Buying Heirloom Apple Trees
Here are some options for varieties that our pomologists have identified as the most suitable for New England, and which are more naturally pest- and disease-resistant. In order to participate as an official Delegation in the Boston Tree Party, you must plant heirloom trees, which are classic historical varieties. The varieties below are the best options, but if you are interested in a different variety please consult us first before ordering to make sure it is an heirloom and suitable for the area.
Recommended Heirloom Apple Tree Varieties:
- WESTFIELD SEEK-NO-FURTHER: Originated in Westfield, MA before 1796. An excellent dessert apple for fresh eating that also stores well. The medium-size apple has firm, crisp flesh with a wonderful, slightly acidic and complex flavor. Thick skin tends to be very muted yellow with some russet blush or stripes. Especially likes very well-drained soil, not heavy wet clay. Ripens in late September and early October.
- ROXBURY RUSSET: Originated in Roxbury, MA in the early 1600s and thought to be the first named American apple variety. Medium-large greenish fruit mostly covered with russet. Famous for dessert and cider, ripens late in the fall and keeps in storage until late spring. Together with Baldwin and Rhode Island Greening, one of the big three commercial apples in New England for much of the nineteenth century.
- (ESOPUS) SPITZENBURG: Originated in Esopus, Ulster County, NY, 18th century. A choice late fall dessert and culinary apple, mentioned in nearly every list of best-flavored varieties. Slightly tart, crisp and juicy. Famous for being Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple. Medium-large bright-red round to mostly conic fruit. Excellent acid source for sweet or fermented cider.
- GOLDEN RUSSET: Uncertain origin but thought to be from England, New York, or New England. Grown throughout New York and New England for many generations. The champagne of cider apples, ripens late in fall and keeps well into spring. Also famous as a dessert fruit. Round medium-sized fruit with deep yellow golden russeted skin.
- GRIMES GOLDEN: Originated in West Virginia and thought to be the parent of the Golden Delicious. All-purpose medium-sized roundish yellow fruit ripens in mid-fall and keeps until about the first of the year. Fruit ripens over a longer period of time on the tree. Although popular throughout the South, it was also traditionally grown throughout much of New York and New England as far north as central Maine.
- WAGENER: Originated in Penn Yan, NY around 1791. A great all-around apple for eating fresh, baking, or making cider. Apples have thin, glossy green skin that can be flushed with red. White flesh is crisp and tender with some excellent tartness, somewhat similar to Northern Spy in taste. Harvest goes into late fall and stores well.
- BALDWIN: Originated in Wilmington, MA, about 1740. Also called Butters Apple or Woodpecker. Discovered on the Butters Farm by a surveyor planning the Middlesex Canal and noted as a favorite site for local woodpeckers. Massachusetts’ most famous apple. By 1850 Baldwin was the standard all-purpose home and commercial variety throughout New York and New England. Hard deep-red crisp juicy fruit ripens in late fall and keeps in storage until spring.
The ordering deadline for Fedco Trees is usually early March. For Miller Nurseries, the ordering deadline is typically mid-May and early fall. Check for specific dates, as they may change each year. Note that the earlier you order your trees, the better chance you have of getting the varieties you prefer.
The Root of the Matter
For some varieties you will have the option to choose trees grown on dwarf, semi-dwarf, or standard rootstocks. This determines the final size of the tree (including how quickly they start bearing fruit and how much):
Dwarf: Trees average around 4-8 feet high, and start bearing in 3 years.
Semi-dwarf: Trees average around 10-12 feet high, and start bearing in 3-4 years.
Standard: Trees can eventually grow in excess of 30 feet high, and start bearing in 5-8 years (though their height can be controlled with careful pruning).
In general, smaller trees will start producing fruit earlier, and can fit in smaller spaces, but may also need more care and will not live as long. Their root systems tend to be smaller and shallower, making them less likely to withstand severe weather.
We highly recommend getting semi-dwarf or standard trees, depending on the amount of space you have available. Dwarf trees tend to be much less hardy and have many more problems (see this leaflet or FAQ for more information).
Whip it Good
When you order your trees, you will be buying what are called whips. These are very small, young trees (usually 1-3 years old) that do not yet have branches. Trees planted at this age transplant readily and will easily adapt to a new environment. Though it would seem that the larger / older the tree the better, the larger ones tend to be much more stressed by transplanting to a new site. With proper care and protection, the whips that you will be planting will grow and thrive in their new homes with minimal stress and trauma. Within the first year, you should see branches developing and it will grow into a ‘real’ tree in no time!