How to Grow Apple Trees

Introduction

There are countless reasons for growing apple trees – harvesting homegrown apples, enjoying part of history, the sense of pride of growing your own, and so on.

When learning about how to grow apple trees, there are some key things to keep in mind.

In “Getting Started”, you’ll need to pay careful attention when choosing a location for planting new apple trees. This involves making a plan in the best interest of the apple trees prior to planting – like covering pollination needs, accommodating for sun and soil requirements, and spacing to avoid obstacles in the planting site. Find out about some common soil types, and when and how to prepare your soil prior to planting. You’ll also learn about planting grafted apple trees, including how to plant bare-root and potted apple trees. Hint: they’re both easy to do!

Moving on to the “Care & Maintenance” aspect of growing apple trees, you can read about how often and how much to water apple trees, so that you can avoid water-related stress and issues that can arise as a result of overwatering. This section also covers pruning apple trees, which prefer a central- or main-leader structure, to keep a good balance of fruiting and vegetative wood – important for the longevity and productivity of an apple tree. Also, get a good idea about when and what you can use to fertilize new and mature apple trees, and when to stop fertilizing to avoid complications with winter injury later on. Discuss some common apple tree pests and diseases while learning about spraying – including how to control existing issues and use prevention methods to avoid potential problems altogether.

We elaborate on all these topics and more – like harvesting – in this series of articles. You can jump to any specific article using the “In This Series” menu, or follow along with the navigation markers at the end of each article.

Getting Started

Acclimate

Acclimate (ac·cli·mate): "To become accustomed to a new climate or to new conditions. Also to harden off a plant."

Acclimating apple trees helps to minimize environmental stress when planting. Since our potted apple trees are grown in the controlled environment of our greenhouses, they may arrive to you already sporting tender new growth. This growth can be sensitive to things like direct sunlight and sudden changes in temperature, so acclimating these apple trees to their new environment will help provide a great start. We strongly recommend following this simple process prior to planting apple trees that are leafed out and not dormant.

Things that may cause injury to tender new growth in transplants:

  • temperatures (below 50ºF or above 90ºF)
  • frost snaps
  • strong/direct sunlight
  • wind

These conditions are more likely to occur during early spring, but can be expected during different times of year in different areas. Here are a few steps we recommend you follow to acclimate (or harden off) your apple trees prior to planting outdoors:

1. Upon arrival, keep your apple trees in the pots they arrived in and place them in a sheltered, shady spot outdoors — like on a back porch. Leave them there for 3 to 4 hours and gradually increase the time spent outside by 1 to 2 hours per day. Bring them back indoors each night.

2. After 2 to 3 days of this acclimation process, begin transitioning the apple trees from their shaded spot to one that provides some morning sun. Return them to the shade in the afternoon. If this conflicts with your schedule, try moving the trees to an area that receives filtered sunlight instead, which is less intense than direct sun. Be sure still to bring them indoors again overnight.

  • Water regularly as needed to keep the roots from drying out. If the soil in the pots is dry to the touch, then you know it’s time water. You may occasionally mist the leaves with water, since the environment indoors is drier than outdoors.
  • Observe foliage daily. If signs of leaf injury appear prior to planting, move the trees back into filtered sunlight and start from the first step again. Proceed to the second step when conditions improve.
  • After 7 days, your apple trees should be able to handle the outdoor conditions, as long as temperatures are expected to stay between 50ºF and 90ºF. If daytime temperatures are expected to drop within the next day or so, continue to repeat the second step. Monitor your trees, and the weather, until conditions are more suitable for planting outdoors.

3. After 7 to 10 days, and if the weather conditions are right, your apple trees are ready for planting in their permanent location. For best results, try to plant on a cloudy day.

Please note: these are general recommendations. Your particular growing environment might require a slight variation on these guidelines, since some trees can take more time (or less time) than others to harden off. Factors like the current year’s weather, individual trees, and your location can affect the acclimation process.

Location

The best way to succeed is to plan before you plant. Let’s discuss location: Do you know where you want to plant your new apple trees? Avoid many future problems by considering all aspects of the planting spot, such as:

  • Cross-pollination
  • Sun and good soil
  • Check out the surroundings
  • Space wisely
  • Leave space for future plantings

Cross-Pollination

Is a compatible pollinator-variety present? Cross-pollination by a different variety (like Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, etc.) of the same type of tree (apples to apples) is key to the fruiting success of an apple tree. In most cases, the lack of a compatible pollinator variety is why apple trees produce poorly, or don’t bear fruit at all. Since insects and wind need to carry pollen from blossom to blossom between trees, apple trees and their pollen partners should be planted nearby – within 50 feet of one another for adequate cross-pollination to occur.

There are a few varieties of apple trees that are self-pollinating, meaning your tree will still bear apples when it matures, without requiring another apple variety’s pollen. If you are limited on space, consider planting a self-pollinating apple tree like these:

Sun and Good Soil

Apple trees thrive when growing in a location that receives full sun and has a well-drained, fertile soil.

Full sun translates to at least six- to eight-hours of sunlight during the growing season. Light is vital to fruit production and fruit quality, and also helps keep fungal issues from advancing, so be sure to keep this in mind when choosing a location for your new apple trees.

Good soil drainage is necessary to keep an apple tree’s roots healthy, and healthy roots are the foundation of a healthy tree. If you discover that your native soil is composed of heavy clay that retains water after rainy weather, you should choose a different site for your apple tree. Similarly, if your site has fast-draining, sandy soil, then your apple tree may exhibit water-related stress (similar to conditions of drought) and may require more-frequent watering. For your growing success, we do not recommend planting apple trees in rocky or heavy, pure-clay soils. If you can’t plant elsewhere, you can try amending the soil of your planting site prior to planting your apple trees.

Amending the soil greatly depends on your individual location, so communicating with your local county cooperative extension is a wise first step. In general – to help with water distribution – you can add coir, like our Coco-Fiber Growing Medium, to your apple tree’s planting hole or mix in one-third sphagnum/peat to the soil at planting time.

Alternately, to avoid directly dealing with your native soil, you can build a bottomless raised bed (at least 12-inches deep and at least 3- to 4-feet around) in which to plant your apple tree. You can also plant apple trees in containers, starting with a pot that accommodates each apple tree’s current root system (with room to grow). Most new apple trees can be planted in a 5-gallon container to start, and you can pot-up container-grown apple trees into larger containers as the trees outgrow them.

Even if your yard isn’t the most ideal location, take heart. Apple trees can be very adaptable and they respond well to soil additives like compost or fertilizers, so they can get along well even where the soil is nutritionally poor. Just remember to avoid planting sites with extremely heavy soils and poor drainage.

Surroundings

Apple trees can also become a landscaping asset, so choose a planting site with this in mind. Imagine your new apple tree as a full-grown tree and check everything out:

  • Are there wires or any other obstructions overhead?
  • Are there cables, pipes, or other lines and utilities you should avoid underground?
  • Is there a sidewalk or foundation within the range of your apple tree’s mature spread?
  • Might your apple tree block the view of something you want to see once it’s fully grown?
  • Will neighboring trees be in the way or block sunlight from your apple tree as they grow?


