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Stages of Apple Tree Growth: What to Expect After Planting

by Stark Bro's on 05/21/2012
Image of Ripe Apples Post Rain

“It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.” — Henry David Thoreau

An apple tree, much like a person, grows and develops throughout the course of its life. It starts off small and, over time, it gets larger, matures and becomes productive. In this article, we review the stages of apple tree growth, so you can learn more about where your tree came from, how its growth is progressing and what you can expect from it in the future.

It is important to keep in mind that, while both seedling apple trees and the grafted varieties we carry here at Stark Bro’s go through these growth phases, the ultimate results might be different.

To learn more about the differences between seedlings and grafted trees and how they could impact growth and production, check out our article The Science of Grafting.

Year 1 - Apple Budded to RootstockYear 1: Apple Variety Budded/Grafted to Rootstock

In the first year of a grafted apple tree’s life at Stark Bro’s, it begins as an apple rootstock and a true budded/grafted variety. This method is true for all varieties, including FujiGolden DeliciousGranny Smith and more.

The rootstock determines certain characteristics for your tree as it grows, including its mature size and tolerance of water. We choose these rootstocks for your trees to help you enjoy the best results when planted in your yard.

When you order your new apple tree, you will choose which size you want it to be at maturity — a dwarf (8-10 feet tall and wide), a semi-dwarf (12-15 feet tall and wide), or the occasional standard (18-25+ feet tall and wide). Be careful to choose the size best suited to your needs and available space. For more information on the differences in tree size, explore our Fruit Tree Sizes article.

Year 2 - Dormant Apple TreeYear 2: Development of Top Growth (Dormant)

The apple tree will be shipped to you around the time of its second growing year. It will arrive bare-root (without a pot, and without soil around the root system) and dormant, in either spring or fall. The tree will also have been professionally pruned to help ensure transplant success from our nursery to your yard.

To see why we professionally prune your trees, check out our Pre-Pruning Fruit Trees article and accompanying video.

Year 2 - Growing Apple TreeYear 2: Development of Top Growth (Leafed Out)

As your new apple tree gets established and starts waking up, you will see it put on new leafy growth. It is at this point that you will begin applying fertilizer and starting your growing season spray routine. Make sure you always follow product labels when it comes to applying any fertilizer or spray.

You can find additional suggestions in our article, Fruit Tree Care: Spray & Weed Control.

3-4 Years (after planting) - Apple TreeYears 3-4: Limb, Leaf, & Root Growth

A few years after planting in your yard, your healthy apple tree will have put on many branches and leaves and the trunk will have increased in diameter.

In the spring, you may start seeing your apple tree bloom and start setting its first fruit after the blossoms become pollinated. If you are pruning while your tree is dormant, adequately fertilizing in the spring (without overdoing it), and keeping your tree clear of debris, disease and pests year round, it will be well on its way to producing crops of luscious apples for you to enjoy!

5-6 Years (after planting) - Apple TreeYears 5-6: Established Apple Tree

Your apple tree will be familiar with its environment and it will have developed a regular routine of when to grow, when to produce, and when to rest. It may be regularly blooming and fruiting by this point!

Overbearing and other blooming problems may be on your radar, but can be easily avoided. Overbearing may could cause your tree to only bear biennially (every other year). We discuss 4 Benefits to Thinning Fruit Trees here in regard to overbearing and how to prevent it.

This article and these images should give you a good idea of what to expect, but keep in mind that each apple variety responds differently in its environment. That said, one thing that never changes (no matter what the variety) is the importance of quality care. To ensure that your tree grows and bears properly throughout its life, remember routine fertilizing, pruning, spraying, weed control, and other necessary maintenance as needed.

