How Tall Do Apple Trees Grow? Does It Vary With Different Varieties?

By Paul Smart •  Updated: 04/30/22 •  7 min read

How Tall Do Apple Trees Grow? Does It Vary With Different Varieties? Apples are one of the most widely eaten fruits in the world mainly because it can be grown in a wide range of regions and can be stored for many months in cool locations. So if you’re thinking of growing your own apple tree at home you may wonder how tall do apple trees grow?

The size of the apple tree is generally most affected by the rootstock to which the apple is grafted to. Dwarf rootstocks, which is what nearly every tree sold at your local garden center will be on typically will reach a height of approximately 12 to 15 ft. Semi dwarfing rootstocks typically reach a height of approximately 20 ft, and standard trees will reach a height of around about 30 ft.

The Heights given here are based on not restricting the growth of apple trees in any significant way.  However, the reality is that you can easily limit the size of an apple tree by regular pruning and maintenance of the tree which is a common practice among experienced gardeners.

There is a common misconception that fruit trees generally need large amounts of space because that is how they are grown commercially. However, for the home gardener, there are several distinct advantages associated with keeping the apple trees relatively small. 

Home gardeners, unlike commercial producers, ideally want to have a continuous harvest of different fruit whether they be apples or anything else, whereas commercial producers want to minimize the cost of picking by having all the fruit they are growing ripening at one point.  

For home gardeners to achieve this the best way is to keep a number of different varieties of fruit trees in your garden which can be done by keeping the trees relatively small. Additionally, reducing the size of the trees makes them easier to manage from the point of view of picking fruit from the tree, maintaining them, and also netting them to protect the fruit from birds.

The reality is that small fruit trees will often yield more edible fruit than larger ones for most home gardeners simply because they’re able to get the fruit before the birds do easily and bring it inside. One of the most efficient ways to minimize the space required per tree is to espalier the trees.   

How To Espalier Apple Trees

Apple trees are ideal for espaliers and the most common form produced is a T-structure. The T-structure can be adjusted to any height that you like however it is most common for people to have espalier trees that are approximately 6 ft tall.  

Espalier trees also can be placed directly against a fence or a wall, however, they can also be used to create walls within your garden to add structure. At my own house, I use them to border my vegetable garden creating an intimate space that is separate from the rest of the garden.

If you are creating a freestanding espalier tree it is best to put the support structure in place first before you plant the tree. In most cases, the support structure is created by placing posts in the ground approximately six feet apart. To provide the support for each tier of the espalier horizontal wires are run between the posts to which the tiers that the tree can be tied to later on.

The wires should ideally be approximately 1 ft apart in height which means that if you have posts that is approximately 6 to 7 ft tall you will end up with 6 tiers.

Once the support posts are in place the tree can be planted in between the two posts in a central position. Before planting the tree it is advisable to add additional compost to the soil to ensure that there are plenty of nutrients available for the tree. 

The timing of the planting of the trees should be in late winter or early spring depending on your specific climate the reason for this is that you will need to prune the tree hard to encourage the formation of the first tier of the espalier. 

In terms of tree selection, it is best to choose a small apple tree as this will better suit the espalier process. Additionally, a larger tree will generally be more expensive and will have the vast majority of the top of the tree removed in the process, so paying more for an advanced tree is simply not worth it.

Pruning The Apple Tree

Once the apple tree has been planted in position the central leader needs to be cut to a height that is approximately equal to the level of the first wire, so the height will be only 1 ft above the ground in most cases. 

This may seem drastic in some cases because you are removing the vast majority of the top of the tree, however, it is necessary to build the structure that you want. By cutting the tree at the height of the first wire what will happen is that the tree will produce 3 new shoots from around where the tree was cut.  These three shoots need to be allowed to grow throughout the growing season.

At the end of the growing season, the two shoots on either side of the main stem can be tied down to the wire to create the first tier in the espalier. The central leader should be left untouched until winter before being cut to the height of the second tier. This process will result in the tree repeating the process and producing another three new shoots which can be used to produce the next tier.

Over a period of several years, you will build up the number of tiers until you reach the maximum height of your support structure. Once this is achieved you will simply need to maintain the structure by removing any growth that does not fit within the tiered structure. This removal of the growth should happen throughout the growing season rather than in winter because it will reduce the amount of regrowth and make the tree easier to maintain.

When removing shoots that appear along the tiers it is best to leave approximately 1 to 2 inches of stem along the apple tree rather than cutting it all the way back to the tier. The reason for this is that pruning the tree like this will encourage the formation of fruiting spurs over time that are slightly away from the central stem. This will give space for the apples to form over time and you should end up with each tier been laden with apples.

The espalier process does require a little more pruning at different stages of the year however it does make it substantially easier to manage the tree which ensures that you actually get a harvest for your effort. Most espalier trees will produce approximately 30 pounds of apples, however, this can vary.

I hope you found this article useful and have great success growing your apple trees at home, if you have any additional comments or questions please leave them in the section below.

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Paul Smart