Many homeowners enjoy the rewards of growing fruit-bearing trees, and the apple is one of the most popular fruit trees in New England. Properly managed, apple trees enhance the beauty of your landscape and also provide your family with fresh, homegrown fruit for years to come.
General Considerations Prior to the Purchasing an Apple Tree
Buy your tree from a reputable source, choosing a cultivar that is proven successful in this region. Apple trees grow rapidly, so carefully consider where they will be planted: all fruiting trees require sunlight, ample space, and good soil conditions. Most apple cultivars are not self-fertile–to produce the best fruit results different cultivar should be planted within about 100ft. for cross-pollination.
Space and Size
Final height and spread will depend on onsite conditions, pruning and maintenance. Most apple trees are grafted cultivars.
- “Standard”trees mature around 15-30ft high; space18-20ft.between trees
- “Semi-dwarf” trees grow to about15-20ft.: space12-15ft. between trees
- “Dwarf” trees, including “genetic dwarfs” will be10-15ft. when mature and should be planted at8-10ft. spacing.
- Appletrees can be pruned as an espalier or to a trellis to reduce space requirements.
- Dwarf trees may require staking to help support their fruit load.
Apple trees grow best with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Select a site that allows air movement and is protected from strong winter winds.
Apple Trees require well-drained, neutral soil (pH of 6-7), and we recommend testing your soil prior to planting; here’s the link to the U Mass soil testing service.
Both container-grown and balled-&-burlapped (B&B) trees can be planted at any time during the growing season. Follow the proper planting guidelines published on the Weston Nurseries website. In addition:
- Make sure roots stay moist during the planting process
- Incorporate phosphorus (0-20-0) supplement with the backfill soil, but avoid adding other fertilizer until the year following installation
- Stake your new tree to finish the planting process to stabilize it and encourage proper root regeneration
- Make sure the graft union stays visible above the final soil level. Some apple trees, particularly dwarf types, may be grafted in more than one location along the trunk.
All fruit trees benefit from maintaining several inches of mulch around their base to suppress weeds and also to discourage rodents that can damage trunk and roots.
All fruit trees should be given adequate water through the growing season
Follow the recommendations from your soil test service, and in general, avoid adding fertilizer until the next growing season. Late fall or early spring is the proper time for fertilizing fruiting trees, using any formulation you choose, following directions on the label. Avoid fertilizing in summer.
Developing the proper branching framework is more important than encouraging fruiting when the tree is first planted. Consult a reliable reference book for pruning details to reduce the (unlikely) chances of big mistakes; and don’t be afraid to prune. It’s always best to prune in winter or early spring when the tree is dormant. Pruning tools should be sharp and cleaned with every use.
Here are some additional advantages of appropriate pruning:
- Helps control the shape and size of the tree
- Removes unnecessary growth and stimulates fruit production
- Allows sunlight to optimize growth, fruit size and quality
- Simplifies needed insect and disease management.
Professional growers often physically reduce the number of fruit on their trees to help ensure better production, but for a home orchard, thinning immature fruit is an unnecessary bother. Recently planted trees should prioritize healthy vegetative growth rather than optimal fruit production. Mature fruit trees tend to naturally shed their excess fruit when properly maintained.
Diseases and pests
- Proper hygiene practices help reduce disease and pest problems and encourage best fruit production. Fallen leaves, branches and fruits can harbor fungus and insects (overwintering adults, larvae or eggs) and should be removed every autumn
- Pest management is a personal decision, and many options can be utilized, both organic and chemically.
- Ask an expert at Weston Nurseries for specific recommendations, and always follow the directions on the package.
About the Author
Wayne Mezitt is a 3rd generation nurseryman, a Massachusetts Certified Horticulturist, now chairman of Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton, Chelmsford & Hingham MA, and owner of “Hort-Sense”, a horticultural advisory business. He currently serves in various capacities on several horticulturally-related organizations, including the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at The Gardens at Elm Bank in Wellesley MA, and chairman for the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group MIPAG.