Optimal Apple Scaffold Height

I have near 100 apple trees growing in my vegetable garden which I grafted this year (30) and last year (~60). The intent is to put them out into lot with high deer density. They will all be in 5’ tubes. My question is what is the ‘ideal’ height to let them start to scaffold. They are all on Anna A. rootstock so they will make standard trees without heavy pruning. Half the ones from last year are near 5’ tall already. Should I let the scaffolds branch as soon as they clear the protectors or a bit higher?

No advice on the deer, just curious as to what spacing you chose for your trees?

I put them in pretty close ~ 15 feet. Should be okay for as long as I’m alive. I know way too close without significant pruning. Also I don’t expect many to survive. So If I plant 100 and only get say 25 full size trees I will be happy.

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This is an interesting question, how to plan for deer protection. First let me say I have no deer recently although a few years ago one was browsing my apple trees. My solution which seems to have worked was to spray the trees and vegetation on shrubs along the deer’s approach to my trees with hot pepper spray. Never saw the deer on my alarm camera after that. I sprayed every other week just to make sure any browsable twigs would be very hot. I think this worked because Capsaicin goes quickly to the deers keen sense of smell as well as it severely burns their tongue. I know this sounds cruel, but it’s effective. The one precaution is that you should wear protective masks and goggles and always spray downwind when spraying. A heavy rain will dilute its effect, so you need to repeat at least once a week of right after a rainfall.
Another option is pepper spray seems too dangerous due to children or other concerns, would be to invest in a high 7’ fence or an electric fence around your planting area.
I mention these options only because trying to manage 100 standard sized apple trees growing scaffolds above the browsing height of deer ( @6-7’) seems like a bad investment due to the excessive labor each year to prune, spray, and pick fruit at those heights. I assume you plan to sell fruit on local markets with that many trees so you need to do everything you can to reduce future labor costs to make your investment in time, dollars and labor payback.
I only have five standard apple trees that I keep scaffolds growing no higher than 5-7’. Even then it’s a lot of labor, so your question is a very important one. Perhaps investigate what other growers deal with deer protection to weight to costs of each method before transplanting your trees.
Take care
Kent, wa

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The property I’m going to transplant to is in SE Ohio. I live in NE Ohio. (Buckeye where are you at about). The property is for recreation so I don’t intend to spray like a commercial orchard. The primary intent is for soft mast. If I can get enough to run through my family heirloom cider press I will be happy (very).

DennisD, Good points on the maintenance aspects. I have 7 standard trees in my backyard and it was some work to prune them down this last winter. This is more work because of the cleanup in suburbia. In the woods they just become forage until the spring and then pitch.

From this I will let them branch at 6’. The reason for asking is that I have all the tree tubes down south. If I let them scaffold at 6’ I need to bring the tree tubes here before I can’t get the tubes over the scaffolds.

I have serious deer pressure here as evidenced by my bizarre-shaped trees that have been on the deer’s menu for years.
Just went out and measured the branch height of several of the untouched trees - branches emerge above 80" of straight growth. Even with branches emerging at that height, you still need to protect the trunk’s bark from rubbing- protection needs to continue for about 10 years until bark is thick.

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cd. Thanks for the input! they will all be in 5’ tree tubes.

Fair enough. I love the idea of standard trees but balk at the prospect of dealing with their eventual height. They are really majestic when they’re big and loaded with fruit.

90% of the orchards I install have deer, sometimes herds of deer, roaming the property. They will prune your trees to the height they need to be as long as they don’t kill the trees first. I’ve only used tree tubes one time and sometimes they can kill a tree if they don’t have holes in them. you also need to make sure you take them away before they become compressed against the trees they are protecting. They sometimes also encourage girdling my voles.

