How to Grow a Dwarf Apple Tree
Dwarf trees typically grow the same-size fruit as you would expect on a traditionally sized tree, but they will yield smaller amounts due to less-dense branches. This smaller yield is ideal for small families who don’t want to waste unused fruit.
When selecting the type of dwarf apple tree, consider what you intend to do with the fruit. Visit Old Farmer’s Almanac for a comprehensive list of apples that tend to work well for baking, applesauce, and cider.
If you desire to plant a fruit tree indoors, consider a miniature version instead, which typically grows only 6 to 8 feet tall. Miniature versions normally won’t exceed your ceiling height, whereas a dwarf tree may. Due to their size and density of limbs, dwarf trees tend to produce more fruit than miniature varieties, although they won’t bear fruit for the first 3 to 4 years.
How to Plant Outside
- Find a sunny, yet sheltered location to protect your small tree from strong winds. Apples grow best in full sun locations that receive at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day.
- Inspect the roots prior to planting. If the roots are dried out, soak the plant in water for about 24 hours. Remove any broken or damaged roots with a pair of sterilized clippers.
- Dig a hole about as deep and about twice as wide as the size of the root ball. Toss a little loose soil back into the hole.
- Spread the roots apart gently, and place it on top of the loose soil. Backfill the hole, and tamp soil down around the roots to ensure good soil contact and no air pockets.
- Ensure that the graft union is 2 inches above the soil line. This is identified as the swelling portion where the scion meets the rootstock.
- Water the tree in thoroughly.
Avoid pruning the tree the first year of planting, as it limits fruit growth. After that, prune the apple true annually during the dormant season.
Prune by removing overgrowth, upright growing stems, and weak branches that grow beneath limbs. Shorten branches that hang down too low on the tree, and branches that appear to be “stubby”. Remove old branches to make room for new growth.
Remove broken or damaged fruit, and thin the plant mercilessly to encourage a fuller crop. Opening up the tree with aggressive pruning also helps reduce disease by increasing the amount of light and air that reaches the center of the tree.
If planting in the soil (not in a pot), ensure the area is thoroughly weeded for at least a 4-foot diameter.
Do not fertilize the tree at planting, or you could “burn” the roots.
Dwarf trees don’t have a very strong root system, and require some support to help keep the plant upright. Install a trellis or a strong stake next to the tree in order to keep the plant growing strong.
Most apple trees aren’t self-pollinating, so you’ll need to plant two different varieties of apple trees nearby. Even self-pollinating varieties tend to produce more fruit when pollinated by another type of apple tree.
Deter deer from nibbling on your tree by planting deer-resistant plants nearby. Deter mice and rabbits by installing a wire-mesh cylinder.
Remove leaves from beneath the tree at the end of the season to help reduce disease.
Trap apple maggots by hanging a "tangle trap" (a softball-shaped ball with red sticky goo) throughout the summer months.
How to Harvest & Store Apples
Apples mature at different times of the year depending upon the type of variety. Pick apples when the background color is no longer green. Apples will drop into your hand when you cup the apple and twist it around. Don’t worry if an apple is too ripe—you can always cook it!
Apples taste best right after harvest, but you’ll likely have to store a few. Avoid rot by ensuring the apples are unblemished. Wrap apples individually in newspaper or tissue paper, or unwrapped, but not touching each other. Store apples in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area such as a garage. Periodically check stored apples for rot or over-ripeness.