Even a year or two after planting, an apple tree can be very difficult to successfully transplant, so take the time to plant it in just the right place the first time around.

Space Wisely

Growers often ask about the recommended planting distances for apple trees to keep them away from patios, sewer lines, water pipes, etc. Ordinarily, patios will not be a problem because the soil beneath them is dry and compacted. The roots will not be as encouraged to grow into this area; however, it’s better to plant with at least 8 to 10 feet of space between these structures and your apple trees. A smart distance is somewhere beyond your apple tree’s estimated maximum spread. This is roughly equal to the mature height of the apple tree you choose to plant (for example: Dwarf, Semi-Dwarf, Standard. See recommendations for Space Between Trees and other structures below).

You might not expect sewer and water lines to be structures that are affected by planting apple trees, since they are buried so deeply, but, since sewer and water lines tend to be wet, apple tree roots will be attracted to them and grow around them if the tree is planted too near. By planting apple trees far enough away from these things, you can avoid problems in the near or distant future.

Space Between Trees

Space for Future Plantings

When you’re new to planting apple trees, or you’re planting apple trees in a new location, it’s wise to start with just a few apple trees at first. Later on, especially after you have reaped the rewards of growing your own apples firsthand, you may want to expand your home orchard. It’s helpful to plan to leave room for additional apple trees, or even other fruit trees, berry plants, and other garden plants. That way, the future planting sites will be available when you are ready, without hindering your existing apple trees.

Planting

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.

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.

  • 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.

Post-Planting

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.

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.

Soil Preparation

Preparing your soil before you plant will greatly improve your apple tree’s performance and promote healthy, new growth. It is a good idea to have your soil tested prior to planting, and even annually after planting, to determine if it is lacking in any essential minerals and nutrients. You can use one of our digital soil meters to test your soil, including its pH and moisture, or collect a soil sample to send to your local county Cooperative Extension.

The goal of soil preparation is to give your apple tree a strong foundation. This includes replenishing vital minerals and nutrients with fertilizers or organic matter, as well as breaking up and loosening compacted soils.

Common Soil Types

  • Clay and silt soils are made of very small particles. They feel slick and sticky when wet. Clay and silt hold moisture well, but resist water infiltration, especially when they are dry. Puddles often form on clay or silt soils, and these soils easily become compacted.
  • Loam soils are loose and look rich. When squeezed in your fist, moist loam will form a ball, which crumbles when poked with a finger. Loam soils normally absorb water and store moisture well. Loam soils can be sandy or clay based, but are a mix of sand, silt or clay, and organic matter. They will vary in moisture absorption and retention.
  • Sandy soils contain large particles that are visible to the unaided eye, and are usually light in color. Sand feels coarse when wet or dry, and will not form a ball when squeezed in your fist regardless of water content. Sandy soils stay loose and allow moisture to penetrate easily, but will not retain water for long-term use.

When to Prepare Your Soil

Soil preparation can be done at any time of year that the ground is not overly saturated with water or frozen.

Common soil amendments for apple trees:

  • compost
  • sand
  • manure
  • garden lime (if native soil pH is too low/acid)
  • sphagnum/peat moss (if native soil pH is too high/alkaline)

Your lawn can provide you with ideal organic materials such as grass clippings and shredded leaves. Not only will the grass and leaves break down to provide soil nutrients naturally, but they will help loosen the soil as well. You can gather these in the fall with spring planting in mind.

Adding organic materials like compost will improve the composition of most every soil type. Organic materials bind sandy soil particles so they retain moisture and nutrients better. They also break apart clay and silt particles, so that water can soak in and roots can spread.

Care & Maintenance

Fertilizing

Fertilizing is an excellent way to replenish the nutrients in your soil, especially nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages green vegetative growth, which is exactly what you want to promote before your apple tree reaches its fruit-bearing years.

Always test your soil prior to applying any fertilizers. Different soils can have varying amounts of native elements needed to support apple tree health and development. If you discover your soil lacks any necessary nutrients (nitrogen, phosphates, potash, etc.), be sure to choose a fertilizer that supplements the soil’s nutrient deficiency.

Get to know your soil and discover the importance of soil testing prior to making any changes.

Fertilizer Information

  • Fertilizers – both synthetic and organic (naturally derived) – are soil amendments labeled with a “guaranteed analysis” of nutrients like Nitrogen (N), Phosphate (P), and Potash (K).
  • Alternately, there are organic soil amendments, like compost and aged/rotted manure. They are used like fertilizers, but they are not technically fertilizers. You can make your own organic soil amendments like compost out of food or garden scraps, or even find compost, manure, and other organic soil amendments from a trusted local source. While these help add nutrients to the soil to support your apple trees, they will not have a “guaranteed analysis” value.
  • In general, apple trees thrive when macronutrients like Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K) are present. Nitrogen helps encourage vegetative growth (leaves and branches). Phosphorus encourages root- and blossom-development. Potassium/Potash is responsible for the efficacy of the apple tree’s natural disease-resistance and systems supporting its overall health. Our water-soluble Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer is specially formulated for use on young apple trees (and all young fruit trees), since its composition supplements and provides the nutrients these young trees take-in during their first years in the ground.

Apple varieties that are “light feeders” on Nitrogen:

  • apples that ripen early
  • soft-flesh apples
  • apples mainly for fresh-eating

Examples: Cortland Apple, Ginger Gold Apple, Golden Delicious Apple, Gravenstein Apple, Jonagold Apple, Macoun Apple, McIntosh Apple, Stark® Jon-A-Red® Jonathan Apple

Apple varieties that are “heavy feeders” on Nitrogen:

  • apples with firm flesh
  • soft-flesh apples for cooking, sauces, etc.

Examples: Empire Apple, Granny Smith Apple, Honeycrisp Apple, Liberty Apple, Red Stayman Winesap Apple, Rhode Island Greening Apple, Stark® BraeStar™ Apple, Starkrimson® Red Delicious Apple, Starkspur® Red Rome Beauty Apple, York Imperial Apple, Fuji apple trees, and Gala apple trees.

Apple trees and their fruit also benefit from the availability of micronutrients like Calcium. Honeycrisp apple trees in particular tend to require more calcium than other varieties, so, to avoid diminished tree- and fruit-quality due to calcium deficiency, it is wise to apply (either as a soil additive or foliar application during the growing season) a liquid calcium-supplement like Nutri-Cal®.

When to Fertilize Apple Trees

  • In nutrient-rich soil, you can withhold using fertilizers until your apple trees begin bearing fruit (average: 2-4 years). If your new apple trees fail to put on an average of 8- to 12-inches of new green growth during the growing season, consider fertilizing starting the following spring.
  • Typically, fertilizers are used during the growing season, as soon as the soil is workable in early spring and stopping by July 1*. For any specific fertilizer application instructions, always refer to the information printed on your product’s label. Be mindful that local advisories on fertilizing may be in effect during different times of year. For the sake of your local environment, please adhere to these restrictions.
  • After your apple trees start bearing fruit, their uptake of Nitrogen increases. In response to this, an application of high-nitrogen fertilizer is recommended once in early spring for fruit-bearing apple trees. One example of a high-nitrogen fertilizer is our Stark® Orchard Fertilizer granules.

