Although fall is the best time to plant apple trees, bare root trees are
difficult to find during autumn. If you plan to plant bare root trees, early
spring when the soil is workable but temperatures are still cool is the best
time. Container grown trees can be planted any time during the growing
season if you provide them with sufficient water.
When planting bare root trees, hydrate the roots by soaking them in a pail of water for about an hour before planting. Using a sharp pruning shears, trim any broken or crossed roots and shorten all roots to about 18-inches long.
Dig a deep hole, two to three times the size of the root ball. Mix some of the soil with well-decomposed compost and add it to the hole. Gently spread the roots in the hole. Hold the tree in place, keeping the graft union 2 to 3-inches above ground. Otherwise, your dwarf or semi-dwarf will grow to standard size! Starting with the top soil, refill the hole with the soil you have extracted, removing air pockets as you fill by tamping the soil with your feet.
Bury a container-grown tree at the same level it occupied in the pot.
Hydrate your planting with one to gallons of water. Add additional soil to maintain the soil at the same level as that surrounding the hole. To help control weeds and conserve moisture, extend the diameter of your planting with a two to three inch layer of mulch applied about a foot from the tree trunk.
Trees generally need to be spaced as far apart as they will reach in height at maturity. In other words, dwarf trees need to be 8 to 10-feet apart and semi-dwarf trees need to be spaced 10 to 15 feet.
Stake new trees during the first year to prevent strong winds from dislocating them and causing them to grow at an angle. Dwarf apple trees have a weaker root system and may need staking for the life of the tree. Secure stakes to your trees with heavy 9-gauge wire, enclosing it with a piece of garden hose or other wrap to keep the wire from damaging the trunk.
Young trees are a favorite food of many small animals like rabbits and field mice. Protect your newly planted apple trees with a 15 to 18-inch piece of hardware cloth placed around the trunk. Push the hardware cloth about four inches down into the soil. As the tree matures, remember to remove it so that it doesn’t girdle the tree.