I start the apple trees in my nursery in my veg garden as you did but wait about 3 years before moving them so the only protection they need is a 3’ tall tube of wire fencing around the trunks to avoid lethal damage from deer. By that time they are at least 10’ tall and the main threat from deer is buck rubs. The first tier of branches usually starts at about 3-4’ where I develop 3 scaffold branches pointing in directions 120 degrees from each other. The next tier begins 3-4’ above that and 4 branches are used that emanate from the tree between the direction of branches below, if you know what I mean. The upper tier should never extend more than half the distance from the trunk than the lower, creating the so-called pyramid shape. However the permanent shape needn’t be obtained until the tree begins producing real crop.

All that said, white-tailed deer vary in their behaviors, including how high they go to take fruit. It also varies a great deal season to season. Bucks are the most aggressive feeders on years they eat apples here and sometimes go as high as over 6’ to harvest fruit while standing on their hind legs leaning against the trees, but they usually don’t go that high in my own orchard. Strangely, in orchards I manage just a few miles away they do.

The tree shelters may work fine, but when I put small trees out I use a 10’ circumference ring of fencing 5’ tall supported by a single stake and closed with 2-3 wires of that fence (deer don’t have fingers, don’t sew the cages up).

Let us know how the shelters work out for you. I hope your trees are not excessively shaded by all the nearby forest trees. Know that established trees like that will hog water and nutrients even if they can’t hog the sun. If you cut tree roots while planting your apple trees you should realize that rapid growth at the point you sever them will occur. Your established forest trees don’t warmly welcome strangers.

I would plant the trees 15’ apart if you are expecting high mortality, eventually you will likely be best served by 30’ spacing for standard trees, but a lot depends on variety which has an equal affect on vigor. Controlling size by pruning requires quite a bit of skill and has its limitations. Pulling branches below horizontal can help encourage fruiting and subdue vigor. But uninformed pruning will delay fruiting and encourage extended juvenility. You need to prune to favor small and weak wood and focus on thinning cuts to weaker wood and not stub cuts. Check out my article in pruning guides about pruning by numbers in the guides category.

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Thanks very much for the detailed writeup. I will read it a few more times to make sure I digest it.

Good to know that you grow the plants for 3 years. I thought that the transfer shock would be harder on them as they got older. I only transplanted 10 this year because of clearing out the remaining native trees. The forest is cut back about 100 yards on the east and west sides.

These are the varieties I have in the garden or already transplanted ( a few RIP)

Arkansas Black
Ashmead Kernal
Aunt Rachel
Bevan’s Favorite
Braeburn x 2
Bramley Seedling
Cameo x 2
Cortland x 2
Cox Orange Pippin
Crimson Crisp x 2
Earligold x 2
Empire x 2
Evercrisp x 2
Fuji x 2
Gala x 2
Ginger Gold
Golden Delicious x 2
Golden Supreme x 2
Granny Smith x 2
Grimes Golden x 2
Harrison Cider
Hewes Crab
Honeycrisp x 2
Johnson Keeper
JonaGold x 2
Jonathan x 2
Keener Seedling
Kerr Crabapple
King David
Kinnaird’s Choice
Lodi x 2
Magnum Bonum
McIntosh x 2
Melrose x 2
Mollie’s Delicious x 2
Mutsu x 2
Newtown Pippin
Northern Spy x 2
Old Fashioned Limbertwig
Paula Red x 2
Pink Lady
Pixie Crunch x 2
Ralls Janet
Red Delicious x 2
Rome Beauty x 2
Royal Limbertwig
Rusty’s Favorite
Sansa x 2
Stayman x 2
Suncrisp x 2
Swiss Limbertwig
Transparent, yellow x 2
Va. Beauty
Va. Gold
Va. Winesap
Wickson Crab


That’s a hell of a collection. I grow or have grown about half of them. You probably should try to get some early Pink Lady and I’m very surprised you’ve no Goldrush, that is an essential, top 3 apple for me.

Alan, As my wife said yesterday I “doubled down” then “doubled down” when I started my food plot (basically OCD). Both Pink Lady and Gold Rush are there. I was fortunate that a local orchard was changing hands and the kindly gentleman took me through and let me cut scions fall '21 so that gave me a good start of the current commercial cultivars


I am shooting for a wide variety not knowing which will take. Hopefully some. So far 19 apples and 9 pears have been transplanted.