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Apple Trees | Planting, Pruning & Care

Planting Apple Trees

Apple trees will grow in most soils that are moist yet free draining, avoiding tricky salt-laden air and shallow alkaline soils. Full sun is preferred, but some shade will be tolerated. For Northern positions chose a hardier variety - see 'Choosing Apple trees'.

Our pot grown Apple trees can be planted at any time of the year, whereas bare root Apple trees can only be planted between November and March. Our planting guides contain step by step instructions and videos on how to plant container/rootball trees or plant bare root trees. These can be used in conjunction with the bullet point advice below that is specific to training Apple trees into various forms.

  • Trees (including dwarf) - Apple trees should be spaced according to their rootstock. The minimum recommended space between trees (e.g. those on a MM106 rootstock) is 15ft / 4.5 and dwarf trees(e.g. those on a M2 rootstock) is 5ft / 1.5. A stake and tie is needed to support your apple tree. Our tree planting kit contains everything you need including rootgrow and rabbit guard.
  • Cordon M9 - Plant cordon M9 apple trees at least 3ft /1m apart. Cordon trained trees will require a wire support system to be trained along. Using vine eyes and galvanised wire create a set of tiers approximately 18 inches apart.
  • Espaliers - Plant espalier apple trees at least 6ft / 1.8m apart. Espalier trained trees will require a wire support system to be trained along. Using vine eyes and galvanised wire create a set of tiers. The first tier should be 18 inches above ground level and each subsequent tier 15 inches apart.

Video On Planting A Containerised Tree

Video - Planting potted trees

Video On Planting A Rootballed Tree

Video - Planting rootballed trees

Video On Planting A Bare Rooted Tree

Video - Planting bare root trees

Video On Using A Tree Tie

Video - Using a tree tie

Initial Pruning Of A 1 Year Old Maiden Tree

  • Trees - Cut the main stem back to around 48 inches between November-March and remove any lower branches. This will encourage lower growing laterals and a clear stem of 36 inches.
  • Dwarf Trees - Cut the main stem back to around 24 inches between November-March. This will encourage lower growing laterals and a clear stem of 12-18 inches.
  • Cordon M9 - Cut back the main stem to around 24 inches between November-March. This will encourage laterals to grow which will form the shape of the cordon.
  • Espaliers - Cut back the main stem to around 18 inches between November-March. This will encourage laterals to grow which will form the shape of the espalier

Watering, Feeding & Mulching

If you’re planting in spring, summer or dry weather, water apple trees both well and regularly for the first few months. Make sure to keep an eye on these young apple trees and increase watering if there are extended periods of hot or dry weather. To check if the soil requires further water, dig a finger down into the soil, a few centimetres and if the soil feels even slightly moist, it does not need further watering. If it feels dry, water and repeat this test again. If you’re planting in autumn, you may only need to water your tree a little.

We recommend mulching in spring and applying a general fertiliser such as Growmore in late spring. To mulch, apply also a 3 inch mulch of well-rotted manure or compost to keep the weeds at bay. When applying mulch avoid making contact with the bark of the tree. Bark chip can also be used for this purpose. Keep grass away from the trunk, in the first 3 or 4 years it is advisable to keep the grass at least 2 foot away from the base of the tree. Mulching can help to achieve this.

During any long, hot, dry spells in summer, water occasionally especially as the fruit begins to appear. Most apple trees will establish quickly and not require additional water. Over watering is often more of a problem than under watering, to get the balance right carry out the check detailed above.

Apple Picking & Storage

Apples will come away easily from the tree with a slight twist if ripe. Many will develop better flavours if left on the tree. How long an apple will store for is dependent on the variety. Using trays to store the fruit is a traditional method but wrapping in paper and placing them into a plastic bag with several small, perforated holes is effective. Fold the top of the bag over gently without excluding all of the air and rest the bag folded side down in a cool dark place. Whichever method of storage is used, the apples should be checked regularly for rotted fruits which should be removed immediately.

Pruning Apple Trees

  • Trees (including dwarf) - The goal is to have 7 or 8 strong branches, primary and secondary, which are well spaced by about 4 years old. Prune in March. On a 2 year old tree cut back strong branches to half their length and cut back weaker braches to a third of their length. On a 3 year old tree cut out any new growth which crowds the centre of the tree. Cut back new growth to about half its length. When pruning an established tree remove any dead or diseased wood and crossing branches that crowd the centre. Inside the head of the tree cut back any over vigorous laterals, leaving the leaders alone. Around the outside of the head prune little if at all. All established pruning should take place from November - March.
  • Cordon - Once the formal pruning has been done new shoots will grow along the stem. Tie in the central leader to a cane or wire and prune back the lower side laterals to 3 or 4 buds. To encourage further laterals in early spring cut back the new growth of the leader by about half. Continue the process until the desired height has been reached and then prune out the leader. Cut back the laterals each year in August leaving 3 buds on new wood to encourage fruiting buds to form
  • Espalier - Once the formal pruning has been done a bush of new shoots will grow. Take the first shoot below the pruning cut and tie it straight up to a cane. Next take one lower shoot to the left and one to the right to form the first tier. Tie them gently with tubing or soft garden twine to your wire, which should be in situ. The following winter cut the single upright shoot to just below where your second tier will sit. Repeat the process until enough tiers are produced. Continue to train the horizontal arms out on wires until the desired width is achieved then prune in the spring to stop the espalier. The leader should also be removed once the desired height is achieved. An established espalier will produce vertical shoots from the horizontal tiers. In August cut these vertical shoots back leaving 3 buds per upright, this will produce your fruiting spurs.