Choosing An Apple Tree
Choosing an apple tree from the hundreds of choices can be a bit daunting if you don’t understand some basic issues. In the first place, you need to have two different varieties of apple trees in order for each tree to be properly pollinated. If your neighbor has an apple tree, then you can get by with buying just one tree that is a different variety. If you are going to plant dwarf trees, two, three or even four varieties are a good choice because you will ensure good pollination and can extend the period in which you can harvest fruit by choosing trees with different ripening times. Early ripening apples will ripen as early as in August, and late ripening apples may last until October and even November before they are ready to pick.
Choosing an apple tree from the hundreds of choices can be a bit daunting if you don’t understand some basic issues. In the first place, you need to have two different varieties of apple trees in order to get proper pollination for each tree. If your neighbor has an apple tree, then you can get by with buying just one tree that is a different variety. If you are going to plant dwarf trees, two or even four trees are attractive because you get good pollination and in addition you can vary the time when each becomes ripe by making the right choice of varieties. Early apples will ripen as early as in August and late apples can go into October and even November before they are ready to pick.
Another issue is the vulnerability of a particular variety of apple to common apple tree diseases such as scab or fire blight. Over the past twenty years a fair number of very disease resistant varieties have been developed reducing greatly the amount of pesticide spraying needed to have healthy trees and good fruit. At the same time, a number of neat products have been developed to reduce or even eliminate the need to spray for insect damage. See Gardens Alive (www.gardensalive.com) and Gardener’s Supply Company (www.gardeners.com) for many examples of these new tools and products designed to reduce the need to spray apple trees. It has gotten so that deer and squirrels are more of a problem for home apple trees than are insects and disease, and you can even protect against the critters if you know what you are doing.
It’s A Matter Of Taste
Your final and most important issue is taste and texture. Years ago we threw an apple tasting party with 12 different varieties of apples from Applesource, a company that sells over 150 varieties of apples to taste and enjoy via mailorder (www.applesource.com). No two of our guests out of fifteen could agree on the “best” three varieties. Everyone had a slightly different preference for taste, tartness, texture, and color. The lesson learned is try to taste the variety you want to grow before you plant it. You can use a company like Applesource or go to two or three local fruit stands or orchards and taste everything they have to sell. In the chart below I have included some of my favorites and some varieties I know are easy to care for. Ultimately you should choose for yourself and enjoy fresh apples in the backyard for many decades to come.
Some Good Choices
Redfree is one of the best eating early apples. Like most early season varieties, it should be eaten soon after it ripens, as it has a short shelf-life. Redfree is immune to apple scab and cedar apple rust and is moderately resistant to fire blight and powdery mildew.
Liberty is an early to mid-season variety that ripens in early September. It is resistant to the “big four” diseases—apple scab, cedar apple rust, fire blight, and powdery mildew. This medium sized round fruit has red stripes with greenish undercolor. Its flesh is nearly white and very crisp. Liberty can be eaten fresh, used in cooking (sauces, pies, baking), and freezing. This apple can be stored from three to six months, and flavor intensifies in storage.
Jonafree displays attractive glossy red apple and has some resistance to diseases, such as apple scab, cedar apple rust, and fire blight. Usually eaten fresh, Jonafree’s flavor is similar to Jonathan’s but is slightly less acidic and mildly tart. This apple ripens mid-season.
Empire is a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious and takes on the best characteristics of both. Some claim that empire’s flavor improves during storage. Empire ripens in mid-season. It is not particularly disease resistant, so will need some spraying to prevent problems.
Enterprise is extremely resistant to apple scab, cedar apple rust and fire blight, but only moderately resistant to powdery mildew. The flesh of its fruit is cream colored and crisp with a medium-fine texture. It has a spicy aroma and tastes mildly tart. Enterprise fruit ripens in mid-October and can be kept five to six months if refrigerated.
Honeycrisp produces fruit which is mostly orange-red with a yellow background. This extremely crisp, juicy, sweet apple has a rich flavor that has made it place first in taste panels. Honeycrisp blooms mid-season. The fruit has a two-week harvest window and stores well. Honeycrisp is moderately resistant to apple scab and fire blight.
Macoun apples have snow-white flesh that is very crisp and juicy. Their honey-like sweetness makes up for their mild flavor. Great for eating fresh, or in salads and fruit cups, macoun apples also makes good applesauce. Unfortunately macoun is a poor keeper—it gets soft and loses flavor in storage. Fruit ripens in mid to late season.