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how long does it take for an apple tree to grow

How Long Does It Take for an Apple Tree to Grow?

Here at Raintree Nursery, one of the most common questions we get is, "How long does it take for an apple tree to grow?"

An apple tree typically takes 7 to 10 years to grow from seed to fruit-bearing maturity.

However, if you start with a grafted tree sapling, it can begin to produce fruit in 3 to 4 years. With a dwarfing rootstock, varieties may bear fruit even sooner, often within 2 to 3 years. The exact timeline can vary based on the apple tree variety, growing conditions, and care provided.

Understanding the growth timeline of apple trees is essential for any gardener looking to embark on this fruitful journey.

So, let's dive into the details and explore how long it takes for an apple tree to grow, from planting to producing its first delicious apples.

What this article covers:

Apple Tree Growth Stages

When you first plant your apple tree, it's essential to provide the right care to help it establish roots and start growing. In the first few weeks, water the tree regularly to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.

Mulch around the base to retain moisture and regulate soil temperature. Expect minimal visible growth above ground as the tree focuses on root development.

1 to 2 Years After Planting

In the first 1 to 2 years, your apple tree will develop a stronger root system and grow more visibly above ground. During this period, regular watering, especially during dry spells, is crucial.

Apply a balanced fertilizer in early spring to support growth. Begin light pruning to shape the tree and remove any damaged or crossing branches. You might see the first signs of flowers, but our findings show that it's usually best to remove them to allow the tree to focus on growth. Do not fertilize in the fall as new growth too late in the year will not be able to harden off before winter and your tree may become damaged as a result.

how long for an apple tree to grow

3+ Years After Planting

By the third year and beyond, your apple tree can be considered established. You should expect continued growth and the beginning of fruit production.

Prune your tree annually to maintain the tree's shape and health, ensure strong branch formation (to hold all that fruit) and to improve sunlight penetration. At this stage, your tree should produce a more substantial amount of fruit each year, contributing to a bountiful harvest.

Pick Your Rootstock

When deciding to grow apple trees, selecting the right rootstock is key. Rootstocks were developed for a number of reasons, the most important ones being:

  • Mature Tree Size: The only way to prevent an apple tree from becoming 30 feet tall is through the use of rootstocks. With the exception of “standard” rootstocks, all rootstocks will restrain an apple variety from growing to its natural height by a certain percentage. There are obvious benefits and drawbacks to each option when choosing a rootstock.
  • Soil Adaptability: The most valuable aspect of using rootstocks is soil adaptability, allowing apple trees to grow in soil conditions that they would not be able to thrive, or even survive, in normally. Many rootstocks have been developed to grow better in wetter conditions and a larger range of winter temperatures, allowing growers in many different environments to enjoy growing apple trees.
  • Disease Resistance: Many modern apple tree rootstocks have been developed to resist a number of common soil borne diseases and pests, extending the number of places apple trees can be successfully grown.
  • Time to Fruit Bearing: A side effect of restricting tree height is a reduction in the time from planting to fruit bearing age. As the tree nears its maximum height it begins to start producing fruit and the smaller overall that the tree can get, the sooner it will start to flower.

There are several apple tree rootstock options available, each with its benefits and challenges. Choosing the right apple tree rootstock depends on your soil conditions, how much space you have to devote to growing apple trees, and how quickly you want to see results.

  • Standard Apple Trees: Standard apple tree rootstocks do not restrict apple tree size and grow apple trees the largest they can be, and with the deepest root systems. Standard rootstocks are great for growers in areas with significant wildlife pressure, or who want to grow trees that do not need to be watered. Downsides to standard apple rootstocks include an extended time to fruit bearing and more labor to maintain and harvest from.
  • Semi-Dwarf Apple Trees: Semi-dwarf rootstocks restrict apple tree varieties to 60% to 70% of their normal size and usually produce trees in the 16'-18' tall range depending on variety. Semi-dwarf apple tree rootstocks are good for growers that are looking for larger trees that do not require supplemental irrigation, but are easier to work with and bear sooner than apples on standard rootstocks.
  • Dwarf Apple Trees: Dwarf apple tree rootstocks restrict tree size to 45 to 60% of their normal mature size depending on the rootstock you choose. Dwarf rootstocks are the most popular choice for home growers that want a good amount of apple production, with an ease of pruning and harvesting. Due to their smaller overall size, apples on dwarf rootstocks will be dependent on supplemental water for longer as their root systems will not grow as deep as quickly as semi-dwarf or standard rootstocks.
  • Mini-Dwarf Apple Trees: Mini-dwarf apple tree rootstocks restrict tree size to 35 to 40% of their normal mature size, depending on the rootstock you choose. Mini-dwarf rootstocks can produce trees as small as 6 feet tall that start producing apples very soon after they are planted. An obvious benefit of such a small tree is that it is very easy to maintain and pick from. One notable drawback is that mini-dwarf apple rootstocks will never develop roots as deep as other larger rootstocks and may be dependent on supplemental irrigation for their entire lives.