Shop All Apple Trees »

Topics → Planting & Growing, Tips


  1. Richard Graham permalink

    Well three years this spring and I have Baby’s, two Peach trees and a apple tree have baby fruit on them, after waiting three years I feel like a new Dad,
    I was down to Louisiana this spring and got 2 new Pear trees I got the supreme ones paid a bit more for them they were leaved out in a week and are doing so nice, I am so happy with my trees,,thank you Stark

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Richard! We would love to see photos of your new fruit tree ‘babies’ any time. ;)

  2. I’ve planted three apples trees, one apricot, two cherry, and two pear trees within the last two years. ALL are doing spectacularly! No fruit the first year, but this year all of them have flowered and we will have a taste of what is to come this summer. Thank you for your quality trees, we love them!! They are all so darn healthy.

    • Thank you for letting us know how well your trees are doing, Kathleen! We can’t take all the credit, though, so don’t forget to pat yourself on the back as well. :)

  3. Scott permalink

    You guys are the best and your trees are wonderful. I have 3 apple trees in my yard that I ordered from you that are 7 or 8 years old now that bloom and produce every year, a granny smith, a red delicious, and a yellow delicious. It’s a bumper crop every other year and a smaller crop in between years (thank goodness because while they are resting, I’m getting a rest from picking, canning, and freezing). I’ve given your trees as house-warming gifts to friends who’ve admired my trees.

    I’m having to move this year, and believe me, I will be ordering apple trees from you for my new home in the fall! I can hardly wait!

    Thank you for your wonderful trees and your advice! It truly made me successful with my trees!

    • Congratulations on your growing success, Scott! We would love to see photos of your harvest some time at your new home once your new trees are bearing, too. :)

  4. Sharon permalink

    Ordered two apple trees, a cherry and peach tree this year. They are doing great. In fact one of the apple trees bloomed this spring. Also ordered black raspberries and two blueberries plus strawberry plants and they all look great.

    You guys are the best. My bareroot trees are doing better then my neighbor’s fruit trees from a container.

    Will be ordering several more trees/plants this fall.

    • That is so wonderful to hear! Especially the apple blooms — what a splendid show. We look forward to growing with you, Sharon! :)

  5. Lynn permalink

    My Dear Stark Brothers:

    Thank you for the beautiful healthy trees.
    I ordered because of a friend. I always tried to buy big plants from the local stores so I could see them.

    The bare root small trees are so much healthier and more “eager to grow” than potted trees. Fall planting also seemed to make it easier for them to adjust and get a good root system started.

    My darling Reliance Peach was planted in the fall. It flowered, set fruit and grew 2 feet this spring. It has about a dozen nice peaches. It is a miracle to watch them develop.

    I am not kidding myself, there was no winter here this year. I will be amazed if a peach tree can survive here. (zone 5b but in a more protected spot) For now, it is so wonderful to see it flourish.

    My newly planted plum and cherry are happy too. The plum is a runaway from the little twig I planted. It is now over 6 feet tall and growing as fast as it can.

    Everyone tells me that I will be sorry that I planted an Illinois Everbearing Mulberry. There is even a wild shrubby mulberry next door but its fruit is poor. This year it has a ton of fruit and I think, whoops, what did I do.? I guess the birds will love me.

    Sadly, my dogs broke my little apple tree on one of their races. I had a hardware cloth “fence” around it, but that was for the rabbits. It was so healthy…but it looks like my crabapple in the front yard will pollinate the Liberty apple I have. My new apple was to pollinate the Liberty. I hated to lose it.

    Wish me luck, there is a giant Eastern Red Cedar in the next yard over that spews cedar apple rust.

    I worry about spraying with Bonide fruit spray as directed because I have berries ripening now and don’t want to spray them.

    Plus the berries are full of bumble bees and a few honey bees and I don’t want to hurt them.

    I’ve packed a lot in my little yard.

    I’m just learning so I’ll see if I have done right or wrong in a few season.

    I may never be a big fruit producer, but my darling fruit trees are miraculous to me. They make me very happy. I think that it what it is about.



    • Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Lynn. :) It is so exciting when we have success growing our own — I’m right there with ya! You have a good instinct about not wanting to spray when you have bees around, they’re important little guys — as a tip: bees are less active in the early morning and dusk hours (they need to rest sometime!) so you might want to consider spraying then.

