Do apple trees need full sun? Yes, indeed they do; to grow big, juicy, tasty apples, the tree needs plenty of sunlight. Not any sunlight will do though, if your climate is exceptionally hot, you may need to plant them where they receive cooler morning light.
Without enough sunlight, apples can turn out bland, woody, and just unpleasant. Not enough sunlight can even prevent the tree from fruiting at all. Apple trees need sunlight to encourage growth, keep the tree strong, energy production, and for better tasting fruit.
These trees love the sun, but when the sun is too hot it can damage the fruits or the tree. Let’s go ahead and delve into the great wide world of apple trees and why they grow best in full sun.
1. Sunlight Encourages Growth Of Flowers And Apples
For an apple tree to produce those big, fat, fleshy fruits, it needs the sun to tell it to grow.
When the apple tree doesn’t get enough sunlight, it won’t produce flowers. When there are no flowers, then there won’t be any apples.
As fall begins to set in and the days shorten, the plant goes into flowering mode. As the earth tilts away from the sun, the light loses some intensity and the plant knows it’s time to flower. Apples are the opposite, but the same principle applies.
When the day’s sunlight increases, the apple tree notices and starts to flower. Without the increased sunlight, the tree won’t produce flowers. No flowers equal no apples.
2. Apple Production Requires Energy
We eat for energy—and because food tastes so darn good. Apples are a good source of energy as they contain a lot of natural sugars, plenty of fiber, and many other essential nutrients.
To produce a canopy full of these energy pods, the tree needs a lot of energy. Trees get their energy from photosynthesis which requires plenty of sunlight.
The tree’s leaves turn sunlight into sugars and energy, and when apple trees produce an excess of energy, they can store it in the apples.
Without plenty of sunlight, the tree won’t have those extra stores of sugar. This results in apples that end up either small and bland, or they won’t produce at all.
3. Apples Need Sunlight To Taste Good
When apple trees are shaded, or they don’t get at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day, the fruit ends up suffering. The tree may look beautiful and have a very healthy canopy of leaves, but the apples look small and weak.
When apples are grown in the shade their texture isn’t ideal. Shady apples can become hard, tasteless or bitter, and “woody.” Have you ever picked a small apple off the tree when you were younger, and bit into it only to feel like you were chewing a stick or rock?
If you’ve experienced this before, it’s most likely because the tree was growing in a shady area. Limited sunlight can also cause the apples to taste bland or too tart.
The sunlight is what creates the sweet sugars, and when they’re absent, you have an unappealing apple.
4. Sunlight Keeps Apple Trees Strong
When trees get everything they need to keep them healthy such as good soil, fertilizer, adequate water, and plenty of sunshine, they’re better equipped to handle problems. Wherever plants grow, bugs and pests will show up.
When an apple tree gets plenty of sunlight it tends to be stronger, which deters most insect pests, and helps the tree deal with fungus and infection, thus, strong, healthy trees are better able to deal with pests and sickness without much problem.
Apple trees that get plenty of sunlight are also better able to deal with pruning and can bounce back from damage. Heavy storms or high winds can cause branches to break, but stronger trees can bounce back and resist secondary problems resulting from damage.
5. Apple Trees Grow Faster In Full Sunlight
Apple trees planted in shady areas will still grow, but they won’t grow as fast. If you’re planting a sapling in hopes of getting apples from it soon, you need to make sure it gets plenty of sunlight, or you’ll be waiting much longer.
According to the University of Minnesota Extension, when apple trees get enough sunlight and nutrients, they can grow 12 to 18 inches per year.
If the apple tree is planted somewhere in the shade, then its growth will be stunted and it will grow much slower.
Can Apple Trees Get Too Much Sunlight?
Apple trees need at least 6 to 8 hours of full, unfiltered sunlight, but they do best when they get 10 to 12 hours per day.
But depending on the climate, too much sunlight can be harmful. These trees do love the sun, but they don’t handle extreme heat very well.
