How To Grow Apples In Your Yard (And How Long They Take)

Small apple tree in nature

Apple trees come in many different varieties, and they are great trees for many reasons, the least of which is certainly not the delicious fruit they produce. If you are thinking about planting an apple tree, you may be wondering how long it will take to grow to its mature size or how long it will be before it starts to produce apples.

Apple trees vary in their growth based on variety but in general, you can expect your apple tree to take between 2 to 8 years to start producing fruit. Small varieties can bear fruit faster, but they do not live as long as standard sized apple trees, which can live for longer than 50 years.

Read on for more information about how to choose an apple tree, how to plant and care for one, and what you can expect during its lifetime!

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Most Common Apple Tree Varieties

There are over thousands of varieties of apple trees, with a few being much more common than others. The general scientific name for an apple tree is malus pumila, and apple trees actually belong to the rose family. 

Some of the most popular types of apples are:

  • Honeycrisp (some of the most expensive but large, sweet and delicious)
  • Red Delicious (known for sweetness and their namesake solid, bright red peels)
  • Golden Delicious (similar to Red Delicious, but with gold or pale yellow peels)
  • Granny Smith (tart, crisp apples with bright green skins)
  • Gala (sweet apples with striped peels in yellow and orange colors)
  • Fuji (Japanese apples that are extra sweet and crunchy)
  • Snapdragon (a newer variety that is spreading east and west coast)
  • Macintosh (mac apples are more of your standard, baseline apples)

History Of The Apple Tree

Though the phrase “as American as apple pie” has long lived in American culture, the apples themselves and the trees that grow them are, somewhat surprisingly, not native to North America, according to the National Parks Service. Rather, apple trees were brought to North America from Asia by European settlers.

According to Maryland’s Best Agriculture, apples were first grown in a nursery in 1730 in Flushing, New York. Now, of course, apple orchards can be found in many parts of the country, and apples have become synonymous with a great number of things that are considered all-American.

Johnny Appleseed, according to the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, was a real person named John Chapman from Massachusetts who dedicated his life to planting apple tree seedlings across several states in the 1800s.

Cluster of apples

How To Grow Apples In Your Yard

Apples are one of the most popular types of fruit, and a single apple tree can produce hundreds each year.

Even dwarf apple trees can produce hundreds of apples. If you like to eat apples or make apple butter, applesauce, apple pie, or any number of the myriad dishes that use apples, you could be looking at an easy source right in your own yard every year.

The speed at which your tree starts to produce apples is somewhat proportionate to how long it lives.

Smaller trees produce fruit faster but do not live as long, whereas larger trees take longer to produce apples but will continue to do so for significantly longer than their dwarf-sized counterparts.

There are a few things that make growing apples a little more complicated from the start. You will need to check your tree’s environment before even choosing a spot to plant it, and a little maintenance can go a long way with apple trees. Once you get everything set up correctly, however, you can sit back and enjoy the literal fruits of your labor every fall.

You Can’t Grow Any Type Of Apples Without Two Varieties Of Apple Tree

You may think that growing apples every fall is as easy as choosing the type of apple you want and planting that variety of apple tree, but things are not quite so simple. According to the University of Maryland Extension, apple trees cannot produce fruit unless they are pollinated by another variety of apple tree. Even two trees of the same variety of apple won’t work. 

But one of the trees can be a crabapple tree, which are very common trees found in neighborhoods and yards, so you might be able to plant just one apple tree and still have lots of fruit each autumn. But you have to check your neighborhood. 

Pollination is the work of insects, usually bees, who fly around from tree to tree in the spring, spreading pollen from the apple blossoms that will eventually be apples themselves. So in order for pollination to occur, you need another apple tree for the bees to move the pollen back and forth from. 

According to the University of Maryland Extension, the pollen source for your apple tree should be no further than 100 feet away from your tree. That isn’t very far, so it should be easy for you to look around your yard and neighborhood for any other apple trees, including crabapples. 

If there are no other apple trees nearby, you can simply plant two trees. But you do have to make sure to plant two apple trees of different varieties.