      I may never be a big fruit producer, but my darling fruit trees are miraculous to me. They make me very happy. I think that it what it is about. — I couldn’t have said it better myself! :D

  6. Dot Savage permalink

    Two years ago I bought 3 beach plum trees from Stark Bros. and were prepruned. Two out of the 3 are alive and well. They are loaded with berries but they never get a chance to ripen. What’s wrong? They are over 5 feet tall and bushy….very healthy looking. I would love to have some of the jam that I was raised on! Any ideas?

    • Hello, Dot! Plums are some of the most prone to what is called “June Drop” — a natural shedding of excess fruit on a tree. There are other reasons fruit drop can occur, and you may read more about them in our article, Shedding Light on Fruit Drop. :)

      Thinning the fruit that forms so that the tree is able to bring a smaller crop number to a ripened state will give you more of a chance at enjoying the fruit instead of watching your tree drop the young plums prematurely.

  7. Bob Porter permalink

    I live in south central Kansas about 25 miles south of Wichita. Our high summer heat, high winds, and periodic droughts make growing fruit trees a challenge. I have planted nothing but Stark Bros.’ dwarf and semi-dwarf trees. 14 apple trees, 1 apricot, 5 pie cherry, 3 sweet cherry, 6 plum, 3 peach, 2 Asian pear, 2 pear, and 2 nectarine on a lot no larger than 3/4 acre of an acre. I have lost an occasional tree but my losses have been mitigated by advice given through customer support emails and the periodic tips like this that have been emailed to me. The combination of quality trees and customer support from Stark Bros. makes growing an orchard less challenging.

    • Thank you for such kind words, Bob! Whenever a customer has concerns about growing fruit trees in their area, we hope people like you will be able to serve as a reference that it is possible with perseverance. We are fortunate for the opportunity to grow with you! :)

  8. Donna Polaski permalink

    This spring I purchased one each; old fashion banana apple, red delicious, and golden delicious. The banana apple and the golden delicious are growing great and really stretching. However the red delicious has leafed out and did nothing more . It has not put out any new branches and seems stagnant in its growth. Is there anything that can be done to promote its growth other than fertilizing and spraying that we already do.

    • I’m happy that most of your trees are doing well, Donna! If your area is experiencing the dry heat this season, that could be the culprit for your Red Delicious apple tree’s current status. Different trees respond differently to their environment and, even if the other two are not reacting the same way, severe drought is actually known to stunt growth in trees.

      Since you have already tried fertilizing, which we recommend stopping after July to prevent pushing growth in the upcoming dormant season, watering is going to be your best bet. You can add mulch around your trees — over where the roots are located under ground, but spaced away from the trunk to avoid a habitat for hungry critters — this helps keep the soil moist after you’ve watered to help avoid the evaporation of your watering efforts.

      In a typical growing season, if you do not expect any rain, we recommend applying 1 gallon of water every 7-10 days per young tree. This roughly translates to an inch of rainfall, which is adequate to sustain a young tree without overwatering; however, in extreme drought conditions, we suggest applying 1 gallon of water per young tree about *twice* in the 7-10 day span. This should help get your Red Delicious apple tree through to future seasons where it will have the chance to thrive. :)

  9. rick permalink

    Just wanted to catch you up on the three trees I bought from Star Bro’s. They are doing great and look beautiful. I planted them right after they came, flollowed up with the ferti-tables and do my best to keep them watered in this dry/dry weather.

    My other apple trees came from a big box store, and two of the five of them are all that remains after three years. But they are giving some apples this year.

