Here’s all you need to know about How to Grow An Apple Tree in Container. Growing Apple Trees in Pots is not difficult if you understand the requirements!
Want to know How to Grow An Apple Tree in Container? We have all the tips and tricks to help you grow it easily in a limited space!
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How to Choose the Right Apple Tree?
Growing apple tree from seeds is a bad idea. Instead, buy a dwarf or semi-dwarf grafted tree from a reputed nursery.
Apple trees are grown by grafting on a rootstock, which has many benefits. If you are unaware of apple rootstock grafting, you might like to read more on this on the official website of the Ministry Of Agriculture, Food And Rural Affairs (Ontario) and this very informative article from Cornell University.
Basically, dwarf apple trees are those in which dwarf rootstocks are grafted to control their height and size and to improve fruit production and resistance to diseases and pests.
If you’re searching where to buy an apple tree–go to a nursery or shop online and probe for rootstock choices like M27, M26, Bud9, G16, or M9. Apple trees grown on these rootstocks are dwarf and usually don’t grow above 8 feet. You can also look for semi-dwarf trees. Doing this makes it possible to grow them in containers.
Buy a Self-Fertile Variety of Apple Tree
Apple trees require cross-pollination! You’ll need to buy two apple trees for pollination. If you’re going to plant only one plant, buy a self-pollinating variety.
Considering the Chilling Period
To set flowers, apple trees require an annual cold-weather cycle in winter called chilling. A chilling period requirement of an apple tree is measured from the total number of hours it gets per year when the temperature remains below 45 F (7 C) but above the freezing point.
Average chilling hour requirements for apple tree varieties are around 800-1000 hours, and it can be less or more depending on the type you select.
If you live in a mild winter climate, choose low-chill apple cultivars, and if you live in a harsh winter climate, choose high-chill apple varieties. This simple trick will improve the productivity of your apple tree growing in containers.
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Choosing a Pot for the Apple Tree
Don’t start planting apple trees in a too-large pot initially, as it will result in overwatering and excessive moisture in the growing medium because of the volume of soil and smaller root system, which is a big NO for the young plant.
A small standard-size pot (5-6 gallons) 10-12 inches deep and wide is great to start with. Gradually change the size of the container every year or two at the start of the growing season or when you identify that the plant is root-bound. You’ll find out if the plant is rootbound or not when it’ll stop growing or you see these rootbound symptoms.
Upgrade your pot in sequence by choosing one size bigger pot than the previous one each time. Once your apple tree in a pot reaches the desired height, stop changing the pots. A 20-25 gallon pot would be sufficient as a final one. After that, you’ll have to do regular pruning and root trimming from time to time to maintain it.
Requirements for Growing Apple Trees in Pots
Like other fruit trees, the apple tree loves to grow in the sun. If you like, on hot summer days (in warmer regions, USDA Zone 8-10), move the container to a place that is shaded from the afternoon sun. Choose a sunny location that’s less windy.
Also, keep in mind to maintain good air circulation around your apple tree. If you are growing it on your balcony or rooftop garden, don’t place it close to the walls.
Growing apple trees require cool winter and moderate summer. You can’t grow apple trees where the temperature remains the same or way too hot.
But you can easily grow apple trees where the temperature gets cold; they tolerate freezing climates by going dormant in winter.
Growing apple trees in pots require regular watering, especially in the first year. Water deeply to promote the formation of healthy roots. And reduce watering in winter.
Commonly the apple trees growing in containers die due to root rot in waterlogged soil and excess and frequent watering, so avoid this. In any case, prevent the chances of overwatering the plant again and again.
Also, avoid overhead watering, as wetting the foliage favors the growth of powdery mildew.
Apple plants prefer deep, fertile, and well-draining substrate, so don’t use soil that thwarts drainage. When grown on the ground, sandy loam to sandy clay loam soil is preferred.
To grow an apple tree in a container, use a potting mix rich in organic matter with a slightly acidic to neutral pH (6-6.8). You can mix compost or well-rotted manure to enrich your growing medium.
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Apple Tree Care
Fertilize your apple tree with a balanced liquid fertilizer, diluted to 1/4 of its strength, when the tree is young every 2-3 weeks during the growing season.
Apply any fruit fertilizer once the tree gets older. Start to reduce the feeding from late fall and stop fertilizing in winter, and don’t start before the warm weather arrives in spring.
Repot the young apple tree in a year or two. Transplant in one size bigger pot after scratching and spreading roots from sides and bottom gently.
When growing apple trees in pots, you must know that during hard frosts and too-cold temperatures, you’ll need to protect the plant’s roots. For this, wrap the container with bubble wrap or move it to an insulated location.
Pests and Diseases
An Apple tree in a container is susceptible to aphids, moths, apple blossom weevils, scabs, powdery mildew, brown rot, etc. Some of them are listed below:
Aphids: These tiny, sap-sucking insects can distort new growth and cause leaves to curl. Regularly inspect your apple tree for aphid infestations and use insecticidal soap or a strong blast of water to control them.
Codling Moth: The larvae of codling moths tunnel into apples, causing internal damage. To prevent infestations, use pheromone traps to monitor adult moth activity and apply appropriate insecticides during their vulnerable stages.
Apple Maggot: These small, whitish larvae create holes through apple fruit, leaving trails and causing fruit drop. Use sticky traps and insecticides targeted at apple maggots to control their population.
Powdery Mildew: This fungal disease appears as a white powdery coating on leaves, stems, and fruit. Adequate air circulation and regular applications of fungicides, such as sulfur-based products, can help manage powdery mildew. You can also try home-based fungicides–some of the DIY recipes are here!
Apple Scab: A common fungal disease that manifests as scaly, dark lesions on leaves, fruit, and stems. Opt for disease-resistant apple varieties and apply fungicides, such as those containing copper, during the growing season to prevent apple scabs.
Fire Blight: This bacterial disease causes blackened, dead branches and cankers on apple trees. Prune affected branches promptly and disinfect tools between cuts to prevent spreading. Copper-based sprays can also be used during the dormant season as a preventive measure.
The good news is–apple tree care in a pot is fairly easy and manageable. You can easily keep an eye on these pests and diseases and take appropriate measures on time.
Pruning Apple Tree
Pruning is an essential part of apple tree care. But a dwarf apple tree requires less pruning than a semi-dwarf or standard-size tree. Pruning must be done to control the shape and size of your plant.
Dead, damaged, or diseased branches must be pruned from time to time. Also, prune off the branches that are crossing each other or growing inside towards the main trunk. The best time for pruning is late winter and spring, and the well-trained specimens can be lightly pruned in summer.
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Pollinating Apple Tree
Most apple tree varieties require cross-pollination to fruit, which means you have to buy at least two apple trees. But the best way to avoid this is to search for a self-fertile variety.
Picking Flowers and Fruit Thinning
Dwarf apple trees start to produce flowers in 2-3 years. In the first flowering year, remove all blooms to prevent the tree from setting fruits. This way, you’ll allow the plant to direct its energy into growing.
Fruit thinning allows the plant to grow better-quality fruits. Wait for a few weeks after fruit setting and remove the fruits that are growing too closely.
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Harvesting Apple Tree
The apple tree will be ready to grow fruits fully in 3 to 7 years. When ready to harvest, pick one apple from the tree and taste it to know whether the rest are ready to harvest or not. Do not pull the fruit vigorously from the tree, as it might damage the stem. Instead, twist it in a rotating motion technique.
You can store them in a refrigerator for up to 6-8 weeks. Otherwise, freshly picked apples taste heavenly, keep munching them daily and enjoy.