Age When Fruiting Begins

The age at which your apple tree will bear fruit depends on the type of tree it is, the rootstock it is on, and its growing conditions. Our grafted apple tree saplings are roughly 3-years old when they are shipped - the perfect balance between size and the ability to be transplanted successfully.

  • Standard Apple Trees: Typically, standard apple trees start producing fruit between 5 to 9 years after planting. These trees are larger and take longer to mature compared to dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties.
  • Semi-Dwarf Apple Trees: Semi-dwarf varieties mature earlier with fruiting beginning around 5 years after planting.
  • Dwarf Apple Trees: Dwarf apple trees usually bear fruit much sooner, often within 3 years. Their smaller size allows them to establish and mature more quickly, making them a popular choice for home gardeners. Fruit production should be discouraged for the first year or two after planting as it can negatively affect root formation.
  • Mini-Dwarf Apple Trees: Mini-dwarf apple trees begin flowering as soon as possible due to their small mature size. A popular choice for older growers and families with small plots, mini-dwarf apple trees can be a productive choice. As with dwarf apple trees, fruiting should be discouraged for the first year or two to ensure the best root development possible.

Factors such as tree care, climate, disease, and soil conditions can also impact the time it takes for an apple tree to start fruiting.

how long does it take to grow an apple tree

Start Apple Trees From Saplings

It is better to start apple trees from grafted tree saplings rather than seeds. Saplings offer a head start in growth and reduce the time to fruiting.

Saplings also ensure you get the desired apple variety, as apple trees grown from seeds will not produce fruit true to the parent tree, often with undesired characteristics and none of the benefits that rootstocks impart to their scion.

Starting with young trees from a nursery is popular because they are already a few years old, reducing the time to fruiting. Here at Raintree Nursery, we offer a huge selection of high quality apple trees suitable for different climates and preferences.

Bareroot Trees

Bareroot apple trees, sold without soil around their roots during the dormant season, are cost-effective, lighter, and easier to transport. They often establish more quickly, however you must plant them promptly and handle them carefully to avoid root damage.

Potted Trees

Potted apple trees, sold with soil around their roots, can be planted anytime during the growing season. They offer flexibility, quick adaptation, and less transplant shock, making them resilient. Typically however, potted apple trees cost more to ship and will be younger than bareroot apple tree saplings, making them less cost effective.

How to Select an Apple Tree

Selecting the right apple tree variety for your garden is an important step to ensure a successful harvest.

At Raintree Nursery, we offer a variety of options to suit everyone's needs, ensuring a successful and enjoyable apple-growing experience.

Here are some key factors to consider:

Know Your Numbers

USDA Climate Zones

Understanding your USDA climate zone is crucial for selecting an apple tree plant that will thrive in your region. Apple trees have different cold hardiness levels, and choosing a variety suited to your climate will help ensure healthy growth and fruit production.

how fast do apple trees grow

Chill Hours

Apple trees require a certain number of chill hours, hours between 32 and 50 degrees, to flower after breaking dormancy. Ensure you select a variety that matches the chill hours typical for your area. Low chill apple trees, those requiring 500 or less chilling hours, are great for growers in warmer climates.

Taste Preferences

Consider what you and your family enjoy most. Do you prefer sweet apples for fresh eating, tart apples for baking, or something versatile that you can use for both? Knowing your taste preferences will help narrow down your choices.

Tree Size

Apple trees come in standard, semi-dwarf, and dwarf sizes.

