Magazine article Sunset

Which Apple for Your Garden?

Magazine article Sunset

Which Apple for Your Garden?

Article excerpt

For cooking, for eating, or for both, here are 22 favorites to plant now

FACED WITH CHOOSING from literally hundreds of apple varieties, you might have trouble deciding which kind to plant in your garden. Should you go with a popular new variety like 'Elstar' or 'Gala', an old favorite like 'Gravenstein' or 'Golden Delicious', or the most prevalent of all commercial apples, 'Red Delicious'?

To help you find the answer, we taste-tested apples and visited orchards. We also polled apple growers and researchers from around the West; starting on page 50, we list 22 apples recommended for their excellence in one or more of five categories. We also list wild cards: mostly new varieties that are not well known but are highly praised.

Flavors run tart to sweet. In taste tests at Oregon State University, pomologist Bob Stebbins confirmed that Westerners tend to prefer tart apples. Taste for yourself, then decide.


Nothing beats the taste of a cold, crisp, juicy apple plucked fresh from the tree, especially if it's one like 'Golden Delicious', which has delighted apple eaters for the better part of a century. Most of our raters agreed that it's underappreciated and taken for granted as a dessert apple. But good as it is, it finished behind five newer apples.

Among the up-and-comers, the tart 'Braeburn' was given a perfect score by seven apple experts.

'Jonagold' ranked second to 'Braeburn'. This offspring of 'Jonathan' and 'Golden Delicious' has great flavor. Some consider its large size a disadvantage for fresh eating but an advantage for cooking.

'Gala', a highly praised red apple with a strong following in Washington, Oregon, and California, came in third. It's gaining ground both in the garden and commercially (some roadside stands take advance orders).

The top green apple was 'Mutsu', whose virtues include great vigor, large fruit size, and sprightly flavor. It does well in cool climates if you're willing to spray for scab. 'Fuji', a sweet dessert apple, came fifth.

Two wild cards are worth considering. 'Alkmene', which matures in early September, is a fine fresh apple but doesn't keep well. 'Fiesta' compares well in flavor with 'Cox Orange Pippin' (one of its parents), has larger size and no cracking problems, and keeps well.


Though culinary apples are easy to divide into varieties that bake well ('Rome Beauty', for example), or make good sauce ('Yellow Transparent') or pies ('Northern Spy'), you probably wouldn't put a tree in your garden for just one of those purposes. Multipurpose apples generally rated better in our survey.

Our raters chose 'Gravenstein' as the existing standard--it makes excellent sauce and pies--and voted nothing else higher. Another old one, 'Newtown Pippin', tied for first; one source said, "If I had to get down to one apple, it would be 'Newtown Pippin'."

'Melrose' rated well (third) simply because it holds shape and flavor so well when baked; it also keeps well.

Raters put 'Granny Smith', an old Australian variety, on the list, pointing out that while you may not think much of the 'Granny Smith' apples you get in stores, tree-ripened fruits are hard to beat, and the trees do very well in warm-summer gardens. It finished fourth.

The wild cards here are 'Boskoop', a European apple that scored high in early university trials in Oregon and Washington; and 'Bramley's Seedling', a tart old English variety that delighted the raters who tried it.


Asked to name their favorite early apples, most of our experts said something like, "The season begins with 'Gravenstein'." But everybody we talked with has a love-hate relationship with this 300-year-old variety. The fruit is excellent both fresh and cooked, but the tree frequently drops imperfect fruit, bears fruit heavily only in alternate years, puts out rank growth, needs a pollenizer, and can't pollinate any other varieties. …

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