7 Tips For Faster Growing Apple Trees This Season
Looking to maximize your apple yield this season? While most apple trees have a traditional growth pattern, there are a few things you can do to encourage them to grow a little faster. In this article, gardening expert Merideth Corhs walks through her top tips for faster growing apple trees!
Nothing says Americana like apple pie, apple cider, and apple cider donuts. We celebrate apple harvests every fall around the country with festivals, fantastic food, and tasty drinks. While it’s great fun going to a you-pick farm or farmer’s market, harvesting apples in your backyard can be even more rewarding.
If you’re going to go through the process of growing fruit trees at home, you’re probably interested in growing them as quickly as possible. Minimizing the time to bear fruit and overall maturity is high on the priority list! While apple trees are beautiful to look at during every phase of their growth, we’re really after that delicious fruit!
There are several things you can do to have a faster-growing apple tree. Keep in mind that some of the activities you can do to speed up their growth may not apply to certain apple tree varieties. Let’s dig in and take a deeper look.
- 1 How Fast Do Apple Trees Grow?
- 2 Tips for Faster Growing Trees
- 3 Final Thoughts
How Fast Do Apple Trees Grow?
The regular growth rate for an apple tree depends on what type it is. There are two basic ways they grow and produce fruit: they’re either spur bearing or tip bearing.
- Spur-bearing apple trees set fruit off of small shoots that extend off of branches.
- Tip-bearing apple trees only do so at the very end of their branches.
For the most part, apple trees available to the home grower will be spur-bearing. These trees are often more compact, smaller, and easier to care for. Spur-bearing trees focus most of their growing energy on the development of spurs.
Because of this, they often grow slower than tip-bearing trees. A general rule of thumb is that spur-bearing trees grow between 6 and 10 inches per year, while non-spur trees grow between 6 and 18 inches. Ultimately, the growth rate of your tree will depend on its variety, health, and local growing conditions.
Tips for Faster Growing Trees
While apple trees have a standard growth rate, there are several things you can do to ensure they grow a little faster. Most gardeners want their trees and reach fruit-bearing age as soon as possible, so let’s dig a little deeper and look at the following steps you can take.
Choose a Tree For Your Climate
The first thing to consider when choosing a tree variety is your climate. Apple trees are incredibly versatile, and there are varieties well-suited for growing in almost every environment in the country.
For instance, if you live in the southern states, you may think you’re out of luck when it comes to growing apple trees. But a variety like Granny Smith actually grows well in USDA zones 5-9! Braeburn is another variety that can tolerate warmer temperatures. Braeburns will grow in USDA zones 5-8.
On the other hand, if you live in a frigid climate, you’ll need to look for more cold-hardy options. Varieties like Northern Spy and Red Rome are great examples of varieties that have a later bloom period to accommodate long winters.
Chill hours are an essential consideration when choosing a tree that will grow well in your area. Apple trees need to experience temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees to thrive and produce fruit. This period is usually hundreds of hours per season. If a tree doesn’t experience enough chill hours during the winter, it may not flower or produce any leaves.
If you don’t account for your climate when selecting a tree, you may inadvertently wind up with a variety that isn’t suited for where you live. If that happens, the tree will grow very slowly and may never produce fruit.
If you’re focused on minimizing the growth time of your tree, you’ll want to skip the young saplings and find a tree that’s at least two years old. While you’ll still have to wait for your tree to reach its production age, a 2-year-old tree will get you there that much faster.
Taller, more mature trees will cost you a bit more money on the front end, but you’ll be able to enjoy your harvest much sooner.
Choose a Fast-Growing Variety
Some apple tree varieties are faster growing than others. Choosing one of these will quickly get you to the fruit production stage.
Consider Planting a Dwarf Variety
If you want to reduce the time to bear fruit, consider planting a dwarf apple tree. Dwarf fruit trees are often more approachable to the home grower since they typically stay under 10 feet tall. They provide an abundance of fruit and can do so in a small amount of space.
Unlike standard varieties, which can take eight years to produce fruit, most dwarf varieties begin fruiting in just 2-3 years!
Columnar apple trees are an excellent option for suburban yards and apartment dwellers. The trees grow between 8 and 10 feet tall but only spread about 2 feet. Even better than the size, you’ll be able to start harvesting apples from these trees the first year you plant them.
Cameron Select is another great dwarf variety to plant, although this variety is more suited to a large backyard. The trees grow to a height and width between 8 and 10 feet and are one of the most vigorous and productive apples you can plant. Expect to enjoy this Honeycrisp-like fruit between 2 and 3 years after planting.
