Planting Apple Trees

Successfully establishing a young apple tree in your yard starts with your planting site and planting method. Once an apple tree is established, it needs little assistance to grow and bear fruit, but you’ll first need to make sure you give your trees a strong foundation.

NOTE: This is part 4 in a series of 11 articles. For a complete background on how to grow apple trees, we recommend starting from the beginning.

Apple trees require fertile soil for good growth, so, before you plant, test the soil where your trees will be planted – including a test of the soil pH. Refer back to the section on Soil Preparation for tips on testing your soil.

If the soil pH where you plan to plant your tree is 6.0-7.0, you’re in good shape – this is an ideal range for apple trees. Take a look at the established trees and plants around the site. Check to see that they look healthy and are growing well. This will help give you an idea of the success of new plantings in the area. Remember to steer clear of soils that are extremely heavy or poorly drained.

Apple trees may be planted even when temperatures are quite cool, especially if they arrive bareroot and dormant. If a hard frost is expected, it is advisable to delay planting for a while until temperatures become more moderate. Do not expose roots to temperatures that are freezing or below. Generally, as long as your soil is workable, it is fine to plant.

Planting Steps

  • Before planting: soak the apple tree’s roots in a bucket or large tub of water for one to two hours. This helps keep the roots from drying out while you dig the planting hole. Avoid soaking roots for more than six hours. Remember: do not expose roots to freezing temperatures (or below) prior to planting.

Soak roots in tub of water

  • Dig the planting hole deep and wide enough so the root system has plenty of room and room to spread and grow. When digging the planting hole, make sure it is deep and wide enough so the apple tree’s root system has plenty of room to easily expand. Keep the more-nutritious topsoil in a separate pile so you can put it in the bottom of the hole, where it’ll do the most good.
  • To loosen the soil, mix aged/rotted manure, garden compost, coir or peat moss (up to 1/3 concentration) into your pile of topsoil. The peat moss you get should either be baled sphagnum or granular peat. Note: Peat has a low pH, so if you use this rather than neutral coir, it may affect the soil pH around the roots. Coir, like our Coco-Fiber Growing Medium, can be added instead of peat – or just evenly work in 2 or more inches of organic material with the existing soil.
  • Place the apple tree in the center of the planting hole with its roots down and spread out. Holding onto the trunk to keep it vertical, backfill the hole, putting the topsoil back in first. You can avoid creating air pockets by working the soil carefully around the roots and tamping down firmly as you refill the planting hole around your apple tree.
  • Especially if you’re planting on a slope, create a rim of soil around the planting hole about two inches above ground level. This is called a “berm” and it works to catch water so that it can soak in rather than running off and causing soil erosion. Spread soil evenly around tree and mulch to prevent damage from water pooling and injury from freezing around the apple tree’s trunk in fall going into winter.

Read more about Digging a Planting Hole and Planting Bare-root Fruit Trees.


Thoroughly water your newly planted apple tree. A deep soaking with about a gallon of water is best. If you need to fertilize your apple trees at planting time, you can water them in with a water-soluble solution like Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer. If planting in the fall, wait until spring instead to make any fertilizer applications. After watering, if soil appears to settle and sinks into the planting hole, just add more soil – enough to fill the hole to ground level again.
watering the roots

Apply a layer of organic material like wood mulch (rather than inorganic material like rocks), about 2-3 inches thick, around the root zone of your apple tree. Mulching helps discourage weeds while also keeping water from quickly evaporating away from the root zone. In the fall, double the mulch layer or add a layer of straw for winter protection.

Note: Rodents and other small gnawing critters could take advantage of mulch that is applied too thickly, and they may chew the tree’s bark for sustenance – a type of injury that can be fatal, especially to new apple trees.

Planting Budded and Grafted Apple Trees

All Stark Bro’s apple trees are grafted or budded to ensure growth of true-to-name planting stock. You can see where the fruiting variety on top is joined to the root variety on the bottom by a bump in the lower trunk, by a change in the bark color, or by a slightly offset angle in the tree.

Grafted apple trees need special planting attention. For most apple trees, especially dwarf apple trees, it’s very important to keep the graft above the soil level; otherwise, roots could develop from above the graft and your apple tree could grow to its full size by bypassing its dwarfing parts. Budded apple trees are manually fitted to specially selected clonal rootstocks.

For dwarf, semi-dwarf, and columnar apple trees, the bud union should be planted 2- to 3-inches above the soil line. For ideal anchorage, standard-size apple trees, as well as our Stark® Custom Graft® trees, like the Stark® Double Delicious® apple tree, should be planted 1- to 2-inches deeper than the visible soil lines from when they grew in our nursery rows.

Planting Potted Apple Trees

Apple trees that are grown and shipped in our Stark® EZ Start® bottomless pots are part of our continuing quest for producing better and stronger trees for the home grower. By following these simple instructions, you will be assured of getting your new potted apple tree off to the best possible start.

  • Before planting: When your apple tree arrives, carefully take it out of the package. Rest assured, your potted tree has been watered prior to shipment and should arrive with damp soil around the roots; however, it does need another drink when it arrives at your home. Be sure the water reaches the entirety of the roots within the container. If you can’t plant your tree immediately upon arrival, keep the roots hydrated until you can plant, and keep the tree in a sheltered location. Do not place your potted apple tree in a bucket of water. This could cause the roots to rot and weaken or even kill your apple tree.
  • Your potted apple tree is ready for planting as soon as it arrives. To remove the tree from its temporary container, simply grasp the sides of the pot and carefully slide the tree out. Note: If the tree’s roots do not easily slide out of the container, you may need to gently pry the inside edges of the container away from the root system, and loosen it until the roots slide freely from the pot.
  • While some might shake loose, most of the potting soil should remain around the apple tree’s roots. Gently separate, untangle, and spread out the tree’s roots and place it, soil and all, into the prepared planting hole. Backfill the hole with top soil, same as you would a bare-root apple tree (see above), and water thoroughly.
  • Your potted apple tree may have come with a bamboo stake, which helped straighten the tree as it grew in its pot. We recommend that you keep the tree staked when you plant, since all new trees can benefit from staking in their first years. You may remove the bamboo stake and replace it with a different tree stake if you prefer.

Note: At planting time, do not plant the Stark® EZ Start® bottomless pot in the ground. It is not intended to break down over time as your apple tree grows, and it will cause root restriction, injury, and may even be fatal to the apple tree. The pot your apple tree arrives in is intended to be a temporary container only.

One final point: Please be sure to remove the name tag from your apple tree. As the tree grows, this small piece of plastic can choke off its circulation, causing damage like girdling and even tree death. If you’d like to keep the tag on your tree, retie it loosely with soft twine and be sure to keep it from becoming restricted as the tree grows.

NEXT: Soil Preparation for Apple Trees
Previous: Choosing a Location for Apple Trees