*To prevent the chance of injury as the growing season winds down, do not fertilize past July 1st.

Read more about fertilizing:

Pest & Disease Control

As it grows, an apple tree may experience issues such as the presence of pests or diseases. Factors such as location, weather, and upkeep play a part in which issues your apple tree encounters and how well it stands up against them. Disease-resistant apple trees are easy-care options for growers who prefer a low-spray or no-spray orchard, and – for all apple trees – routine maintenance* can help keep most problems at bay.

*Examples of good practices are: adequate watering, fertilizing as needed, seasonal pruning, preventative and active spraying, fall cleanup, and winter protection.

The following are merely intended as a means of identifying potential issues. Don’t be alarmed – an apple tree may experience a few of these in its lifetime, but certainly not all at once.

Apple Tree Pests

Aphids

Tiny, pinhead-sized insects, varying in color depending on the type. Will cluster on stems and under leaves, sucking plant juices.

Symptoms: Leaves curl, thicken, yellow, and die. Aphids produce large amounts of a sticky residue called “honeydew” that attracts insects like ants. Honeydew becomes a growth medium for sooty mold.

Control: Spray

  • GardenTech® Sevin® Concentrate Bug Killer
  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® All Seasons® Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil
  • Bonide® Insecticidal Soap
  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray
  • Bonide® Neem Oil
  • Monterey Fruit Tree Spray Plus
  • Monterey Horticultural Oil

Apple Maggot

Adults are similar in appearance to a housefly, but smaller. Larvae are yellowish-white grubs. Traps are an option for luring adults.

Symptoms: Small, pinpoint-sting marks visible on fruit surface. Eggs are laid under fruit skin. Hatched larvae tunnel, making railroad-like mining pattern.

Control: Spray

  • GardenTech® Sevin® Concentrate Bug Killer
  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray

Bud Moth

Adult female moth is around 1/2-inch long; male is slightly smaller. Color varies from mottled gray to brown. Full-grown larvae are around 3/4-inch long. Pupae are brown and about 3/8-inch long.

Symptoms: Feeding occurs along leaf midrib and fruit. Shelters are created by rolling leaves and tying leaves to other leaves or fruit. Damage appears as tiny holes, irregular scarring, and areas of rot – generally found around the stem. Rot or corking around the stem occurs after the larvae have finished feeding and have pupated.

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® All Seasons® Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil
  • Bonide® Captain Jack’s™ Deadbug Brew Garden Dust
  • Bonide® Thuricide® BT

Codling Moth

Adults are moths, gray with brown patches on wings. Larvae are worms, about 1-inch long. Pests and damage are similar to Oriental Fruit Moth. Traps are an option for luring moths.

Symptoms: Affected fruits will have holes from outside to core.

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® All Seasons® Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil
  • Bonide® Captain Jack’s™ Deadbug Brew Garden Dust

Flatheaded Apple Tree Borer

Adults are small brown beetles that may target the graft location (in young apple trees) for laying eggs as well as damaged or sunken areas. Grubs have horseshoe-shaped heads and cream-colored bodies. Difficult to control once infested. Preventative spraying (including the ground around the roots) is a strong defense. Traps – in the form of tanglefoot-coated logs or posts that are later removed from the site and burned – are an option for luring adults.

Symptoms: A thick, gummy substance (sap) leaking from round holes on the trunk or in a crotch of the tree. Grubs tunnel through trunks, weakening and eventually killing the tree. Eggs hatch and larvae tunnel into tree’s vascular tissue.

Control: Manual

  • If infested, use a fine wire to try to pierce, mash, or dig grubs out.

Control: Spray

  • GardenTech® Sevin® Concentrate Bug Killer

Additional Resources

  • Contact local county cooperative Extension for further advice

Gypsy Moth

Adults are moths, from cream white to grayish brown. Eggs are laid in masses along bark, limbs, and other areas on the tree and can overwinter to hatch when the weather is favorable. Eggs hatch into larvae, which are black, hairy caterpillars.

Symptoms: Defoliation through feeding – in extreme cases, severe enough defoliation to stress and weaken apple trees.

Control: Site Cleanup

  • Keep site clear of dead limbs, branches, and other debris that female gypsy moths can use to lay eggs

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® All Seasons® Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil
  • Bonide® Thuricide® BT

Japanese Beetle

Adult is a metallic-green beetle, which skeletonizes leaves. Larvae are cream-colored grubs that feed on turf roots prior to maturity. Turf pest-control may help reduce grub populations; check turf product labels for timing and control of grubs. Traps are an option for luring adult beetles.

Symptoms: Adults are often seen in groups – large infestations can cause stunted growth and stress by skeletonizing a majority of the leaves.

Control: Manual

  • If infestation is minimal, knock Japanese beetles into a jar of soapy water solution (they will become immobile when frightened as a defense mechanism)

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Leafhopper

Small, active, slender-winged insect appearing in various colors. Usually found on undersides of leaves.

Symptoms: Slows new growth; leaves become whitened, stippled, or mottled. Leaf tips may wither and die. Prone to carrying diseases to and from plants and trees; damaged caused by leafhoppers may be greater than the feeding done directly by the insect.

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Insecticidal Soap
  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray
  • Monterey Fruit Tree Spray Plus
  • Monterey Horticultural Oil

Leafroller

Pale yellow or green worms.

Symptoms: Leaves are rolled and webbed together where grubs feed. Foliage eventually becomes skeletonized with prolonged exposure to feeding.

Control: Spray

  • GardenTech® Sevin® Concentrate Bug Killer
  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® All Seasons® Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil
  • Bonide® Captain Jack’s™ Deadbug Brew Garden Dust
  • Bonide® Thuricide® BT
  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray
  • Bonide® Neem Oil
  • Monterey Fruit Tree Spray Plus
  • Monterey Horticultural Oil

Mites

Pinpoint-sized arthropods, appearing in many different colors depending on the type. Often found on undersides of leaves.

Symptoms: Sap feeding causes a bronze appearance in leaves. Severe infestations exhibit some silken webbing. Droughts or dry spells are advantageous for mite infestations.

Control: Spray

  • GardenTech® Sevin® Concentrate Bug Killer
  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® All Seasons® Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil
  • Bonide® Insecticidal Soap
  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray
  • Bonide® Neem Oil
  • Monterey Fruit Tree Spray Plus
  • Monterey Horticultural Oil

Plum Curculio

Adult is brownish gray, 1/5-inch long, hard-shelled beetle with a long snout and 4 humps on its back.

Symptoms: Cuts a crescent-shaped hole in fruit skins and lays eggs inside. Grubs hatch and tunnel within fruit. Fruit may drop prematurely or have grubs/worms or tunnels inside at harvest.

Control: Site Cleanup

  • Remove dropped fruit as soon as it appears

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray (timing is key – just after petal fall)

Red Bug

Insects are small (1/4 to 1/3-inch long) and red with a brownish mid section and black legs. Adults make small holes in leaves and feed on developing fruit.

Symptoms: Leaves become distorted and apples rough with dimples or a series of small rust spots. Produces one generation each year with hatching occurring before blossom time.

