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Varieties of Apple Trees

Help Deciding Which Varieties to Grow

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Picture of an apple tree trained espalier-style.

Picture of an apple tree trained espalier-style.

David Beaulieu

Who says that only ornamentals can be used in landscape design? Apple trees (Malus spp.) are as lovely in bloom as any strictly ornamental flowering specimen. But unlike ornamentals, they will provide you with a delicious harvest of fruit. And because you'll be able to enjoy that fruit fresh off the trees (when it tastes best), you'll have added incentive to adhere to the old maxim about having one a day to keep the doctor away!

Nor are the aesthetic landscaping uses for apple trees limited by their blooming periods. A row of apple trees can act as an attractive privacy screen all summer and fall, while fully leafed out. Or perhaps you already have a privacy fence, but it looks too bare -– you’d like to dress it up. Dwarf varieties of the apple can serve as the “clothing,” trained along your fence in an art form known as espalier. Dwarf varieties (5’-8’ tall) and semi-dwarf varieties (12’-16’ tall) are better plants for espalier than are standard apples (20’-30’ tall).

But don’t depend on dwarf varieties to be as hardy as semi-dwarf varieties and standards. For a homeowner living in planting zone 3, for instance, it’s probably safest to restrict your selection to standards. Those of you, however, who live in a climate suitable for dwarf varieties should take advantage: you won’t have to wait as long for a mature yield of fruit (a couple of years) after planting as with standards (five or six years). Note, however, that in addition to apple tree variety, the other factors that I discuss throughout this article have an impact on how long it will take for the branches of your new apples to start straining under the burden of a bumper crop.

Selecting Varieties of Apple Trees: Climate and Taste

Beyond the consideration of dwarf vs. standard varieties, the first thing you should do to determine the varieties of apple trees you’ll be growing is to ensure that you select the varieties that grow best in your region. Your local County Extension Office can provide you with this information. The following are examples of varieties that can be grown in zones 3-8, which covers most of the continental U.S., except for the Southernmost states (apples are plants of the North by nature, since they have chilling requirements):

  • "Golden Delicious"
  • "Cortland"
  • "Haralred"
  • "Honeycrisp"

After you know what varieties of apple trees you can grow, the question becomes which of those you’d prefer to grow. For this part of the apple tree selection process, you get to rely at least in part on your good old taste buds! Sample fruit from prospective varieties of apple trees before you commit to planting. Consider both taste, per se (i.e., sweetness or tartness) and texture (some of us care more about the crispness of the fruit than the taste). Of course, it also matters how you’ll be eating them. If you’re thinking in terms of pie, that may entail selecting varieties different from what you’d choose for fresh snacking. The following are examples of varieties of apple trees that are good at producing fruit for particular tastes:

  • For a sweet fruit: "Honeycrisp"
  • For a tart fruit: "Granny Smith"
  • For a crisp fruit: "Macoun"
  • For pie-making: "Northern Spy," "Liberty" apple trees and "Golden Delicious"

Selecting Apple Trees – Varieties Resistant to Disease

But not all of us will want to let our taste buds make the decision for us; it’s ultimately our muscles we listen to the most -– as in avoiding sore muscles by adopting low-maintenance alternatives. In the latter case, disease-resistant varieties of apple trees may carry the day over varieties that require spraying -– regardless of nuances in taste. Four diseases commonly attack apple trees: fire blight, apple scab, cedar apple rust and powdery mildew. The following are varieties of apple trees that offer at least some resistance to these diseases, reducing the need to spray:

  • "Enterprise"
  • "Liberty"
  • "Freedom"
  • "Redfree"

On Page 2 we'll look at some additional considerations in the selection of varieties of apple trees, as well tips on caring for them....

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