What Size Apple Trees to Plant? a Helpful Guide

Picking juicy apples from your backyard orchard is a rewarding experience. But before you rush off to buy apple trees, you need to consider how much space you have and how big the trees will grow. You also need to consider that it can take years for apple trees to start bearing fruit. So, some planning is needed. 

Before you start your apple journey, you need to consider two main factors – 

How much space do you have? and How much time do you have? 

For small to medium spaces, plant dwarf apple trees that grow to 8 to 10 feet, or semi-dwarf trees that grow to 12 to 15 feet. They will produce fruit within 3 to 4 years. For larger spaces, you can plant standard apple trees that grow 30 feet or more. They can take up to 8 years to produce a crop.

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Different rootstocks grow to vastly different sizes and you don’t want to find that your trees are too large for your property. They also bear fruit years apart, so a lot will depend on how soon you want to start harvesting your fruit. 

When to choose different tree types (dwarf, semi-dwarf, standard)

Let’s look at the different types of rootstocks.

Dwarf – Dwarf apple trees are ideal for smaller homesteads. They grow 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. Dwarf trees will bear fruit within 3 to 4 years. 

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Semi-dwarf – Semi-dwarf trees grow slightly larger than dwarf trees and can reach sizes of 12 to 15 feet tall and wide. They bear fruit within 3 to 4 years. Choose semi-dwarf trees if you have a medium-sized property.

Standard – These are the largest trees and can grow to heights of 30 feet or more if left unpruned. Standard trees will bear fruit within 4 to 8 years. Choose standard trees if you have large amounts of space to establish your home orchard. 

How much space does each type of tree need

At minimum, you need two apple trees to ensure pollination and production of fruit. Even if your variety is self-fruiting, your apple crop will be healthier and tastier when your tree has a pollinating partner. 

Apple trees must be planted with sufficient space between them to allow the branches to spread. This ensures that they receive enough sunlight and adequate airflow. Apple trees need 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. Trees that are crowded together will shade one another, and this encourages pests and diseases to attack your trees. 

Before planting apple trees, you need to take into account the space needed between the trees. Here is a table showing the best spacing for each type of rootstock.

Type of RootstockSpace Needed Around The Tree
Dwarf10 feet 
Semi-dwarf15 feet 
Standard30 to 35 feet

The space between the trees should be maintained all around the tree. Take into account boundary walls, fences, structures, and other trees on the property. If you are planting many trees in rows, each row must be spaced out, as well as each tree within the row at the recommended distance. 

Here is an example of how to space your trees. For a property that is 60 feet long by 40 feet wide, you can plant 15 dwarf trees spaced out at 10 feet on all sides. 

  Plant your dwarf trees with 10 feet of space on all sides 

If you are not planning on planting a large number of trees, you can, for example, plant only 2 standard trees on a smaller property, provided that they have enough distance between them for growth. 

Planting full-size trees vs small trees vs growing from seed

Apple trees can be established on your home farm from

  • Full-size trees
  • Small trees (saplings)
  • Seeds

Let’s take a look at the considerations of each

Full-size trees

The obvious benefit of planting a full-size tree is that you don’t need to wait for it to bear fruit. You can have apples ready to harvest within a year. This benefit comes with a few caveats though.

Full-size trees are the most difficult to deal with. They are very expensive and need to be transported with great care.

Planting a full-size tree may even require using a crane to lift it off the truck and place it into the hole you have prepared.

There is always the chance that a full-size tree may go into shock after transplanting. This could cause some branches to die, and in severe cases, the tree may not survive. 

Small trees

Small apple trees can be bought from a local nursery or online. The nursery will graft the rootstock and tend to the trees until they are around 1 to 2 years old. They will then be made available for purchase.

These trees often come bare-rooted and roots will need to be kept moist until you are ready to plant them. You also have the option of buying potted trees that have established roots.

One-year-old trees are known as maiden trees and cost less than two-year-old trees. They are usually unpruned when you buy them.

Two-year-old trees are more expensive. They usually come pruned into a chosen shape, such as standard, bush, or espalier.

Small, established apple trees will provide you with fruit faster than planting a tree from seed. If well-tended and pollinated, your small tree should start to fruit within 1 to 2 years after planting. 


Planting apple trees from seeds requires time and a lot of patience. You are also not guaranteed the type of apple variety you will get.

This will depend on the pollinating partners and you could be in for a surprise. Seeds need to be stratified for up to 90 days after which they begin to sprout.

Not all your seeds will sprout, so you need to have excess to start with. Once they have roots, you can plant them into small pots.

After 1 to 2 years, your trees are ready to be replanted into their permanent home. Depending on the rootstock, your apple tree could take 3 to 8 years to reach maturity. 

Final thoughts

For small to medium-sized backyard farms, your best choice is to plant dwarf or semi-dwarf size apple trees. If you have loads of space, you can plant standard-size trees. 

The most convenient size trees to buy are nursery-established small trees. Planting a full-size tree can be extremely expensive and risky. Growing apple trees from seed is only an option if you have loads of time and patience. 

If you have an average-size homestead and want a crop of apples as soon as possible, plant two-year-old semi-dwarf size apple trees that you have purchased from a reputable nursery.


Sam is an outdoor enthusiast, who loves spending time in the garden and learning about animals. His motivating forces are his wife and 5 beautiful children. When he doesn't get it right, he will go and try again!

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