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® All Seasons® Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil

Scale

Usually on bark of young twigs and branches, encrusted with small (1/16-inch) hard, circular, scaly raised bumps with yellow centers. May also be on fruit.

Symptoms: Sap feeding weakens the tree.

Control: Spray

  • GardenTech® Sevin® Concentrate Bug Killer
  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® All Seasons® Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil
  • Bonide® Insecticidal Soap
  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray
  • Bonide® Neem Oil

Tarnished Plant Bug

Yellowish-brown, winged insect that may have black spots or red stripes.

Symptoms: Damage is caused by injecting toxins into buds and shoots, causing stunted vegetative growth and sunken areas (or “cat facing”) on fruit.

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Insecticidal Soap
  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray

Tent Caterpillar

Adults are moths. Caterpillars are a hairy, grayish brown with cream-colored spots or stripes down the back.

Symptoms: Encases large areas in webbing and feeds on enclosed leaves.

Control: Site Cleanup

  • Remove webs with a rake (caterpillars are removed with webs) and burn

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Insecticidal Soap
  • Bonide® Thuricide® BT

Thrips

Tiny, slender, fringed-wing insects ranging from 1/25-inch to 1/8-inch long. Nymphs are pale yellow and highly active. Adults are usually black or yellow-brown, but may have red, black, or white markings.

Symptoms: Feeding occurs on vegetation by puncturing and sucking up the contents causing appearance to be deformed or discolored (similar to damage by mites and lace bugs).

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray
  • Bonide® Insecticidal Soap
  • Monterey Fruit Tree Spray Plus
  • Monterey Horticultural Oil

Apple Tree Diseases

Anthracnose

Caused by Cryptosporiopsis curvispora – a fungus that is spread by splashing rain or irrigation. Favors cool, wet weather (like in the fall).

Symptoms: New cankers appear on bark as small circular spots that are red or purple when wet. When they enlarge they become sunken orange to brown areas in the bark. As the cankers age, bark sloughs off exposing wood beneath, or disintegrates exposing fibers that give the area a ‘fiddle string’ appearance. Cankers usually do not grow larger after first year’s growth. Brown spots appear on leaves and fruit. At harvest, the fungus may infect the fruit. Fruit lesions are circular, brown, and sunken with gray or cream centers (Bull’s Eye rot). Disease rarely kills tree, as it is usually confined to small branches and twigs.

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Copper Fungicide
  • Serenade® Garden Disease Control
  • Bonide® Neem Oil
  • Monterey Fruit Tree Spray Plus

Bitter Rot

Caused by Glomerella cingulata – a fungus that is spread by splashing rain or irrigation. Favors warm, wet weather.

Symptoms: Small, brown sunken spots on fruit. Spots rapidly enlarge and deepen, and may appear as target-like concentric rings. If allowed to persist, spots worsen and spores are transmitted to nearby fruit. Spots rot fruit to the core and affected fruit will eventually mummify. Disease overwinters in mummified fruit, diseased limbs, and narrow protected areas.

Control: Site Cleanup

  • Remove affected fruit and mummies as soon as they are detected

Control: Manual

  • Prune for air circulation and light
  • Remove dead, damaged, and diseased limbs whenever they appear

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray
  • Bonide® Captan Fruit & Ornamental

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Copper Fungicide Spray or Dust

Black Rot and Frog-Eye Leaf Spot

Caused by Botryosphaeria obtusa – a fungus that is spread by splashing rain or irrigation. Favors warm, wet weather.

Symptoms: On Fruit – Fruit infection can begin as soon as fruit begins to develop and will appear on young fruit as red flecks that develop into purple pimples. These spots do not grow much until fruit begins to mature. Spots on mature fruit are irregular – black with a red halo appearance. As the spots enlarge, a series of concentric rings form, which alternate from black to brown. Lesions stay firm and are not sunken. Fruit mummifies and remains attached to the tree. Rotting occurs in seed cavity or around core, caused by early infections, but these fruits tend to fall within a month after petal fall with no surface symptoms. On Foliage – Leaf symptoms begin 1-3 weeks after petal fall as small purple flecks. These enlarge into lesions with purple margins and tan- to brown-centers, resembling ‘frog eyes’. When heavily infected, defoliation may occur. On Limbs – May be reddish-brown sunken cankers on limbs. Winter injured trees, or dead, damaged, diseased limbs are highly susceptible to contracting these fungal issues.

Control: Site Cleanup

  • Remove affected fruit and mummies as soon as they are detected

Control: Manual

  • Prune for air circulation and light
  • Remove dead, damaged, and diseased limbs whenever they appear

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Captan Fruit & Ornamental (wettable powder)
  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Copper Fungicide
  • Serenade® Garden Disease Control

Cedar Apple Rust

Caused by Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae – a fungus that is spread from cedars/junipers to apple trees by splashing rain or irrigation in spring. During dry weather, spores are transferred to cedars/junipers. Spores overwinter in cedar/juniper galls to start the cycle again the following year. Requires the presence of both apple trees and Eastern red cedar trees (most common) or other plants/trees in the Juniperus genus.

Symptoms: Small, pale yellow spots are present on upper leaf surfaces. Spots will enlarge and become orange with black specks in center. A mass of fungal spikes appear on undersides of leaves. Orange gelatinous galls appear in Eastern red cedar trees or plants/trees in the Juniperus genus in spring.

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Serenade® Garden Disease Control
  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray
  • Bonide® Neem Oil

Control: Manual

  • Both hosts need to be present for the disease cycle to persist. Remove neighboring cedar trees and junipers if possible/feasible.
  • Plant rust-resistant apple varieties in areas prone to cedar apple rust. Spraying helps control rust symptoms, but will not completely control the disease.

Additional Resources

  • Contact local county cooperative Extension for further advice

Crown Gall

Caused by Agrobacterium tumefaciens – a bacterium that inhabits the soil and causes rapid, abnormal growth (developing into galls). Can spread through injury to roots in the soil as well as through gardening tools carrying the bacterium.

Symptoms: Trees appear stunted and slow growing; leaves may be reduced in size. In mature, fruit-bearing aged trees, may see little or no fruit. Woody, tumor-like growths called galls appear, especially at the crown (ground level) and below. Growths can restrict water and nutrient flow, but often the damage isn’t extensive enough to cause immediate or total death. If tree has died, inspect roots for hard, woody ‘tumors’ to identify Crown Gall as the cause. Note: Crown Gall is not the only thing that can cause stunted trees.

Control: Spray

  • Ferti-Lome® Fire Blight Spray

Additional Resources

  • Contact local county cooperative Extension for further advice

Fireblight

Caused by Erwinia amylovora – a highly contagious bacterium that is spread to different areas (blossoms, twigs, etc.) with tender growth by wind, splashing rain or irrigation, birds, insects, and so on – especially through points of weakness like insect injury, hail damage, wind-whipping, and more. Favors cool to warm wet weather.

