For home fruit growers, dwarf trees are often a better choice than standard-sized fruit trees. Dwarf trees are easy to maintain and will produce fruit sooner. In spite of the dwarf tree's compact size, the fruit will be standard size, and there will be plenty of it. One mature dwarf apple tree can produce more than 400 apples in a growing season. Dwarf apple trees should be planted in early spring.
Purchase a young dwarf apple tree at a garden center or greenhouse. A tree that has been locally grown is preferable, because it will be appropriate for your climate. Look for a dwarf apple tree with a straight, sturdy trunk.
Choose a sunny spot for the dwarf apple tree. A site with morning sun is best, because any dew on the leaves will evaporate quickly, reducing the opportunity for development of disease.
Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root system. Be sure it's deep enough to allow the graft line to be about 3 inches above the ground. The graft line will look like a diagonal slash or scar about 5 or 6 inches above the root system.
Scrape the bottom of the hole with the tip of the shovel or a garden fork to loosen the soil, and add a small shovelful of compost. Don't add any additional fertilizer, which can promote lush, leafy growth but fewer and smaller apples.
Remove the tree from its container and set it in the hole. Ask a friend to hold the trunk of the tree straight, with the graft line above ground, while you replace the soil in the hole. Tamp the soil down with your foot, and mound the soil an inch or so above the ground to allow for settling.
Pour 3 to 5 gallons of water slowly into the planting area, and repeat every week during the growing season, unless there is more than an inch of rain during that week. Add a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch, such as peat moss, grass clippings or leaves in a large circle around the tree, but keep it at least 10 inches away from the trunk.
Stake the dwarf apple tree, especially if it's in an open, windy area. Drive a long stake into the ground about 3 inches from the trunk and use pieces of fabric or rubber to tie the trunk to the stake. Never use wire or string that can cut into the trunk. Check the stake often as the tree grows to be sure the ties haven't become too snug. Leave the stakes in place for two years.
Prune dwarf apple trees before new growth emerges in early spring. Remove any suckers that grow up from the root of the tree, any broken branches or stubs, branches that are crossing other branches or rubbing against other branches, and any branches that are growing downward.