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Don Kinzler, Published September 20 2013

Growing Together: ABC's of home-grown apples

Let’s give a round of applause to everyone who is growing an apple tree in our northern climate. It proves we live in a gardener’s land of plenty rather than barren arctic tundra. Besides, we have all of Canada for a windbreak.

The need for gardening information tailored to the Northern Plains is obvious when I see non-hardy fruit trees such as delicious apple, Bartlett pear, and Elberta peach being sold by some marketers in northern regions. Unfortunately for the buyer, these types are a couple of hardiness zones out of step.

That’s why I hold our land-grant research universities in high esteem. North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota research programs have produced and tested most of our adapted apple varieties and provided information needed to grow fruit.

One of the leaders in university apple tree research was Neal Holland, Professor Emeritus with North Dakota State University, now owner of Sheyenne Gardens, Harwood, ND. Holland developed a list of the best apple varieties available for northern backyard gardeners and fruit growers.

There are several factors to consider when deciding which of these varieties to plant. Would you like an early apple that ripens in August or later in October? Are you going to use them for cooking or enjoy them fresh off the tree? Do you want a variety that stores well? Maybe you’ve got room for several trees with different attributes.

Here is a list of the best adapted varieties with their average ripening dates:

HAZEN

Aug. 25

An NDSU introduction, fruits are large and useful for cooking or fresh eating. The tree is disease resistant and is a natural dwarf growing to 12 feet.

ZESTAR

Sept. 5

Developed by U of M, it has a sweet, tart flavor for eating fresh or cooking.

WEALTHY

Sept. 10

An extremely hardy variety, the medium-large fruits are multipurpose.

PRAIRIE MAGIC

Sept. 15

The white, crisp, sweet flesh of this very hardy variety from Manitoba tastes great fresh or when used in favorite recipes.

SWEET SIXTEEN

Sept. 16

This U of M introduction is very vigorous and sweet for eating fresh or cooking.

HONEYCRISP

Sept. 25

One of U of M’s most popular apples, The flesh is crisp with an appealing flavor. It also has an excellent storage life of five or six months under refrigeration. But one note of caution: it is not as hardy as some varieties for the region’s northernmost tier.

HARALSON

Oct. 10

Haralson has become the standard for hardy apples. It was developed by the U of M and is an excellent cooking apple. It will store for four or five months.

Haralred is a version of Haralson with the same characteristics but with a more solidly red skin.

FIRESIDE

Oct. 15

Another variety from U of M, this is a large apple excellent for eating, cooking and storage.

Connell Red is a red-skinned version of Fireside.

PRAIRIE SPY

Oct. 15

Prairie Spy is a large apple with excellent qualities for fresh eating and cooking.

HONEYGOLD

Oct. 15

Honeygold is our hardy answer to golden delicious. It’s crisp, juicy flesh is great eaten fresh or used in cooking.

Tree planting, care

Have you heard that more than one apple tree is needed to produce fruit? To form fruit, apple blossoms must be pollinated by insects, mostly bees. The flowers must be “cross-pollinated” meaning the pollen must come from a different variety of apple, not the same kind.

A different apple variety should be located within several hundred yards, but within 100 feet is better. Ornamental flowering crabapples work. If you’ve got room for two apples in your yard, space them at least 15 feet apart. Apple trees can be planted in fall or spring.

On the average it takes about five years from date of planting to get your first crop, depending on variety. Types like Hazen begin bearing at the young age of 3. Other varieties, such as Haralson, can take seven to nine years.

Use the variety ripening date as a general guide to know when your apples are ready to pick. The “ground color,” which is the term for the background, non-red part of the skin, will turn from deep green to yellow or creamy yellow. The seeds of most ripe apples are dark brown rather than light colored. Taste is also a good indicator.

Cool temperatures and short days of fall trigger the conversion of starch to sugar. By its ripening date late-season varieties, like Haralson, usually receives a frost or two, although actual frost isn’t necessary for the sugar content to build. Apple fruit can tolerate temperatures to 25 degrees.

Commercially grown, store-bought apples usually top the list of the most pesticide-laden fruits. Maybe we should give a collective “Eww” and head for the fruit tree section of our local garden center instead.


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