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Picking apples: How to decide which variety to plant

Deciding among apple varieties can be confusing. We all know what happened to Adam and Eve. They obviously chose poorly when deciding which apple tree to harvest.There's a big difference in apples. Once America's most popular variety, the Red Del...

Spring is the preferred season for starting a backyard apple orchard. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Spring is the preferred season for starting a backyard apple orchard. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Deciding among apple varieties can be confusing. We all know what happened to Adam and Eve. They obviously chose poorly when deciding which apple tree to harvest.

There's a big difference in apples. Once America's most popular variety, the Red Delicious apple is going the way of the buggy whip, sidelined by more flavorful types. We needn't worry, because Red Delicious isn't winter hardy for our region anyway. Besides, we've got better tasting types that are well-suited to our climate. In fact, we've got so many options it's difficult to pick a preference.

Spring is a great time to start a home orchard. Two different apple varieties are needed for pollination. If you don't have space for two apple trees, bees will accomplish pollination if another apple is within one-half mile, but closer is better. Ornamental flowering crabapples in the vicinity work well to pollinate fruiting apples, also.

Adapted apple varieties differ in flavor, sweetness, texture, ripening date and storage life. If there's room for more than one tree, early-fruiting and late-fruiting varieties can be coupled for extended harvest. Following are well-adapted, winter-hardy varieties for the Upper Midwest, beginning with types that ripen earliest in the season, with the average ripening date in parenthesis.

  • Hazen (Aug. 25). An NDSU introduction. Large, dark red, sweet and mild fruit. Natural dwarf only grows to 12 feet with age. Keeps two to four weeks in refrigerated storage.
  • State Fair (Aug. 30). Crisp, juicy, sweet-tart flavor. Stores one month.
  • KinderKrisp (Aug. 30). New apple, offspring of Honeycrisp, earlier ripening with smaller-sized fruit ideal for lunchboxes. Very sweet. Stores for up to two months.
  • Zestar (Sept. 5). Large fruit, crunchy, nice balance of sweet and tart. Good storage life for an early apple: two months or longer.
  • SweeTango (Sept. 5). Medium-large fruit, sweet-tart blend with a hint of spice. Stores three to four months.
  • Prairie Magic (Sept. 15). Yellow skin with red blush. Crisp, sweet flesh. Developed in Canada and very winter hardy.
  • Sweet Sixteen (Sept. 15). Red, medium-sized fruit with a spicy sweet flavor and rich aroma. Keeps one to two months in storage.
  • Honeycrisp (Sept. 25). Crisp flesh with an appealing flavor. Excellent storage life of up to seven months under refrigeration. Not as winter hardy as some varieties for the northernmost third of North Dakota and Minnesota.
  • Frostbite (Sept. 30). Intensely sweet, firm and juicy. Very winter hardy. Stores three to four months.
  • Haralson (Oct. 10). Longtime favorite for winter hardiness. Enjoyed by those who like tart flavor. One of the best pie apples. Stores four or five months.
  • Haralred (Oct. 10). A redder-fruited version of Haralson with similar characteristics.
  • Fireside (Oct. 15). Large fruit, sweet with fine-grained flesh. Stores four months.
  • Connell Red (Oct. 15). A redder-skinned version of Fireside.
  • SnowSweet (Oct. 15). Low acid, sweet flavor. Flesh is amazingly slow to brown when cut, making it valuable for sliced apples. Keeps four months in storage.
  • Honeygold (Oct.15). Our winter-hardy answer to Golden Delicious. Crisp and Juicy. Stores three months.

Other older, adapted types include Mandan, Wealthy, Wodarz, Wedge, Prairie Spy, Chestnut Crab, Goodland, Norland, Red Baron and Red Duchess.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com .

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He also blogs at growingtogether.areavoices.com.

Related Topics: DON KINZLERDON KINZLER
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