Why Your Apple Tree Needs Full Sun (And Where To Plant It)

Apple red rome on tree

Apple trees can make a wonderful addition to any yard or garden. They look great, they provide shade, and, perhaps most importantly, they grow delicious apples! If you have been thinking about planting an apple tree, you might have wondered whether you should plant it in a place with lots of sunlight or with some type of shade from another tree’s canopy or the cover of a building.

Though apple trees can tolerate some shade, they grow fastest and strongest in full sun. Apple trees are healthiest when they get at least eight hours of direct sunlight every day. Abundant sunshine is necessary for the best chance of growing lots of healthy apples on your apple tree each year.

Read on for some tips about how to choose a spot, how to make sure your apple tree continues to receive full sun throughout its life, and whether the climate of your home will have a dramatic impact on the growth and fruit production of your apple tree.

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How To Determine If Your Environment Is Right For An Apple Tree

It takes a lot of energy for a tree to grow strong and to produce a lot of fruit, like apples. And the way that trees get their energy is through the process of photosynthesis, which is most simply defined as the way that plants convert sunlight into energy.

In order to have a lot of energy, a plant needs a lot of sunlight, and this is definitely something your apple tree will need if it is going to grow well and produce a large number of apples every fall. 

According to the Clemson’s Home and Garden Information Center, if you want your apple tree to thrive and produce a lot of healthy apples every year, you should make sure it gets a lot of sun for as much of the day as possible.

The first thing to consider when deciding whether or not to plant an apple tree is whether you live in an environment that is going to be conducive to a healthy apple tree and healthy fruit.

If you live in a very cloudy place or a very cold place, this can get a little tricky. But that doesn’t mean you need to abandon the whole idea. It turns out that apples grow really well in many cold climates, so no matter where you live, the temperature may not be an issue.

Read on for the details about how to determine if your climate and environment will be good for a new apple tree!

Growing An Apple Tree In A Cloudy Location

Apple trees love full sun, so you might be wondering if an apple tree is a good option for those who live in very cloudy places with lots of rainfall and not too much regular sunshine.

The sad reality is that, while apple trees can survive in these types of environments, they do not grow as well if there is a lot of consistent rain or cloud cover. 

Apple trees need full sunlight at least some of the time, so if you do not live somewhere with at least a medium number of sunny days, you might want to consider a different type of tree.

You can try growing an apple tree, and it will probably survive, but you should be prepared for its growth to be slower and for it to produce less fruit in the summer and fall than its counterparts that live in sunnier places.

If you want to try growing an apple tree in a cloudy place, try to find the most sunlight possible near your home. This usually means looking for a spot that gets southern light exposure, as that will stay the sunniest the longest.

To find the best spot, go outside during different times of the day on the same day and see where there is shade and where there is sun. Choose a sunny day to do this if you can, as this will optimize the sunlight your tree receives both on rare sunny days and on days that are cloudy, as some sunshine does make its way through those clouds.

Even if you live somewhere with a lot of cloud cover or even a lot of rain, you can still plant an apple tree.

Keep in mind, though, that the fruit production of a tree grown under a lot of cloud cover or without abundant sunshine will produce little to no fruit. So try to expect this so you won’t be too disappointed in the autumn.

Growing An Apple Tree In A Cold Climate

You might think that, because apple trees love sunshine and do not grow as well in cloudy places, they might not grow well in cold places.

But, actually, that is not the case at all! Apple trees can grow very well and even thrive in cold environments as long as they get enough light. 

Apple trees are hardy trees when it is cold out, so don’t think that a need for sunshine is the same as a need for warmth. There are some varieties of apple trees that grow better in cold climates than others, and many of these are famous for the cold climates in which they first originated or are most often grown.

For example, the Wolf River apple gets its name from (as you might guess) the Wolf River, which is in Wisconsin, a notoriously chilly state. Wisconsin, in fact, has a lot of apple orchards and grows a number of varieties despite its cold winter temperatures. 

Surprisingly, the state that produces the most apples is Washington—a state that is known for both cool weather and clouds! According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Washington State, in fact, is responsible for more than half of the apples the United States grows every year!

