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Growing Together: How to select the best apple tree

Locally owned garden centers offer apple cultivars well adapted to our region like these from Baker Garden and Gift in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

There are lessons to be learned from Adam and Eve’s situation.

First, when tempted to pick an apple, Honeycrisp would have been a more prudent choice. Second, when deciding among apple cultivars, a talking snake isn’t the best source of information. Spring is an excellent time to plant fruit trees.

Consider the following tips when shopping for an apple tree.

  • Locally owned garden centers usually offer cultivars recommended for our region. National chains may stock types that are suited for other climates, so review apple names carefully.
  • Inexpensive trees aren’t always the best buy. Cheap trees from mass merchandisers often have poor structure, resulting from poor pruning and ineffective training during the tree’s early formative years.
  • When examining apple trees, the ideally structured tree has one vertical central leader at the tallest point and strong side branches spaced apart along the main trunk, radiating out in all directions. Side branches, called “scaffold branches,” should lay more horizontally than vertically.
  • Side scaffold branches that are positioned at wide 60-degree angles from the trunk are stronger, and bear fruit earlier, than branches coming off the trunk at narrow, tight angles. Branches with properly wide 60-degree trunk angles are positioned about 30 degrees above a straight horizontal line.

For proper fruiting, two different cultivars are needed, preferably within several hundred feet of one another. Ornamental flowering crabapples in the neighborhood work beautifully, as will the different apple trees of close neighbors. Apple trees need at least eight hours of full, direct sunlight per day to bear fruit.

Look for trees with a single central leader and well-spaced side branches with wide trunk angles. David Samson / The Forum


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): A North Dakota State University 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): Offspring of Honeycrisp, but earlier ripening with smaller-sized fruit ideal for lunchboxes. Very sweet. Stores up to two months.
  • Zestar (Sept. 5): Large fruit, crunchy, nice balance of sweet and tart. Good storage life for an early apple of two months or longer.
  • 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.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at

Don Kinzler
Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum

Don Kinzler
Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum

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