The Spacing Of Semi-Dwarf Apple Trees & Expert Advice

Crowded Apple Trees

Crowded Apple Trees

When I was younger I wasn’t as smart as I am today.
Back in those days I believed just about everything the “experts” at major universities and the local agricultural extension office told me.
Too bad for me.


When I planted my small commercial apple orchard about 25 years ago I didn’t have any practical experience with growing apple trees. I was pretty much a babe in the woods.

I relied upon books, pamphlets and advice from the local agriculture extension office and pomologists. Back then the “expert” advice for spacing semi dwarf apple trees was 12′ to 15′ feet apart.

The experts at Cornell University and Penn State took the place of the good advice my father-in-law tried to give me while I was planting my trees.

My father-in-law who never grew an apple tree but had been a lifelong gardener came upon me one day while I was planting a bunch of 1-year-old apple whips. He advised me that the trees were being planted too close together and suggested that they be placed farther apart so as not to crowd each other once they attained full size.

Apple Trees In Spring

Apple Trees In Spring

I dismissed his suggestion due to my perception of his lack of education and practical experience. I told him that 15 foot spacing was what the extension office pamphlet recommended. He had no use for newfangled Penn State notions and tried to convince me to add more space. He told me that he may not have ever read a book on orchard management but he knew something about the way trees grow.

I was determined to do it my way and would not entertain his suggestion. He wisely shrugged his shoulders and walked away leaving me with my “expert advice” and a future problem.

Time has proved him right and the “experts” wrong.

Apple Blossom

Apple Blossom

Life experience has since taught me that the correct spacing for semi-dwarf apple trees is a minimum of 18 feet apart – with 22′ being ideal.

Because my apple trees were planted so close together they are very hard to manage properly, and apple production has been on a steady decline for the last 5 years or so.

This year my husband and I will have the unpleasant task of cutting out 6 or 7 perfectly good apple trees to save our apple orchard.

Picking Apples

Picking Apples

We could have been spared the trouble and heartache of destroying trees if I had only taken my father-in-law’s advice.

Gene Logsdon wrote something years later on this subject that was too late to benefit me. I thought Gene’s advice may be of benefit to you so I’ll share it.

*“I am not a revolutionary; I utter only a plain truth.

My wife and I produce most of our food, and some for our children’s families, using knowledge we gained from our parents.

Not a one of our forebears ever cracked an agronomic textbook or knew the Latin name of a single plant.

My father and mother and both grandfathers and grandmothers and my father-in – law and mother-in-law all held agricultural extension advisers in disdain. Tradition, supplemented by our own experience and that of other gardeners and farmers, has been the key to our food-growing success.

Thousands of books by gardeners and farmers pass this knowledge on to anyone who wants it. To this day, after forty years of avidly reading and searching the realms of “modern” agriculture for information, I have found little knowledge beyond oral tradition that helps us produce food any better. And a whole lot that encourages us to produce it worser.

The keys to agricultural success, apart from common sense, were articulated by Virgil, and he got them from the Greeks, who in turn got them from the Orient, where forty centuries ago China supported a population far denser than ours today, with gardens.

And for the most part, China and all the East still supports itself primary by the kind of small farms that in the U.S. the Census Bureau is trying to define out of existence.”

~ Gene Logsdon –

*From the THE CONTRARY FARMER’S INVITATION TO GARDENING – Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997