How to plant apple trees

Use our expert guide to planting apple trees to how to get this gorgeous fruit into your yard

Apple tree
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Planting an apple tree is a great move. The ultimate in garden trees, apple trees are easy to grow, full of character, and not too big, ideal for the average small yard. As well as providing tasty fresh fruit in late summer and autumn, apple trees are a mass of beautiful pink-white blossom in springtime. 

Below, gardening expert Hazel Sillver explains how to plant apple trees – amongst the best fruit trees your yard can have.

When to plant apple trees

Monty Don’s July apple tips

(Image credit: Photo by Anna Kaminova on Unsplash)

Apple trees should be planted between November and March on a day when the ground is not frozen or waterlogged. 

Where to plant apple trees

Apple trees do best if planted in well-drained, fertile, deep soil in sheltered sun. They will tolerate temperatures down to -4ºF (-20°C). Apples grown on M9 or M26 rootstock can be enjoyed as container gardening ideas. To save space, apple trees can be trained against walls into cordon, fan, or espalier shapes, or bought ready-trained. 

How to plant an apple tree

These steps to plant an apple tree will ensure it has the best chance of growing healthily.

1. Dig out a hole

Dig a hole no deeper than the roots, but three times wider than the root system. 

2. Loosen the soil

Loosen the soil beneath and to the sides with a fork, and dig in organic matter, such as compost.  

3. Stake the apple tree

Insert a stake to support the tree as it grows. 

4. Backfill

Backfill with soil and press down to prevent air pockets. 

5. Attach the stake

Attach the apple tree to the stake with an adjustable tree tie. 

How to care for apple trees

Water young trees regularly to help them establish, and water all but very mature trees during summer drought and when the fruit begins to swell. 

Thin fruit, if necessary, in midsummer, to ensure the apples ripen well and to prevent branches breaking. Thin to 1-2 fruits every 6in (15cm). 

Harvest when the fruit pulls away from the tree very easily and the wind has started to toss apples off the tree. Eat early season apples straightaway. Mid-season varieties can be stored for 1-2 months, and late-season crops can keep for up to 6 months. 

Prune standard apple trees in winter, and prune cordons, espaliers, and fans in summer. You can find out how to prune an apple tree in our main guide, but the basics are that you should remove dead, diseased, crossing, rubbing, weak, or damaged branches with a sharp saw, cut back previous year’s growth on the main branches by one third to a bud facing in a suitable direction, and take out large shoots growing inwards towards the center of the tree. Don't, however, prune young side shoots, unless they are crossing or congested. 

Feed with multi-purpose fertilizer every spring.

Best apple trees to plant

Buy a named cultivar from a reputable specialist supplier. Karim Habibi, owner of Keepers Fruit Nursery, recommends ‘Discovery’ (an early dessert cultivar with good disease-resistance and white blossom) and ‘Egremont Russet’ (a mid-season honey-flavored dessert apple with pink blossom). 

While Jon Munday, manager of Blackmoor Fruit Nurseries, recommends ‘Red Falstaff’ and ‘Scrumptious’, which are both self-fertile dessert apples with pink blossom. 

Most apples require other apple trees in the neighborhood in order to produce fruit. Self-fertile varieties (such as ‘Scrumptious’) will fruit on their own, but greatly benefit from having other apples nearby. An apple tree is not an island, which is a good excuse to have another cloud of snowy blossom in the garden in spring. 

Apples are available on various different rootstocks, which determine their eventual size. For instance, M26 and MM106 rootstocks can be used to create elegant espalier apples. As well as size, decide whether you want white or pink blossom, a dessert or cooking apple, and a self-fertile or reliant variety, and ask your supplier to recommend a few choices based on those specifics. It’s also a good idea to state that you want a cultivar with good disease resistance. 

Once established, your apple tree will be a low-maintenance joy that adds structure, charm, and spring blossom to the garden, as well as a supply of healthy, delicious fruit.