An apple tree in the backyard can produce enough fruit for a family to eat fresh, plus plenty to make into apple pie, crisp or sauce. Apple trees require regular maintenance to be productive and attractive, but apple tree care is not as complicated as you might think. Choosing a good site will go a long way in growing a healthy apple tree. Apple trees also need the right amount of water and yearly pruning.
Buy a bare root apple tree. Bare root trees are sold dormant, and while they may look like little more than a stick with roots, they generally transplant better than potted or balled and burlapped (B&B'ed) trees. Choose a tree where the stem is pliable and the roots are kept moist. Bare root trees are generally sold in the very early spring, and any garden center or catalog that sells trees should carry some apple trees.
Plant your apple tree in a location that receives full sunlight and where the soil is fertile and well-drained. Dig a hole that is as deep as the root ball and twice as wide and build a small mound in the middle to spread the roots over. Place the apple tree in the hole so that the graft union (a small swelling on the trunk) is 2 or 3 inches above the soil line. Backfill the hole with the excavated soil.
Protect the apple tree from rodents by wrapping a piece of galvanized hardware cloth around the trunk. The protective wrap should be slightly larger than the trunk to allow for growth. Bury the protective wrap a few inches into the soil to prevent mice from digging underneath. Remove and replace the wrap as the tree grows.
Water the tree thoroughly at the time of planting, and continue to water regularly during the growing season. Apple trees need about 5 gallons of water every week.
Apply several inches of mulch, such as shredded bark, in a 2- or 3-foot diameter around the base of the tree to keep down weeds and help retain soil moisture. Leave a space of a few inches near the trunk so that the bark can breathe. You may also use compost as a mulch, which has the added benefit of providing fertilizer.
Prune the apple tree in the early spring, between February and April, before the tree leafs out. Apple trees are generally pruned to have a single central trunk with a series of scaffold or ladder-like branches on the side.