There are many varieties of apple in the UK. An estimate as to the exact figure would be almost 3,000! Some are very good varieties, others less so. But they are all different. Knowing what to plant where, and ensuring that you will be able to enjoy the beauty of blossom and the satisfaction of being able to pick some good fruits at harvest time, are questions that are not always straightforward.

Types of apples – basic principles

If you are planning to have your own orchard, or just a few trees in the garden, the question arises of which variety of fruit to plant. The most reliable trees from the cropping point of view are apples. Secondly you may then ask yourself, which apple variety suits me best? Which type of apple will be liked by the children and which apple does grandma prefer? I don’t want all the apples to ripen at the same time. So how do I set about making the right choice? In the end it all comes down to a few elementary principles.

  1. All apples, picked when mature, will become sweet. Some are by nature sweet when it is harvest time. Others have a degree of sharpness at harvest time and will retain their sharpness longer. Therefore if you plant more than one tree, it is best to choose different varieties. In that way your fruit will not all ripen at the same time. At harvest time, all apples are crisp. However the late maturing apples keep their crispness the longest.
  2. All apples will cook. However some apples are better suited than others. The same applies to baking and apples used for slicing. Some apples will retain their shape when baked, others go to mush.
  3. The best apples for keeping are the late maturing apples, picked in October, some even in November, particularly the smaller sized apples. However, always keep them in a dark place, which should be the coolest possible. The ideal temperature at which to keep apples is around 3 degrees Celsius.

Watch a video tutorial on how to choose apple tree varieties.

Apple varieties – factors to be considered

There are different requirements to take into consideration to achieve early and regular cropping:

  1. Weather
  2. Site
  3. Soil
  4. Pollination needs
  5. Variety characteristics
  6. Disease resistance
  7. Rootstock

There are no apple varieties which can tick all the boxes. Knowledge of the weather patterns in the various areas of the UK is therefore essential, in order to plant the right varieties. However there are varieties which I would give a treble A rating.

Groups of three varieties are best, as several varieties need good cross pollination. Some self-fertile varieties will perform without pollination, but all are improved by proper pollination. The ones I am going to single out all have fruits of excellent eating or cooking qualities. Secondly, these varieties also excel in producing fruits of long keeping quality.

However the right combination of these varieties needs to be made, according to the site and soil available in the different counties. In fact, geographical factors also affect the choice of trees. For example, in the northern counties, climatic conditions are substantially different compared with East Anglia. The average temperatures during the growing season are 2 to 3 degrees lower. This results in a shorter period in which the fruit has to mature and develop its full flavour. The same applies to the West Country; here the rainfall is substantially greater compared with the east of the country. Some well known varieties of apple trees are not suitable for high rainfall areas. Other apple tree varieties are very suitable and excel.

Having said all this, I would put the following varieties at the top of my list. Anyone considering planting some apples should include at least two of these varieties, suitable to the area where you live.

Dessert apples:

Claygate Pearmain
Lord Lambourne
Egremont Russet

Cooking apples:

Annie Elisabeth
Lanes Prince Albert
Bramley’s Seedling
Lord Derby

Dual purpose apples:

James Grieve
Blenheim Orange

Special feature trees

Here are some suggestions for varieties providing a specific type of apple:

Highly flavoured apples

Ashmead Kernel, Egremont Russet, Herefordshire Russet, Winter Wonder, Suntan, Winter Gem

Green eating apples, sweet

Greensleeves, Golden DeliciousGranny Smith.

Green eating apples, sharp

James Grieve, Sturmer Pippin, D’Arcy Spice.

Green cooking apples

Grenadier, Lord Derby, Warner’s King, Bramley, Bountiful, Arthur Turner, Reverend Wilks, Annie Elisabeth.

Red and partially coloured eating apples

Spartan, Worcester Pearmain, Fiesta, Red Pippin, Lord Lambourne, Red Windsor, Red Falstaff, Discovery, Royal Gala, Kidd’s Orange Red, Chiver’s Delight, Laxton Superb, Laxton Fortune, Sunset, Winston, Cox Orange Pippin, Scrumptious, Winter Gem, Braeburn

Russet apples, whole or partial russet

Egremont Russet, Ashmead Kernel, Rosemary Russet, Duke of Devonshire, Suntan, Winter Wonder, Ellison’s Orange, Orlean’s Reinette.

General purpose apples, large

Howgate Wonder, Charles Ross, Blenheim Orange, Peasgood Nonsuch, Tom Putt, Jonagold.

Mild cider apples

Katy, Greensleeves, Tom Putt

White blossom crab apples

Malus evereste

Red berry crab apples

Malus robusta

Crab apples for pots

Sun Rival

Crab apple jelly trees

John Downie

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The British cooking apple

Cooking apple varietyAll apples can be cooked. However some apples are specifically cooking apples, often based on the size and acidity of the fruits. If thought out and chosen carefully, it is perfectly possible to have your own supply of cooking apples, 12 months of the year.

The next factor to take in consideration is where in the country you want to plant your cooking apples. Various varieties are better suited to the North and others like the warmer South. But what applies to them all is that pollination has to be right in order to have regular crops to harvest. A few varieties will even succeed in notorious frost pockets. All the same, if you have the choice of planting higher up the slopes instead of the valley, where cold air tends to collect at night and early in the morning, particularly at blossom time, it is far better to avoid planting in low-lying areas.

The value of cooking apples is greatly underestimated. There is no dispute that by and large we do appreciate the specific flavours of the traditional eating apples. There is always a place to be found in the garden, however large or small, for a good eating apple, particularly if it has, apart from a good flavour, good keeping qualities. Due to mass production and the fact that it may have been transported from far and wide, the flavour of supermarket fruit is always suspect. It is good to see that many people have started to plant young fruit trees in their own gardens.

But what about cooking apples? At this time of the year, during all the cold winter months, over the centuries it has been recognized by many chefs and people who love to cook, that the sharpness of a good cooking apple makes a great addition for various dishes, warm or cold, which otherwise would be too sweet on their own. Years gone by, cooking apples were transported from all over the country to London, as their taste and flavour were greatly appreciated by top London restaurants. Take for example Norfolk Beefing, a splendid flavoursome apple: the price paid for these apples was the highest during the winter months. Then there is Dr. Harvey, a long-lasting good winter cooking apple from Suffolk. In fact many counties championed their own cooking apple as the best of them all. Of course, Bramley is well known and is in no danger of fading away. However it is a real pity that supermarket culture has led us to believe that a good cooking apple needs to be green. This is way off the mark, as many excellent cooking apples are coloured. Even Bramley! The real Suffolk Bramley has a good deal of colour on its cheeks.

I have chosen the best varieties from the large range of cooking apples available. Here they are in alphabetical order:

Annie Elisabeth
Arthur Turner
Blenheim Orange
Bramley’s Seedling
Dr. Harvey
Dumelow’s Seedling
Edward the VII
Golden Noble
Howgate Wonder
Lane’s Prince Albert
Lord Derby
Newton Wonder
Norfolk Beefing
Reverend Wilks
Sops in Wine
Warner’s King

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