Can You Grow Apple Trees in Tennessee? Find Out Which Varieties To Grow!

Are you thinking of adding some apple trees to your Tennessee yard or home gardening space? Because of Tennessee's rich agricultural heritage, it's no surprise that certain apple tree varieties can do quite well in this southern state. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton looks at if apple trees can be successfully planted in this state.

Apple Trees in Tennessee

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Apples are an American staple, evidenced by the favorite phrase “as American as apple pie”. But these fruits are not only found in every American kitchen. They are also incredibly popular around the globe, second in production quantity only to the banana.

Around 76 million tons of apples are harvested globally each year. This year, your garden could join in on the statistic. While they may produce one of nature’s most edible fruits, these trees are difficult to grow, depending on your location and soil type.

Apples are suitable for a wide range of geographical conditions in comparison to some fussier fruit trees. Do the Tennessee climate and environmental conditions fall within that range? Let’s find out. 

Tennessee Climate 

Fully Grown Fruit Tree
The climate in Tennessee is generally mild with not much variation in temperature.

Tennessee gardeners enjoy mild, temperate climates all year round. Lacking extreme temperatures, the general climate across the state is perfect for gardens and for the gardeners that work in them. The statewide USDA Zones are 5b to 8a, with most regions falling between 6 and 7 and some outliers in the 5 or 8 zones.  This makes this zone ideal for all kinds of different fruit trees.

Temperatures don’t drop too low very often, with the average winter temperature sitting around 40F. They may dip below that average every now and then, hitting around 20F, but don’t go far lower than that. Summer is also not too extreme, with temperatures averaging around 80F and rarely going above 90F. 

The state receives plenty of rainfall throughout the year, rather than concentrated in one season. In fact, it falls high on the list of rainiest states, coming in at number 6 overall. This equates to about 50 inches of rain every year – 12 inches higher than the countrywide average. Rain dips significantly in fall – the driest season – but stays consistent the rest of the year. 

Apple Growing Conditions 

Basket of Yellow Apples in a Yard
These hardy fruits grow best in milder climates but can withstand colder temperatures.

Apples, due to their popularity, have been cultivated and hybridized to grow under a wide range of conditions. Some are hardier, withstanding frost and freezing temperatures, while others are bred for their disease resistance or tolerance to high heat. 

Luckily for Tennessee gardeners, most apples grow perfectly in the exact same USDA range – 5 to 8. Hardy apples can grow in zones as low as 3, but most apple tree varieties, and particularly those labeled ‘long-season,’ are well suited to Tennessee gardens. 

Apple trees need to spend a certain amount of time in temperatures below 45F in order to set fruit, known as chill hours. The number varies depending on the variety, but most popular apples need around 500-600 hours. This is ideal for many Tennessee winters, considering the average hovers around 40F consistently. 

While apple trees are not particularly thirsty plants, they do require enough water to sustain the tree and make the fruits as juicy as possible. This is especially important right after planting, to ensure the tree establishes strong, healthy roots.

Luckily, the high rainfall in Tennessee should largely take care of your watering for you. The tree may need an extra drink in the early stages of growth and over fall when rainfall dips, but you should be able to save on your water bill for the rest of the year. 

Growing Apples 

Very Young Fruit Tree
It is best to purchase a tree from a local nursery then find the perfect spot for it in your yard or garden.

Now that you’re convinced growing apples is perfect for your Tennessee garden, you’ll need to plant one (or two for cross-pollination, more on that later). Choose a healthy-looking tree from your local nursery suited to your region’s specific conditions. 

They should be planted in a spot with plenty of sunlight for those stunning, fragrant flowers and – of course – plenty of fruit. If your Tennessee region has slightly warmer winters, try avoiding a position with intense, low midday and afternoon sun (facing south). This can lower the chill hours needed to produce fruit and stimulate growth that will only be damaged by oncoming cold temperatures. 

Clear the area of weeds before planting and ensure the soil is light and well-draining. Apple trees are not suitable for clay soils as the roots are quite susceptible to root rot when left in waterlogged soil. The soil pH should be slightly acidic, around 6.5, but most trees are not majorly fussy in this area. 

Don’t overcrowd your apple tree or plant too close to another variety. They need plenty of airflow and room to grow to prevent the settling of pests and diseases. Due to the higher rainfall, chances of disease in Tennessee are slightly higher than in other areas. Disease management to prevent the growth of fungi and bacteria is essential. 

Similar to why Avocados have a hard time growing in Tennessee, apple trees don’t appreciate cold air. In winter, frosty air can settle in low-lying areas of your garden and hang around your plants, causing damage. Choose an area where cold air can move away from the tree to prevent damage in winter or early spring to new growth. 

Best Varieties 

While there are a few apple tree varieties that are self-pollinating, most are not. That means you will need to plant more than one apple type to produce fruits. There are plenty of apple varieties suitable for Tennessee climates, giving you several options to choose from. Before planting, ensure the two varieties you have chosen will cross-pollinate with one another by matching their blooming times. 

McIntosh

McIntosh Apples
This apple type has thick, red and green skin and a tart interior fruit.

For a classic variety, try the McIntosh apple. It does need a high amount of chill hours (around 900), better suited to areas in lower USDA Zones. 

Fuji

Fuji Apple
This apple variety is crisp and juicy with a sugary-sweet flavor.

Those in higher Zones, 6-8, can try the ever-popular Fuji apple, popular in grocery stores. This cultivar needs plenty of water but will reward you with delicious fruits in return. 

Granny Smith

Granny Smith Apples
The most ideal apple type for cooking is the Granny Smith, so get out your apple pie recipe if you plan to grow these!

The classic Granny Smith can also grow well in Tennessee, suited to USDA Zones 6-9. Not only does it require a low amount of chill hours (400), but it is also self-pollinating, meaning you only need one tree to produce fruits (although having two will improve yield anyway). 

Gala

Gala Apples
This type of apple is one of the most highly produced in the US and has a mild yet sweet flavor.

Gala apples are also self-pollinating, exactly suited to Tennessee’s growing climate, growing in USDA Zones 5-8. Cross-pollinating with a similar cultivar like Red Delicious will improve your harvest greatly. 

Final Thoughts 

Apples are a relatively low-maintenance fruiting tree that everyone should consider growing in their garden. However, for Tennessee gardeners, it should be at the top of the list. This tree is ideal for Tennessee climate conditions, making its ease of growth even simpler. Choose one long-season variety or many, and they are guaranteed to grow happily in your backyard. 

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