Bunch of juicy red apples

Other states that weigh in on a significant percentage of United States apple production are MIchigan and New York (my hometown state!), another set of states with cool autumns and cold winters.

If you are curious about the temperature of your yard’s soil at any time, though, you can use a thermometer designed for soil temperature, like this one from the Urban Worm Store, to tell you exactly how warm or cold the soil is at any given time.

If you do live somewhere cold, there are some tips that can help you take the best care of your apple tree.

For example, according to Michigan State University, you can plant your apple tree on a hill that isn’t too steep. This method actually helps keep cold air from lingering near your tree, and this in turn means that it is less likely that frost or freezing temperatures will harm your apple tree.

Keep in mind that there are many apple tree varieties that not only survive cold temperatures and even snow, ice, and freezing soil, but they thrive in it and produce a great deal of fruit every child autumn. So don’t let cold weather deter you from planting an apple tree.

Finding The Best Spot For Planting Your Apple Tree

Once you have determined whether your house, garden, or orchard is well suited for an apple tree, it’s time to choose a spot to plant it.

Whether you live in a shade climate, a sunny climate, or something in between the two, you should choose a sunny day to pick the spot for your apple tree. This will give you the best sense of how to locate the optimate sunny spot for planting your apple tree.  

How To Scout For A Sunny Apple Tree Planting Spot

Choose a sunny day. If you scout for a spot on a cloudy day, you might be left guessing about how much sun a certain area of your yard or garden actually gets throughout the day.

If you look at your yard on a day that the sun is out all day or most of the day, you will be able to clearly see the amount of sunlight on any given part of your yard throughout the day.

You will need to start early, as soon as sunlight starts to hit your yard directly. Note which areas of the yard or garden are sunniest early in the morning.

Morning light tends to be better for most plants than afternoon light, but apple trees want so much light that afternoon shade is not necessary or even desirable. So it doesn’t matter whether your yard gets more light in the morning or afternoon. The overall goal when planting an apple tree is just as much light as possible.

But finding morning sunlight is very important. The Utah State University Extension Office notes that morning sunlight is very useful for helping your apple tree dry if it has been rained on overnight or dew has collected outside.

Apple trees do not like to sit in a lot of water, so drainage is very important to keep their roots healthy. Morning sunlight can help with this.

Once you have spotted the morning sunlight, keep notes throughout the day. Maybe some light changes depending on the shadows cast by your house, garage, or outdoor building.

It is possible that other trees are not in the way in the morning, but later in the day they start to cast a shadow over your potential planting spot. These are the things you want to note so you can try to find a spot that adjusts for these potential shady problems.

Pay careful attention to the light at the end of the day. Most apple trees will grow even better if they are still getting some sunlight in the late afternoon, so if you find a spot that is sunny in the morning and still getting light as the sun starts to set, you may have found the perfect spot.

Fortunately, you don’t need to worry about shade underneath the tree. Here are the best plants to plant under an apple tree! (Hint: they tolerate shade!)

Apple trees and fruits n a garden in summer

Some Things To Watch Out For As You Check Sunlight In Your Yard

As you are tracking the sunlight throughout the day, keep in mind the time of year. The sun may set early if you are scouting in the fall or winter, so you will then just have to try to project where the light may fall if the sun were up longer.

Another thing to look for is the age and size of the trees near where you want to plant your apple tree. If you have a young tree, a seedling, or a sapling planted in your yard, you will only be seeing the current shade it casts, not the shade that will change every year as your young tree grows bigger and bigger.

Try to consider the potential size of that tree’s canopy and plan for it as a mature tree, to make sure it will not eventually cast too much shade on your apple tree.

Even a little bit of shade can have a big impact on your apple tree, causing it to grow more slowly and produce fewer apples.

So pay careful attention to this step so you can set your apple tree up for success from the very beginning.

If you want to make sure you are getting an accurate idea of the amount of light any place in your yard or garden is getting throughout the day, you can try a tool that measures sunlight.