Plant in The Spring
If you’ve gardened for any length of time, you understand that certain plants grow best in certain seasons. But even within broad seasonal buckets like ‘warm season crops’, individual vegetables, flowers, and trees need to be planted at certain times. Some can handle gentle frost, while others need the soil temperatures to be above 60 degrees.
Apple trees are no different when it comes to having specific planting needs. If you plant in the summer or the middle of winter, its not going to thrive. You can do everything else right, but this one factor will cause your tree to grow poorly and possibly die.
In most parts of the country, the best time to plant is in the spring. If you live in a warm climate (think USDA zones seven and warmer), you can probably get away with planting it in the fall. November can be a great time to plant if you live in an area where winter temperatures won’t dip below freezing.
Planting at the right time for your location is a critical factor in encouraging it to grow and reach fruiting age as quickly as possible.
Be Consistent With Maintenance & Care
Like any living thing, your apple tree is going to thrive and grow faster if its well-cared for. A tree that is watered irregularly or never fertilized is going to grow slower than a tree that has a watering bag and regular fertilization.
Mature trees with well-established root systems will probably receive enough water from natural rain and run-off unless you live in a very warm climate. They need about an inch a week and you can easily provide that in the hot summer months if needed.
Young trees, on the other hand have smaller, more shallow root systems and need more water throughout the week. A good rule of thumb is to water young trees with 2 inches of water each week.
It’s best to provide a single deep watering session rather than multiple shallow waterings. Installing a drip irrigation system can be a great option if you plant multiple trees. A water bag is another option and is more efficient if you only have a couple of trees to manage. Fill up the water bag once a week (possibly twice if you have very hot dry summers) and let the water drip out slowly throughout the day.
Water bags or drip irrigation is the best way to ensure your young tree receives a consistent amount of water throughout the year.
In general, apple trees need macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium to grow properly. Nitrogen helps the tree produce vegetation, phosphorous is necessary for root and blossom development, and potassium/potash is responsible for the tree’s immune system and overall health. Together, these nutrients are critical for the sustained growth and development each year.
If you amend your soil with organically rich compost prior to planting, you probably won’t need to fertilize in the first year. But if your tree doesn’t grow much (remember 8-12 inches is average), consider using a fertilizer the following spring.
Spring is the ideal time to fertilize if your tree needs a nutritional boost. The tree will be coming out of its dormant period and ready to uptake nutrients.
Spread the fertilizer around the tree starting about a foot from the trunk. Lightly rake it to just beyond the current canopy. Water thoroughly with a hose to encourage the soil to absorb the fertilizer without burning any roots.
We talk about mulch a lot here at All About Gardening. It’s an important step for virtually everything you plant in the garden, and apple trees are no exception.
I’m sure you’ve seen large mounds of mulch around trees before. Mulch keeps the tree roots cool in the summer, helps the soil retain moisture, and prevents weeds and grass from encroaching on the space.
A 6-12” pile of mulch is great depending on the size of tree you’re planting. Create a wide, even mound around the tree and dig out a well around the trunk. Any organic material will be fine for this.
Pruning is an important part of growing fruit trees. While a lot of home growers think the process is overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. In the beginning, its best to keep your pruning efforts very simple. Some careful pruning is better for the tree than no pruning at all. If an apple tree is never pruned, it won’t grow well and may never produce fruit.
The best time to prune is in late winter before there are any signs of new growth or blooms. Here are some important points to remember when pruning:
- Remove any damaged, diseased, or dead tree branches.
- Remove any branches that are growing toward the trunk instead of away from it.
- Just like with tomatoes, remove suckers that will steal plant nutrients.
- Prune about ⅓ of that year’s new growth to encourage new growth the following year.
Disease is another thing that can slow down or stop your tree from growing. In my garden, we had two apple trees planted near one another to facilitate cross-pollination. One tree was exceptionally tall, strong, and robust. The other had been infested by Japanese beetles one year and hit by rust the next.
The difference between the two trees was remarkable. We ultimately had to replace the smaller, more sickly tree because it simply wasn’t thriving.
When choosing a tree variety to grow at home, its smart to choose one with natural disease resistance. Otherwise, they tend to be fairly susceptible to fungal diseases that cause the tree to divert its energy away from growth. If your tree isn’t resistant, spray a preventative fungicide to prevent infection throughout the season.
Growing apple trees at home is incredibly rewarding. There really isn’t anything better than picking an apple off of a tree in your own backyard. Now that you have learned about seven ways to help your tree grow quickly and reach fruiting age sooner, you’re that much closer to enjoying your harvest!