For example, you cannot plant two Granny Smith trees, but you can plant one Granny Smith tree and one tree that grows Golden Delicious apples. This might be a great opportunity for you to have not only more apples every fall, but a variety with two different types of apples. 

If you are short on space, you can change your plans regarding the type of apple tree you have chosen in that instead of planting standard sized apple trees, you can plant two dwarf apple trees. They will still look great in your yard and will still produce a lot of apples.

In fact, dwarf apple trees produce apples faster than their standard size counterparts. They don’t live as long or produce fruit as long, but they still live for several decades of apple growing. 

Where To Plant Your Apple Tree In Your Yard

The location of your apple tree can determine how well and how fast it grows, how quickly and how much fruit it produces each year, and how easy it is for you to care for it.

Here are some tips about specific things to consider as you choose a location for your apple tree. 

Apple Trees Grow Best In Full Sun

Apple trees grow best in full sun, which means that they want a minimum of 8 hours of sun every day. If you are planning to plant them in an orchard or part of your yard with other trees, make sure to leave enough space between trees so that the apple tree is not shaded very much.

The same goes for buildings and structures, like your house; observe the spot you have chosen to make sure it receives a lot of sun throughout the day, especially in the morning.

If you are planting two apple trees, the size of each tree will determine how far apart they need to be. Smaller dwarf trees can be planted closer together, but standard size apple trees need to be at least 20 feet away from each other.

Apple Trees Grow Best In Slightly Acidic Soil

According to Washington State University, fruit trees, like apple trees, like soil that is a little acidic, like soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. If you want to make sure your soil is optimal for growing apple trees, you can purchase a kit that will give you results of a test of your soil, like this Kensizer Soil Tester, which measures both pH and moisture levels.

If you want something that gives even more varied results, you can try something like the MySoil Test Kit, which measures not only pH but also nitrogen levels and 11 other nutrients found in garden soil.

If your soil is not at the acidity level you want, there are some ways to change that pH level. Or you can try testing various areas of your yard, if you think that the pH of the soil might vary.

Either way, it is best to check ahead of time before you plant your apple tree so you can set it up for success without wondering later why it isn’t growing as well as you had hoped.

How To Plant An Apple Tree In Your Yard

Once you have chosen a location, you are ready to actually put your apple tree in the ground!

Dig A Hole To Plant The Tree

Step one is to dig a hole to plant the tree in. The size of the hole will depend on the size of the root ball of your apple tree seedling. Aim for the hole to be about three times as big as the root ball, but not much bigger.

If your tree is in a container, be careful as you remove it that you don’t damage the tree. You can try a few different techniques to loosen it from its container. First, just gently pull, holding it close to the root, where the tree is strongest.

If it feels stuck, you can gently squeeze the container to try to loosen the soil that might be packed in around the sides. If that doesn’t work, you can get some garden shears and cut the plastic container away from the root ball.

Place The Apple Tree Sapling In The Ground

When you are ready to plant the tree, make sure it is not too far above the surface of the ground or too far below it.

You want the tree to sit so that the top of the rootball is just about even with the surface of the ground, as the tree might sink in a little bit when you start packing in the dirt around it and water it thoroughly.

Once you have placed the tree, begin filling in the hole with the soil you dug up earlier. Don’t pack it in tightly just yet.

Instead, loosely fill the hole by adding a little soil to each side of the root ball at a time until the hole is filled. Add soil around the root ball, but not on the top of the root ball itself. You can gently pat the soil into place, but there is no need to tightly pack it down. 

Water The Sapling

When the tree has been planted, it’s time to grab your garden hose and give the newly planted apple tree a good soak. Water the apple tree at the root until you think the entire root ball has been watered beneath the surface.

And, according to the University of Minnesota Extension, if the soil around your apple tree starts to sink further into the hole once you add water, just add some more soil until the soil around the tree is level with the ground again. 

Remember not to overwater, especially if you have planted your tree in an area that does not drain water as well or if you have planted your tree in soil that contains a large amount of clay. Drainage is very important to apple tree health, and you don’t want to deprive this young tree of oxygen as it tries to establish itself in this new location. 

