An apple is an edible fruit produced by an apple tree. Apple trees are cultivated worldwide and are the most widely grown species in the genus Malus. The tree originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today.
Apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe and were brought to North America by European colonists. Apples have religious and mythological significance in many cultures, including Norse, Greek, and European Christian tradition.
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up to 30 feet
12 - 15 feet
5.0 - 6.8
Growth Nutrition of Apples
Fertilizing is an excellent way to replenish the nutrients in your soil, especially nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages green vegetative growth, which is exactly what you want to promote before your apple tree reaches its fruit-bearing years.
Varieties of Apples
There are more than 8,000 different varieties of apples. Most are bred for their taste and utilitarian use, including cooking and cider production.
Apple trees are generally produced by grafting (attaching a piece of an existing tree to a root stock to form a new tree) or from seeds. One benefit of grafted trees is they will bear fruit much more quickly than those grown from seed- with grafted trees, you can even get a tree that bears fruit the first year.
Some popular varieties of apple trees include:
Yellow (Golden) Delicious – A sweet, mild apple with bright yellow skin, Yellow Delicious apples are all-purpose apples, good for eating raw or for baking.
Red Delicious – Very similar to Yellow Delicious, although Red Delicious is not as popular as it once was, due to a rather bland flavor and a mealy texture.
McIntosh – A bright red apple with a sweet-tart flavor, good for eating raw or cooking into a sauce, but doesn’t hold up well for baking.
Rome – A mild, juicy, slightly sweet apple with bright red skin; flavor improves with sautéing or baking.
Gala – A heart-shaped, gold apple with a pinkish-orange stripe, Gala is fragrant, crisp, and juicy with a sweet flavor; good eaten raw, baked, or cooked into a sauce.
Winesap – An old-fashioned, reddish-violet apple with a spicy flavor; it’s excellent for eating raw and for making cider.
Granny Smith – A familiar, lime-green apple with a crisp, juicy texture and a tart and tangy flavor; Granny Smith is good raw and works well in pies.
Fuji – A very sweet, crisp apple with skin that ranges from deep red to greenish-yellow with red highlights, and is good either raw or baked.
Braeburn – A unique apple with a thin skin and a sweet, tart, slightly spicy flavor; it’s very good for eating raw, also holds up well for baking. Color ranges from red to greenish-gold.
Honeycrisp – Appropriately named for its moderately crunchy texture and sweet, slightly tangy flavor; good for any purpose.
Pink Lady – A firm, crunchy apple with a tart, slightly sweet flavor, good raw or baked.
When to Plant Apple Trees
Bare-root apple trees should be planted in the early spring as soon as the soil can be worked.
Container-grown apple trees can be planted throughout the growing season as long as they are given enough water.
Selecting a Site
As with most fruit, apple trees produce best when grown in full sun, which means six or more hours of direct summer sunlight daily.
Apple trees need well-drained soil, but should be able to retain some moisture. Light- to medium-texured soils are best. Fruit trees struggle in heavy clay soil; poorly drained soils leads to root rot disease.
Plant fruit in a location with good air circulation so leaves dry quickly after a rainfall or irrigation (or the tree risks fungal leaf diseases).
Make sure the tree will not be planted in a “frost pocket” where cold air settles in low-lying areas. Choose a higher site with a slip if possible so that cold air will flow away from the trees.
Do not plant trees near wooded areas or other trees.
The ideal soil pH is 6.0 to 6.5 but a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0 is acceptable. Take a soil test prior to planting your apple trees. Your local Cooperative Extension Service can instruct you.
Planting the Tree
Before planting, remove all weeds and the grass in a 4-foot diameter circle.
After you purchase the tree, protect it from injury, drying out, freezing, or overheating. If the roots have dried out, soak them in water about 24 hours before planting.
Tree spacing is influenced by the rootstock, soil fertility, and pruning. Seedlings or full-size trees should be planted about 15 to 18 feet apart in a row. A dwarfing rootstock might be 4 to 8 feet apart in a row. Of course, apple trees require cross-pollination; a different cultivar that blooms at the same time must be planted within 2,000 feet (preferably, nearer).
Dig a hole approximately twice the diameter of the root system and 2 feet deep. Place some of the loose soil back into the hole and loosen the soil on the walls of the planting hole so the roots can easily penetrate the soil. Spread the tree roots on the loose soil, making sure they are not twisted or crowded in the hole. Continue to replace soil around the roots. As you begin to cover the roots, firm the soil to be sure it surrounds the roots and to remove air pockets.
Do not add fertilizer at planting time, as the roots can be “burned”. Fill the remainder of the hole with the loose soil, and press the soil down well.
Most apple trees are grafted. The graft union should be at least 4 inches above the soil line so that roots do not emerge from the scion. The graft union (where the scion is attached to the rootstock) can be recognized by the swelling at the junction.