    I am a true convert and will be ordering my trees as soon as my change jar get filled up enough to pay for them.

    thanks again

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Rick! I am glad that the work you’ve put into your new trees is keeping them going through this harsh summer. Maybe when you get a few apples from your trees that are producing, you can sell the fruit at a farmer’s market and help add to your change jar! ;)

  10. Michelle Jeffery permalink

    We lost a Cortland apple tree in the storm last week. We currently have a Gala from Stark Bros planted but will now need a tree to cross pollinate. What apple tree would do best in northeast Pennsylvania? We primarily make applesauce so a sweet one that will give a nice contrast to the Gala when mixed would be nice.

    • The weather has been relentless this year, hasn’t it? I’m sorry to hear about your Cortland, Michelle. One of the more popular pairings for the Gala apple is the Red Fuji apple. The Stark® Jon-A-Red® Jonathan apple is a self-pollinating variety that will cover the pollination needs of your Gala as well if you wanted a different partner to consider. :)

  11. jesse bacon permalink

    hello i just ordered some apple trees that will ship to me in march 4 ultramac 1 cortland 3 golden delicious 4 red rome beauty all starkspur semi dwarf except the cortland i got the cortland to cross with the ultramac is one cortland enough the 4 ultras and will the golden delicious help pollinate them and what is the difference between the starkspurs and the starkspur supereme thanks and i cant wait for march to get here to get started

    • Congratulations on your apple orchard-to-be, Jesse! Your pollination needs should be taken care of just fine with that selection of apple trees. :)

      The Stark Supreme Tree® is simply a higher grade tree than the regular because these trees grew a little taller and were a little bigger around when we harvested them to ship to you. You can read more about what the terms we use mean on our Glossary of Terms page.

      Feel free to keep us posted on your growing progress starting this spring! :)

  12. Rose permalink

    I have 1 Granny Smith and 1 Red Delicious apple trees. They are healthy and well taken care but I have no fruits from the Granny Smith and maybe 1 or 2 apple the size of a crab apple from my Red Delicious ~ 4 years old. Or the fact that I have not really prune them much (I know I am bad). You guys recommend to get a Golden Delicious to pollinate them. I want to make sure before I get another apple tree. Is this the reason why my apple trees do no have any apples? Thanks for your help :)

    • Hello, Rose. :)

      If you have the space and desire another variety apple tree, the Golden Delicious is a great choice! While the Golden Delicious Apple tree is a great pollinator (that’s why we recommend it) it isn’t the *only* pollinator for Granny Smith and Red Delicious. Those two trees should adequately pollinate one another.

      Lack of pruning could be the culprit. The reason we prune fruit trees is to keep them growing healthily and to open them up to light. Light is crucial to fruit production and quality.

      Another thing that may be playing its part here is that apple trees can take from 2-5 years to begin fruiting, so your trees might just be starting out their fruit-production years. They will produce more fruit as they continue to mature!

      If you have been applying a high-nitrogen fertilizer, you can take a break from fertilizing this year to encourage your trees to fruit rather than so much vegetative growth (leaves and branches) as well. :)

  13. Patty permalink

    I’m interested to know whether the Golden Delicious you sell is the original GD or a strain of the original? Thanks in advance.

    • Currently, we offer two types of Golden Delicious apple tree: The Stark® Golden Delicious Apple is the original Golden Delicious, while the Starkspur® Golden Delicious Apple is a spur-type strain that appeared as a spurred limb from the original Golden Delicious variety.

      • Patty permalink

        That’s great news! I really wanted the original. Sometimes in an effort to improve color, etc, the true flavor of the original is lost. I will be placing an order this fall. I’m looking forward to the tree ripened, honeyed sweetness of Golden Delicious apples in the years to come. Thanks again.

        • Indeed! The taste is unparalleled. Our Production Manager believes Golden Delicious to be one of the best dessert apples, even to this day — as long as it is picked and eaten when ripe of course! None of this green business ;)

  14. Maureen permalink

    Hi, this article is very useful to me, thanks for the visuals! I was wondering where you planted this tree?

