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Apples: choosing cultivars

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last updated Apr 1, 2014
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'Discovery' is a good choice for a dessert apple. Image: Graham Titchmarsh/RHS Herbarium

Apples are the easiest fruit to grow and by choosing the right one, you’ll have a regular, abundant crop of tasty fruits, no matter how large or small your garden.

Practical considerations Back to top

With so many different apple trees available to buy, it can be confusing knowing which is the right one for you.

Important considerations include:

Garden size: If size is no restriction, choose a standard or half-standard tree. These give the best yields. If size is an issue, consider a dwarf-bush, spindlebush, pyramid, cordon or stepover. These all can be grown in a small space, or even in a pot. Alternatively, train apples as espaliers or fans. You can also buy ‘family’ trees. These have three cultivars grafted onto one tree. They may be a good choice where there is not enough space for more than one tree.  But beware: the different cultivars may grow at different rates, with the most vigorous taking over unless careful pruning is practised.

Dessert (eating) or culinary (cooking): The majority of apple cultivars are either dessert or culinary, although some are dual-purpose (these are seldom excellent for either use). Many culinary apples become sweeter on storage, lending themselves to dessert use from late winter.

Storage: Some apples need to be eaten within a few weeks of picking, otherwise flavour and texture rapidly deteriorate, leading to wastage if the apples cannot be used fast enough. Apples that can be stored are easier to use without waste, but they can take up much storage space.

Taste: Flavour is usually the most important consideration for most gardeners. Organised autumn 'apple tasting' events are a useful way to determine particular favourites. Unfortunately imported cultivars sold in supermarkets are from warmer countries, and have a different flavour when grown in Britain, even if they grow well, which is often not the case. The majority of fruit cultivars are developed by crossing two known parents and this allows the offspring to inherit certain flavour characteristics. If you know the parentage, you can get an idea of the flavour.

Disease resistance: Resistance to disease is another consideration which varies between cultivars, with modern types often having higher levels of resistance than traditional ones.

Pollination group: For the best yields, apples need pollination from a different cultivar that flowers at the same time. If you have a large enough garden, you can plant two different cultivars (pollination partners). But most gardeners do not have this luxury, so need to rely on pollen from a neighbouring apple tree.

Downloads

Apple pollination groups (Adobe Acrobat pdf 58KB)

Cultivar selection Back to top

Although more than 700 apples are listed in the RHS Plant Finder and in nursery catalogues, those with the RHS Award of Garden Merit are especially suitable for use in gardens. Ones that have proved especially reliable are:

Culinary (cooking) cultivars

Name: Emneth Early (Early Victoria) AGM
Pollination group:
Season of use: July-August
Quality: Good
Comments: Early to crop when other apples not yet ripe

Name: Golden Noble AGM
Pollination group:
Season of use: October-December
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Upright habit, reliable and easy to grow

Name: Lane’s Prince Albert AGM
Pollination group:
Season of use: November-March
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Small tree ideal for garden use

Name: Bramley’s Seedling AGM
Pollination group: 3(T) 
Season of use: November-March
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Large tree, best for larger gardens

Name: Dumellers Seedling AGM
Pollination group: 4
Season of use: November-March
Quality: Excellent
Comments: High quality reliable, easy to grow cooker for late winter

Dual-purpose cultivars

Name: Charles Ross AGM
Pollination group:
Season of use: September-November 
Quality: Good
Comments: Good for dessert and cooking during autumn

Name: Blenheim Orange AGM
Pollination group: 3(T)
Season of use: November-January 
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Large tree, best for larger gardens. 

Dessert cultivars

Name: Discovery AGM
Pollination group:
Season of use: August-September
Quality: Fair
Comments: Useful for when other apples not yet ready. Cannot be stored.

Name: Laxtons Fortune AGM
Pollination group: 3 (B) 
Season of use: September-October
Quality: Excellent
Comments: The best autumn dessert apple

Name: Sunset AGM
Pollination group:
Season of use: October-December
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Very reliable and heavy cropping

Name: Egremont Russet AGM 
Pollination group: 2
Season of use: October-December
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Reliable and good for storage

Name: Kidd’s Orange Red AGM
Pollination group:
Season of use: November-January
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Very reliable and heavy cropping

Name: Fiesta AGM 
Pollination group: 3
Season of use: October-March
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Very reliable and easy to grow Cox's type dessert apple to store for late winter

Name: Pixie AGM
Pollination group:
Season of use: December-March
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Very reliable and easy to grow Cox's type dessert apple.  Small fruited.

Name: Greensleeves AGM
Pollination group: 3
Season of use: September-November
Quality: Good
Comments: Easy to grow, reliable, Golden Delcious type apple

Name: Falstaff AGM
Pollination group: 3
Season of use: October-January
Quality: Excellent
Comments: Easy to grow reliable apple for mid-winter

T = Triploid, needing two other pollinators
B = Sometimes produces fruit alternate years if not pruned carefully (biennial)

For more information, see our list of AGM fruit.

Quick facts

  • Apples are easy to grow in any size garden
  • Choose standards or half-standards for larger gardens
  • Choose dwarf-bush, spindlebush or stepovers for small gardens
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