Apple Tree Leaves Turning Red (Causes and Solutions)


Apple trees have been classic garden inclusions for ages, but it can be complex to maintain their health. There are numerous reasons why your apple tree’s leaves may turn red. Fortunately, many causes are not harmful or can be remedied easily. 

Many apple trees naturally form red foliage or develop red foliage in autumn as a form of defense. Red foliage can also be caused by inadequate lighting, underwatering, lack of oxygen, or nutrient deficiencies. 

It can be understandably distressing to see your precious apple tree changing color, but there are many approaches you can take to resolve the issue. Stick around to find out why apple tree leaves turn red and how to promote optimal health. 

Apple Tree Leaves Turning Red

Potted apple tree leaves turning red

While it may be strange to see your apple tree leaves turning red, it used to be quite common. I can count the number of times I’ve been lucky enough to see a red apple tree in autumn, and always found their color variants incredibly fascinating. 

Of course, there are a few problems that can cause red leaves. But, there are plenty of healthy motives due to ancestry and genetics. 

Anthocyanins Pigment

Appletree leaves hold a pigment produced from chemicals, named anthocyanins. Scientists believe the red tone helps prevent sun damage, and it’s common for wild apple trees to turn bright red in autumn, as the leaves are more vulnerable. 

Many domestic apple trees have been crossbred over the years, with farmers selecting variants that produce the best fruit.

The case differs in various regions since about 62.2% of central Asian wild apple trees turn red in autumn, while only 2.8% turn red with cultivated British apple trees. (Source: ScienceMag)

Solution

When apple trees naturally turn red to protect themselves, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Your flourishing tree knows how to take care of itself, even though it appreciates all your tender love and care. Let it do what it needs to, as its leaves will likely return to their usual color when it’s ready. 

Nutrient Deficiency

Nutrient deficiencies can easily cause discolored leaves, especially when nurturing a young apple tree. When the tree isn’t provided with sufficient nutrients, such as phosphorus or nitrogen, it can develop a reddish hue. This is since they will begin producing abnormally high amounts of anthocyanin. 

Solution

Your fertilizer should be enriched with the necessary nutrients for your apple tree, whether young or mature. Supplying the tree with enough resources will help it maintain healthy levels and retain its natural leaf colors. 

Improper Lighting

Your apple tree may form reddish leaves if they receive excessive sunlight. Although sunshine and blue skies are fantastic for overall health, too much direct sunlight can cause scorching. 

This can cause the top leaves to become red, red-brown, or red-orange, and they may wilt or curl up as well. Apple trees may also develop reddish leaves when they don’t receive enough light. 

Solution

Gradually increase sun exposure over time, especially when they are young. They should adapt well over time, and you can use screens or mesh to decrease the intensity of direct sunlight when needed. 

Underwatering 

Apple trees can develop red leaves if they are dehydrated. Leaves may turn red, but this is usually coupled with browning, curled tips or edges, and early falling. 

Solution

It would be best to water the tree directly, especially outdoors. Surrounding grass can drink up the entire supply. Watering needs to be sufficient for the plant, ensuring that all surrounding soil is moist from surface to roots. 

Low Oxygen

Red leaves can indicate low oxygen content. This is common when soil holds excessive water, and the tree may not be able to maintain its leaves’ color. 

Solution

Choose coarse soil, as it holds far more air. You can also poke some holes in the surface around the tree with a small stick, allowing more airflow in the soil. 

Camouflage 

Some apple trees develop red leaves to protect new growth from threats. Out in the wild, animals and insects use color as warning signals or clues. This brighter red tone can be seen as toxic or dangerous, and pests are likely to assume the apple tree is not approachable. 

The red hue naturally wards off insects and aphids, deterring them from using the tree as a new home. Red leaves also hold less nutrition, lowering the odds of pests feeding on the tree. 

Solution

You may not be able to change this behavior, but there is no reason to. It’s completely natural and is fairly common in wild apple trees. Besides, aphids and insects tend to survive longer when inhabiting trees that don’t turn red. 

Genetics

Your apple tree may have red leaves due to its type, and it’s perfectly healthy in these cases. Many apple trees that stem from wild variants may have red, pink, bronze, or various warm tones in their leaves. 

The fruit they may produce may also differ in the flesh, skin, and even taste and texture. You would typically notice if this is the case, as they may sprout in red hues from when they are young and should have a uniform color range throughout all leaves.

Solution

You don’t need to fret about finding a remedy here, as there is no issue to resolve. Your apple tree is different from most domestic types, but still needs the same love and care as any other variant. 

In fact, many gardeners seek out red-leafed variants as fruit and ornamental trees. But, if you don’t like the look of red leaves, try to choose white seedlings. If the seedlings are pink, they will likely form red foliage. 

Should You Worry About Apple Tree Turning Red?

In many cases, the red color shouldn’t be the primary aspect of concern. When you’re assessing reasons for your apple tree’s foliage turning red, focus on its health.

If the leaves form red hues but appear shiny, strong, and healthy, there may be no reason to worry. However, if you notice deformations and oddities in the leaves combined with red tones, it can indicate issues. 

Although there are a few concerning risks and outcomes for red apple tree leaves, many of the causes are natural or inherent.

Always assess the health of the leaves, and do thorough research on the type of apple tree being cared for to ensure you’re well prepared for future changes in color or behavior.

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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