Dwarf apple trees are notoriously prone to uprooting under the weight of a heavy crop, so you should provide a support system for your hedge. You can grow your trees against a fence, or you can provide free-standing support in the form of a trellis.
Water young trees regularly, especially those on semidwarfing or dwarfing rootstocks, to ensure that the root system becomes well established.
Refresh mulch periodically, but pull it away from the trunk so that it doesn’t rot. This also helps to prevent rodents from nesting in it over the winter and chewing on the tree’s bark.
Apple trees require initial training to nurture a strong frame of branches so the trees can carry heavy apple crops. Dwarf plants must be supported with posts or trellis and trained to a central leader system. Standard (and sem-dwarf) trees should also be trained to a modified leader.
Pest control measures will be an important part of care. Correct timing is critical to avoid harming the bees and affecting pollination. When used, pesticides are applied at a specific stage of flower and fruit development, not according to the calendar. It’s important to research your variety and climate to know which pests are most likely to be a problem, which will allow you to apply the right controls at the right time.
If you wish to avoid pesticides, it is possible, though apple trees are the one of the most pest-susceptible fruits. For example, you can place paper bags around each apple of your tree, though this takes some time and labor. There are also organic pesticides.
Pruning Apple Trees
Pruning slows a young tree’s overall growth and can delay fruiting, so don’t be in a hurry to prune, other than removing misplaced, broken, or dead branches. There are several techniques to direct growth without heavy pruning. For example:
Rub off misplaced buds before they grow into misplaced branches.
Bend a stem down almost horizontally for a few weeks to slow growth and promote branches and fruiting. Tie down with strings to stakes in the ground or to lower branches.
Prune yearly to maintain size and form once your apple tree has filled in and is bearing fruit. Pruning reduces disease by letting in more light and air. Large trees may need more pruning (and a ladder!).
Prune your mature tree when it is dormant. Completely cut away overly vigorous, upright stems (most common high up in the tree).
Remove weak twigs (which often hang from the undersides of limbs.
Shorten stems that become too droopy, especially those low in the tree.
After about ten years, fruiting spurs (stubby branches that elongate only about a half-inch per year) become overcrowded and decrepit. Cut away some of them and shorten others.
When a whole limb of fruiting spurs declines with age, cut it back to make room for a younger replacement.
Apples are often grown without any thinning other than what nature provides in the annual spring drop.
However, to avoid potential disease and insect problems, it’s helpful to thin after the natural fruit drop (about 4 to 6 weeks after bloom) to one fruit per cluster, or about 6 to 8 inches between fruit.
This seems hard but this practice evens out production, prevents a heavy crop from breaking limbs, and ensures better-tasting, larger fruit crop.
Soon after fruit-set, remove the smallest fruits or damaged ones, leaving about four inches between those that remain.
Pests, Diseases and Other Troubles
Apple trees are resistant to a lot, but they are prone to a few garden diseases and pests. Selecting trees that are naturally resistant to these ailments is the best way to avoid the troubles they may cause.
Deer, Rabbits, and Mice
This can be tricky to control without the use of fences and deterrents like Scram for rabbits. It is also available in a formulation for deterring deer.
Encouraging cats, foxes, and other natural predators to visit or make their homes in the area can also deter rabbits and mice from causing trouble for your apple trees.
This is a pest that damages many crops, especially apples. Female moths lay eggs that burrow into nuts and fruiting bodies, killing entire crops, and potentially ruining an entire harvest for the season.
It’s incredibly difficult to control a large population, so the best control method is to keep that population from accumulating in the first place.
The only guaranteed method to prevent the codling moth from eating your apples is to individually bag your apples with fruit bags. It’s a painstaking process, but worth it to protect that precious harvest.
If you don’t like calling them apple maggots, you can say “railroad worms” instead. They’re active during the summer up until about October and look a heckuva lot like horseflies. Their larvae will burrow through and feed on fruit, and can easily destroy an entire crop.
Parasitic insects like wasps are a useful control, and so is using an apple maggot trap.
Fire blight is a bacterial disease that causes branches to blacken, giving them a scorched look, and will kill the tree eventually. You can control this blight by either choosing trees that are genetically resistant to the disease, or removing blighted branches off the tree.
Powdery mildew attacks the foliage and fruit on apple trees. It is a white fungus that will appear on the leaves, fruit, and flowers. If left untreated, it will eventually cause the tree’s health to decline. You can help control this disease by applying a fungicide to the tree during early spring, just as the leaves are starting to push out.
An apple scab is a fungus that leaves black soot-like spots on the leaves and fruit. This disease mostly affects new leaves in the spring, during moist conditions. However, it can affect mature leaves during May and early June.
The fungus appears as black velvety spots on the leaves. As a result, the leaves turn yellow and eventually drop.You can control this disease by either choosing disease-resistant apples, or applying fungicides as the leaves come out during the spring.
