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Imagine a cool, autumn afternoon with the fragrance of baked apple and cinnamon in the air.

We love apples – and we love apple trees! And there are few things better than having one right in your backyard so you can pick all the fruit you like.

How to grow an apple tree? It’s easiest to plant a young tree or sapling, but you can also germinate seeds or graft an apple cutting. And yes, you can grow apples in a pot!

Afterwards, maintain the tree through regular pruning and proper care. It’ll quickly become the apple of your eye – and one of your favourite trees in your garden.


About Apple Trees in Australia

The apple tree (Malus species) is a good old-fashioned staple in backyards – and boy, can they get old. Some apple trees can live for a century – or longer.

Are apple trees deciduous? Yep! They are a small to medium deciduous tree, with a short trunk and a wide, round canopy.

The tree has dark green leaves that are oval-shaped with a pointed tip. The leaves are greyish underneath due to some light “fuzz” (or microscopic hairs).

Typical apple trees will reach between 5–10m in height, while dwarf apple trees will reach 3m on average.

Most apple trees will produce bursts of white flowers in spring, which turn pink later in the season. After the flowers die off in summer, the foliage will deepen and provide shade for the tree to grow fruit.

Weather permitting, you’ll have apples ready for picking in autumn.


Benefits of Growing Apple Trees in Your Yard

beautiful blooming apple trees

Autumn doesn’t seem complete without a bunch of apples – sliced up, baked into pies, or made into crumbles. Both the fruits and the trees themselves are versatile and beneficial.

The typical apple tree planted in a backyard is of the Malus variety, or the domesticated apple. 

Besides the fruits, here are some benefits of growing apple trees:

  • Dense canopy for shade
  • Feature tree in the spring
  • Espalier plants for ornamentals on walls or trellises

For courtyards and narrow spaces, you can get columnar varieties such as the Ballerina apple tree. On the other hand, for small gardens, you can get dwarf apple trees.

You can even keep an apple tree as a bonsai with careful pruning!

Apple trees need a bit more patience than other fruit trees such as lemon or apricot, but they’re well worth it.


Apple Tree Varieties in Australia

Now – which apple variety should you grow? There are around 7,500 cultivars around the world and that’s quite a lot.

Start by doing some research and consulting your local nursery, garden centre, or gardening group. 

Find out what varieties are available in your state, and consider factors such as:

  • Climate
  • Available space
  • Existing ecosystem
  • Soil composition and pH
  • Water quality (hard water can affect soil nutrients)

The most prominent species of apple in Australia is Malus domestica, the cooking apple. It’s also common to find the smaller crab apple or wild apple.

Other popular types of apples in Australia include:

  • Red Fuji
  • Pink Lady
  • Royal Gala
  • Red Delicious
  • Early McIntosh
  • Golden Delicious
  • Granny Smith
  • Ballerina
  • Smitten


Growing Conditions for Apple Trees in Australia

golden delicious apples

When planting apple trees in Australia, you should ensure you have the proper growing conditions.

This gives your tree the best chance of reaching maturity and bearing fruit. So here’s some Apple Growing 101!


What is the best time to plant apple trees in Australia?

The best time to grow apple trees in Australia is in winter.

Apple seeds need cold to “start” them off, while young apple trees can focus on establishing themselves as they will be bare-rooted and dormant.


What are good soil conditions for apple trees?

Soil can actually make or break your tree’s ability to bear fruit.

Apple trees are quite picky about the ground they grow in. While they’re fairly adaptable, they prefer deep, well-drained soil such as loam.

Container-grown apple trees need a good-quality potting mix that isn’t too dense.

Any soil needs to be slightly acidic to neutral – aim for a pH of 6-7. A very low or high pH will affect fruit production.

You can purchase a soil test or check if your local garden centre can do a soil test for you.


How much sunlight does an apple tree need?

Granny smith apple tree

Position your apple tree where it gets full sun – at least 6 hours of direct morning sunlight. But keep it out of the way of strong winds.

Apple trees cannot tolerate extreme heat, and may not grow or produce fruit in coastal areas.


What climate do apple trees need?

Apple trees grow best in cold temperate to warm temperate climates.

