What Is A Columnar Apple Tree - Columnar Apple Tree Varieties

Columnar Apple Tree
(Image credit: Jana Loesch)

What is a columnar apple tree? These are unusually narrow and upright-growing apple trees, tall and thin and perfect for small spaces. You can grow them in a garden corner or in a container on the patio.

Although columnar apple tree varieties (Malus domesticus cvs.) look quite different from regular apple trees, columnar apple fruit looks like regular apples. Read on if you are interested in growing columnar apple trees.

What Is a Columnar Apple Tree?

If you ever come across an apple tree that is twice as tall as you are, but only 2 feet (61 cm.) wide, you have encountered a columnar apple tree. They are sometimes called Ballerina apple trees, given their slender shape.

What is a columnar apple tree? These alien-looking shrubs are genetically programmed to their tall, thin structure. They just don’t grow the broad, sweeping branches of an ordinary apple tree (some 20 feet or 6 meters tall and wide). But they still produce ample fruit.

Columnar Tree Apples

The elegant trunks of columnar apple trees produce many fruiting spurs, the tree parts that bear fruit. In fact, these thin trees often bear so many fruit that the apples stay small unless you thin them out when the fruit is young. 

The trees are genetically programmed to their tall, slender shape, so don’t try to find a columnar version of your favorite regular cultivars. However, you might be able to get the same apple taste. When it comes to columnar apple tree varieties, “Northpole” tastes like a McIntosh apple and “Golden Sentinel” is similar to Golden Delicious in flavor. The third popular columnar apple tree variety, “Scarlet Sentinel,” produces green-yellow apples with a red blush.

How to Grow Columnar Trees

If you are thinking of growing columnar apple trees, you will want to know the ins and outs of planting. We have lots of tips about how to grow columnar trees, but only try this if you live in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9.

First, columnar trees are fruit trees, despite their unusual shape. Like regular apple trees, they require a full sun location to thrive. You’ll need at least two different columnar apple tree varieties for pollination. If you plant them in the soil of your backyard, space them about 2 feet (61 cm.). Planting them in large containers or whiskey barrels works just fine. Whether they are in containers or in the ground, you’ll need to water them regularly if you want columnar apple fruit. 

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.