Head on over to our article about apple trees and their sun requirements, to learn more in-depth information! The reality is, yes they do need full sun – but there are limitations and things you need to address to ensure the health of your apple tree.
Too Much Sun Can Cause Sunburn On Trees!
If you live in a climate that sees extreme heat during much of the summer, then you’ll want to plant your tree somewhere it gets mild morning sun, and not the blistering hot afternoon sun.
According to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, sunburn can damage the bark, foliage, and fruit, especially when the soil is dry, and temperatures are high. Newer plants with thin bark and new root systems are most susceptible.
Apple trees are susceptible to sunburn in excessive heat, especially young, newer plantings.
How To Combat Sunburn On Your Apple Trees
If you live in an area that experiences dry, very hot summers, here are a few tips to help prevent sunburn on your apple trees.
- Plant your apple trees where they get morning sunlight, and are protected from the hot afternoon sun.
- Look for eastern or northern-facing areas as the morning sun still delivers enough sunlight, but isn’t as intense as the afternoon sun.
- Find a spot with some filtered afternoon sunlight so the tree isn’t getting cooked later in the day.
Another way to help prevent sunburn is to wrap your tree in a reflective or white wrap. Dewitt 3-Inch by 50-Foot Tree Wrap White is a great way to protect the tender new bark of an apple sapling. The white tape helps to keep the trunk cool and protects against sunburn.
Of course if your apple tree is too damages or isn’t producing enough fruit, this could be a reason to cut your apple tree down.
Apple Sunscald Can Happen In The Winter
What the heck is sunscalding you ask? The short answer is; it’s basically a sunburn in the winter.
What happens is moisture or sap underneath the tree’s bark freezes during a cold spell, then the sun comes out and thaws the moisture. While this doesn’t harm the tree, if the sap then refreezes, the expansion can cause cell and tissue damage to the tree.
Symptoms of sunscald include loose, flaking bark, or dried, cracked, exposed wood underneath, or on the west side of the tree. It can be on the trunk or branches.
Wrapping your tree can work to help prevent this as well!
Can Apple Trees Get Too Much (Or Too Little) Sun On Cloudy Days?
A few cloudy days won’t harm your apple tree. They are still getting some sunlight, even if the clouds cover every inch of the sky for as far as you can see. The sun isn’t as intense with the cloud cover but it’s better than nothing.
A handful of cloudy days won’t cause any harm to your trees. They may slow down growth for a little bit, but it will be so incremental that you’ll not notice it.
Now, if you live in an area that routinely has more cloudy days than sunny ones, your apple trees will be affected. In this case, you’ll need to figure out what part of your property gets the most sun and make the most of it when you do get sunny days.
However, there are some really easy-growing apple tree variations that we recommend trying, and hey, some may even be better for cloudy days! Head on over to our article about the easiest growing apple trees for more information!
Try Out Reflective Mulch On Cloudy Days!
Before you ask what that is, let me go ahead and explain. Reflective mulch may be self-explanatory, but it’s actually not silver-painted wood chips or anything of that nature (it’s what my mind thought of when I first heard of it).
Reflective mulch is basically a polyethylene plastic sheeting that reflects the sunlight back up to the bottom of the plants. It has been proven to help vegetable crops and smaller garden crops grow better and fight off certain pests.
The applications have recently been applied to orchards with positive results. Apple trees that get a treatment of reflective mulch end up getting more viable apples. So, if you live in an area that has a lot of overcast days, you might try this out.
Silver Metallic Plastic Mulch 4 Ft X 50 Ft is one option to really reflect the light back up into the tree. This way when the clouds are out, your tree is getting double the sunlight. Apples may grow bigger and tastier with this reflective mulch.
You Can Also DIY It!
For those of you who like to stay on a budget or are avid DIY’ers, you can make your own reflective mulch.