Certain varieties can tolerate a sub-tropical climate, such as Tropic Sweet or Golden Dorsett. However, there’s a risk you may not get fruit.

This is because most apple varieties need a certain amount of time spent below 8ºC for the flower buds to break dormancy. Gardeners will often refer to this as “chill hours,” and without this cold period, your tree won’t produce fruit.

However, be mindful of too-low temperatures. Apple trees have a threshold of just 4 hours in -20ºC weather.


How to Grow an Apple Tree from Seed

Planting apple seeds in a pot

You can grow apples from seed, but it’s much trickier and takes longer.

It’s best to plant apple trees from seed during cooler months since they need cool, moist conditions to germinate.

You can mimic this through “stratification,” where you simulate the conditions they would naturally undergo in the wild.

Remove intact seeds from store-bought apples or purchase seeds from your local nursery.


Germinating seeds in the fridge

Place a layer of damp paper towels at the bottom of an airtight container. Spread the seeds out in a thin layer, then cover them with more damp paper towels.

Store the container in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. Moisten the paper towels every so often.

Once seedlings start to sprout, carefully transfer the healthiest ones into small starter pots. Water the potting mix thoroughly, and keep it moist but not wet.

Transfer the seedlings in their containers to a sunny window when leaves emerge.


Germinating seeds in starter pots

You can also plant individual seeds in small starter pots, and place a plastic bag over each pot. Store them somewhere cool, away from the sun, for about 1-2 months.

Transfer the seed pots to somewhere they can get 6 hours of morning sun. Water regularly, ensuring the potting mix isn’t too wet.

After a few weeks, you should see seedlings.


Transferring seedlings

Once the seedlings have reached around 15-20cm in height, choose the most robust ones. Note that apple seeds can take up to a year to fully germinate.

You can replant them in a larger pot or directly into the ground. Make sure they’re in a location that gets morning sun but is out of the wind.

Young apple trees will grow best away from other trees and in a higher location in your garden.

If you’re planting two apple trees of different varieties, keep them about 3–5m apart.

Water the young tree regularly to ensure consistent moisture without waterlogging. It will take your tree about 8-10 years to fully mature.


How to Graft an Apple Tree

Buds and leaves on successfully grafted apple tree.

Grafting involves propagating a cutting of a different cultivar onto your fruit tree. You can use a cutting from a regular tree size or a dwarf variety.

Growing apples through grafts is complicated and not always successful, though – so it’s not often done. But it can save space as you’ll only need one tree for cross-pollination.

Start by making a graft cut on the rootstock – meaning the host tree. The cut should be 5cm or more above the soil line so the host tree doesn’t grow roots around the cutting.

Attach the new graft with gardening tape or other appropriate adhesives. You can cover the point of contact with sphagnum moss to keep it moist and encourage attachment.

Eventually, the graft will attach itself fully to the host tree and the tree will begin bearing that fruit variety.


How to Plant an Apple Tree Seedling

It’s easiest to plant apple trees from a young tree or seedling. Check nurseries or garden centres in your area for available varieties.

Pick a spot that gets full sun without much wind. Make sure there’s sufficient space for the tree to grow – at least 3-5.5.m from any other trees or structures.

Dwarf apple trees will need just 1.2-2.4m of space.

You can amend the soil ahead of time to add nutrients or balance the pH. Remove any weeds and grass from the area so they won’t compete with your tree.

Carefully lift the tree out of its container and inspect the roots. Tease out any tangling and cut off any that are rotting or twisted.

If the roots are dehydrated, you can soak the root ball in water for 24 hours before planting.

Dig a planting hole about 60cm deep and twice the size of the root ball. Carefully place the plant inside and spread the roots a bit.

Fill the hole with loose soil, then gently but firmly press down to remove air pockets. You can create a low ring of soil or mulch around the plant to help direct moisture – just keep it away from the base.

Water the soil well, then continue watering once a week until the plant has matured.


How to Grow Apple Trees in a Pot

You can plant trees in pots, but you’ll need to look for dwarf apple varieties.

Some options include Super Dwarf Golden Delicious, Leprechaun Granny Smith, Australian Beauty Dwarfing, and Dwarf Red Delicious.

