#ProPlantTips - How to Plant an Apple Tree!

#ProPlantTips - How to Plant an Apple Tree!

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There’s nothing more rewarding than growing and harvesting your own fruit. But, before the farm-fresh produce hits the dinner table, and even before the fruit starts developing, you’re going to have to tackle getting your new Apple tree planted and growing. 

There are some fairly easy steps you can follow in order to plant fruit trees successfully

  1. Choose Your Tree Wisely
  2. Unboxing
  3. Select Your Location
  4. Dig The Hole
  5. Remove the Tree From Its Container Apple Tree
  6. Place the Tree in the Hole and Backfill With Soil
  7. Water Thoroughly 
  8. Add Mulch
  9. Admire Your Work!

It really is that easy! But knowing the ins and outs of each step can make or break your tree’s chances of success! We break it all down for you below!

Off To The Right Start!

Choosing Your Tree Wisely

I know it’s tempting to pick the most scrumptious-looking fruit in the supermarket and say, “That’s the tree I want to grow.” The fruit isles in the grocery store are a great place to get inspiration, but when it comes to picking the exact cultivar, do future you a favor and quickly search which trees are most successful in your region

Your County Extension Office and the experts at Nature Hills will be happy to help you find the perfect tree for your climate and needs! Healthy Apple Tree

Another consideration is whether you have room for two trees. If so, then feel free to pick a variety that needs a pollination partner. If you were hoping to just have one tree, you’ll want to shop around for a self-pollinating fruit tree. 

Or try High-Density planting techniques by planting two different varieties in the same hole!

Your New Container Apple Tree - Unboxing

Your tree has arrived on your doorstep! The success of your new Apple tree starts right now! 

Once you’ve unboxed your new tree, inspect it and prepare it for the ground immediately (see below). If you are not able to do this right away, keep your tree in a cool protected place out of the heat.


Depending on the time of year, your container-grown plant may be dormant (sleeping for the winter). Trim any broken or bent branches or leaves. Reach out immediately to our customer service team right away if there are any concerns or questions, which should be addressed within the first 48 hours of arrival!


When you receive your container-grown plant, unwrap the pot and submerge it (pot and all) in a bucket of water until it stops bubbling. Then take it out and let the excess water drain away.

Time to Plant - Container Grown Apple Trees

1. Select Your Location

Next to selecting the tree, deciding on your location is the most important factor in determining your success. 

First off, you need a location that isn’t in a low area where cold air can settle. Making sure your newly planted tree has good air circulation is important as well. There are plenty of reasons why, learn more about them here.  Apple Tree in Sun

Also and most importantly - your tree needs sun! Provide a location with at least 6 hours of full, direct sunlight a day or more for the most profuse flowering and therefore, the most fruit! Preferring morning sunlight to dry the leaves of dew will (in combination with good air circulation and proper pruning) help reduce the chances of foliar diseases.

If you don’t have well-drained soil, you’ll want to either mound up a pile of native soil from elsewhere in your yard to about 18 inches above the soil line or find a new spot. If you’d like to know more about determining the drainage in your soil you can check out our Garden Blog about it here

Apple trees will tolerate a wide range of soils, so long as water and nutrients are not limited and the pH level is adequate. Apple trees prefer slightly acidic soils over alkaline. 

2. Dig The Hole

This part is pretty easy in theory. Of course, anyone who has dug a fairly large hole knows the physical act is no walk in the park. But a word to the wise to always check with the Diggers Hotline in your area first! digging a hole

When you’re ready to start digging your hole, you’ll want to have a rough idea of how big your tree’s root ball is. The hole should only be as deep as the root ball, and not deeper - and twice as wide as needed. (It is of the utmost importance not to plant your tree deeper than it was growing in the pot.). Accommodating the entire root system means digging your fruit tree hole twice as wide as it is deep. If you’re digging 12 inches down, you’ll want to dig your hole two feet wide in diameter. 

How big should I dig the hole if I don’t have the tree in front of me? If you’re getting a head start on the labor, you might find yourself digging before the tree is there for measurements. In these cases, we suggest digging as big of a hole as possible. You can always backfill with soil if it turns out the hole is too big. Check here for approximate container sizes!

3. Place the Tree in the Hole and Backfill With Soil

Once you’ve removed your tree from its plastic container (you may need to gently cut it away if roots are growing through the drainage holes), you’ll want to gently tease its roots apart. placing a tree in a hole

We like to fill the hole with water to prime the soil and hydrate it. Let that water drain away before setting your root ball into the site. Don’t forget to sprinkle Nature Hills Root Booster at the bottom of your planting hole for an extra life-long boost. Arrange the roots out and spread them gently so they’re not all growing in one direction.

While situating the roots, keep an eye on the top soil layer and surface roots of the tree. They should sit no lower or higher than where it was initially planted in their container. Once you’ve got your tree placed, go ahead and backfill the roots with soil and pat down well. 