Symptoms: On Flowers – Blossoms and fruit spurs will look brown and withered and also look as if scorched by fire. On Foliage – Dark brown or blackened leaves appear as disease spreads. Do not confuse symptoms of fireblight for symptoms of drought, salt injury, or nutrient deficiency which may also present as browned leaves. Tips of branches curl, leaving a “Shepherd's Hook” appearance. Twigs and branches die back. On Bark – Cankers may form, housing orange bacterial ooze; the site of overwintering.

Control: Manual

  • Avoid applying nitrogen fertilizers during high-risk seasons (cool, wet springs) as tender new growth is more susceptible to infection
  • Cut back affected branches at least 6- to 8-inches below visible signs of infection. Disinfect shears between cuts with alcohol wipes or a solution of one-part bleach and ten-parts water.

Control: Site Cleanup

  • Destroy or dispose of pruning debris. Fall clean up is essential; including all mummified fruits and leaves hanging on the tree.

Control: Spray

  • Ferti-Lome® Fire Blight Spray

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Copper Fungicide
  • Serenade® Garden Disease Control

Additional Resources

Powdery Mildew

Caused by Podosphaera leucotricha – a fungus that overwinters in buds and emerges during humid, warm weather progressively throughout the growing season.

Symptoms: Whitish-gray powdery mold or felt-like patches on buds, young leaves, and twigs. Leaves may crinkle and curl upward. New shoots are stunted.

Control: Natural Spray

  • Serenade® Garden Disease Control
  • Bonide® Copper Fungicide Spray or Dust
  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray
  • Monterey Fruit Tree Spray Plus
  • Monterey Horticultural Oil

Scab

Caused by Venturia inaequalis – a fungus that overwinters in fallen leaves and pruning debris. Favors cool, wet weather (typically in spring).

Symptoms: Spots on young leaves are velvety and olive green turns black; leaves wither, curl and drop. Fruit also has spots, is deformed, knotty, cracked and drops.

Control: Manual

  • Plant scab-resistant apple trees if possible, especially in areas where apple scab is a known issue

Control: Site Cleanup

  • Remove and dispose of pruning debris. Fall clean up is essential to control overwintering fungus.

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray
  • Bonide® Captan Fruit & Ornamental

Control: Natural Spray

  • Serenade® Garden Disease Control
  • Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray

Additional Resources:

  • Contact local county cooperative Extension for further advice (including recommended scab-resistant varieties that are known to perform well in the area)

Sooty Blotch and Flyspeck

Caused by a complex of Peltaster fructicola, Geastrumia polystigmatis, Leptodontidium elatius, and Phyllachora pomigena as well as Schizathyrium pomi – fungal pathogens. Often develops together, since both diseases thrive under similar conditions. Each favors cool, wet weather (typically emerging in summer and early fall, but also seen in early spring).

Symptoms: Issues usually appear together. Olive-green smudges and tiny black dots on skin of apple. These fungal diseases survive on infected twigs and are spread by rains in spring and early summer. Symptoms appear as early as 2- to 3-weeks after petal fall. Damage is primarily superficial – little damage is done to the fruit’s flesh. Smudges or dots can often be rubbed or washed off with as little as water and some effort.

Control: Manual

  • Prune for improved air circulation and light to naturally prevent fungal issues from forming

Control: Site Cleanup

  • Collect and remove fallen leaves and fruit

Control: Spray

  • Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray
  • Bonide® Captan Fruit & Ornamental (wettable powder)

Control: Natural Spray

  • Bonide® Copper Fungicide

Other Apple Tree Issues

Bark Necrosis

This is a physiological disease – not one caused by fungus, bacterium, or virus – and has been related to boron deficiency or manganese toxicity.

Symptoms: Small elevations appear on surface of 1-2 year old wood. If the outer bark in the area(s) where these elevations occur is sliced away, dark dead areas will be revealed. May cause stunted terminal growth and in extreme cases, death of small terminal branches.

Control: Manual

  • Test soil. If pH is below 5.7, boron deficiency may be occurring. Manganese may become soluble and be taken up by the roots to cause injury. Improve soil pH with garden lime if soil testing detects low pH.

Additional Resources

  • Contact local county cooperative Extension for further advice (also for soil sample analysis)

No Blossoms or Fruit

Symptoms: Apple trees take about 2 to 5 years after planting (on average) before they bloom or bear fruit. If enough time has been allowed to pass, and the apple tree is otherwise healthy, there are a few things to do to help it become fruitful.

Control: Manual

  • Make sure a pollinator variety is present. Most apple trees require another different variety of apple tree to be fruitful.
  • Make sure your apple tree variety is recommended for your zone. Low winter temperatures can injure sensitive fruit buds, hindering the potential for fruit production.
  • Space trees far enough apart to help avoid nutrient or light competition. Adequate space encourages a healthy and productive tree. Spacing can be estimated by the mature spread of the tree.
  • Prune to help keep the fruiting wood and vegetative wood in balance so that there isn’t too much leaf development in lieu of blossom development in mature trees – or too much fruit-bud development and not enough leaves to “feed” the fruit.
  • Know your soil. Soil conditions, and the presence of necessary nutrients, help keep an apple tree’s roots supplying nutrients through its vascular system. If the soil is poor, or poorly drained, this affects the health and viability of the tree as a whole. If the tree is being over-fertilized, especially with a fertilizer high in nitrogen, it may develop lush, vegetative growth (leaves and branches) instead of developing fruit buds or blooming.

Additional Resources

Sunscald and Sunburn (Scorching)

Scorching or sunburn occurs during hot, dry growing seasons – with or without humidity in the air, but most commonly when humidity is low. Brown, crispy edges appear on leaves.

Symptoms: Sunscald is also called winter injury or “southwest injury” as it commonly affects the south-west side of tree trunks during winter. Warm, clear days cause bark to expand and nights that are several degrees cooler will cause the bark to contract, damaging cells and causing splits and cracks in the trunk.

Control: Manual

  • Protect trunks prior to winter with protective tree guards or a diluted solution of water and white latex paint (50/50).
  • Water new trees every 7- to 10-days during the growing season (if no rain within the week) or as needed (as the soil becomes dry to the touch).
  • During the growing season, consider constructing a temporary shade cloth to protect trees from the sun on hot, dry days. Water as needed (see above).

Additional Resources

Water Stress

Symptoms: Can relate to overwatering or underwatering. Overwatering commonly presents as pale green to yellow leaves and leaf drop. Can weaken a tree, lead to issues with root rot, and ultimately kill the tree. Underwatering often presents as discolored – often yellowed – dry leaves. Tree may appear to wilt overall and prolonged lack of water can kill the tree.

Control: Manual

  • Water new trees every 7- to 10-days during the growing season (if no rain within the week) or as needed (as the soil becomes dry to the touch).
  • If planted in a location where the soil does not adequately drain water after heavy rains (leading to standing water), relocate the tree as soon as possible.
  • If drought-like conditions persist, consider slow-trickle drip irrigation to allow water to reach the roots rather than wash over soil surface.

Additional Resources

Wind Injury

Symptoms: Can involve injury such as leaning trees, uprooted trees, breaks, tears, or wind-burned foliage. Depending on the severity of the injury, an apple tree can either bounce back from minor damage or succumb to the wind-caused harm. This is determined on an individual basis and the health of the tree before the damage occurred.