Choose a pot that’s about 400-600mm wide. Terracotta pots are more porous and airy, but dry out quickly and get heavy. Try to look for glazed ceramic pots or HDPE plastic pots.

Make sure the pot has sufficient drainage so you don’t risk root rot or other issues.

Fill the pot with well-draining potting soil about 1/3 of the way. Go for a mix that has peat moss, perlite or vermiculite, and coco coir.

Remove the young fruit tree from its container and gently tease the roots. Cut away any that are rotting or circled.

Position the plant in the middle of the pot and fill it the rest of the way with potting mix. Gently firm down the soil and water well.

You can layer a bit of organic mulch around the edges of the pot to help retain moisture.


How to Water an Apple Tree

A gardener waters a young apple tree with red apples from a hose with a sprinkler.

While young trees are establishing themselves, water them regularly so they have consistent soil moisture. Watch out for waterlogging, though!

Once the tree has started maturing, you can water deeply once a week for the first two growing seasons.

Older apple trees are more drought-tolerant thanks to their robust root system. They can subsist on 2-3cm of rainfall every 10 days in the growing season. 

If there isn’t any rain, check whether the top 20cm of soil is dry – that’s a signal the tree is thirsty. You can slow things down in late autumn to winter when the tree goes dormant.

When watering an apple tree, spray around the base of the trunk and not the tree itself. Getting the trunk wet could trigger fungi or mould growth.

Soil type can also affect watering times. Clay soil retains more moisture, while sandy soil allows more water flow. It’s best to check the moisture before watering – apples don’t like wet feet!

For potted apple trees, you may need to water more often since the potting mix could dry out more quickly.


How to Fertilise an Apple Tree

Established apple trees don’t need much fertiliser. You can apply a slow-release fertiliser in early spring to encourage fruiting, or in autumn after all the leaves have fallen to feed the tree over winter.

If you’re looking for fertiliser for apple trees in Australia, try Jobe’s Fertilizer Spikes for Fruit or Scotts Osmocote Plus Organics Fruit & Citrus.

However, one of the best fertilisers for apple trees is mulch! 

Nutrient-rich mulch breaks down slowly and has many benefits, such as:

  • Retained soil moisture
  • Regulated soil temperature
  • Natural weed suppressant
  • Minimised risk of nutrient spikes

How to mulch your apple tree? Layer the organic matter in a doughnut shape around the trunk – keeping it at least 15cm away from the base to prevent fungi and mould.

Change the mulch if you notice signs of rot, decay, or mould.


Pruning Apple Trees in Australia

 pruning an apple tree

It’s essential to prune apple trees to encourage growth and maintain their health. 

Trimming also helps keep them at the appropriate height or shape.


Why prune an apple tree?

Regular pruning benefits your trees in many ways, including:

  • Removing dead branches
  • Preventing fungal diseases
  • Training tree size and shape
  • Promoting good air circulation
  • Ensuring better nutrient concentration


When to prune an apple tree in Australia

You should prune your apple tree in late winter (or very early spring at the latest) while the plant is dormant

The low growth activity means the tree can concentrate on healing the “wounds” with minimal risk of bacteria.

You can also prune in summer, but only after the tree has fruited. Never prune while the tree is developing fruit.


How to prune an apple tree

In the first few years, trim more for shape and size. Cut off any crossing or congested branches to maintain a neat crown.

For older apple trees, you can thin out around 20-30% of last year’s growth.

Use shears or loppers to cut small branches up to 3cm thick. Anything larger will need a garden saw.

Start by removing any dead, diseased, or old branches. Then trim off branches that stick out of the canopy. Finish by pruning any internally congested branches to open up the canopy to more air and sun.

If you need help, check for reliable trimming services in your area!


Harvesting Fruit from Apple Trees

harvested apples from apple trees in a farm in Australia

If you’ve done everything right and are seeing fruit development, it’s time to prepare for harvest season!


How long does it take for an apple tree to bear fruit?

Apple trees, like many fruit trees, need a lot of patience. Your standard apple tree can take up to 8 years before bearing fruit, while dwarf trees can start fruiting in about 2-3 years.

Do you need 2 apple trees to produce fruit? Yes – you’ll need at least one other apple variety within pollinating distance (less than 700m) to ensure fruit.

