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Growing apples in the home garden

Quick facts

  • Apple trees need at least 8 hours of sun per day during the growing season.
  • Two varieties are required for successful pollination; one can be a crabapple.
  • Dwarf apple trees will start bearing fruit 2 to 3 years after planting.
  • Standard size trees can take up to 8 years to bear fruit.
  • Some varieties are more susceptible to insect and disease damage than others.
  • Prune annually to keep apple trees healthy and productive.

Two trees can provide plenty of apples

Apples are pollinated by insects, with bees and flies transferring pollen from flowers of one apple tree to those of another. But you don't need to plant a whole orchard to enjoy apples right off the tree. Two trees will reward any family with enough fruit to enjoy and share with friends.

Apples require pollen from a different apple variety to grow fruit. If you only have room in your yard for one tree,  there may be crab apples in your neighborhood to provide the pollen your tree needs. 

Most apple trees are grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks and only grow to be about 8-10 feet tall. So even if you're short on space, you probably have space for two trees.

    Care through the seasons

    • March—For existing trees, prune before growth begins, after coldest weather has passed

    • April, May—Plant bare root trees as soon as the soil can be worked
    • April, May—If last year's growth was less than 12 inches, apply compost around the base of tree
    • May, June—Plant potted trees after threat of frost has passed
    • May, June—As flower buds begin to turn pink, start watching for insect and disease symptoms
    • May through October—Water trees as you would any other tree in your yard
    • June, July—Thin fruit
      • remove smallest apples to encourage larger fruit
    • August through October—Harvest
      • taste fruit when it appears to be fully colored
      • if it's too starchy, wait a few days
    • October, November—Rake up fallen leaves and fruit; compost or discard
    • November—Apply tree wrap to prevent winter injury
    • November through March—Look for deer and vole damage; put fencing around tree if needed

    Selecting plants

    Before choosing an apple tree to plant, take a look around your neighborhood. A pollen source should be within 100 feet of the apple tree you plant to ensure the pollen gets to your tree.

    If you don't see any crabapples or other apple trees that close, your best bet is to plant two trees of different varieties.

    When purchasing an apple tree, you are actually selecting a plant made up of two genetically different individuals grafted together, the scion and the rootstock.

    • The scion is the aboveground part of the tree that produces the type of fruit desired (ex. Honeycrisp or Haralson).
    • The rootstock plays a major role in determining the tree's ultimate size and how long it will take to bear fruit.

    Variety tables provide hardiness, size and compatibility information for apple varieties that have proven to do well in northern climates.

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    Planting and caring for young trees

    Learn how to choose a location, prepare for planting and space trees.

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    How to keep your your apple trees healthy and productive

    From watering to weeding to thinning fruit, caring for your apple trees throughout the year will help your plants produce plenty of apples to harvest.

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    Pruning and training apple trees

    Prune a tree to have well-spaced branches and a balanced appearance, while eliminating broken, diseased or dead branches.

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    Managing pests and diseases

    For help in diagnosing insects, diseases and other problems with apples, visit What’s wrong with my plant?

    See the publication Pest management for the home apple orchard for more information on insect pests and management.

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    Emily E. Hoover, Extension horticulturalist, Emily S. Tepe, horticulture researcher, Doug Foulk and Annie Klodd, Extension educator

    Reviewed in 2018

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