If you're new to growing apples, get started with our RHS Growing apple trees guide.
Apples thrive in a well-drained loam, at least 60cm (2ft) deep. Add well rotted organic matter before planting and mulch and water well through the growing season until the tree is growing well.
Shallow soils over chalk are unsuitable for growing all but a very few apples. Dessert apples need good drainage, but culinary apples are more tolerant.
Apples prefer a sheltered, frost-free position in full sun. You can still grow apples in frost prone areas, just choose later-flowering varieties or provide temporary protection in spring when apples are in blossom. Provide artificial or living windbreaks on exposed sites.
Apples tolerate shade providing they receive half a day’s sunshine in the growing season. Culinary varieties need less sunshine than dessert varieties.
Plant when dormant from late autumn until early spring for bare-root stock; containerised plants can be planted at any time of year, though the dormant period is preferred.
For detailed information, see our advice on planting trees.
Apples do not fruit well on their own, needing a pollination partner for optimum production.
A few apples are self-fertile but the majority require pollen from a different cultivar that flowers at the same time. Even those thought to be self-fertile fruit better in the presence of a pollinator. Apples are grouped into pollination groups according to when they flower. See the links below for a list of these pollination groups.
Where possible choose two different cultivars in the same or adjacent pollination groups and plant within about 20m (60ft) of each other. Certain cultivars known as 'triploids' (such as 'Bramley's Seedling') need a third cultivar nearby, as their pollen is ineffective at pollinating other trees. There are some incompatibility groups. Fruit in these groups are unable to set a crop either with their own pollen or with the pollen of any other cultivar within the same group.
However, in many gardens, it is just not possible to plant two apples of different cultivars for pollination. Many gardens do not have the space. This doesn’t mean you can’t grow an apple tree. Apples rely on insects for pollination, and there are so many apple trees growing in other gardens and public areas, there is a chance your apple could be pollinated anyway. Check if there are apple or crab apple trees growing in neighbouring gardens or public land.
Alternatively, consider growing a ‘family tree’ which has two or three cultivars grafted onto the same tree. These solve the problem of cross-pollination, but can be harder to prune, as the different cultivars often grow at different rates.
Hanging cut flowering shoots from another different, compatible apple in another garden, in jars of water in the boughs at flowering time is another way of introducing pollen.
Apple pollination groups (Adobe Acrobat pdf 58KB)