Apple Garden Guide

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Apple Care At A Glance

  • Apple trees require two different varieties to cross-pollinate in order to bear fruit.
  • Apple trees are grafted onto different rootstocks that control size & the number of years to fruiting.
  • Many hardy varieties exist with different fruiting attributes, bloom times & disease resistances.
  • Apples are offered as bareroot, single leader trees for spring planting.
  • Soak bareroots prior to planting.
  • Do appropriate tip pruning immediately after planting.

Planting Instructions

Follow the same planting instructions as you would for other bareroot trees.

  • Amend existing soil appropriately with organic material to help improve drainage.

NOTE: Proper drainage is critical for fruit-bearing trees to do well long-term. Use at least ½ of the native soil with organic matter such as peat moss or compost so the roots will penetrate the existing soil when they reach the interface with the existing soil.

  • Soak roots for 8-24 hrs. prior to planting.
  • Prune the tip of the main leader by removing a couple inches to promote side branching.
    • With clean pruners, cut at a slight angle, just above a visible bud.
    • Any side branches should be removed next spring that are too low on the trunk as they will be not get any higher in future years.
  • Properly water newly planted trees using the 1 inch per week rule for the entire first growing season.
    • 1 inch of water equates to about 2.5-3 gal. every other day.
    • Remove competitive grass & weeds to form a 3-4 ft. tree well and add 2-3 in. of compost or mulch.
  • Cage or wrap tree trunks to prevent predation from deer or rodents.

NOTE: DO NOT rely solely on rain events to provide enough moisture to newly planted trees.

Apple Rootstocks

  • Dwarf Rootstocks
    • Slowest growing and keep trees shortest typically to 10 ft. or less.
    • Smallest sized trees bear the least amount of fruit.
    • Typically bear fruit in 2-3 years.
    • Can be quick to bear fruit, even in the first season, which should not be allowed. Remove 1st-year fruits.
    • Should be double-staked for the first 3-5 seasons until mature.
  • Semi-Dwarf Rootstocks
    • Medium growth rate with trees growing to approx. 1/2 the size of standard or about 15 ft x 15 ft.
    • In optimal conditions, trees will bear about 1/2 the amount of fruit as a standard-sized tree.
    • Typically reach fruit-bearing maturity in 4-5 years.
    • Sturdy rooting trees that rarely require staking.
  • Standard Rootstocks
    • Standard means full-sized trees which typically grow to 30 ft. x 30 ft.
    • Typically reach maturity to bear fruit in 6-10 years.
    • Largest trees offer the maximum amount of fruit.
    • Sturdy rooting trees that rarely require staking.

Pollination Requirements

  • Apple trees are not self-fruitful. At least two varieties must be planted no more than 50 ft. apart.
  • Flowers are primarily bee-pollinated, so limit insecticide spraying.
  • They must also bloom at the same time to allow for proper cross-pollination.
  • Many varieties can be suitable as pollination partners.
    • 'Red Gravenstein' is an exception (Triploid) that requires itself and two other cultivars for proper pollination since the pollen of 'Red Gravenstein' is self-sterile.


Most cultivars fall into 4 main blooming groups. Early, Early-Mid., Mid-Season, and Late. Varieties should be paired with another cultivar in their same group for the best results.

Note: Some varieties can have overlapping bloom periods to work as pollinators.

  • Early Season Blooming
    • Yellow Transparent - heirloom (Moderately resistant to scab, cedar apple rust, and powdery mildew)
    • Duchess of Oldenburg - heirloom (Resistance to apple scab, cedar apple rust, fire blight)
    • Whitney Crabapple - heirloom (Apple scab, PM. Moderate Resist. to cedar apple rust, fire blight)
    • Zestar!® (Resistant to powdery mildew. Moderately resistant to fire blight)
  • Early Mid-Season Blooming
    • RubyMac® McIntosh (Moderate resistance to apple scab and powdery mildew)
    • Northpole® (columnar) (Apple scab resistant)
    • Red Gravenstein ** - heirloom (No known resistances)
    • Wealthy - heirloom (High to apple scab. Resistant to fire blight and rust, moderately resistant to PM)
    • Other fruiting or ornamental crabapples
  • Mid-Season Blooming
  • Late Season Blooming
    • Bonnie Best® - heirloom (Fire blight resistance)
    • Enterprise (High resistance to apple scab, resistant to fire blight & rust, mod. resistance to PM)
    • Freedom (Very resistant to scab and fire blight. Resistant to cedar apple rust, PM & canker)
    • Honeygold (Apple scab resistance)
    • Redlove® Odysso® (red flesh) (Scab, some natural resistance to drought & diseases)

