14th June 2022

Apple tree planting tips

The first step: choosing your apple variety and rootstock

With thousands of apple varieties available, choosing one for your garden or orchard can feel overwhelming. If you don’t have a preference, then the most important first consideration is whether you want an eating apple (dessert apple) or a cooking apple (cooker or culinary apple). While there are dual-purpose varieties, they tend to be disappointing.

Once you’ve decided on the variety you want to grow, the first of our apple tree planting tips is to ensure the rootstock is suitable for the space available. If you have a large area, a standard or half-standard tree will provide you with the best yield.

If your space is restricted, a dwarf tree rootstock (M9) will grow into a tree no more than around eight feet high. An even smaller miniature apple tree rootstock (M27) will produce a tree of five to six feet in height.

If you are planning on growing your apple tree in a container, look out for the M26 rootstock. These trees are resilient to the potting process and avoid the ‘double dwarfing’ effect common with container-grown apple trees.

If you have ever wondered whether you can grow an apple tree from a pip, this is indeed possible. However, germination rates are low and you won’t know what variety of apple you will end up with. That’s why people tend to favour a cloned plant that has been grafted to a rootstock.

When to plant your new apple tree

The next of our apple tree planting tips involves timing. Bare-root apple tree cultivars should be put in the ground between November and March. While containerised apples can be planted at any time, we still recommend winter planting if possible.

Choosing a location for your apple tree

Apple trees fare best in sunny conditions, away from frost pockets, but with some shade. A well-balanced soil is ideal, but apples are less fussy than many other fruit trees. However, you should avoid poorly draining soil as roots could become waterlogged and prone to disease.

Planting your apple tree

Here comes the exciting part: putting your apple tree into the ground. Before you start, place your plant on the ground and fully spread out its roots to find its full diameter. Your hole should be around three times this size.

While you’re digging, place the tree in some water to prevent the roots from drying out. Dig a square hole to the same depth as the root ball.

Before placing your tree in the hole, check the soil around the edges and at the base. If it is compacted, break it up with a fork.

Once you have placed the tree, carefully back-fill the hole, avoiding any air pockets around the roots.

Firm the soil around the tree with your foot.

More apple tree planting tips

Here are a few more apple tree planting tips to maximise your chances of a healthy plant and bountiful crop of apples:

  • Once your tree is in the ground, it will require some after-care, especially in the first year. Drought stress is common in young fruit trees, so water frequently, especially during dry spells.
  • Fertiliser is not usually necessary in the first year, but Rootgrow, a plant-friendly fungus, can support the development of a new tree’s root system.
  • To train your tree into the shape you want (a five-stemmed ‘open goblet’ shape is ideal for maximising air and light access), carry out formative pruning every winter.

Prefer to leave it to the pros?

For peace of mind, you could decide to hand the task of planting your new apple tree to Kneebone Trees. From sourcing and planting to after-care, we can give you all the advice and practical support you need.

To find out more about our tree planting service, visit our dedicated tree planting page and contact us if you need any further help.

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