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Growing Apples – How to Grow Apples

How to Grow Apple Trees – A Guide to Growing Apples

How to Grow ApplesApples

Apple trees are reasonably easy to cultivate. Choose a variety to suit your location, space, and needs. They can be grown along a fence, as a cordon or espalier/fan; or as a stepover, trained along a wire about 45–60cm (18–24 inches) off the ground. Some varieties are suitable for growing in large containers, so there is a variety of apple for everyone.

Recommended Apple Varieties

  • The individual needs to choose between the different varieties of cooking and dessert apples that are available, as well as your location since not every apple tree will grow well in every area. 18 th and 19 th century gardeners developed hundreds of location specific varieties.
  • Choice should also be made on bloom time and pollen characteristics
  • Apples are grown on varying rootstock which will determine the tree’s mature size and how vigorously it grows. Be sure to buy the correct size for your position and needs.
  • A mature tree’s final height varies from around 1m (3 feet) for a variety grown on M27 rootstock, to approximately 4m (12 ft) for a variety grown on MM111 rootstock.
  • Although some varieties are listed as self-fertile, different varieties of apples have different pollination times (they are in blossom at different times), so you will need to ensure that you have at least two varieties in the same group or adjoining group. Alternatively, grow a ‘family tree’ – one with three different varieties of apple on the one tree.
  • Also available are early, mid-season and late apples (dependent upon their pollination times). Mid-season and late apples store much better than the early varieties and their blossom may be less likely to be affected by frosts.
  • For container growing, chose a minarette style, or a duo-minarette (two varieties on the one tree).
  • A very few well known heirloom varieties are Bramley, Cox, Pearmains, Russets and Pippins.

Apple Pests and Problems

  • Apples do tend to have many problems but successful crops can still be had.
  • Most common problems are codling moths, moths, earwigs, wasps and blackbirds
  • Annual pruning and training to a good shape ensures good fruit production, good air flow, and envigorates the tree for a longer life.

Cultivating Apples

  • Apples can be started from seeds, but it’s a long process and you may not know what variety (that might be unacceptable) the parent crossed with. Normally whips or grafted trees are used
  • Apple trees prefer a rich, moist but well-drained soil but will still do well in pH neutral soils with adequate water and nutrients. Avoid planting in low areas that don’t drain well and catch frost.
  • Fruit trees have grafting unions that must be kept above the level of the soil. You can buy bare-rooted or pot grown trees.
  • Ideally, for ground planting, a bare-root one year old tree is ideal. The roots will develop more quickly into existing conditions than an older tree will
  • The planting hole should extend at least 30cm (12”) wider than the pot and about 60cm (24”) deep. Loosen the hole walls for easier root penetration, replace some of the loose soil in the base. Add some rotted manure and bonemeal and mix with loose soil. Water the hole. Remove tree from pot and loosen the roots which you’ll spread out in the hole. Start filling with soil and compost, firming as you go to remove air pockets. Water in well again. Fertilizer is not recommended at planting time as it often ‘burns’ the roots. Ensure the graft union is at least 2” (5cm) above the soil. If rabbits or rodents are pests, protect the tender trunks with wire cages or special protective wraps
  • Wait until early spring for first pruning. Consult books or videos on specific techniques.
  • When pruning, bear in mind that some apples produce their fruit on spurs, or the tips of branches.
  • Keep the tree base well-weeded, and mulched if possible to encourage moisture but not weeds.
  • By June, if your tree is heavily laden, nature will start pruning for you – the ‘June drop’ is when excess fruits fall off the trees. After this, if the load is still heavy, you’ll need to remove small or deformed fruits so that there is around 10–15cm (4–6 inches) between each fruit. This lessens the stress on the tree and produces larger fruit.
  • Feed each spring with a slow release general fertilizer. The soil can be top-dressed with compost and/or rotted manure in spring. In late winter give a high potash feed (sulphate of potash) and bonemeal.

Harvesting, Eating & Storing Apples

  • Fruit will start to drop off the tree and any that are ripe and still attached can be easily twisted off (don’t pull – twist!)
  • If the fruit doesn’t come off with a gentle twisting, it is not quite ripe. Most unripe apples, if picked, will ripen if left in single layers (never bushels, pails, buckets, etc) in open boxes
  • Another way to determine ripeness is to cut an apple in half – if the pips are brown, then the apple is usually ready.
  • Dropped apples are bruised apples. Use immediately.
  • Store only sound, unbruised, firm fruit. Check them regularly as any decay or rot will quickly spread through the entire stored crop. Avoid storing apples touched by heavy frost
  • Wrap individual apples in newspaper and store in a box in a cool, dark, dry place.
  • In ideal conditions, late apples can store well for four months or more. Avoid storing other fruit or potatoes in the same immediate area as apples.
  • Depending on the variety, some apples make better juicers, some make better sauces, still others are ideal baking apples or eating apples. Most will work well in baked goods and various preserves, chutneys, etc. And most will dehydrate well.

Further Information on Apples