Apple Tree Root System

Apple Tree Root System

Introduction To Apple Tree

Apple is one of the most common fruits present in every part of the world and is a product of Apple tree which belongs to the family of rose, that is, Rosaceae. Apple is a native of central Asia where its wild parent, that is,  Malus sieversii, is still found. Apple is the oldest cultivated tree in Europe and it was brought to America by the European colonists and they’re are now cultivated in Australia and New Zealand as well. Apple trees grow in the Temperate regions. It grows best in the regions having cold winters and even summers with medium to high humidity. Apple fruit is used in cooking, eaten raw and as apple cider. Apple cider is a beverage made from apple which is unfiltered, unsweetened and non-alcoholic. Apple cider is popular in the United States and Canada. Apple was more famous in the sixteenth century than it is now. People used to serve Apple ale during winter season, especially on the occasions of Christmas and New Year.

Apple Tree

China is the largest cultivator of Apples in the world. In the year of 2011, China produced about 35 million tons of Apples alone which was nearly half of the apple production of the whole world. The USA produces 4.8 million tones and India produces 2.8 million tons of apple each year. While from a survey of 2014, the USA has proven to be the largest exporter of Apples earning $1,088,369,000 followed by China and Italy.

Apple trees usually grow from grafts where the rootstock determines the size of the tree and grafted branch called a ‘scion’, the apple variety. There is a season-specific growth pattern of roots in the apple tree. At the end of the first year,  a young apple tree can grow over 17,000,000 feeder roots, with a total length of over a mile long.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Plantae

Clade: Tracheophytes

Clade: Angiosperms

Clade: Eudicots

Clade: Rosids

Order: Rosales 

Family: Rosaceae

Genus: Malus 

Species: domestica 

Binomial name: Malus domestica 

Root System Of Apple Tree

Apple tree root system

After germination of the seed,  a taproot emerges to anchor the plant into the soil. Embryonic taproot dies after a few years of germination and root structure changes to wide spreading fibrous root system with only a few vertical,  deep anchoring roots. This forms a mass of the roots, with no distinct taproot. 

Types Of Roots In Apple Tree

Root types fall into two principal classes, that is, taproots and fibrous roots. 

Deep Taproots:

  • Apple trees generally contain a few vertical,  deep roots system that penetrates deep into the soil
  • These deep roots can reach the moisture reserves present deep into the soil to sustain the tree during times of drought and scarcity of nutrients. 
  • They also serve to anchor the tree to the ground during extreme weather conditions like storms et Cetra.
  • Within three years, under ideal soil and moisture conditions, a full-sized standard rootstock can grow vertical roots up to 20 feet deep. 

Fibrous Roots: 

  • The fibrous roots of Apple trees grow radically and horizontally from deep roots (Tapproots) and penetrate the soil in all directions away from the plant in search of moisture and nutrients horizontally. 
  • They are generally present close to the surface of the soil within the top 3 feet.

Feeder Roots:

  • Feeder roots grow off the fibrous roots and grow up to the top few millimetres of the layer of soil. 
  • The feeder roots of the apple tree usually compete for the water and nutrients with nearby plants and turf. 
  • The feeder roots are responsible for most of the water,  oxygen and nutrient uptake from the soil. 

Functioning Of Root System

Apple Trees

  • Apple tree roots follow a season-specific growth pattern during spring, summer, fall and winters. 
  • Apple tree roots consist of a deep taproot and lateral fibrous roots accompanied by smaller feeder roots. 
  • Taproot system is analogous to carrot, which is itself a taproot. Lateral fibrous roots have a spread of about twice the canopy of the apple tree. 
  • The spread is controlled by favourable soil conditions. 
  • Fine feeder roots develop from the lateral fibrous roots to take up nutrients from nearby surfaces. 
  • During extreme climate conditions,  for example, drought, the taproot can reach deep moisture reserves to sustain the tree. 
  • The rootstock of an apple tree will determine how large the mature tree will become,  how quickly it will set fruits, and also how slow or defined the root mass will grow, with some rootstock being more persuasive than the others. 

The variance of Root Growth in different seasons

apple tree flowers


Rapid root growth is experienced, as both fibrous and feeder roots spread, taking up water and nutrients to support apple tree budding. Their growth ceases after the budding is completed. Apple tree puts all its nutrients and energy towards growing buds, leaves and fruits. A newly planted tree will not bear fruits for several years as it will divert all it’s nutrients and energy to establish a well-supportive root system. 

Summer :

 In the summer season, roots of apple trees are busy in supplying water and nutrients to developing fruits therefore roots don’t grow. Moreover, those trees that do not have a well-established roots system become stressed at this time. Besides summer heat, the extra weight of the apple puts a strain on the tree as well as on the root system. 


 After the harvest, the apple tree begins the process of dormancy. Many feeder roots die but the lateral fibrous roots start to grow by using the stored energy of the apple tree. Root growth in fall helps to secure good Anchorage. 


The fibrous roots which started to grow after the harvest continue their growth till the time soil temperature is warm enough,  while the rest of the apple tree becomes dormant. Root growth is slow but steady and continued till the ground freezes. The advantage of the growth of roots in winter is that it does not experience any competition from other plants and turfgrass. 

Are Apple Tree Roots Invasive? 

  • Apple tree roots grow up to twice as large as the canopy and do compete for nutrients, water, and oxygen. 
  • Apple tree roots grow wherever their needs are met and spread to areas that hold nutrients and water and for this reason, they reach to different depths and lateral sides depending on the type of rootstock,  type of soil and environment. 
  • But apple trees are not invasive or aggressive and do not have the strength to cause foundation damage to homes or invade sewer pipes.

Factors Affecting Root Growth

Root growth depends upon soil composition, moisture, and nutrients content. Competition from the roots of the other plants and turfgrass also influence the apple root formation. This is why it is crucial to mulch the base of young apple trees in order to retain moisture and prevent shallow-rooted turf and weeds to grow around the apple tree and rob nutrients from the feeder roots otherwise they will stunt the growth of the apple tree when it needs the most in the first few years of the root development. 

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  1. Camille Goebel

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