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How to Care for Apple Tree Seedlings

Whether you grow your apple tree from seed or buy a nursery seedling, it's very satisfying to harvest your own fruit. All over the world, for thousands of years, people have grown apples for their beautiful blossoms and delicious fruit. Caring for an apple tree seedling is not difficult, particularly once you have it settled in a good spot.

Plant your seedling in early winter in a well-drained area with full sun and no low spots. Apple trees cannot survive if water remains standing in the root zone, according to the North Carolina Extension Service. When picking a site, look for a high area with slope, if possible. If you are planting your tree in a lawn, remove the grass from the planting area in a 4-foot diameter circle, the NCES recommends.

Control weeds and grass around your seedling, so it will not have to compete for moisture and nutrients. Removing all the grass in a 4-foot circle will help your tree grow vigorously and produce larger fruit. It also will protect your tree from damage by mowers or trimmers.

Mulch will control weeds and conserve soil moisture, the NCES says, however rodents may burrow under and gnaw your tree's trunks and roots. If you decide to mulch, place rodent guards around the base of the tree, and pull mulch back in the fall, leaving a 1-foot circle of bare soil surrounding the trunk, according to the NCES.

Prune your young tree in early spring, just before the buds begin to grow. Cut the unbranched, central leader to 36 inches above the soil surface to encourage new lateral branching, the NCES recommends. Look for the most upright shoot when the tree's new growth is about 3-inches long. Do not trim it, but remove all new shoots growing 3 to 4 inches immediately below this new terminal to prevent competition, according to the NCES. Clean and disinfect your tools with a 1:10 ratio of bleach (or a household disinfectant such as Lysol) and water both before and after pruning.

Apply 1 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer to each tree the first year, 2 pounds the second year and 3 pounds the third year, up to a maximum of 5 to 6 pounds for a mature tree, the NCES says. The best time to fertilize is in late winter or early spring. Broadcast your fertilizer on top of the soil under the tree's drip line. Keep the fertilizer at least 6 inches away from the trunk to avoid burn.

Water the seedling at least once a week for the first year, and keep the soil moist but not soaked. Use a drip irrigation system, or leave a hose with a very low flow at the base of the trunk. After the first year, water only if there has been no rain for at least three weeks.

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