Prepare the ground before bringing a tree home. The soil should be crumbly and have a fairly neutral pH level. Dig a hole that's 2 feet deep and 4 feet square. Supplement the soil with organic material, if desired, but do not fertilize.
In the spring or fall, choose a nursery tree that's a year old and about 5 feet tall. Pull it out of the pot before you purchase it to be sure that the root system is good.
Soak the root system in water for 24 hours before planting to hydrate the cells and help impacted soil break free so you can manipulate the roots for planting, without tangling or breaking them.
Place the roots in the ground, spreading them out evenly and carefully in the hole. The scion, where the rootstock meets the trunk, should be about 2 inches above ground level when it's buried.
Cover the roots with soil to bring the surface of the hole back up to ground level. Stomp on the soil to be sure that the roots are packed in completely. Water thoroughly, but do not fertilize at this time.
Consult the grower's instructions regarding staking. Some varieties of apple trees require staking. A plastic or wooden rod is placed in the ground alongside the tree and the tree is secured to the stake.
The following spring and every one to two years thereafter, apply 1 lb. of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every apple tree. Mix the fertilizer according to manufacturer's instructions and pour it into the ground in a ring as wide as the foliage. When the sun is directly overhead, this is easy, it's where the shadow ends.
Prune branches that don't grow straight early every spring, just after leaf buds have begun to swell. Straight branches that don't intersect ensure that each branch is getting enough sunshine, and that apples have room to grow and be harvested.