How to Choose an Apple Tree You’ll Love to Grow

apples in basket

Been dreaming of growing apples in your backyard but aren’t sure if you can, or what to consider when choosing a variety to grow? Here’s you guide.

First Consider Cross-Pollination

To keep it simple, two different varieties of apples must cross-pollinate. Apple trees cross-pollinate by the hard work of foraging bees. This is a necessary process in order to have good fruit production. Trees should be planted within 100 feet from another for best pollination.

For example, one Fuji apple tree will pollinate a Gala apple tree, and vice versa. But planting a single tree, or multiple trees of the same variety, will result in little to no fruit production. Apples can be pollinated by most any other apple variety as long as both are blooming around the same time.

As mentioned, fruit tree pollination is dependent on the work of bees, so please take care to not apply any pesticide, fungicide, or herbicide products on or near fruit trees when trees are in bloom.

Where to Start

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when seeing all the varieties to choose from. Allow us to guide you through what you need to know, and help you choose an apple variety you’ll love to grow and eat!

How much space do you have?

Dwarf trees grow between 8 to 10 feet tall and wide, maintained by pruning every dormant season (late winter to early spring).

Espaliered apples have branches growing laterally allowing them to grow along a wall or fence. Fruit trees can be trained to an espaliered form with special pruning techniques.

Another option for limited space is a columnar apple tree which grows like a column making this a neat option for the home gardener with a small garden in an urban or suburban environment. Columnar apples still grow to about 10 feet tall but only about 2 to 3 feet wide. Less growth means less pruning, so columnar apples only need pruned as needed to remove damaged branches.

Semi-dwarf apple trees can mature to heights of 15 to 20 feet and grow as wide. The general rule of thumb is however tall your tree will get, then plant your trees as many feet apart or more to provide ample growing room and good air flow between trees.

How many apples do you want to harvest?

One box/bushel of apples is equal to about 42 pounds. One mature dwarf apple tree can produce 1.5 to 3 boxes and a semi-dwarf could produce 4 to 7 boxes.

What qualities do you want in an apple?

Do you want a juicy sweet apple for an everyday snack? Are you planning on using your apples for pies, applesauce, or to make homemade apple juice?

Though most apples are great for many uses, some apples offer more tart or sweet flavors, or others have greater storage life.

How much time for maintenance do you have?

Apples trees will have better production if pruned every winter when they are dormant. Watch our class recording on Pruning Fruit Trees to learn more.

Another maintenance consideration is spraying fungicide for disease prevention or horticultural oil for pest control. Some cultivars are bred with disease resistance, so if you know you’d rather not worry about some common disease issues, then choose a cultivar with known disease resistance.

Interested to try something new?

Lastly, as a home gardener you have more freedom to experiment!

Consider growing less common varieties that you don’t see in the store in effort to improve the sustainability of apple production and diversity in crops. Growing less common varieties of apples that you don’t see in the grocery store can be fun and rewarding.

Apples Varieties for the Home Orchard

Here are some great apple varieties for the home gardener based on performance, and disease resistant traits.

Braeburn – Ripens in mid-October. Light red blush or stripe on green. Excellent blend of sweet and tart, very crisp and juicy. Some susceptibility to scab and mildew. Great storage life.  Good for applesauce.

Freedom – Ripens in early October. Red apples that are sweet and tart. Very good disease resistance.

Fuji – baking; sweet & juicy flavorful, stores well. Ripens in mid-October. Yellowish apple with orange-red blush. It has an excellent rich flavor. Some scab resistance. Excellent storage life.

Gala – dried & cider; early ripening; sweet & good flavor; heat tolerant. Ripens in mid-September. Red blush or stripes on yellow. Strong sweet flavor and firm, crisp texture.

Gravenstein – Ripens in late August to early September. Red striped on yellow apples that are firm, crisp and juicy. Excellent apple for all uses. Fair storage life.

Honeycrisp – scab resistance. Ripens in late September. Large crisp, juicy red apples are heavily produced and ideal for fresh eating. Excellent storage life.

Jonagold – pie, applesauce; firm and sweet; big, good flavor, cool climate; great pollinator. Ripens in October. Red blush on large yellow apples. They have an outstanding sweet flavor. Excellent variety for fresh eating or processing.

Liberty – scab resistant. Ripens in late September. Medium apples are red, crisp, firm and sweet. Excellent disease resistance. Produces well on young wood.

Pristine – scab resistant and powdery mildew resistance. Ripens in early August. Yellow skinned apple that is firm, crisp and tasty. Disease resistant.

Yellow (Golden) Delicious – firm and sweet; yellow, flavorful, very productive. Earliest variety of apple in the Northwest ripening in early-August. Yellow apples are crisp. Finely textured and somewhat tart. Excellent cooking apple. A good fresh apple, does not store well.

Planting Bare Root

Between now and early March is the best time to plant many of the plants that produce your favorite fruits and berries because they are available to purchase as bare root.

Buying and planting bare root means:

  • Great low pricing compared to container stock.
  • No heavy pot to lift – Easy handling.
  • Plants won’t be root bound.
  • Plants will not have experienced heat stress like many container plants are subject to.
  • The soil is soft to dig into during winter.
  • Planting in winter will give new plantings time to get well established before summer.

Check out our blog on planting bare root for simple planting guidelines.

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