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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

Spring:

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. 

Fall:

 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. 

 Winters:

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. 

 

 

 

Apple trees usually grow from grafts, where the rootstock determines the size of the tree and the grafted branch, called a “scion,” the apple variety. Root growth is impacted by site selection and soil conditions, such as type of soil, moisture and nutrient content. Competition from the roots of other plants and turf grass also influence apple tree root development. The apple tree roots provide water and nutrients to the above ground tree, while the tree nourishes the roots by providing carbohydrates or sugars. Apple tree roots follow a season-specific growth pattern during spring, summer, fall and winter.

 

Apple Tree Root System

Apple trees roots consist of a deep taproot and lateral fibrous roots. The taproot is analogous to the carrot, which is a taproot. Lateral fibrous roots can extent to more than twice the spread of the canopy of the apple tree and are influenced by soil, water availability and competition from the roots of other plants. Fine roots develop from the fibrous roots to take up water and nutrients from the soil near the surface. During times of drought, the taproot is able to reach deep moisture reserves to sustain the tree.

 

Spring

Spring is a time of rapid root growth, as both fibrous and fine roots spread, taking up water and nutrients to support apple tree budding. Once the tree buds, the roots stop growing. After budding, the apple tree puts all its nutrients and energy into growing leaves and fruit. Newly planted apple trees will not bear fruit for several years, until the root system is well established.

 

Summer

Apple tree roots don’t grow during summer, since they are busy supplying water and nutrients to developing fruit. Some apple trees become stressed at this time if their root systems are not well established. Besides summer heat, the extra weight of apples puts strain on the tree and root system.

 

Fall

Once the apples are harvested, the apple tree begins the process of dormancy, starting at the top of the canopy. Many fine roots of the apple tree die, but the fibrous roots of the tree start to grow, using the apple tree’s stored energy. Root growth in fall helps to secure good anchorage of the apple tree.

 

Winter

Although the branches of the apple tree become dormant in winter, the fibrous roots continue to grow as long as soil temperatures are warm enough. Root growth is slow, but steady, and continues until the ground freezes. One advantage of apple tree root growth in winter is the lack of competition from other plants and turf grass.

 

 
Apple tree roots will grow where their needs are met and spread to areas that hold nutrients, water and oxygen. Apple tree roots grow to different depths and lateral sizes depending on the type of rootstock, type of soil and environmental conditions, but mainly grow more shallow and out laterally.

Apple tree roots can grow up to twice as large as the canopy is wide and compete for nutrients, water and oxygen with nearby plants. However, apple tree roots are not invasive or aggressive, and do not have the strength to cause foundation damage to homes or invade sewer pipes.

How Do Apple Trees Roots Form?

As apple trees germinate from seed, a taproot emerges to anchor the delicate plant into the soil. After only a few years, the embryonic taproot dies back while the plant is still young and growing and the root structure changes to a wide-spreading fibrous root system with only a few vertical, deep anchoring roots. This forms a mass of fine roots, with no distinct tap root.

Deep Roots

Apple trees generally contain a few vertical, deep roots that grow straight down into the soil. These deep roots are able to reach deep moisture reserves to sustain the tree during times of drought and mine for nutrients. They also serve to anchor the tree to the ground during extreme weather.

Within three years, under ideal soil and moisture conditions, a full sized standard rootstock can grow vertical roots up to 20 feet deep (6 meters).

Fibrous Roots

Apple tree fibrous roots grow radially and horizontally from the deep roots and penetrate the soil in all directions away from the plant in search of moisture and nutrients. They are generally close to the surface of the soil within the top 3 feet (1 meter). Fine root hairs develop from the fibrous roots to take up water and nutrients from the soil near the surface, called feeder roots, which branch out four or more times to form fans of mats of thousands of fine, short, non-woody tips measuring between 0.2-1mm in diameter, and 1-2mm long. These feeder roots are the source of the majority of water, nutrient and oxygen absorption for the apple tree.

Fun Fact: 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.

Feeder Roots

Feeder roots grow off the fibrous roots, and usually grow upward into the top few millimetres of soil. The feeder roots of apple trees will compete for water and nutrients with nearby plants and turf, which 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 base of the apple tree, robbing nutrients from the feeder roots. Grass and weeds that grow around the base of young apple trees will stunt the growth of the apple tree when it needs it most in the first few years of root development.

Root systems with few feeder roots or dried root systems can slow shoot growth until an active system of feeder roots can be established, since these feeder root are responsible for most of the water, oxygen and nutrient uptake from the soil. To have good water, oxygen and nutrient absorption, there needs to be constant growth of new generations of feeder roots as older roots dry up near the surface of the soil or die off from damage or soil predators who chomp on the juicy feeder roots.

In some cases, the root system of an apple tree can grow to be twice the width of the canopy of the tree.

Rootstocks

The rootstock of an apple tree will determine how large the mature tree will become, how quickly it will set fruit, and also how slow or limited the root mass will grow, with some rootstocks being more vigorous than others.

For example, an M.9 rootstock and an M.26 rootstock will both produce semi-dwarf apple trees, but the M.26 rootstock is more vigorous, and thus will produce a larger fibrous root mass. M.9 rootstock will produce a tree that would require staking, versus an M.26 rootstock which will have better ground anchorage.

Read our guide to learn more about the different rootstocks and how they affect apple tree growth.

When Do Apple Tree Roots Grow?

Both the lateral and fine roots of the apple tree grow rapidly throughout the spring in order to mine for water and nutrients it needs to bud out and create leaves and flowers. As the flowers get pollinated in late spring, the energy focus is placed on developing fruit, and root growth decreases.

Once the summer hits, the roots will stop growing while they focus on supplying water and nutrients to the tree for growth and fruit production.

Throughout the fall and winter once the branches go dormant, the feeder roots will start to die back, but the fibrous roots will continue to grow until the ground starts to freeze. Roots do not go dormant like the above ground apple tree branches do, they will continue to grow and mine for nutrients to store for next season’s growth and development. This root growth also contributes to good anchorage of the tree for the following seasons heavy crop of apples.

Another reason why it is important in the first few years of planting an apple tree to pull off any flowering buds in order to prevent the tree from focusing its energy on producing apples. Instead, the focus should be on growing a large healthy root system that could sustain the tree through drought, provide good anchorage to the ground against extreme weather conditions, and provide an abundant harvest in future years.

Can Apple Tree Roots Cause Damage?

Apple trees do not have aggressive or invasive root systems that could cause structural damage to foundations or sewer pipes, so they are safe to plant near your house without worrying about damage caused by the roots.

In fact, sometimes planting an apple trees about 6-8 inches from the wall of the house is a good idea, especially south facing walls that are sheltered and relatively warm. Trellising the branches to lay flat against the wall in a fan shape is a style of fruit tree training called ‘espalier’.

What is the best soil for apple tree roots? The best soil for apple trees are well draining medium-clay to sandy loam, fertile soils with slightly acidic to neutral pH between 5.8 and 6.5. Read our guide to learn more about the best soil types for apple trees.

 

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