If you’ve ever bitten into a juicy apple fresh off the tree and bursting with the flavor of fall, you know what a pleasure it can be to grow apples in your back yard. But the key is to pick the right tree – after all, apple trees can live for several decades, so you want the best one for you.
Even small trees can produce a bounty of apples.
Photo Credit: Tomo Jesenicnik
Cox’s Orange Pippin is a 19th century variety that originated in England and is renowned for its delicious flavor.
Photo Credit: Maurice Metzger
Some apple varieties are especially good for baking pies or making applesauce and apple butter.
Photo Credit: Elke Dennis
The first thing to consider is the tree’s size. With apples, this is especially important because you may need to plant a second apple tree no more than a quarter mile away to assure cross-pollination and fruit production. If someone on your block has an apple tree, or even a crabapple tree, that blooms at the same time as yours, you may be fine. But be sure to check with the garden center selling you your tree – some apples are more particular than others, and they cross-pollinate best with another particular cultivar of apple.
Here’s a breakdown of apple tree (Malus domestica) sizes:
Standard apple trees can top 20 feet high and spread as wide as 30 feet. That’s a lot of space for a small yard! Further, they produce bushel after bushel of apples. If you can’t handle the size or that much produce, go smaller.
Semidwarf trees grow about 12 feet high and 20 feet across. This is a reasonable size for the average American yard and for a gardener who likes to make numerous pies, applesauce, apple butter and other apple goodies.
These trees grow just 8 feet tall and 12 feet across. They’re a great choice for gardeners who want just enough apples for eating fresh, and maybe a few pies or a limited amount of applesauce.
These are bred and pruned to create a single upright trunk usually about 8 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Mainly grown for ornamental purposes, each pillar tree will produce some fruit.
Next, of course, you have to consider the apple itself. There are hundreds of different cultivars out there. Generally, apples are tagged as good for eating fresh (crisp fruit with interesting or sweet flavor) or for baking and processing (full of flavor and certain tartness that doesn’t get lost when cooked). Or, less commonly, gardeners are looking for an apple that bears at a certain time of the season (midsummer, late summer, early fall) or that stores well.
Here are some popular apple cultivars, broken down by category:
Disease-resistant cultivars: ‘Enterprise,’ ‘Freedom’ and ‘Liberty’ claim to need no spraying.
Eating-fresh cultivars: ‘Honeycrisp’, ‘Jonamac’, ‘McIntosh’ and ‘Mutsu’ (or ‘Crispin’) can be relied on for delicious flavor straight from the tree.
Baking and processing cultivars: ‘Granny Smith’, ‘Jonathan’, ‘McIntosh’, ‘Northern Spy’ and ‘Red Rome’ are classics.
Low-chill cultivars: ‘Anna’, ‘Dorsett Golden’, ‘Gala’, ‘Granny Smith’, ‘Pink Lady’, ‘Pinkabelle’ and ‘Tropic Sweet’ will do well in Zones 7-9.
Antique/Heritage cultivars: ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’, ‘Duchess’ (or ‘Duchess of Oldenburg’) and ‘Winesap’ are favorites dating back a century or more that have outstanding qualities and have stood the test of time.
There are also regional varieties that are worth seeking out – check with your local Extension Office or local apple farm.
No matter the size of the tree or the flavor of the fruit, one thing is for sure: It’s apple pickin’ time – starting with the tree.