plant bears fruit after planting: 5 to 7 years
  • Approximate yield per plant: 10 to 15 bushels per tree
  • Life of plant: 35 to 45 years
  • Companion plants:
    • Companions: Roses, pears, blackberries, raspberries
    • Avoid: n/a

Before you continue reading below, check out the following overview pages if you haven't done so already. They contain important general instructions that apply to most types of fruit trees...

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Growing Apple Trees: Planting the Seed

Where to Find Planting Supplies...

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If you go to your local nursery in search of apple seeds, you’ll usually find plants that have been grafted onto a disease resistant and cold tolerant dwarfing rootstock. This method of planting is preferred over growing an apple tree from seed because reproduction by seeds can yield variable results that aren’t usually an exact clone of the mother plant.

When choosing trees, bigger isn’t always better. The ideal age and size of the tree is about one year and 2 to 3 feet (0.7 to 1.0 m) tall. Apple trees require pollination from another variety to set fruit, so buy at least two types with overlapping bloom periods and plant in the same area.

It’s best to plant in the early spring while the trees are still dormant. Soak roots in water for about an hour before planting, then choose a spot that gets sunlight throughout most of the day to ensure fruiting. Well-drained soil is also important.

Cultivate the area where you’re planting by hand or by using a rototiller. Add soil amendments such as compost to add nutrients to the soil. Dig your hole at least twice as wide as the roots or root ball and only just as deep. Set the tree in and fill in the soil firmly around the roots.

Water well to settle the soil and eliminate any air pockets, and don’t fertilize at this point.

Snapshot: Planting Apple Trees

  • Easiest to grow from: Rootstock from one year old trees
  • Planting timeframe range (varies by climate): Late winter into early spring and late fall into early winter
  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 5.0 to 6.5
  • Spacing in rows: 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6.09 m) for dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties and 25 to 30 feet (7.62 to 9.14 m) for larger varieties
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Growing Apple Trees: From Germination to Pre-Harvest

Where to Find Growing & Plant Care Supplies...

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The same day you plant, you should start pruning and training your tree. Remove any small or unwanted branches, then cut the main stem back to 24 to 30 in (60.96 to 76.2 cm) from the ground to establish a central leader.

When you have 2 to 3 in (5.08 to 7.62 cm) of new growth, place wooden clothespins between the old and new growth to make it grow upward and outward to form strong angles that will help support the tree as it grows.

Over time, continue to cut back the new growth by about one-fourth each year and remove any upright, dead or diseased branches after all leaves have fallen off the tree. Make sure your central leader is always the highest point of the tree.

Within 30 to 60 days after blooming, thin apples by hand to about one per 6 in (15.24 cm) of shoot growth so larger and stronger fruits will develop.

Keeping fertilizer 6 in (15.24 cm) away from the base of the trunk, start fertilizing with about one cup nitrogen one month after planting. Repeat in May and June, then in early spring, April, May and June of subsequent years.

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Growing Apple Trees: Harvesting Time

Apples are usually harvested in the fall, but remember that just because your apples are red, it doesn’t mean they’re ripe. Look at the ground rather than the fruits and wait for the grass to change from green to yellow. The flesh of the fruit will start to soften and the stem will loosen from the branch at this time as well.

Gently pull the fruit from the branch being careful not to damage it.

Snapshot: Harvesting Apple Trees

  • Time to harvest: August to October
  • Yield per plant/tree: 10 to 15 bushels per tree
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Storing Apple Trees and Freezing Apple Trees

To get the longest life out of your apple harvest, store them in the refrigerator away from other fruits and vegetables for a few months.

If you’re planning to eat them soon, they can be stored on the countertop for a few days. Slice, core and mix apples with sugar and water to can them for a shelf life of up to two years.

Snapshot: Storing Apple Trees & Freezing Apple Trees

  • Storage temperature: 32° to 36° F (0° to 2.22° C)
  • Humidity: 90%
  • Storage life in above conditions: 2 to 6 months
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Growing Apple Trees: Pests & Diseases

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Apple Trees. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.

Pests

  • Gypsy moth
  • San Jose scale
  • Redbanded leafroller
  • Mites
  • Aphids
  • Codling moth
  • Plum curculio
  • Apple maggot

Common Diseases

  • Scab
  • Powdery mildew
  • Rusts
  • Sooty blotch, fly speck
  • Fruit rots
  • Fire blight
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YOUR Experience & Advice About Growing Apple Trees

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