Nebraska gardeners can plant many types of apple trees; this cold-hardy fruit fares well in the state's climate of hardiness zones 4 and 5. Gardeners can choose apples that perform better for baking or those that are best eaten fresh. Apples are versatile and make apple butter or applesauce, chutney, pies or tarts. Purchase and plant an apple tree in early spring, then provide routine care each year to raise your apple tree.
Select a site that offers your apple tree full sun, well-draining soil and enough room to mature. Test the soil pH in your yard with a pH test kit, which requires you to take a soil sample and touch a color change strip to that soil.
Amend your soil by adding sulfur to lower the pH or lime to raise it, following the Garden Helper's recommendations based upon your soil type (see Resources). Apple trees prefer a pH of 6.5.
Dig a hole twice as wide as the apple tree's root ball. Remove rocks and roots from the hole so the tree can settle in.
Pull your apple tree from its container. Massage the root ball to break it apart. Unwind tangled roots. Place the tree in the hole so it sits at the same depth as it did in the container and its trunk is straight. Backfill the hole with soil to plant your tree.
Water the newly planted tree until the soil becomes saturated. After this, offer the tree 2 to 3 gallons of water every two weeks, unless you receive sufficient rainfall.
Prune the newly planted apple tree to a height of 24 inches. Then allow the tree to grow. When branches develop, stick clothespins between the branches and the trunk to promote outward growth. Remove the clothespins in autumn.
Trim the tree again between February and April. Remove suckers growing from the trunk. Clip off branches growing 18 inches or less from the ground. Also remove branches that grow too close together since this crowds the tree. Leave three to four fruiting branches evenly spaced around the tree. Prune off other branches. Allow the trunk to grow 18 more inches then create another set of fruiting branches.
Spray the apple tree with dormant oil before the buds open and when temperatures are above freezing and will remain that way for 24 hours. This protects your apple tree from insect pests like scale that can overwinter in Nebraska apple trees.
Fertilize your apple tree using 10-6-4 fertilizer every spring. Apply 1/2 lb. in the first year, 1 lb. in the second and so on, up to 7-1/2 lbs. at 15 years and older. Scatter the fertilizer around the base of the tree then water to plant it in.