Bees, birds, and other pollinators will cross-pollinate between trees, which allows them to create enough fruit for you to enjoy.


When to harvest apples in Australia

Apple-picking season in Australia generally runs from February to June, although some trees can fruit as early as January.


How to harvest apples from trees

Fresh apples are ready for picking when they’re fully coloured and feel firm, with taut skin. There should be no “give” or softness if you press or squeeze the fruit.

Don’t be deterred if the apple doesn’t look shiny – unwaxed, organically-grown apples often have a dull sheen, especially after rinsing.

To harvest apples, simply take the apple in hand and twist gently. The fruit should break off from the branch easily.

You can test for ripeness by picking one apple and cutting it open. If the seeds are dark brown, that means your apples are ripe. Lighter-coloured to white seeds indicate the tree needs more time.

After that, simply pick apples at your leisure and enjoy the delicious fruit.


How to store apples

Early-season apples will not keep, so they’re best for fresh eating or preserving. Mid and late-season varieties will keep longer.

Ensure fruit quality before storage. Do not store apples that have bruises or nicks, as these could invite rot.

Wrap the apples in newspaper, brown paper, or paper towels. Place them in trays that allow good air circulation. Then store the trays somewhere dark, cool, and well-ventilated.

You can also freeze apples in chunks, dehydrate them in slices, or process them into a stew.


Common Problems with Apple Trees in Australia

Apple trees are unfortunately prone to certain pests and diseases. It’s important to identify problems and know how to treat them.

The best prevention for diseases and pests is proper care when growing apple trees. This ensures they can resist disease or recover more easily.


Powdery mildew

powdery mildew on an apple tree

If you’re wondering how to treat white fungus on apple trees, that’s likely powdery mildew! It’s a common fungal disease on apples, as well as pears and quince.

Symptoms of powdery mildew include dense, white “fuzz” (mycelium) on leaves and branches, or a white powdery coating on the fruit.

Cut off any diseased buds and branches immediately so the mildew doesn’t spread. Apply a fungicide on affected areas if necessary.

You can prevent powdery mildew and other fungal diseases by avoiding watering overhead or directly on the trunk. Keep mulch away from the base so the decomposing organic matter doesn’t encourage mould growth.


Cedar apple rust

This is most common in cooking apple and crabapple varieties. Cedar rust won’t kill your tree, but it will damage it.

If there is a red cedar tree within 1.6km of where apples grow, the spores will travel over in early spring. You’ll recognize cedar rust by red spots on apple leaves and deformed fruit.

Choose cedar rust-resistant varieties where available. If not, apply preventative fungicides once the buds break.

Alternatively, you can use bio-fungicides that contain Bacillus subtilis so you don’t kill beneficial insects.


Apple scab

This is a disease caused by Venturia inaequalis, a fungus that attacks the leaves and fruits. It can seriously affect fruit quality and yield if uncontrolled.

To identify apple scab, look for pale yellow or green spots on the tops of leaves. If your tree is flowering, the stalks will have black patches and will eventually shrivel.

On fruit, it looks like black spots that grow to become brown and cork-like.

You can treat apple scab with fungicides. Check with your local council for any spray programs.


Fruit tree pests

aphids on apple tree

Common pests that attack apples and trees include aphids, apple maggots, codling moths, and fruit flies.

Netting will help keep pests away from your apple tree, as will preventative insecticides. Organic pesticides containing pyrethrin are best for fruit trees.


Bitter pit

Bitter pit is a nutritional disorder that develops if the apple tree doesn’t get enough calcium from the ground, usually due to excess nitrogen or low soil moisture.

Bitter pit appears as brown spots on the apple fruit’s skin and flesh. You can prevent the disease by testing soil nutrition balance and using an appropriate fertiliser to restore nutrients.

You can also apply foliar sprays of calcium during the growing season.


Yellowing leaves

The foliage of apple trees naturally turns yellow in autumn, and yes, the tree will lose its leaves in winter. 

If your leaves are yellowing at other times of the year, it could be sunburn or a soil pH imbalance.

You can amend soil by adding sulphur to lower pH, or lime to raise it. For sunburn, try some horticultural netting to shelter the leaves.

About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.


About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.