Cedar apple rust
Cedar apple rust is a fungus that leaves rusty spots on the leaves of the tree. This disease commonly affects Juniper, Cedar, and Apple Trees. When this fungus attacks Apple Trees, the leaves will develop small yellow spots in late spring. As the tree becomes more stressed, both leaves and fruit will drop off the tree prematurely. Cedar Apple Rust cannot be controlled once the tree is infected.
Harvest patiently. After all this pruning and caring, be sure to harvest your apples at their peak of perfection.
Pluck your apples when their background color is no longer green.
The stem should part readily from the branch when the fruit is cupped in the palm of your hand and given a slight twist around, then up (do not yank on the apple).
Different apple varieties mature at different times, so the harvest season can stretch from August to October.
If the apple is overripe and soft, use for cooking!
Only store mid or late season apples. Early season varieties don’t keep and are best eaten soon after picking. Mid season varieties should keep for a few weeks, while late season varieties will stay in good condition for anywhere up to five months in a root cellar. Apples destined for storage must be perfect, with no bruises or blemishes that could provide entry points for rot.
Store apples by wrapping up individual fruits in newspaper or tissue paper. Place the wrapped apples onto trays that allow air to circulate. You can also store them unwrapped, but the fruits should not touch. Different varieties store for different lengths of time, so keep them separate and eat those that won’t store as long first.
The ideal store is somewhere cool, dark, and well-ventilated. Most garages and sheds are ideal, while attics and basements should be avoided due to either excessive heat, lack of ventilation or low humidity. Check stored apples regularly and remove any that are going soft, brown or rotting.
Benefits of Apples
Apples May Lower High Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
Eating Foods With Fiber, Including Apples, Can Aid Digestion
Apples Can Support a Healthy Immune System
Apples Are a Diabetes-Friendly Fruit
The Antioxidants in Apples May Play a Role in Cancer Prevention
Eating Apples Can Support Healthy Weight Loss
Apples May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Probably the most common use of apple trees is for eating purposes. Apple tree's fruit, cooked or raw, can be made into dozens of food and beverages, such as apple juice, apple pie, pudding, pastry, dumplings, apple cider, apple wine, butter, apple sauce, preserves and candy. Roasted, spiced apples are a favorite Christmastime treat. Crab apples (a small, sour apple) are popular with jelly and jam makers.
Use apple tree wood to make your own apple wood chips for the barbecue, using the limbs, twigs or stump. These wood chips penetrate meat during grilling to give them a rich, smoky flavor with a hint of sweetness. To prepare the apple wood, run the wood through a wood chipper, and use a chainsaw or an ax for smaller branches. Soak the wood in water for at least an hour before using so the chips produce fragrant smoke and last longer on the grill, rather than just burning up quickly.
Apple chips can also be used in smoking, hot or cold. A handful of smoking methods are popular, but the easiest is probably in a home smoker Apple-wood-smoked bacon (cold-smoked) is probably the most popular meat used with apple trees.
Apples provide a surprisingly large number of health or medicinal benefits, mainly from the malic and tartaric acids present in the fruit and juice. Apple cider vinegar has been recorded to help ease allergies from the high content of quercetin, a compound that slows down the secretion of histamine (the chemical your body releases during an allergic reaction). Apple cider vinegar helps relieve sinus infections, acid reflux, sore throats, acne (because it is a anti-bacterial and an anti-inflammatory), high cholesterol, arthritis, sunburn, eczema, warts and gout. Sometimes apple cider vinegar is used in diet products to assist in breaking down fat. Apples contain a list of phytonutrients that function as antioxidants and support heart health, including catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid (ingest the skin for the ultimate benefit). Apples also have anti-fungal and antiseptic properties.
Incorporate wood chips into soil as a nutrient rich feeder for your garden. Apple tree wood chips can be used as a mulch as well. You can line your pathways or garden borders with apple wood chips for an aesthetic value.
Use pruned limbs or branches as support stakes for young garden plants, particularly vining plants and vegetables such as peas, green beans, squash, lilies, young trees or roses. Just insert the twig firmly and securely into the ground next to the plant and loosely tie the plant to the branch.
Apples are used in cosmetic products such as lotions, clarifying shampoos, and cellulite products. Apple cider vinegar is known to clean hair, specifically oily hair. The vinegar removes soap residue that can cling to and weigh down oily hair. This vinegar works as a skin tonic as well, improving blood circulation. With a combination of enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins A, B and C, beta carotene and a wealth of others, cider vinegar naturally balances the skin's pH.
Use large pieces of wood from the apple tree to create attractive and unique furniture or accents on existing furniture, such as tables, decorative handles, cabinet doors, dishware (apple wood is dense and durable), chairs, bars and mirror frames.