Our genetic makeup as humans means that if we want to perpetuate our bloodline, we require a partner. In the fruit tree world – in this case, that of the apple – some varieties jump this prerequisite and can self-pollinate. However, the majority will need a matching partner to make apple babies. Make sure you’re aware of what variety you’re growing and what it’ll need to produce fruit.

An apple tree can be a large investment in space – growing upwards of 6m if let loose of its shackles – but thanks to selective breeding there are also dwarf varieties that will be little more than a compact, upright stem.


Dig a hole twice the width of the root ball, but a little shallower, thereby allowing you to mound the soil to create a well for drainage purposes (when planting in ground). Thoroughly water in the hole before planting the tree and ensure it is staked – using two stakes approximately 30cm either side of the trunk (avoiding the rootzone) – to hold it perfectly upright. Mulch with 2-3cm of pea straw or lucerne hay and then water in with seaweed extract.


In ground: Water daily for the first 2 months while establishing and then cut back to 3-4 times a week in the warm season, otherwise 1-2 times a week during the cool season in the absence of rainfall. Once trees are established – roughly 5 years old – they will get by on 1-2 waters a week during the warm season, otherwise with rainfall in the cool season (for which they are dormant anyway).

In Pots: Water daily while establishing and through the entirety of the warm season, otherwise 3-4 times a week during the cool season in the absence of rainfall.


Before fruiting, feed your apple tree with a heavy nitrogen based fertiliser, such as chook poo.

Pruning is the key to productivity. If you are espaliering, define 3-4 horizontal limbs and then use soft twine to attach to a trellis or fence. Keep other growth in check (particularly any ‘sucker’ growth coming from the rootzone), so that the plant can focus its growing efforts on those branches. For standalone trees define 3-4 main limbs that allow for good airflow and easy harvesting access. The best practice is to keep limbs growing at a 45-60 degree angle, that allows them to hold heavy clusters of fruit.

In terms of seasonal pruning, trees should be pruned in late winter, but some smaller pruning is ok into the spring and summer if you must. Avoid pruning during autumn as this will stimulate new growth at the same time the tree should be getting ready for its winter dormancy.

In order to have good quality, edible fruit, some culling of apples is essential to redirect growing energy to those that remain.


Time until first harvest: adolescent plants will throw out fruit early, but it’s best to remove these and allow the plant to focus on growing up for the first 2–3 years. Meaningful fruit will develop from 3 years onwards.

How to harvest: hand pick individual fruit by twisting the apple with one hand while you brace the tree with the other, or prune off clusters. Take care with the fruit as it bruises easily.


To save space when planting pollinating partners, plant both trees in the same hole; this technique is called dual planting. This proximity improves pollination and helps to dwarf both of the trees, saving space.


Cool/Mountainous: Apr-Dec
Temperate: Apr-Nov
Subtropical: May-Nov
Tropical: Not suitable


Adolescent tree or graft


Full sun


Dig hole roughly the same size as the root ball


4-5 m (unless dual planting; see below in tip)




Prepare the soil so that it is free-draining and well integrated with compost and well-rotted chook manure


Pots, in-ground


50cm x 50cm


Some self-pollinate, but partners are often required to improve production


300–1000 hours, depending on variety

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