Learn how to grow an apple tree in container in this article. Growing apple trees in pots require some care and maintenance that is given below.
How to Choose a Right Apple Tree
Growing apple tree from seeds is a bad idea. Instead, buy a dwarf or semi-dwarf grafted tree from a nursery. For choosing a right apple tree for your home you need to know a few things. Apple trees are grown from grafting on a rootstock as this has so many benefits. If you are unaware about apple rootstock grafting you might like to read more on this on the official website of Ministry Of Agriculture Food And Rural Affairs (Ontario) and a very informative article of Cornell University.
Basically, dwarf apple trees are those apple trees in which dwarf rootstocks are grafted to control their height, size and to improve fruit production and resistance against diseases and pests. When you go to a nursery or shop online, search for rootstock choices like M27, M26, Bud9, G16 or M9. Apple trees grown on these rootstocks are dwarf and don’t grow above 8 ft usually. You can also look for semi-dwarf trees it is also possible to grow them in containers.
If you want to know more about rootstock choices read this educational article on Pennsylvania State University’s website.
Buy Self Fertile Variety
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.
Consider Chilling Period too
In order to set flowers, apple trees require an annual cycle of cold weather in winter, which is 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.
If you live in a mild winter climate where simply choose low apple cultivars and if you live in a harsh winter climate choose high chill apple varieties. This simple will improve the productivity of your apple tree growing in containers.
Choosing a Pot
Don’t start growing apple tree in a too large pot initially. A standard size pot (5-6 gallon) that is 12 inches deep and wide is great to start with. Gradually change the size of the container each year 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 its vertical growth.
You can upgrade your pot in sequence, choosing one size bigger pot than the previous one each time. Keep in mind, don’t plant the plant in a too big pot directly. Once your apple tree in a pot reaches desired height that you wanted, 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 time to time to maintain it.
Requirements for Growing Apple Trees in Pots
Like other fruit trees, apple tree loves to grow in sun. For your potted apple tree, choose a sunny location but less windy. In hot summer days (in warmer regions, USDA Zone 8-9) move the container to a place that is shaded from the afternoon sun. Also, keep in mind you maintain good air circulation around your apple tree. If you are growing it on your balcony or rooftop garden, don’t place it very closely near the walls.
Growing apple tree requires cool winter and moderate summer. You can’t grow apple trees where the temperature remains the same or too hot. Apple tree can tolerate extremely low temperatures by going dormant in winter.
Growing apple trees in pots require regular watering. Generally, you should water more abundantly during the formation of flower buds and moderately all the other time, reduce watering in winter.
Water deeply to promote the growth of healthy roots. In any case, avoid the chance of overwatering the plant. Commonly the apple trees growing in containers die due to root rot that occurs in waterlogged soil and excess watering. Also, avoid overhead watering as wetting the foliage favors the growth of powdery mildew.
Apples prefer deep, fertile and well-draining soil, avoid waterlogging soil. On the ground, sandy loam to sandy clay loam soil is preferred. For growing an apple tree in a container use a potting mix that is rich in organic matter with slightly acidic to neutral pH (6-6.8).
Apple Tree Care
Fertilize your apple tree with half-strength balanced liquid fertilizer when the tree is young in every 2 weeks during the growing season. Apply any fruit fertilizer once the tree gets older. Start to reduce the feeding of fertilizers from late fall and stop fertilizing in winter.
Repot the young apple tree in a year or so. Repot in one size bigger pot, after spreading roots from sides and bottom.
When growing apple trees in pots you must know that during hard frosts and too cold temperatures you’ll need to protect the roots of the plant. For this, wrap the container with bubble wrap.
Pruning Dwarf Apple Tree
Pruning is an essential part of apple tree care. But a dwarf apple tree requires less pruning than 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 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 summer.
Most of the apple tree varieties require cross pollination in order to fruit, which means you have to buy at least two apple trees. But the best way to avoid this is to buy 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 in 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.
Pests and diseases
Apple tree in a container, unfortunately, hit by the same pests and diseases that target it on the ground. Aphids, moths, apple blossom weevil, scab, powdery mildew, brown rot and a few more. However, the plants in a container, usually are close to home, usually in a limited space so it is easy to take care of them.
To know about harvesting apples, read this article.