Issue: January 2006

Select Apple Varieties on Taste, Not Color

Winter may keep gardeners indoors, but they can start planning an apple orchard by the fireplace.

Fruit tree catalogues offer a wide selection of apple varieties. However, don't be fooled by colorful photos of bright-red apples. Instead, select trees on fruit taste and space available for planting in the garden.

Red-colored "Delicious" apples are very popular, but older striped strains often have much more flavor. In addition, "Delicious" apples can become mealy unless stored at relatively cool temperatures, and the red color itself depends on genetics and a growing season with very warm days and cool nights.

Roadside stands and Farmers' markets can help in choosing appropriate varieties for home gardens because those apples are grown under local conditions. Buy a few apples of each variety and cut them into small pieces for a family taste test.

Each variety will often have subtle differences in taste, texture and crispness. After ranking varieties based on family preference, match the choices against catalog descriptions of those varieties. Look for improved strains of selected varieties with enhanced taste, storage quality and disease resistance.

Although some varieties may pollinate themselves, yields will increase if another variety is planted nearby for pollination. Make sure the selected varieties flower at the same time. Most catalogs will list appropriate pollinators for each variety. If there's only room for one tree in the garden, consider purchasing one with two or more varieties grafted on the same tree.

Space problems can be resolved by planting dwarf or semi-dwarf trees, which growers develop by grafting desired fruit varieties onto smaller rootstocks. Size depends on the type of rootstock used. Check catalogs for mature tree sizes. Smaller trees may need a trellis for support after planting because they have weaker root systems.

Besides "Red Delicious", other popular apple varieties include "Golden Delicious", "Jonathan", "McIntosh", "Rome Beauty", "Stayman Winesap" and "Arkansas Black". Each has its own unique shape, color, taste and flesh qualities. Some make excellent dessert apples, while others are best for cooking.

Also consider some relatively newer varieties like "Gala", "Fuji" and "Granny Smith". Originally from New Zealand, "Gala" makes an excellent dessert apple with aromatic flesh and red skin. "Fuji", developed in Japan, remains crisp for a long time. "Granny Smith", which ripens late and remains crisp if refrigerated, originated in Australia. It has bright green skin with tart, juicy flesh.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.