The effects of rootstocks (M9 and MM 106), cultivars (Granny Smith and Stark Spur Golden) and growth promoting rhizobacteria (OSU-142, OSU-7, BA-8 and M-3) on the tree growth and yield at apple (Malus domestica Borkh) trees were studied in a clay loam soil in the eastern Anatolia region of Turkey in 2002-2004. Plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) were capable of producing indole acetic acid (IAA) and cytokinin, but three of them (OSU-7, BA-8 and M-3) were also able to dissolve phosphate. Maximum shoot number of apple trees was found after inoculation with BA-8 followed by OSU-7 and M-3. All the inoculated PGPR strains contributed to the increase in fruit yield of apple when compared to control but it was strongly depended on rootstocks, cultivars and treatments. Plant growth responses were variable and dependent on bacteria] strains, rootstock and cultivar and growth parameters evaluated of young apple trees. Newly planted apple trees inoculated with OSU-142, OSU-7, BA-8 and M-3 PGPR increased average shoot length by 59.2, 18.3, 7.0 and 14.3% relative to the control and fruit yield by 116.4, 88.2, 137.5 and 73.7%, respectively. Bacterial inoculation increased shoot diameter from 7.0 to 16.3% when compared to control. The production of plant growth hormones has been suggested as one of the mechanisms by which PGPRs stimulate young apple sapling growth. The growth-promoting effect appears to be direct, with possible involvement of the plant growth regulators indole-3-acetic acid and cytokinin. In view of environmental pollution due to excessive use of fertilizers and high costs of the production of fertilizers, PGPR strains tested in out study have potential to be used for the sustainable and environmentally benign horticultural production. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.