Pruning Maintenance

Pruning must be done systematically every year to promote proper fruit-bearing wood and to maintain a healthy branching structure. Typically, apple trees are pruned using a modified central leader system that establishes a pattern of healthy canopy development.

Starting the 2nd season follow these basic pruning rules:

  • Annual pruning should be done while trees are dormant in late winter to early spring.
  • Remove diseased, broken, or damaged branches or limbs.
  • Next, remove any crossing or rubbing branches, including those that are or will grow across the central leader.
  • Lastly, remove branches as needed to open the canopy to allow for air circulation and sunlight penetration.

Proper Pruning Cuts = thinning cuts, which remove a branch all the way back to where it emanates from.

Avoid Heading Cuts = those that only remove part or the end of a branch or limb, which leads to more foliage growth that then can inhibit flowering & fruiting.

Root Suckers & Water Shoots = can be pruned off during summer or outside of winter dormancy, without worry.

NOTE: Proper pruning of fruit trees has the biggest effect on fruit production and tree functions.


Like all fruit trees, maintaining proper nutrition is important for growth and fruit development. Fertilizing should only be done in early spring, just prior to the tree leafing out. Apply a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or use an organic food with a 3-5-3 formula according to product label instructions.

NOTE: Late fertilizing or late pruning can compromise the cold hardiness of deciduous fruit trees, leaving them vulnerable to permanent winter damage or death.

NOTE: Too much nitrogen can lead to improper growth, make trees more susceptible to diseases, and limit or prevent flowering.

Insects & Diseases

Apple trees, like many fruit-bearing types, are susceptible to many insects and diseases. Successful management depends on proper prevention, regular and continual monitoring along with proper pest identification. Knowing exactly what disease or insect you are dealing with will lead to which pesticide is best used, if necessary, and when to apply.

Disease Prevention Guidelines

  • Most diseases common to apple trees are fungal in nature, which means if you are seeing leaf spots, dropping foliage, or scabby fruits then it is usually too late to treat for this season.
  • Choose the right cultivar with the proper disease resistance for your zone and climate.
  • Topical fungicides are not curative; they are preventative.
    • Research and make a prevention spray plan for next year.
    • Fungicides are most effective when applied in proper rotation at the proper time.
    • The three most important fungicide treatments are at the silver tip when leaves first emerge from the winter buds, when the fruit buds first emerge and show petal color, and at petal fall.
    • To have perfect fruit, fungicides must also be sprayed every ten days or after heavy rains.
  • Sanitation is most important in season. Clean up fallen leaves thoroughly. Burn or throw them out.
  • Do proper fruit thinning to limit seasonal drop and do not allow old fruits to lay under trees.
  • Proper annual pruning to maintain an open canopy with good air circulation is a critical prevention step.
  • Keep trees healthy with proper feedings and consistent watering.

Insect Prevention Guidelines

  • Many insects are attracted to fruit trees.
  • Remember, not all insects are bad. Orchards require insects for pollination. Indiscriminate spraying can lead to poor future yields.
  • Know which insects to expect on your fruit trees and when.
  • Learn which insects only do cosmetic, or minor damage that will not affect your fruit crop.
  • Adult insects are more difficult to control than in egg or larval stages, therefore, timing is essential.
  • Start monitoring trees for insects when they reach bearing age.
  • Environmentally friendly insecticides like insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils can control many insect pests and beneficial Bacillus sp. or Bt insecticides like Thuricide by Bonide® work best against caterpillar insect larvae.
  • If you are not sure what pest is bothering your tree, ask us for help. Email us photos for identification.