This 3-in-1 Soil Tester, Plant Moisture Meter Light and PH Tester, for instance, tells you how much sunshine a plant gets throughout the day.

You can try it on a spot that doesn’t have anything planted in it yet to help you determine how much light an apple tree might get if you planted it there. 

You Need At Least 2 Apple Trees To Grow Apples

This tip doesn’t have anything to do with sunlight, but it can determine whether your apple tree produces a lot of apples or none at all.

Apple trees can only produce full fruit if they are planted within about 100 feet of another apple tree–and, it is very important to note, that second apple tree cannot be the same variety as the one you are planting. This is because apple trees require the pollen from other nearby apple trees in order to grow fruit!

So, for example, if you are planting a Mcintosh apple tree, you have to make sure it is planted fairly close to another apple tree that is not a Mcintosh. It can be anything else, though, including a crabapple.

One of the easiest ways to solve this problem is to scout your neighborhood or even your own yard or garden to see if there are any other apple trees around, including crabapples.

If you find one, you don’t have to worry. But if you do not find one within 100 feet, you will need to plant two apple trees.

This is not necessarily a bad problem to have! If you have the space, you can plant two standard size apple trees of two different varieties at the same time. Now you will have double the fruit in the fall!

If you do not have a lot of space, that does not mean that you have to abandon the whole idea, though. You can simply change the size of the apple tree you plan to plant.

Apple trees are frequently available in dwarf varieties, which are just smaller-sized apple trees. While they might be smaller, they still produce a lot of fruit, and, as a bonus, they tend to mature to fruit growing age faster than standard-sized trees. So you might have apples even earlier if you plant dwarf trees anyway.

If you are very ambitious about growing apples and are planning to start your own small orchard, something to consider is how to enhance the pollination of your apple tree or trees.

According to North Carolina Historic Sites, some orchards make use of actual beehives in the orchard or garden as a way to encourage more pollination by way of bees!

Bee on apple blossom

If beekeeping is not in your future, though, planting your apple tree in relatively close proximity to another type of apple tree is a simple way to ensure fruit every year. 

Make Sure To Prune Yearly And Keep Your Apple Tree Irrigated

Now, keep in mind that it’s very important to prune your apple tree each year, as this will help clear out dead branches, making way for new ones to bear fruit in the fall.

The best time to prune an apple tree is in the winter or perhaps early spring, though this is something you don’t need to worry about until the tree has grown enough to be pruned. Just keep it in mind for your future growing tree.

Also, remember to consider the soil in which you plant your apple tree. Apple trees do not do well in standing water, so soil with a lot of clay in it can be problematic. Sandy soil can help, and you can even add some to your planting area if needed.

The key is to keep the soil around your apple tree well watered but also well drained. Too much water can deprive the apple tree’s roots of oxygen.

If your apple tree is diseased or damaged, however, pruning will not be enough. If any of these reasons to cut down your apple tree apply, it might be better to give it the axe.

That’s A Wrap!

You’ve considered your climate, the common temperatures of your region throughout the year, and the amount of cloud cover your yard tends to get throughout the various seasons.

You’ve looked at the sunlight in your yard and considered the potential shade from buildings, structures, and other trees, including those that have not yet grown to maturity.

You’ve checked for another variety of apple tree within 100 feet of your chosen planting spot, or you have planned to plant two different types of apple tree in your yard.

Once this checklist is complete, you are ready to plant your new apple tree! If you need some pointers, check out how to grow apples in your yard (and how long they take).

Happy planting, and enjoy those apples!

References

Barden, J. A. (1977). Apple Tree Growth, Net Photosynthesis, Dark Respiration, and Specific Leaf Weight as Affected by Continuous and Intermittent Shade1. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science, 102(4), 391-394.

Lakso, A. N., & Musselman, R. C. (1976). Effects of Cloudiness on Interior Diffuse Light in Apple Trees1. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science, 101(6), 642-644.

Rom, C. R. (1991). Light thresholds for apple tree canopy growth and development. HortScience, 26(8), 989-992.

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