Now your tree is planted and it’s time to watch it grow. But along the way, there are a few things to keep in mind for the optimum health of your new apple tree. 

Growing fruit trees in the prepared hole in the spring. Work of the gardener

Taking Care Of Your Yard’s New Apple Tree!

Apple trees, when planted in the right spot with the right soil, do not require a great deal of upkeep. But there are a few things you can do to make sure your apple tree is as healthy as possible. Here are some tips to help you grow the best apple tree you can. 

Apple Trees Need Water, But Not Too Much Water

Moisture levels are also important to the soil of apple trees, which like to be well-hydrated but to not do well in standing water.

That’s because standing water can reduce the amount of oxygen getting to the roots. It is therefore very important that your apple tree is watered but also has good drainage. 

According to the University of Maryland Extension, it is common for soil that does not drain easily to have a high content of clay. You can actually take steps to improve the drainage of the soil around your apple tree. Here are some things you can try:

  • Use a garden fork to simply break up the soil so it isn’t so compacted, which will make it easier for water to move through the soil, draining away from your apple tree’s roots. 
  • Add some organic matter to your soil like compost or mulch, which will help drain water. 
  • You can actually change the makeup of the soil itself by mixing in some sand. Then the soil itself will be more conducive to drainage. 

These tips can help you solve a drainage problem that might be detrimental to the health of your apple tree. 

Apple tree sapling in the park. Young tree.

Properly Prune Your Apple Tree

It is important to prune your apple tree to help it produce the most and best fruit possible. Pruning also improves the look and overall health of your apple tree. 

According to the Oregon State University extension, these are some of the benefits of pruning an apple tree:

  • Pruning can help keep your apple tree from growing so tall that it becomes very difficult to reach the apples.
  • If you prune the limbs, that will encourage new limbs to grow in their place. New limbs will produce apples whereas older ones might have stopped.
  • Pruning also removes parts of the tree with insolvable issues, which can help your apple tree’s overall health.

The best time to prune most trees is in the spring, and that is also true of apple trees, though it also works well to prune them in the summer.

Sometimes your tree will need a little more than pruning. Here’s when to know when to cut down your apple tree.

Use A Fertilizer On Your Apple Tree

While it is not necessary to use fertilizer when planting your apple tree, your tree can benefit from fertilizer throughout its life.

The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service recommends using fertilizer on all fruit trees because it helps the tree grow and produce healthy fruit.

There are a number of different types of fertilizer you can try. If you want to try a fertilizer that is organic and that you sprinkle onto the soil under your apple tree, you can try Dr. Earth Natural Wonder Organic Fruit Tree Fertilizer, which is, as the title indicates, formulated especially for fruit trees, like apple trees. 

If you prefer to use spikes that you simply stick into the ground around your tree, a good option might be Jobe’s Fertilizer Spikes for Fruit and Citrus, which are also made specifically for fruit trees and therefore might be a good fit for your apple tree.

Keep Your Apple Tree Free Of Weeds

It is very important to keep weeds from growing under your apple trees, and they can have a lot of negative impact. 

It is very important to use a herbicide in the spring to keep weeds away from your apple tree, as weeds can cause your apple tree to produce too little fruit or low quality fruit. This happens because the weeds steal nutrients, water, and sunlight from your apple tree. 

There are herbicides you can use that will get rid of weeds under your apple tree without harming the apple tree itself.

If you would like to go a different route and deter weeds without using herbicides, check out the 7 best plants to plant under your apple tree, which notes plants’ ability to deter weeds from growing under your apple tree instead.

That’s A Wrap!

Now that you have learned more about apple trees, their lifespan, their different varieties, and some of the best ways to help them grow, you are ready to start planting. 

Enjoy all those apples!

References

Merwin, I. A., & Stiles, W. C. (1994). Orchard groundcover management impacts on apple tree growth and yield, and nutrient availability and uptake. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science, 119(2), 209-215.

Roussos, P. A., & Gasparatos, D. (2009). Apple tree growth and overall fruit quality under organic and conventional orchard management. Scientia Horticulturae, 123(2), 247-252.

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