“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.
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 Fuji, Golden Delicious, Granny 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.
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 pre-prune for you, check out our Pre-Pruning Fruit Trees article and accompanying video.
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.
About 3-4 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!
After the fifth and sixth year in your yard, your apple tree will already be familiar with the environment, and it will have developed a regular routine of when to grow, when to produce, and when to rest.
Overbearing and other blooming problems can be a cause for concern — and also something to avoid. It could cause your tree to require a natural resting period and only bear biennially (every other year). Read our article, Blooming and Bearing Problems — and How to Solve Them!, to learn more about the causes and effects of overbearing.
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. However, 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.