Selection criteria – apple tree varieties

Whether you choose to order from a nursery or graft your own, proper selection of apple tree varieties is a vital part of developing healthy, mature apple trees. Since most of us are planting trees for wildlife, we won’t have time to implement intensive tree management programs, such as frequent spraying and pruning. For this reason, apple tree varieties must be selected that provide natural disease resistance, winter hardiness, and good growth habits. Luckily for us, there are many of these out there that fit this bill. Few of these varieties are sold in grocery stores, but nearly all of them have better taste than the well-known Red Delicious.

A good apple tree program will have a diverse selection of apple tree varieties. This allows you to have trees that drop at various times of the season, assist in cross-pollination, and maximize deer usage. When choosing your apple tree varieties, consider the following characteristics of each tree.

Disease Resistance

apple tree disease resistance

Disease resistance, along with tree hardiness, is a key tree characteristic that must be considered when selecting varieties. There are many diseases that can affect trees, but the most common ones that affect us are Apple Scab, Cedar Apple Rust, and Fire blight.

A number of antique apple tree varieties are either tolerant or resistant to the major tree diseases. Additionally, many new varieties have been developed specifically for their disease resistance. These varieties should make up the majority of the trees you plant. Specific varieties are covered in the variety description section.

Winter Hardiness

Depending on where you live, this may be the most important tree characteristic. A disease susceptible tree can be cared for. Nothing can be done to protect a non-hardy tree. It is vital that you make sure the trees you choose are able to survive in the climate you live. The hardiness of the tree is generally listed by the USDA zone in which it can grow and survive.

Zone also has a large effect on apple ripeness. Some trees will survive in cold climates, but will never develop ripe fruit. This doesn’t mean the tree is a poor choice for wildlife, but it is a factor that should be considered when selecting your varieties.

Dropping/Holding Times

Apple trees can ripen as early as July or as late as November. Many trees also hold on to their apples long after they ripen, providing a food source as late as January or February. This is a tremendous asset that can be used to draw deer and other wildlife to your property throughout the year. Based on the food sources in your area, you can tailor your apple selections to provide food at the times most beneficial to you hunting. This Ripeness Chart produced by Adams County Nursery gives an idea when many popular varieties ripen.


Precocity refers to how soon a tree begins to bear fruit. For most of us, the sooner, the better. While this is not a critical tree characteristic, it may help attract deer a little sooner and shorten the time to see the “fruit of your labor.”

Bearing Fruit

Generally, the more apples produced, the better. The bearing characteristics of each variety are worth considering when evaluating trees. Some trees tend to get into a biannual cycle, while others may produce consistently each year.

Growth Habits

Proper tree structure leads to better productivity and health. Some tree varieties naturally have better growth characteristics and thus require less attention making them more desirable for wildlife plantings.


If you like an apple, there’s a good chance the deer are going to like it as well. Since it’s difficult to find many of the popular wildlife varieties at a grocery store, you may need to head to an orchard if you want to test before planting.

The Short List: Trees you need to plant

There are countless varieties of trees available to you through nurseries, garden centers, and grafting. However, there are a number of them that stand out in their disease resistance, winter hardiness, and overall maintenance level. These trees are ideal for the wildlife enthusiast who is considering planting apples for the first time. They are available from a number of sources, and will help your first apple planting be a successful one.

Freedom, Enterprise, Liberty, Galarina, Florina, Williams Pride, Wolf River, Redfree

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