Just get a few old cardboard boxes and wrap them in aluminum foil. Then take your foil-lined cardboard and stake them down underneath your tree.
These methods may help you to grow apples in cloudy environments, just keep an eye on your trees if the sun returns and tries to make up for all the cloudy days.
Can You Grow Apple Trees Indoors?
This is sort of a trick question because you certainly can grow apple trees indoors. Yes, there’s a “but” coming, apple trees can be grown indoors, but you may not get any apples.
First, most apples need a pollinator that gathers pollen from a separate apple tree to get fruit. That’s why when you plant apple trees, you typically need at least two different varieties. Crabapple trees will even work as a cross-pollinator.
There are apple trees that don’t need another tree, but the flowers still need to be pollinated. That’s usually pretty difficult to attain while the trees are indoors. You can be the pollinator, but that’s difficult.
Steps To Growing Apple Trees Indoors
When attempting to grow apple trees indoors and you want to have them produce fruit, there are a few things to consider.
The first is height. Apple trees can grow over 20 feet, so you’ll want to find a dwarf variety.
If you’d like to grow apple trees in your yard, I encourage you to read our apple tree growing guide here!
1. You Need The Right Tree
Secondly, you’ll need to address pollination.
You can do this by purchasing a different variety of dwarf apple trees, or by getting a self-pollinating, dwarf, apple tree. That may prove to be a little difficult.
2. Address The Lighting
As we have discussed, sunlight is essential, not only for the plant but for apple production as well.
If you have a sunroom or a large window that gets plenty of light you might be able to get your indoor apple tree to fruit, the northern-facing window may be the best option!
The sunlight won’t get so hot from these directions, but you’ll need to make sure your apple tree is getting at least 8 hours of sunlight. If you don’t see fruit on your tree for over three years, and it’s mature enough to start fruiting, you’ll have to put it outside.
3. Put Your Apple Tree On The Patio
Even though it’s in a pot and getting plenty of sunlight inside, putting your apple tree outdoors during the late spring, and summer will help it get enough sunlight.
When the tree is flowering it will help attract butterflies, honeybees, and other pollinators, which are essential to getting big apples.
Just watch the tree’s water needs as the soil will dry out faster outside. As the tree starts producing fruit, water needs increase as well.
There We Have It!
That’s why apple trees grow best in full sun!
Apple trees need full sunlight to:
- Produce flowers and fruit
- To create enough energy to grow apples
- To make sure the apples still taste delicious
- To keep the trees strong and healthy
- To increase the growth rate
A few cloudy days won’t hurt your apple trees or their production, but extended sunless days will. Too much or too intense sun can also negatively affect your apple trees.
You can also grow apple trees indoors, though producing apples may take some extra steps. Make sure you address pollination (have more than one tree), get a tree that won’t grow through your ceiling (dwarf variety), and give it enough sunlight.
Now that you know what your apple trees need, get out there, channel your inner Johnny Appleseed, and plant some apple trees.
Rom, Curt R. “Light thresholds for apple tree canopy growth and development.” HortScience 26.8 (1991): 989-992.
Rom, Curt R. “Light distribution in and photosynthesis of apple tree canopies.” III International Workshop on Temperate Zone Fruits in the Tropics and Subtropics 279. 1988.
Mika, Augustyn, et al. “Effects of orchard mulching with reflective mulch on apple tree canopy irradiation and fruit quality.” Journal of Fruit and Ornamental Plant Research 15 (2007): 41.
Volz, Richard K., D. Stuart Tustin, and Ian B. Ferguson. “Pollination effects on fruit mineral composition, seeds and cropping characteristics of ‘Braeburn’apple trees.” Scientia horticulturae 66.3-4 (1996): 169-180.
Download My Free E-Book!
If you’re new to planting or want a refresher, take a peek at my guide on choosing and planting your very first tree. It specifically details planting trees in your yard and goes over the wide variety of options you have to start your #treejourney!