Control: Manual

  • Adequately tamp soil around the tree’s roots (and thoroughly water) at planting time to remove air pockets and ensure good contact with the soil. Air pockets and loose soil around the roots can cause the tree to rock easily in its planting hole, leaving it vulnerable to leaning or becoming uprooted.
  • Use tree stakes for new trees, dwarf trees, and trees planted in high-wind areas to help support upright growth and avoid leaning, uprooting, and breaking.
  • Selectively thin fruit that may be weighing down limbs to reduce stress from the weight, and avoid tears or breaks during gusty weather. Be aware: pests and disease may also take advantage of resulting broken or torn areas if damage occurs.
  • If tender new foliage is blown or whipped around by the wind, it may appear discolored (dark – like a burn or bruise). This damaged growth can be removed to encourage healthy, new growth to take its place.

Pruning

Pruning is a very important part of proper apple tree care and maintenance; however, many people think the task overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be! Keep these things in mind when approaching pruning your apple trees:

  • Have confidence in knowing that not everyone will prune the exact same way – including the experts.
  • In the best interest of your tree, it is preferable to do some pruning versus no pruning.
  • If an apple tree is left unpruned, it may not become fruitful, it will not grow as well, and – in some cases – it may not be encouraged to grow at all.
  • There are three main reasons you should prune your apple tree: its survival, stimulation, and shaping.

Survival

When your apple tree is dug up from our fields to be shipped to you, and any time a tree is transplanted, the root ball loses many of its fine feeder roots. These hairlike, delicate roots are important to the process of absorbing moisture and nutrients in the soil. Pruning, in this instance, helps balance the top growth of your tree with the root system, giving the roots time to re-establish in your yard to support existing top growth and new growth.

When your bare-root apple tree arrives from Stark Bro’s, our professionals have already pre-pruned your tree for you. Because of this, you do not need to prune them again at planting time. The only pruning necessary at planting time would be to remove any broken or damaged branches and roots.

Plan to prune your apple trees every year during their dormant season. In Zone 6 and north, you should wait until late winter. A good reference book, such as Pruning Made Easy, can be invaluable for providing additional visuals and answering questions you may have during the pruning process.

Stimulation

In addition to the survival benefits, pruning an apple tree stimulates stronger, more vigorous growth from the remaining buds. After a single growing season, an apple tree you prune will be bigger with stronger branching than a matching, unpruned apple tree.

Shape and Structure

Equally as important to the benefits above, your apple tree needs to be pruned to provide a strongly structured shape. The natural shape an apple tree takes on is not always the best for its maximum fruit production. Stark Bro’s apple trees are pruned in the nursery row for proper shaping to get you started and corrective pruning must continue at home. If you keep up with your pruning and shaping each year, it will be a reasonable task mostly involving small, easy-to-heal cuts.

Pruning Tips

Pruning angles

Narrow, V-shape crotch angles in the limbs are an open invitation to disastrous splitting later on, particularly when your apple tree is supporting a large fruit crop. For your tree’s branches, choose wide 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock angles.

Pruning to a bud

Make sharp, clean cuts close enough (about 1/4 inch away from the next outward-pointing bud) so you won’t leave a clumsy stub that’s hard to heal over. Stay far enough above the bud so it won’t die back. Slant the cuts and the new growth will develop beautifully.

Every branch has buds pointed in various directions. Since you want vigorous new growth to spread out and away from the center of the tree, make you cut above a bud that’s aimed outward. These are usually located on the underside of the branch. This helps your apple tree take on a more spreading shape, keeping it open to light and air circulation.

Prune for Success

Apple trees develop better if they’re pruned in a timely manner and with a bit of care and consideration. Here’s how:

Help the tree form a strong framework. This is what you should aim for when pruning:

  • Remove weak, diseased, injured, or narrow-angle branches.
  • Remove the weaker of any crossing or interfering branches, and one branch of forked limbs.
  • Remove upright branches and any that sweep back inward toward the center of tree.

The purpose is to keep your apple tree’s canopy from becoming too thick and crowded, so some thinning is necessary to permit light to enter the tree and also to keep its height reasonable. All these objectives promote the improved bearing and fruit quality of your apple tree – you’ll be pleased with the results!

Prune apple trees to a “Central Leader” shape.

Apple trees are productive and strong when pruned and trained to a central leader (or main leader) structure. This type of structure has a pyramidal shape with a single upright leader limb as its highest point. This central leader is the newest extension of a long, upright growing trunk from which all lateral branches arise.

As with all strong-growing branches, the leader should be headed (pruned back) at approximately 24- to 30-inches above the highest set of its surrounding “scaffold” branches. The uppermost remaining bud on the leader will then produce a vigorous new leader, and no other shoot should be allowed to grow taller.

Lateral limbs should be selected from shoots growing out from the central leader. These should be spaced vertically about 4- to 6-inches apart. They should also have growth that is more horizontal than vertical, and point in different compass directions from the trunk – thus creating a “scaffold” of branches. Any unbranched lateral branches should be headed back to the next ideal bud to encourage side branches and to stiffen long, lateral branches. All laterals should exhibit the stronger wide angles discussed above.

Pruning Whips (Unbranched Trees)

Whips are unbranched trees. Unbranched apple trees are ideal if you want more control over which branches are allowed to develop – as you might in certain artful pruning styles like espalier. Prune whips back to 28- to 36-inches above the ground at planting time. After the new branches have grown 3- to 5-inches in length, select a shoot to become the leader and the rest become the tree’s scaffold limbs.

Off-season pruning

Sometimes pruning needs to be done even when the season isn’t ideal. If a branch is broken by the wind or by a heavy load of fruit, emergency treatment is necessary. When taking action due to injury, prune to clean up any ragged edges; making a smooth cut that leaves no stubby stump.

It does not benefit the apple tree to wait until dormancy to prune damaged, dead, or diseased limbs or to remove unwanted growth like suckers and watersprouts. Fast-growing tree suckers and watersprouts should be completely removed as soon as you see them.

Spur pruning

You should not prune a spur-type apple tree as aggressively as you would a partial-tip or tip-bearing apple tree. Spur-bearing apple trees are naturally less vigorous than the others and do not require it. In apple trees with a spur-bearing habit, fruit develops on each limb and from the trunk out. They develop many small spurs rather than long shoots, so fewer should be removed. On the other hand, sometimes too many fruit spurs grow along a branch and may need to be thinned out to encourage bigger and better fruit on what remains.

Fruit Thinning

There are several reasons to thin fruit:

  • To reduce limb breakage
  • Increase fruit size
  • Improve fruit color and quality
  • Stimulate floral initiation for next year’s crop

Home gardeners are able to effectively thin apple trees by hand. During May and June in most areas, many apple trees will start to drop or abort underripe fruit. This is a natural process that allows the tree to mature the remaining crop load. If not corrected through thinning, apple trees may bear biennially (fruits only every other year) or bear heavily one year, then bear a comparatively light crop the next year. Thinning may seem counterproductive in theory, but it really is a benefit to your apple harvest in the end.

