How to get an apple tree out of dormancy (it’s easier than you think)

It’s common that all trees start to break dormancy. Apple trees are no exception!

It usually starts gradually with some small signs like small leaf buds at the branches, which you might see if you look real close to the tree.


Can a dormant apple tree produce fruit?

The simple answer here is no. It’s important when you choose fruit trees for your garden, that you think about the climate in your area since it has a big impact on the yield of fruits for the upcoming season.

A lot of temperate fruits like apples require a certain amount of cold every year, to grow and bloom. If a tree does not go into winter dormancy, it will not grow well and cannot produce a good yield of fruits.

If the temperated fruit tree does not flower, because it hasn’t achieved the chill hours, it cannot undergo pollination and produce fruit.

Can I water dormant fruit trees?

A dormant fruit tree needs less frequent watering than active growth trees. When a tree begins to grow new leaves, watering the tree once every 7-10 days is enough until the weather is getting warmer and the tree begins active growth.

What triggers dormancy in trees?

Every year the dormancy in temperate fruit trees gets triggered during the winter months. The dormancy is only broken when the fruit trees have endured a certain amount of time with temperatures below 7 C (45 Fahrenheit).

This amount of time can differ a lot from 500-1000 chill hours with the temperature below 45 F. There are some varieties of apple trees that only need 300 chill hours. These varieties that only need 300-700 chill hours are called low chill varieties.

It’s important that the tree achieved the number of chill hours, so it’s able to come out of dormancy and resume normal growth again. It’s therefore important to know the exact numbers of chilling hours for your tree before you buy a temperate fruit tree for your garden.

What you should be looking for?

Even if it’s wintertime, your Apple tree should still have those buds. Branches full of life are preparing to bloom in the spring. However, warm periods can start fruit trees breaking dormancy, where the cold temperatures can start apple trees getting into dormancy again.

But be aware that if the temperatures get too cold, then the buds at the branches and trees can be damaged.

The great thing is that in general as fruit trees like an apple tree start to lose dormancy, you will be able to see a visible brightening of last year’s new growth.

However, In the spring, there is not much you can do to delay breaking the dormancy of an apple tree. It’s here Mother Nature seems to have the upper hand and will be able to defeat almost any attempt to try breaking dormancy.

The only way to slow down fruit tree development in many areas is to try to maintain a snow cover as long as possible. Then in the spring try to encourage cooler temperatures of the wood by either misting or spraying the tree with sprinklers.

The negative thing here is that it can lead to other severe problems too and therefore it is not advisable to try to slow down the development of fruit trees, but let mother nature do her work and have patience.

What temperature do trees come out of dormancy?

When they are truly dormant in late fall, apple trees and other trees will not respond to warm temperatures. Before the trees becoming receptive to wake-up calls and are able to come out of dormancy, the trees must be a certain amount of time in the cold temperature.

This is referred to the certain amount of chill hours, which we have explained early on in this article. The temperature has to be lower, however, extreme cold is not necessary.

Apple trees and other trees start racking up chill hours at 44 degrees F. However, a general rule is that below 30 degrees F, will not accumulate as chill hours. If the tree has time spent with a temperature below 30 degrees F, it will take a longer time before the tree will come out of dormancy.

It’s important to notice that it’s the time spent for the trees between 44 and 30 degrees F that will count for chill hours through fall to midwinter every year.

During dormancy in the fall and midwinter, trees will become progressively more resistant to freeze damage year after year, because of the cellular changes and accumulation of frost and stress-protective compounds. You might know it from a lot of insects and amphibians, which work in the same way.

The low temperatures during dormancy for trees will topically cause ice crystal formation and cell death. The tree species have to be able to tolerate temperatures below -40 F under natural conditions and living cells in the tree must be able to withstand gradual dehydration because the water freezes at such a low temperature and conditions.

You might also think. Do trees need light in the winter? When it’s mostly cloudy and where there is not that much sun. Everything that happens in nature – will happen for a reason.

Trees like an apple tree will drop their leaves every year because the tree doesn’t want them to grow during the fall and wintertime. Bare branches will get less sunlight during the winter as the days get short and the darkness falls faster.

How do you wake up dormant trees?

Before you even have to know how to wake up a dormant tree, you need to be able to check if your tree is dormant or dead. You can do it easily by checking the stems by doing a so-called “Scratch Test”.

The only thing you need to check if your tree is dormant or dead is a smooth knife and a sharp pruning tool. However, if you don’t have a pruning tool, you can at some trees, use your fingernail depending on the size and shape of the tree you want to check. When you have come to the conclusion that the tree is dormant and not death you can start waking up the dormant tree.

To wake up dormant trees it’s a great idea to wake the trees up slowly in the spring. If you try to force the tree to wake up too quickly, it might be fatal for the conditions of the trees.

Typically at some point during February or March, you can start bringing your trees and plants into a room that gets sunlight.

Depending on the climate you living in, it’s not warm enough in those months to move your plants and trees outside yet, but allowing them to at least see and get some sunlight it’s the best start to wake up dormant trees and plants.