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From Seed to Fruit: A Comprehensive Guide to Apple Tree Growing Stages

Growing apple trees is a timeless and rewarding effort that has captivated gardeners for millennia. The more you know about apple tree growing stages, the better equipped you will be to see your tree through to its healthiest fruiting potential!

Now you can find out what to expect from your apple tree’s growing process, all in one place! Read on to learn about the various apple tree growing stages–and what you can do during each to ensure your tree is thriving and growing happy, healthy, and strong.

apple tree growing stages
Apple Orchard

Should I Grow an Apple Tree from A Seed Or A Sapling?

The Problem with Apple Seeds

It is entirely possible to grow apple trees from seed. You can often plant a seed straight from an apple that you purchase from the grocery store!

However, this method is imprecise and not favored among apple growers due to the genetic modification of many apple varieties. This impacts the seed as well as the fruit itself.

Because of this genetic tampering, even if you plant a seed plucked from a grocery-store Granny Smith apple, for example, you may end up with an entirely different variety sprouting in your yard. This makes it quite difficult to grow apples from seed effectively.

Thus, it’s recommended to grow apple trees from saplings rather than seeds. Many saplings can be purchased inexpensively, particularly if you purchase bare root apple trees. Going the route of a sapling over a seed also allows you to get a jumpstart on your apple tree growing stages. This can shave one to two years off your growing time, in fact!

Apple Tree Growing Stage 1: The Seed/Sapling Stage (Years 1-3)

Leaf buds opening on a newly planted apple tree sapling.

Acquiring a Sapling

To start, you will want to acquire an apple tree sapling from a reputable seller. Often you can purchase these at lawn and garden centers and even commercial grocery store chains. You can also purchase apple tree saplings online and have them shipped directly to your house. We recommend reliable sources like Stark Bros Nursery for these purchases.

Planting, Watering, and Caring for Sapling

Growing and caring for your apple tree will be a consuming but rewarding task…and it all starts from the soil up!

It’s important to ensure you plant your apple tree sapling in the right place and at the right time to maximize its growth potential. Choose a location with rich, well-draining, moist soil (composted ahead of time if need be to enrich the area with healthy compounds).

The location where you plan your apple tree should receive full sun for no less than six hours per day. You will want to plant in the early springtime and water well before, during, and after planting your sapling in the soil.

Year 1 Care in the Apple Tree Growing Stages

During the first year, your young apple tree will require the most concerted care of all the apple tree growing stages. The biggest thing to watch for is the soil moisture levels and the presence of apple tree pests.

You will want to ensure that the soil is kept reasonably moist throughout the growing season, which can be aided by regular mulching. But be careful to watch out for any early signs of fungal diseases developing on your apple trees! In addition, you may want to fence off the young trees to protect against any curious nibblers, such as deer.

You may also consider staking your apple tree during this early portion of the apple tree growing stages. This can help secure the tree until it lays down its large taproot (usually, this takes hold in the second and third years).

During this time, you should also be regularly weeding around your apple tree.

Year 2 Care in the Apple Tree Growing Stages

During the second year of apple tree growing stages, you should begin to see your young apple tree develop some fresh, leafy growth! This will look like small leaves, bright and rich green. This is the sign you should begin one of the most important parts of all apple tree growing stages…the fertilizing part!

You will want to establish this routine through the remainder of the apple tree growing stages and beyond. Apple trees do quite well with a growing season fertilization schedule (particularly in the spring). Beginning in Year 2, when you see the first leafy growth, start fertilizing your tree during each growing season.

Apple Tree Growing Stage 2: The Rooting Stage (Years 2-4)

Developing Roots and Limbs

From about its second year of life onward (which may be the first year you acquire and plant it if you are beginning from a sapling), your apple tree will enter into the rooting and limbing portion of the apple tree growing stages.

In this portion, the unseen roots will continue to branch out and grow deeper. This is the work being done under the surface, aided by all that work of watering, mulching, and fertilizing that you’re continuing to do.

Meanwhile, your apple tree will start to grow limbs at a rather rapid rate. You may even begin to see the first flowers as it becomes established and begins to pollinate! In some cases, dwarf varieties may even start to put out their first fruits within these years.

Ongoing Tree Care

Years 2-4 in the Apple Tree Growing Stages

During the second through the fourth years of the apple tree growing stages is when apple tree pruning–always done during the tree’s dormant months–first comes into play. This will help to focus limb growth and keep your apple tree healthy and thriving.

In addition, since your tree is not fully established yet, you should continue the practices of regular watering, mulching, and fertilization during the growing season. Also, be sure to maintain a watch for any apple tree diseases and pests and address any issues as they arise.

Apple Tree Growing Stage 3: The Flowering Stage (Years 4-6)

Blossoming apple trees in the spring.

What Flowering Looks Like

Once your apple trees reach about four years old, the branches should be well established, and the trunk should have at least doubled in diameter. Now you will start to notice more than just leaves…you will likely begin to see some truly vigorous flower growth.

This can be a very exciting part of the apple tree growing stages! Once you see flowers, you know fruit is just about imminent. It may still take your tree some time to set out fruit, and flowering can sometimes be a bit delayed, but don’t lose heart! Different apple tree varieties all grow at their own pace.

Bear in mind that if you purchased a one or two-year-old sapling, the flowering portion of the apple tree growing stages should start about two years after you acquire the tree–since it will then be about four years old. If you started from seed, it will often take four years or more from the time you planted the seed.

Years 4-6 Care in the Apple Tree Growing Stages

During the flowering portion of the apple tree growing stages, caring for your tree should look routine. You will need to continue with regular watering, seasonal fertilization, mulching, and now the pruning portion of things.

As you do this, you will begin to notice that your apple tree is showing signs of an established routine. It will have its set seasons when it lies dormant, when it begins to bud, and when the flowers bloom. This can happen really any time from years three on up, but by the fourth to sixth year, it should be quite obvious what your tree’s specific routine is.

This is a fantastic sign that your tree is almost fully established. All of your hard work is paying off, and soon you will have a harvest to show for it!

Apple Tree Growing Stage 4:The Fruiting Stage (Years 5 and Up)

vigorous apple tree

What Fruiting Looks Like

By the time they are about five or six years old, most apple trees are firmly established. They have a set routine for dormancy and growth. Their trunks are sturdy, their limbs are strong, and even if they have reached their “full size,” they are likely still growing new limbs and leaves.

Best of all, they are likely now producing fruit! You may end up with more fruit than you know what to do with, in fact…or more than your tree can handle. There are various ways to address this. And the good news is many apple trees live for decades or longer.

Years 5 and Up Care in the Apple Tree Growing Stages

With your established apple tree, there are still many ways you can care for it. Because apple trees tend to overproduce, you can thin the crop by manually removing small, damaged, or unhealthy fruits. Leave a few inches of space between healthy fruits to keep the tree evenly burdened.

You can also continue with irrigation, mulching, and springtime fertilization. Continuing to prune branches in the dormant months will also ensure the health of your established apple trees. Watch out for pests, and be sure to harvest apples at the right time, separating them gently from the branches without tearing and causing damage to the tree.

With this ongoing labor of love and routine care, you will find yourself harvesting apples in this final stage for years and years to come!