Apple Tree Guide: Appearance, Uses, and How to Grow Them

Published January 31, 2019
Red apples in bin in sunny orchard

Apple trees are the stuff that legends are made of. From the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve to the folklore that is Johnny Appleseed, the fruit of the popular deciduous tree is known the world over. Whether you are looking to add the tree to your property for shade, fruit or beauty, your investment will likely pay off in spades provided you can care for it properly.

Appearance of the Tree

Apple trees are hard to miss in the fall when thick groups of the popular fruit cling to branches at harvest time. While Apple trees can grow as tall as 40 feet, most are pruned to about 10 feet to make it easier to pick the fruit. Farmers and other commercial growers often select dwarf species so they can remove the apples by hand instead of employing special machinery to pluck the fruit from tall branches. Other distinguishable characteristics of the Apple tree include:

  • Bark: The bark found on most types of Apple trees is grey in color. In addition, the bark typically sports bumps, scales or ridges.
  • Leaves: Broad, flat, oval and green. The leaves of the Apple tree are simple. They are not lobed, though some tree types have fine teeth around the edges.
  • Flowers: The blossoms of the Apple tree are white and delicate with a hint of pink around the tips. Apple tree flowers bloom in the spring and typically feature five petals per blossom.
  • Fruit: The apple is an edible round fruit which contains small seeds. There are thousands of different types of apples which have varying tastes and colors, including green, yellow, pink and dark red.

Another noteworthy characteristic of the Apple tree is its canopy of branches and leaves which is usually wider than the tree is tall.

Apples Growing On Tree Against Sky

Apple Tree Types

There are more than 7,500 types of Apple trees worldwide. The trees are grown mainly for their versatile fruit which ranges in taste and color depending on the breed.

Among the most popular types of Apple trees are:

  • Red Delicious: Extremely popular in the United States, the apple is crisp and has a thick skin. Its flavor is sweet with a touch of tartness. It can be eaten raw or featured in baked goods.
  • Granny Smith: This tree produces green apples that are more tart than sweet in flavor. The fruit is typically used in pies and sauces.
  • Gala: The fruit of this tree is creamy yellow in color and features a mild, sweet taste.
  • McIntosh: Named after Canadian farmer, John McIntosh, the apple is a crossbreed which features some green spots even when fully ripe. This type of apple is typically used to make pies and juices.
  • Rome: The tree originated in Rome, Ohio, and is known for its round, fleshy, red apples that sport a greenish hue. Rome Apples are used for baking, though they can also be eaten raw.
 Group of apples

Other common types of Apple trees include:

  • Braeburn
  • Cortland
  • Empire
  • Honeycrisp
  • Fuji
  • Jonathan
  • Pink Lady
  • York

The Many Looks of an Apple Tree

Apple tree
Typical apple tree orchard
Apple trees
Apple Blossoms In Spring
Apples Hanging On Tree
Bark of an apple tree

Where the Apple Grows

Contrary to popular belief, the United States is not the leading producer of apples in the world. In fact, China grows roughly 30 percent of all the apples on the planet. The country's cool temperatures and moist soil foster the growth of massive apple orchards. In addition to Asia, various other countries also cultivate apple trees in large numbers, including:

  • Iran
  • Turkey
  • Russia
  • India
  • Italy

Southern Canada's climate is also conducive to Apple tree growth; however, the United States beats its northern neighbors when it comes to commercial apple production. The states that harvest the most apples are:

  • Washington
  • California
  • Pennsylvania
  • New York
  • Michigan
  • Virginia
  • Illinois

Since Apple trees prefer a cool, dry climate, you won't find the fruit growing in the tropics or above the Arctic Circle.

Popular Uses

The most popular use for the Apple tree is consumption. The tree's fruit can be eaten raw or cooked in a variety of dishes, such:

  • Apple Pie
  • Pies
  • Cakes
  • Tarts
  • Muffins
  • Dumplings
  • Sauce
  • Preserves
  • Butter
  • Pudding
  • Bread
    Apple Pie With Lattice Crust on a Rustic Wooden Crate

In addition, apples can be made into beverages from juice to wine and cider.

