Enough space for apple trees?

hkeelsSeptember 30, 2012

Hi everyone,

I'm hoping you can help me determine whether I have enough space in my front yard to plant apple trees and, if so, what varieties you would recommend.

The space I have is about 20 feet by 25 feet. Do I need at least two trees, and is that enough space to fit two? What should I look for to make sure they will stay small enough to fit the space?

(One thing I'm confused about is: If a tree says it should be planted X feet apart, does that mean it also needs that much space between the trunk and the sidewalk?)

Thanks in advance for your help and suggestions.


Frederick, Maryland

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dmtaylor(5a (WI))

Given your space requirements, the most important thing you'll want to look at is the rootstock of the trees you want to get. Any good tree nursery will tell you the specific variety of the rootstock. If they won't tell you the rootstock, then you really don't know how big the tree will get. Dwarfing rootstocks such as M.9, B.9, G.11, and G.16 will max out at about 8-9 feet high and the same 8-9 feet across. Semi-dwarf rootstocks such as M.7, M.26, MM.106, or G.30 are more vigorous and will grow up to around 12 feet high and across. And there are other more vigorous rootstocks that will grow even bigger trees. So anyway... I think with a 20' x 25' space, you could have enough room for 4-6 dwarf trees, or just 2 semi-dwarf trees if you want them a little bigger and closer to "normal" size. And I am talking about the size of the tree branches, not the size of the fruits themselves. A dwarf tree will still produce big apples of a half pound size or whatever like normal; it is just the trunk and branches that will slow down growing after they reach maturity in 5-6 years. If you were to plant a seedling tree on its own roots, not grafted to any rootstock, then it doesn't ever really stop growing and could eventually grow 20+ feet high, and you'd only have space for one. So, you'll definitely want to pay attention to the rootstock if you want more than one tree.

For spacing, if you leave about 4-6 feet from the sidewalk to the trunk of any of your trees, you'll be just fine. Same goes for any other barrier such as a wall, fence, house, etc. About 4-6 feet and you'll be good for a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree. The thing to keep in mind is to envision how big the tree will be at maturity, and whether the fruit will hang over a place where you don't want it to be -- people walking past on the sidewalk might pick all of your apples on that side of the tree, for example, or your neighbors grab half your fruit that hangs over onto their property, etc.

As for varieties of apples, the choice is limited only by your climate, and the degree of sunlight versus shading in your yard. Apples need sunlight for at least half to 2/3 of the day to crop very well. If your trees would grow in shade for most of the day, they will probably still grow fine and produce a pretty looking tree, but not good crops. As far as climate, in Zone 7 you are fortunate as this is well suited to most any apple variety that you want. As long as your trees have ample water and sunlight, you'll be good to go with whatever you want.

Good luck, and have fun.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 12:03PM
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Thanks for the information. I was expecting to be limited to two dwarf trees, but now I am reconsidering whether I should consider semi-dwarf.

Height might be a consideration because there are power lines across the front of my yard and also a cable TV connection running to the house that droops down to a height of about 10 feet.

If I am OK with a small tree height/size, is there any other reason to consider semi-dwarf instead of dwarf? Are they easier to care for?

Also, the trees should be different varieties, right? I was thinking it would be a good idea to go for types that fruit at different times so I don't have so many apples all at once, and maybe one that's better for eating and one that's better for cooking. So I was thinking honeycrisp and granny smith, or maybe fuji. Do those all grow well as dwarfs?

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 12:32PM
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bob_z6(6b/7a SW CT)

One thing I would mention is that I have 2nd leaf (planted spring of last year) trees which have exceeded 9 feet already on G11 and G16. You should be able to keep them productively at 8-9' with pruning, but they can get larger on their own.

The negative to using dwarf rootstocks is that they can need more watering and support (staking). A heavy mulch of woodchips can really help on the watering (and weeding) though. On the positive side, they are generally more precocious (you don't need to wait as many years a couple of mine bore in their 2nd year).

Yes, you'll want 2 different varieties- both for pollination and for...variety. :) You can get any kind you'd like on a dwarf rootstock. You may want to consider disease resistant varieties as well. For example, William's pride is reputedly a good early (August) apple, while Goldrush is a great late (Oct/Nov) apple.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 12:57PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

In 20ft by 25ft I'd put 6 dwarf trees. So each tree would occupy a space of about 8ft by 10ft. This is perfect for an M9, M26, Geneva 11 or Geneva 16 size tree. Height can be kept to 8-9ft with a little summer pruning. That's the easiest size tree for a home owner to spray, thin, prune, and harvest.

I've had excellent results with M9 trees for nearly 40 years. There are newer rootstocks that may have better fireblight or woolly aphid resistance like some of the Geneva series. But M9 has always given me great apple trees.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 2:21PM
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Great advice above. Just wanted to mention that I personally have not seen a large choice in rootstocks or varieties at my local nurseries - though it might be different for you. I preferred to mail order through nurseries that specialized in fruit trees. They could also answer questions as to which varieties could pollinate each other or did well in my local growing conditions.

Also we are getting towards apple festival time around the country. These can be a great opportunity to talk with growers and taste apples that you might be unfamiliar with. There are varieties which are better for us backyard growers than the commercial growers. Have fun, there is nothing like reaching in your own trees to pick fresh fruit.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 4:16PM
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megamav(5a - NY)

If you decide to only plant 2 trees make sure neither are triploids. If you plant 3 trees, one can be triploid.
Do this research or you may be in for a non-pollination headache.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 8:37PM
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