Apple trees are delightful. They often grow in classic storybook shape, produce gorgeous blossoms, and to top it off, they give you delicious fruit. What’s not to love?
Well, if you planted a tree and it’s not growing, that’s frustrating. When there is no obvious problem, such as pests, it’s even more frustrating. What can be done when an apple tree won’t grow?
Apple trees that are not growing might be battling too many weeds, grasses, and other plants for competition. Make sure the area underneath it is clear aside from mulch. Also, an apple tree needs another apple tree nearby, but not so close they compete for water or other nutrients.
Fruit trees are a bit like taking care of a cat. They need certain things and care, and if the conditions are not to their liking, they will stop giving you fruit and, especially when young, slow their growth to nearly nothing.
However, you can also error by giving them too much attention, which will also upset them. Yes, fruit trees really are the cats of the wood world.
Why Is My Apple Tree Not Growing?
Apple trees are the popular kids in the fruit tree gang. Being so common to own makes it appear that they are one of the easier fruit trees to grow.
However, being easier doesn’t mean they don’t have needs, especially when young. Thus, if your tree isn’t growing and the problem isn’t an infestation, then there are a few other things to consider.
1 – Apple Trees Don’t Like Competition
Apple trees are poor athletes. They hate competition with another plant. They want easy access to their water, nutritious soil, and sunlight.
When an apple tree is well established, it might be more agreeable to sharing, but when they are young, they will downright refuse to grow if you don’t give them the space they crave.
The general guideline is to remove any weeds, grasses, or plants that are underneath the tree’s branches. However, a sapling barely has any breadth to it. Thus, give it a four-foot (1.2 m) diameter of clear space. Once you’ve eliminated the competition, spread mulch.
The mulch needs to be kept an inch or so (2.5 cm) from the trunk to avoid rot. Also, take care never to use a weed eater near an apple tree, as it will damage its bark. You will need to replenish and change the mulch every so often. Lastly, it is best to completely remove the mulch during the coldest parts of winter in some areas. Check with your local experts.
Also, see if there is anything throwing shade at your apple tree. If possible, prune the shade offender away. If the shade situation cannot be solved, consider if transplanting your tree is possible.
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the best time to transplant an apple tree is in spring.
2 – Apple Trees Need Buddies
Despite apple trees’ tendency to pout over the competition, they need buddies. Like any good social introvert, they want their friends nearby but not on top of them.
Without other apple trees around, there will be no cross-pollination and, consequently, no fruit. But often, they just grow better with appropriately socially distanced companionship.
Apple trees need to be 20-25 feet (6 – 7.6 m ) apart at minimum. The recommended maximum distance between apple trees is 100 feet (30.4 m), and ideally, you’d like them to be half that distance.
But, again, this isn’t just essential for them to fruit; they also tend to lead healthier and happier lives if they have at least one apple friend.
There are some self-pollinating varieties. However, even these will give you more fruit if it has another apple tree nearby.
Do Apple Tree Friends Need to Be the Same Variety?
No, your apple tree’s friend does not need to be the same variety. In fact, most require a different variety that blooms at the same time to bear fruit.
Thus, you need to know when your apple tree flowers and find a type that matches it. The wisest solution is to ask a local expert. However, you can get started with this helpful chart.
Appletree friends also need to be able to grow in the same climate zones. Generally, apple trees in the United States grow best in Hardiness Zones 3 – 5. But some long-season varieties prefer Zones 5 – 8. To find out your local area’s Hardiness Zone, click here and here.
Also, keep in mind when selecting apple tree friends that different varieties require different chill hours to set fruit. The chill range is generally 32 – 45 F (0 – 7.2 C).
Again, how long an apple tree requires being in the chill range depends on the variety. This is why it is essential to buy apple trees that suit your local climate.
3 – Apple Trees Need Pollinators
The wind is not enough to cross-pollinate your fruit trees. You are going to need pollinators to get fruit and keep the trees feeling perky. Thus, it is crucial to keep your garden, orchard, or property pollinator-friendly.
Remember that pesticides are harmful to pollinators. If you absolutely cannot avoid using pesticides, at least ensure you are not spraying during the flowering season. This is when the presence of pollinators is crucial to your apple trees’ happiness.
Keep in mind; some “safe” pesticides are only “safe” when dry. That means that while you are spraying and the hours it takes to dry, bees and other helpful pollinating workers are dying. So if you absolutely must spray during a bloom, find something that won’t hurt pollinators even when wet.
4 – Apple Trees Preferred Soil
Apple trees enjoy well-drained soil that retains some water. Thus, light and medium-textured soils are best, and they will struggle in clay. Many people find planting an apple tree on a slight slope is ideal.
However, try to avoid planting at the bottom of a slope as it could get caught in a “frost pocket.” While apple trees need cool temperatures to produce excellent fruit, too much frost at the wrong times of the year makes for a grumpy tree.
Also, ensure the tree is receiving plenty of nutrition. Apple trees should be fertilized in spring with a slow-release formula. Too much, and it will put all its energy into growing taller and not fruit. Apple trees really don’t do well with excess fertilizer. Not enough, it won’t grow as fast as it should.
On a similar note, never plant an apple tree with fertilizer; this will burn their roots. If it doesn’t kill the tree, it will dramatically slow down its growth in the first few years of its life after being planted.
If your tree is still being stubborn about reaching ideal adulthood, have the soil checked. Perfect apple tree pH is 6- 6.5, but they are fine with 5.5 – 7. Apple trees, are all about that happy medium.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.