Site selection and apple tree planting


Site selection for apple tree planting – selection criteria

After you have decided you are going to plant apple trees, you need to decide where to plant them. Maybe you have a perfect spot in mind for your apple tree planting. Maybe you have no idea. Here are a few things to consider when choosing the location of either your orchard or nursery.

Soil type

Apple trees generally prefer moderately to well-drained soil. Generally loam type soils are the best. Trees can grow in clay or sandy soils, but may require extra maintenance for success. In clay soils, make sure that water will not pool where your trees are planted. In sandy soils, supplementing the soil before planting will improve results.


To guarantee soils remain well-drained, a slight slope is preferred for apple tree planting. If you are planting in a hilly area in cold climates, southern facing slopes are preferable to non-southern facing slopes. This helps extend the growing season and lessen the winter severity. In the spring, these slopes will be the first area to lose snow and thaw.


Apple trees require full sun. If you want good apple production you will need to either choose an open area or clear trees in the area you hope to plant.


The more accessible your trees, the easier they will be to maintain. This is especially important if you choose to plant a nursery. Small grafts require lots of attention, so the more accessible the better. When choosing where to place your apple tree planting, the decision is less clear. If you are going to plant a large orchard, then it should be accessible by tractor or ATV. If you are planting a smaller orchard or just a few trees, then plant them where you think they will best benefit your hunting or viewing.

Site Preparation for apple tree planting

If possible, site preparation should begin the fall before planting occurs, if planting in spring. This is more important for a nursery, but should be done for the orchard if possible. Just like planting a food plot, the first step is to get a soil test. This will let you know how much lime and fertilizer to apply. After you have the soil test, it is time to begin the weed suppression process. This starts with spraying the planting area with glyphosate. If possible, it is beneficial to till the planting area as well. This will minimize the amount of weeds that come up in the spring. After spraying and tilling, apply lime as suggested to bring the soil pH closer to 7. For fertilizer, a light application of general 10-10-10 is adequate to provide nutrients. It is important to apply fertilizer in the fall, as it is not suggested to fertilize at the time of planting.

Right before planting, or if you are unable to prepare the fall prior, you should again take care of the weeds in the planting site. We recommend a glyphosate application and mowing a few days prior to planting.

Creating your orchard or apple tree planting

Planting time

There are two general times to plant new apple trees: spring and fall. If you have the option, spring is the preferred choice. Trees are still dormant and are less affected by the transplant process. Weeds are also at a minimum right after the winter. In the fall, trees have less time to become established before winter hits.

In warmer southern climates, planting can begin in early to mid-March. In colder climates, trees can generally be planted as soon as the ground thaws. This is usually early April to early May.

Tree spacing

The spacing you need to leave between trees depends on the rootstock you choose. For standard size or Antonovka rootstock, it is recommended to plant approximately 20’ between trees and 25’ between rows. For Bud 118 or MM 111, it is recommended to plant approximately 18’ between rows and 20’ between rows for your apple tree planting. 

Hole size

The hole size should be adequate to plant the root structure without bending the roots. If a few roots are excessively long, it is better to cut them off than to fold wrap them around in the bottom of the hole. They should point away from the tree and extend outward in all directions. Also, if roots are damaged, cut them off. If your soil is very poor and you plan to amend it, make sure to dig a larger hole and leave room for the extra soil.

Apple tree planting and watering

When planting any tree that has been grafted, make sure that the graft union is 2” to 3” above the soil line after planting. If the union is planted below the soil level, it will eventually begin growing its own root system. When filling in soil around the base, make sure no air pockets are left. Each time you add soil to the hole, tamp it down lightly. Watering the tree lightly as you add soil helps you accomplish this. A 5 gallon water jug is a great tool for this. We prefer to use about 2.5 gallons per tree at planting.

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