    • Hi Maureen! I’m glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful. The apple trees in the photos are growing in our orchards here in Louisiana, Missouri! :)

  15. Carl C permalink

    I have reliance and intrepid peach trees from you. Two died back over winter a few years ago and regrew from below the graft (red leaves instead of the green leaves). I let one grow and it flowered and has small tiny peaches growing on it that are the size of marbles so far.

    What rootstock do you use? Will these be worth eating or should I just get rid of the tree?

    • We use our (aptly-named) Peach Redleaf Seedling as the rootstock for most of our peach trees. It’s not intended to be anything more than a rootstock for the varietal peach trees, but I’ve had the fruit from the redleaf seedling tree before and I thought it was pretty good, personally! A little on the small and tart side, but still edible. In all honesty, if you would rather have a peach tree with good eating-quality fruit, I’d recommend getting rid of the rootstock tree.

      • Carl C permalink

        Follow up: As you described. It was small and a bit tart. If let to ripen to the point of falling off, not much tart and some sweetness present. Ripened in September. Not sure whether to cut down or not. My other peach trees from you guys are starting to get bigger but no fruit yet …

        Small and tart vs none … hmmmm :-)

  16. Bethany Bishop permalink

    I actually had a question…My son grew (right from the apple) two apple trees, but one has purple leaves and one has green. I am just curious what the different leave colors mean. The trees are very young, only started this summer.

    • It more than likely means that the seedlings had a typical green-leafed apple tree in their family history as well as an apple tree with purple leaves. There are several types of purple-leafed crabapple that exist today, so it’s not unheard of. Unless you know the exact tree that the fruit came from, there is no way to tell if the direct parent trees had these characteristics themselves. The foliage characteristics could have even come from a tree in the natural genetic history of either (or both) parent trees. Keep in mind, both parent trees’ (pollinators’) genetics would reside in the seeds, not the original fruit itself.

      It’s just like with people: two parents might have an offspring that resembles one, or the other, or a fair combination of both parents, or even someone further back in the family tree (grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.). It might be an interesting lesson in genetics to share with your son!

      • Bethany Bishop permalink

        Thanks, I had never seen an apple tree with purple leaves so I was slightly curious.

  17. Julie permalink

    Back in January I planted the seeds of three types of apples (gala, granny smith & red delicious). Two of them are close to a foot tall and the other is about 8 to 9 inches. They are currently in household pots so I can bring them indoors when the weather gets too cold (Northern New Jersey). Earlier this season (Summer) they had a white powedery fungus but found a anti-fungal spray at the local Home Depot and that has resolved the problem. The smaller one was the most covered and almost looked like it was going to die. After putting them outside to get sunlight and spraying them a couple of times, they began growing again. Just out of curiosity, is it possible the fungal infection they had could prevent them from bearing fruit in the future? Any tips would be greatly appreciated. One more note, I live in an apartment building so I cannot plant outside until I purchase my home…in another 2 years.

    • Hi Julie — good news and (potentially) bad news. The good news is, the fungal issue the trees had, which was likely powdery mildew, won’t keep them from fruiting in the future as long as you keep it under control if/whenever it — or any other disease — appears. The (potentially) bad news is, apple trees grown from seed are unpredictable.

      Even though you got the seeds from the fruit of a true Granny Smith, Gala, and Red Delicious apple, the apple fruit is only the “womb” and the genetic material of whatever apple trees pollenated the flowers will be in those seeds. That means the seeds are only partially Granny Smith, partially Gala, and partially Red Delicious.

      The reason this is “potentially” a bad thing is that there is no easy way of knowing which apple varieties the parents or other genetic lineage of your seedling trees are — the “family tree” if you will. Your trees may grow the next best eating apple, or you may have something that isn’t worth eating at all (cider apples, maybe?). It may take several more years than a grafted variety apple tree before you even see the first flowers or fruit. There is no way of knowing what to expect from a seed-grown apple tree. This shouldn’t discourage you from trying to grow your own trees from seed, but I hope you aren’t disappointed if the trees don’t have any predictable characteristics other than knowing they’re apple trees. :)

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