  • Standard trees are the largest, growing up to 30 feet tall and wide.
  • Semi-dwarf trees are shorter and reach about 15-20 feet.
  • Dwarf trees are smaller, growing 8-10 feet tall.
  • Mini-dwarf trees are the smallest, topping out at 6'-8' tall.

The tree size will affect the space required in your garden and the ease of harvesting.

Pollination Requirements

Apple trees require a pollinizer, a companion tree that is compatible for the purposes of cross pollination, to make fruit. The majority of apple trees are diploid, having two sets of chromosomes, and are cross compatible with other diploid apple trees that are blooming at the same time.

A smaller number of high quality apple trees are polyploid, having 3 or more sets of chromosomes. Polyploid apples can be pollinated by diploid apples, but produce incompatible pollen themselves to provide pollination for other apples. To grow these apples in an orchard you will need two other diploid apples to provide pollination for the polyploid apple in addition to each other!

Self-pollinating apple trees, while uncommon, can produce fruit on their own having male and female flowers that will pollinate each other on the same tree. Self fertility in apples is often dependent on region and location as an apple that may be a self-pollinating apple tree in one area, will not be a self-pollinating apple tree in another region.

Having the right combination of trees is essential to your apple production.

Disease Resistance

Different apple varieties have varying levels of resistance to common diseases such as apple scab, fire blight, powdery mildew, and cedar-apple rust. Selecting disease-resistant varieties can reduce the need for chemical treatments and make maintenance easier.

Finding the Right Area

Apple trees need a location that provides good air circulation and ample sunlight. Choose a spot that receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. This ensures that the tree has enough energy to produce healthy leaves, flowers, and fruit.

Based on our first-hand experience, we've found that good air circulation helps to reduce the risk of certain diseases, promoting a healthier tree overall.

when do apple trees produce fruit

The soil in your chosen area should be well-draining and rich in organic matter. Apple trees prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil is heavy clay or sandy, we suggest adding compost or well-rotted manure to improve its texture and fertility.

Sunlight is another critical factor. Plant your apple tree where it will not be shaded by buildings, fences, or other trees. Full sunlight exposure helps your tree develop sturdy branches and produce an abundant crop of apples.

When to Plant Your Trees

The best time to plant apple trees is during the dormant season, either in the early spring before the buds break or in late fall after the leaves have dropped. Planting during these times helps the tree establish roots before the growing season or winter freeze.

Regional considerations are important, too. In colder climates, spring planting is preferable to avoid winter damage to young trees. In milder climates, fall planting can give trees a head start on root development. Regardless of the season, ensure the ground is workable and not waterlogged or frozen.

Do Grafted Trees Grow Faster Than Standard Trees?

Yes, grafted trees on dwarfing rootstock grow faster than standard trees. Grafting combines a mature scion with a rootstock, resulting in quicker establishment and earlier fruit production, often within 2 to 4 years. Standard trees typically take longer to mature and bear fruit.

how long until an apple tree bears fruit

What Are the Best Conditions for Growing an Apple Tree Quickly?

Based on our expertise at Raintree Nursery, these conditions create the ideal environment for your apple tree to thrive and grow quickly.

  • Sunlight: Ensure the tree receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily.
  • Soil: Plant in well-draining, fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
  • Water: Maintain consistent watering, especially during dry periods, without waterlogging the soil.
  • Spacing: Allow sufficient space for air circulation, typically the distance between apple trees should be at least 2-3 wider than the tree is expected to grow tall. For semi-dwarf trees we suggest 16 to 18 foot centers, and 12 to 14 foot centers for dwarf apple trees.
  • Mulching: Use mulch is an excellent strategy to retain soil moisture, regulate temperature, and prevent weeds.
  • Fertilization: Apply balanced fertilizer in early spring as necessary. Over fertilization can have unwanted side effects and even reduce flower creation, therefore reducing fruit production.
  • Pruning: Regularly prune your apple tree to remove dead or diseased branches and improve sunlight penetration. Pruning an apple tree properly enhances growth and fruit production.

Conclusion

Growing apple trees is a rewarding journey that requires patience and proper care. From selecting the right variety and planting location to providing optimal growing conditions, each step is crucial for success.

For high-quality apple trees and expert advice, look no further than Raintree Nursery. We offer a diverse selection of healthy, high quality trees suited for various climates and preferences. We're here to help you enjoy a fruitful and fulfilling gardening experience.

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