The care of apple trees is pretty simple. They need the proper location, adequate water and sunlight, annual fertilizing and pruning and some attention to ensure they don't become ill or insect-infested. Some simple guidelines will maintain the apple tree's good health for years to come.
Apple trees prefer lots of sunshine and good air circulation. Well-drained soil is another must. The roots of trees should be soaked for 30 to 60 minutes before planting. The hole for the tree should be as deep and as wide as the root ball. Place the tree in the hole and gently spread out its roots. Hold the tree straight and backfill the hole carefully. Do not bury the graft line. Add a couple of gallons of water to the newly planted tree.
Apple trees produce apples best when they are pruned to a scaffold-like appearance. Even if the tree is meant for decorative purposes rather than its fruit, this design maintains overall good health. Determine which upright stem is the main trunk or leader. Other branches should extend outward in as close to a horizontal position as possible. Prune away any branches that cross over others, rub against others, grow at a downward or inward trajectory or are damaged or dead. Remove any sucker growth that emerges from the close to the ground. Maintain at least 18 inches of space between the ground and the first branches. The best time to prune is during the apple tree's dormant period between February and April.
Fertilizer with a nitrogen-phosphorus-potash (potassium) rating of 10-10-10 is suitable for apple trees. It should be applied in early spring before buds emerge from trees. The amount applied equals one half-pound for each inch of the trunk's diameter. Spread it evenly under the tree extending the full width of the canopy. Weed-and-feed fertilizers can be dangerous for apple trees and should be avoided. If the apple tree is growing in a lawn that also receives fertilizer, reduce the amount given to the tree.
Preventing Disease and Insect Problems
A good maintenance plan will prevent most diseases from taking hold. Pruning annually to ensure good air flow is one step. Others include removing fallen leaves and fruit during the growing season. Many diseases and pests overwinter in this debris material and will damage the tree the next year. Remove it and destroy it as adding it to a compost pile could spread the problem next year. Clean pruning tools after each use with bleach to prevent spreading any diseases. Spraying annually with multipurpose fungicides and insecticides designed for apple trees is another vital step. This should be done according to manufacturer's instructions but generally before buds emerge.
Apple trees need weekly watering during periods of little to no rainfall, particularly during the first 2 years of life. This may not always be practical. A layer of mulch, 4 to 6 inches deep, made of leaves, pine needles or other weed-free substance should be spread in a 4-foot circle around the base of the tree. Mulch should not touch the tree's trunk, so leave a space of several inches around it. Also, avoid using mulch made from oak or other hardwoods as they leach nitrogen from the soil, which can have a negative effect on the apple tree.