The best time to thin apple trees is within 20 to 40 days of full bloom. Thin so that each remaining apple is spaced 6 to 8 inches apart on the branch. In clusters, leave the king bloom (the center bloom in the cluster of five flowers) as it will develop into the largest fruit. On spur-type apple varieties, many fruit spurs grow along a branch and will need to be thinned out to encourage bigger and better fruit on what remains.

Spraying

First and foremost, be sure to familiarize yourself with the existing or potential pest and diseases issues for apple trees in your area. Your local county Cooperative Extension is an excellent resource for this information. Documents for identification and control, assembled by your local state universities, may even already exist online. Your local independent garden centers and local growers are also invaluable sources of pest and disease control in your area.

In high-density areas, a proper and consistent spray schedule can be paramount to the survival of your apple tree. Many potential issues can be prevented with sprays before they become problematic. To get the most return on the investment of your time and energy, spraying apple trees should be done consistently and thoroughly following the guidelines below.

General Maintenance

Before you begin, read and follow all instructions on the labels of the products you have in hand. Do not combine any chemicals unless the labels on each chemical spray involved specifically state that you can safely do so.

A well-rounded home spray program for apple trees includes dormant-season as well as growing-season sprays for pests and diseases. Research your location and learn about any pests or disease that are common in your area. If you know apple tree diseases are common in your area, consider planting easy-care, disease-resistant apple trees if possible.

Note: Contact your local county Cooperative Extension for alternative suggestions and advice on cultural and chemical control methods if certain sprays offered by Stark Bro’s are not recommended for use in your area.

When to Spray Apple Trees

  • Dormant Season (late winter/early spring, before bud break)
  • Growing Season – Bud Break (emergence of new growth)
  • Growing Season – After Blossom (after petals drop*)

*gives bees and other beneficials a chance to safely pollinate the blossoms

It bears repeating: Always follow instructions printed on container label for more detailed information, such as timing and application instructions specifically for apple trees.

Pest Control Sprays:

Bonide® All Seasons® Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil

  • For: Overwintering eggs, larvae, and pests including European red spider mites, adelgids, scale insects, apple aphids, bud moth, leafrollers, light brown apple moth, red bug, codling moth larvae, psylla, blister mites, galls, whitefly larvae, and mealybugs.
  • Timing: Dormant Season, Growing Season – Bud Break, Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Mainly preventative. Controls overwintering pests and their eggs.
  • Application: Follow the label. Apply as directed when temperatures are between 40ºF and 90ºF.

Bonide® Captain Jack’s™ Deadbug Brew Garden Dust

  • For: Codling moth, leafminers, leafrollers, oriental fruit moth, tufted apple budmoth
  • Timing: Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Active. Controls pests on contact. Pests must be present for spray to be effective.
  • Application: Follow the label. Apply as directed, every 10 days, up to 6 times per season (max) as needed. Can be applied up to 7 days before harvest.

Bonide® Insecticidal Soap

  • For: Adelgids (woolly aphids), aphids, lacebugs, mealybugs, mites, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, scale insects, plant bugs, sawfly larvae (pear and rose slugs), psyllids, tent caterpillars, thrips, spider mites, earwigs, and whitefly.
  • Timing: Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Mainly active. Controls pests on contact. Pests must be present for spray to be effective.
  • Application: Follow the label. Apply as directed, weekly or bi-weekly as needed.

Bonide® Thuricide® BT

  • For: Redbanded leafroller, tufted apple budmoth, variegated leafroller, tent caterpillar, fruit tree leafroller, gypsy moth
  • Timing: Growing Season – Bud Break or After Blossom
  • Type: Active. Controls pests on contact. Pests must be present for spray to be effective.
  • Application: Follow the label. Apply as directed when eggs or newly hatched larvae first appear.

GardenTech® Sevin® Bug Killer

  • For: Apple aphid, apple maggot, apple mealybug, apple pandemic, apple rust mite, apple sucker, avocado leafroller, bagworms, black cherry aphid, black scale, leafrollers, lecanium scales, lesser appleworm, lesser peachtree borer, meadow spittlebug, omnivorous leaftier, strawberry fruitworm, orange tortrix
  • Timing: Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Active. Controls pests on contact. Pests must be present for spray to be effective.
  • Application: Follow the label. To avoid fruit drop, apply 30 days after full bloom. Apply as directed, every 7 days, up to 8 times per year (max) as needed. Can be applied up to 3 days before harvest.

Disease Control Sprays

Bonide® Captan Fruit & Ornamental (wettable powder)

  • For: Primary scab, black rot (frogeye), botrytis blossom-end rot, Brooks fruit spot, sooty blotch, fly speck, black rot, black pox, botryosphaeria rot, bitter rot
  • Timing: Growing Season – Bud Break (pre-bloom, bloom, petal fall), Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Mainly active, also preventative. Controls and prevents fungal diseases.
  • Application: Follow the label. Do not use in conjunction with wettable sulfur, hydrated lime, or oil sprays. Apply as directed, every 10- to 14-days as needed. Can be used up to 1 day before harvest. Not for use in California (contact local county Cooperative Extension for recommended alternatives).

Bonide® Copper Fungicide

  • For: Fireblight, anthracnose, bitter rot, black pox, black rot, Brooks spot, flyspeck, powdery mildew, sooty blotch, summer scab, white rot
  • Timing: Growing Season – Bud Break (may include bloom period), Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Mainly active, also preventative. Controls and prevents fungal diseases.
  • Application: Follow the label. Apply as directed, making sure to adhere to specified intervals to avoid phytotoxicity and other issues in apple trees.

Ferti-Lome® Fire Blight Spray

  • For: Fire blight, bacterial wilt, stem rot, leaf spot, crown gall
  • Timing: Growing Season – Bud Break (may include bloom period), Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Mainly preventative, also active. Controls and prevents bacterial diseases.
  • Application: Follow the label. Apply as directed, every 3 to 4 days during bloom time and every 5 to 7 days as needed after blossom period. Do not apply when fruit is visible. For use as a foliar and/or blossom spray.

Serenade® Garden Disease Control

  • For: Anthracnose, bacterial leaf blight, bacterial speck, bacterial spot, black mold, black rot/black crown rot, black spot (of rose), botrytis, botrytis leaf blight, downy mildew, early blight, fire blight, gray mold, greasy spot, late blight, leaf spots, powdery mildew, rust, scab, target spot, white mold
  • Timing: Growing Season – Bud Break, Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Mainly preventative. Controls and suppresses fungal and bacterial diseases.
  • Application: Follow the label. Apply as directed, every 7 days as needed. Can be used any time of day (including in full sun and high temperatures) without stressing or burning foliage. Can be used up to, and including, the day of harvest.

Combination Sprays for Pests & Diseases

Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray

  • Pests: Ants (excluding fire ants, harvester ants, pharaoh ants, and carpenter ants), aphids, apple maggot, beetles, mites, moths, spider mites, leafhoppers, leafrollers, leafminers, caterpillars, whiteflies, spittlebugs, mealybugs, scale, thrips, psyllids, plant bugs, fruit flies, earwigs
  • Diseases: Scab, powdery mildew, rust, blight, brown rot
  • Timing: Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Mainly active, also preventative. Controls pests on contact. Pests must be present for spray to be effective. Controls and prevents fungal diseases.
  • Application: Follow the label. Do not apply when temperatures exceed 90ºF. Do not use within 21 days of an oil spray. Apply as directed, every 7- to 10-days, or after rain as needed. Can be used up to 1 day before harvest.

Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray

  • Pests: Apple maggots, codling moths, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, plum curculios, aphids, bud moth, Forbes scale, eastern tent caterpillar, red-banded leafroller, mites
  • Diseases: Bitter rot, black rot, frogeye leaf spot, Botryosphaeria (white rot), botrytis rot, bullseye rot, Brooks fruit spot, flyspeck, cedar rust, quince rust, scab, sooty blotch
  • Timing: Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Mainly active, also preventative. Controls pests on contact. Pests must be present for spray to be effective. Controls and prevents fungal diseases.
  • Application: Follow the label. Do not apply when temperatures exceed 85ºF. Apply as directed, no more than once within 7 days, up to 2 times per year (max) as needed. Can be applied up to 14 days before harvest.

Bonide® Neem Oil

  • Pests: Aphids, spider mites, scale, whiteflies, beetles, leafrollers, and other insect pests.
  • Diseases: Powdery mildew, black spot, downy mildew, anthracnose, rust, leaf spot, botrytis, needle rust, scab and flower, twig and tip blight, and alternaria.
  • Timing: Dormant Season, Growing Season – Bud Break, Growing Season – After Blossom
  • Type: Mainly preventative, also active. Controls overwintering pests and their eggs, and pests on contact. Controls and prevents fungal diseases.
  • Application: Follow the label. Oil-based, so apply in early morning/late evening to minimize the potential for leaf burn. Apply as directed, every 7- to 14-days as needed.

Monterey Fruit Tree Spray Plus

  • Pests: Aphids, mites, scale, whiteflies, beetles, leafrollers, loopers, mealybugs, leafhoppers, leafminers, thrips, borers, grasshoppers, crickets, ants, hornworm, earwig, chiggers, worms, and other insect pests.
  • Diseases: Powdery mildew, black spot, brown spot, dollar spot, snow mold, downy mildew, anthracnose, rust, leaf spot, botrytis, needle rust, blight (flower blight, twig blight, and tip blight), scab.
  • Timing: Growing Season – Pre-Bloom (for early disease prevention), Growing Season – After Blossom (for pest and disease control on contact).
  • Type: Mainly active, also preventative. Controls pests on contact. Pests must be present for spray to be effective. Controls and prevents fungal diseases.
  • Application: Follow the label. Apply as directed, every 7 to 14 days, as needed. Do not use more than 1 time per day on the same plants. Do not use more than 10 times per season. Do not apply when temperatures are below 45ºF. Do not apply to wilted or otherwise stressed plants. Apply in early morning or late evening to minimize potential for leaf burn. Test for plant sensitivity prior to broad use.

Monterey Horticultural Oil

  • Pests: Aphids, mites, scale, whiteflies, sawflies, loopers, leafhoppers, leafminers, leafrollers, psylla, mealybugs, thrips, worms, and more.
  • Diseases: Black spot, powdery mildew, rust, sooty mold
  • Timing: Growing Season – Pre-Bloom, Growing Season – After Blossom, Dormant Season
  • Type: Mainly preventative. Controls overwintering pests and their eggs.
  • Application: Follow the label. Apply as directed, as needed. Do not apply when temperatures are below 32ºF (no heat restriction for use – unique for an oil spray). Do not apply during drought or to wilted or otherwise stressed plants. Test for plant sensitivity prior to broad use.

Watering

Unless your apple trees are growing in an area where irrigation is usually needed for growth (desert areas, drought areas, containers, etc.), you probably won’t need to water your apple trees more than what the rain naturally provides after the first growing year. Until then, follow these guidelines to get your new apple trees off to a great start.

General Watering Guidelines

  • If the growing season brings about an inch of rainfall every 10 days or so, you shouldn’t need to provide any additional water; however, if it gets really dry in a week’s time, you can give your young apple tree a good, thorough soaking. The best way to do this is to let your garden hose trickle slowly around the root zone. This gives the water a chance to soak in and down to the roots instead of running off over the soil surface. You can also use a soaker hose to water several trees at once. Give your apple tree enough water to soak the ground all around the roots.
  • It’s important to note that, even if you’re in the midst of a “brown-lawn drought”, you shouldn’t water too much. Once every 7- to 10-days (or even once every two weeks) is plenty. Worse than dry, thirsty roots are waterlogged, drowning roots.
  • Although a little depression in the soil helps by preventing runoff during growing-season watering, it’s important to bring the soil around the tree up to the level of the surrounding soil for the winter. If this settled soil is not filled in, water could freeze around the trunk and injure the tree.

Note: These guidelines are far from strict, so just be sure to water as needed. Apple trees do not need lots of water every day; however, if you discover that your soil or your location’s environment require more frequent watering to avoid drought-stress to your apple trees, adjust your watering schedule accordingly. Pay attention to your apple trees and the soil they’re planted in as the best reference for when they need water.

Keep in mind, many parts of the country have restrictions on water usage. Be sure to adhere to your county or state’s restrictions when watering new apple trees, and contact your local department in charge of water usage for more information.

Other Topics

Harvesting

Are you ready to enjoy delicious homegrown fruit? Harvest is the time to enjoy the results of your hard work. Keep a few things in consideration as you reap the fruits of your labor: the best time to pick the fruit from your tree, and how to store the fruit.

Apple trees will start bearing fruit in 2-5 years under normal growing conditions with proper maintenance and care.

It’ll be best if you wait until just the right time to pick the fruit off your trees. Apples tell you they’re ripe by losing the last traces of their green background color and developing full, bright color. Most important, they become less tangy-tart and sweeter in taste. You’ll also notice the seeds turn from white to brown. When picking, just lift them upward quickly. If they’re ready, they will come loose without damage to the tree.

Harvest season for apple trees in most areas begins as early as July and can be as late as November on average, depending on the variety and location. Here is the annual average yield per apple tree:

  • Dwarf: 1-4 bushels
  • Semi-dwarf: 5-10 bushels
  • Standard: 10-20 bushels
  • Columnar: 25 pounds

Storage

Cool storage preserves apples for winter enjoyment. Fresh fruit is a special treat during the bleak winter months. Fortunately, many apple varieties keep their fine eating qualities for a long time, with proper storage. If you’re planning to store your apple harvest, pick them a bit early – just as they start to ripen. Handle the fruit carefully to avoid bruising that could develop into spoilage. Do not keep damaged or potentially infested fruit for storing, as they will break down quickly and negatively affect the integrity of the rest of your apple harvest.

The ideal storage environment is humid and cool, around 32ºF to 40ºF. You can place your apples in perforated plastic freezer bags and keep them in your refrigerator. Any cool area at home, like a basement, cellar, or unheated porch should also be fine for a while. Bring the apples out into room temperature when you’re ready to use them.

It’s best to inspect stored fruit every week or so to check for any spoilage. That way, you can remove any apples that are developing soft spots or brown areas. This also keeps spoilage from spreading to nearby fruit before it’s too late.