4. Water Thoroughly 

Take a moment to step back and admire your hard work! You planted a tree, nicely done! But the job isn’t finished yet.

Like all newly planted trees, you’ll want to grab the hose and water it in very well. Do not wait to perform this step! The first thing to do is it gives your tree a nice long drink, which it’ll watering a tree appreciate after being planted. The water will help to get rid of any remaining air pockets. Air underground near the roots can cause all kinds of problems and will generally make your tree unhappy. 

Slowly saturate the soil with the hose running at about half rate with no nozzle. As the entire root area soaks, the dirt may settle and you might need to add a bit more soil in some areas. 

5. Top Off With Mulch

Your first instinct might be to reach for the fertilizer. We’re going to gently encourage you instead to reach for a bag of mulch. Your fruit tree doesn’t need any kind of additives to the soil but a layer of mulch over the soil surface will help maintain the moisture and buffer the soil temperatures, keeping roots cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. mulching a tree

Our general rule of thumb is to add a 3-4 inch layer of arborist mulch/wood chips over the roots starting about an inch away from the base of the tree's trunk. (No mulch volcanoes please!) It works like a charm!

How to Plant Bareroot Apple Trees

Planting Bareroot Apple Trees is a piece of cake and you won’t have to worry about hauling around heavy containers of soil. Bareroot plants are light and very transportable! 


When you order bareroot plants, they arrive without soil in a dormant (sleeping/hibernating) condition. This is a very safe, time-tested way to transport trees.

Bareroot Apple trees will arrive wrapped in a bag with packing materials to keep the roots moist. If you ordered more than one, bareroot plants may be bundled together. This helps protect your plants during shipping.

Bareroot Unboxing and Storage

Try to plant your bareroot tree the day you receive them. If you can't plant right away, open the bag and sprinkle the roots with water daily until they can be planted. Always keep the plant roots moist and covered with plastic or moist mulch. Re-cover the roots with the bag, and keep them in a cool, shady place, such as a garage floor. Keep storage time to a minimum.

If you must keep bareroot plants stored for over a week, dig a small trench in a shady location. Plants that have arrived and the unpredictable weather in your area is too cold to plant immediately, the tree can remain in a cool, protected location. Or it can be planted in a container for the winter and kept in an unheated garage, shed, or three-season porch. Just don’t let the roots dry out, and be sure to keep them covered and moist. 

Or, place the roots in the trench and cover the roots with soil. Keep the roots moist until you can plant. 

Planting Bareroot Apple Trees 

Planting bareroot is very similar to container trees, with just a few exceptions:


  1. Select the location and test soil as mentioned above for container plants. Dig a hole about twice as wide as the root ball and about the same depth as the roots are long.
  2. Check the lower portion of the tree, just above the roots, for a slight change in bark texture and color. This is your graft and you can sometimes see the actual graft as a bump. This graft line should be slightly above the soil once planted. Don’t worry about this bump, it will smooth out and disappear seamlessly into the trunk as the tree grows and matures.
  3. When planting bareroot trees, you’ll want to make a mound in the center of your hole and place the tree on top of that mount with the roots spreading out evenly across the mound. This helps keep the root growth separate and growing in different directions. Don’t forget the Nature Hills Root Booster!
  4. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then add the tree to the hole with the roots down. Backfill the native soil over the roots and tamp down gently, making sure not to plant any deeper (or shallower) than just below the graft line. 
  5. Soak the soil all around the plant and then cover the soil surface with a 3-4 inch layer of mulch, that extends 2-3 feet out from the trunk. Keep mulch away from the actual trunk. No mulch volcanoes, please!
  6. Give your new addition plenty of TLC. Keep a regular watering schedule to let the plant establish itself during its first year!

Don’t let the initial look of bareroot trees scare you off! They may take a bit of patience, but the end results 6-8 weeks later are healthy plants at an excellent value. 

It can take up to 5-6 weeks after you plant your new bareroot plant for it to break dormancy and produce buds, which will depend upon the temperature your new bareroot plant is experiencing. This is completely normal! 

Watch your new tree closely for signs of life and keep them watered. They can be late to emerge in spring while they focus on establishing their roots!

Easy Peasy Apple Trees!

Ok, now you can step back and admire a job well done. Continue watering when needed over the next year while it establishes itself. We recommend checking daily at first using the Finger-Test Method during its first summer. Remain patient while your new Apple Tree readies itself to be your apple tree productive produce provider!

Growing and caring for your Apple tree, both new and established, is super easy! Apple trees are a fun and rewarding experience for the home gardener and yield delicious fruit that can be enjoyed by everybody! 

Check out our Garden Blog for information on Dwarf Apple Trees and Pruning your Apple Tree to enjoy a long and successful Apple harvest!

We’re here with you every step of the way! Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to Nature Hills' expert customer service team and horticultural staff for assistance! We want you to enjoy your new Apple tree for years to come!

Happy Planting!

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