Other uses for Apple trees include:

  • Chips: The sweet-smelling wood of the Apple tree is often cut into chips and used to smoke meat. Wood chips from the tree are also used in mulch as a nutrient for soil.
  • Medicine: The malic and tartaric acids present in apples make the fruit a popular elixir. Apple cider vinegar, in particular, has been found to relieve sinus infections, acid reflux, and sore throats. In addition, apple cider vinegar is also featured in some diet products to assist in breaking down fat.
  • Furniture: Wood from the Apple tree is often used to build tables, doors, handles, cabinets, bars, and frames.
  • Beauty Products: Apples are used in a litany of beauty products, including shampoo, lotion, and facial creams. In addition, apple cider vinegar is often added to hair conditioners to remove soap residue and improve scalp circulation.
Baked Dehydrated Apples Chips

Interesting Facts

Apple trees have been grown for thousands of years, though they didn't land on American soil until European colonists brought them over in the 1600s. Prior to that, the trees made a name for themselves in Greek mythology and in the Bible where the apple is referred to as the "forbidden fruit" in the Book of Genesis.

Christians believe that Eve tempted Adam with an apple, and when he gave in, man fell into sin. Consequently, the larynx is often referred to as the "Adam's Apple" because of the notion that the fruit got caught in Adam's throat as he tried to swallow it.

Over the years the apple has also become the symbol of knowledge and immortality because of the fruit's function as an antioxidant. People, who grow the tree in order to harvest the fruit for its many uses, should be mindful of its storage.

Picked apples should be stored in cool environments. A refrigerator that maintains a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit will help prolong the life of an apple. In addition, if you place apples in a refrigerator crisper, be sure to keep them away from vegetables since the apples give off gas that may spoil green, leafy veggies.

Hand of woman offering red apple to man

Apple Diseases

Despite their tremendous versatility, Apple trees are prone to a number of diseases that can cause significant damage. The most common Apple tree diseases are:

  • Apple Scab: In addition to being one of the most common diseases, it is also the most serious. The fungus is caused by excess water which infects leaves that fall to the ground. The disease is then spread to new leaves in the spring when the fungus spores are blown in the wind.
  • Fire Blight: This bacterial disease afflicts the Apple tree's twigs and branches. An infected tree will have open black cankers that ooze a thick, brown liquid.
  • Powdery Mildew: The white fungus attaches itself to the undersides of leaves. As the disease spreads, it causes leaves to wilt and twigs to turn black.
  • Cork Spot: This disease is caused by low soil pH and calcium deficiency. It appears as small spots on the skin of young apples. If not treated, the spots can spread and grow into corky scabs.
Apple leaves infected and damaged by fungus

In addition to the aforementioned diseases, Apple trees are also susceptible to leaf-mining caterpillars, which eventually changes into moths and feed on the tree's needles until the foliage is completely ravaged.

Apple Care

You don't need a degree in botany to grow Apple trees on your property. The attractive and pleasant-smelling trees are aesthetically appealing as well as profitable. In order to make the most of your fruit tree investment, consider the following tips:

  • Watering: Young Apple trees need to be watered on a regular basis. In addition, the trees should be planted in a spot where it can get full sunlight.
  • Mulch: A fair amount of mulch should be placed at the base of the tree to fortify the soil. However, the mulch should be checked periodically so mice don't nest in it.
  • Pruning: Larger trees need more pruning than smaller ones. In addition, you can over prune a tree if you want to make it easier to reach the fruit.
  • Pesticide: Since the Apple tree is prone to so many diseases, you may be tempted to douse it with pesticide. Fortunately, you don't have to resort to chemicals to keep your fruit disease-free. Rather, select disease-resistant trees, such as Liberty, Freedom, Prima, and Priscilla. These varieties have been tested for years and have shown to be resistant to apple scab and other common diseases.
Red and steel garden secateurs pruning a tree in a garden

Keep Your Apple Trees Healthy

Finally, you should fertilize your Apple tree approximately three times per year with nitrogen fertilizers in order to keep it strong and healthy. When a tree is healthy, there is less chance of disease or pests overpowering it.

Apple Tree Guide: Appearance, Uses, and How to Grow Them