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Stages of Apple Tree Growth: What to Expect After Planting

An apple tree, much like a person, grows and develops throughout its life. In this article, we review the stages of apple tree growth.

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

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 Variety Budded/Grafted to Rootstock

Year 1 - Apple Budded 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: Development of Top Growth (Dormant)

Year 2 - Dormant Apple Tree

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: Development of Top Growth (Leafed Out)

Year 2 - Growing Apple Tree

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.

Years 3-4: Limb, Leaf, & Root Growth

3-4 Years (after planting) - Apple Tree

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!

Years 5-6: Established Apple Tree

5-6 Years (after planting) - 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 pruning, fertilizing, watering, spraying, weed control, and other necessary maintenance as needed.

Image of Ripe Apples Post Rain

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