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All About Cortland Apples

Cortland apples top the list for home gardeners due to their ease of growth and the delicious, versatile fruit they bear.

Table of Contents
    Organic Cortland Apples

    History

    Botanists created the Cortland apple tree at the New York State Agricultural Experimental Station in Geneva, New York in 1898.   The trees are named after the nearby county of Cortland, also in New York.

    They crossed McIntosh and Ben Davis apple trees to create a new tree (Cortland APples) that soon grew in popularity because the new cultivar maintained the cold hardiness of the Ben Davis tree and the tasty fruit of the McIntosh Tree.

    New fruit tree variants are created by intentional cross-pollination by botanists.  They control the pollination of a tree’s blossoms to ensure all blossoms are pollinated by pollen from another known tree. 

    When those blossoms turn to fruit, the apples are picked and the seeds removed.  Botanists then plant those seeds, and five to eight years later, those seeds will be trees ready to bear fruit.

    Fruit Appearance

    Fresh Cortland Apples

    The appeal of Cortland apples (Malus domestica) predominantly stems from the production and qualify of its fruit rather than ornamental value.  It is the 12th-most produced apple in the United States.

    When ripe, the apple will be a bright red with yellow streaks, green specks, and perhaps a green blush.   The flashes of lighter colors do not reflect a lack of ripeness or quality.  

    Fruit Taste and Charteristics

    Cortland apples benefit from the best traits of its parent plants.  It boasts a sweet flavor with a bit of tartness like a McIntosh, but it is not as soft, making it a perfect fruit for baking.  Its crisp interior holds up well after slicing, and best of all, the white flesh of the fruit is slow to brown even after being sliced or cut open.   

    Harvest

    You can plan to harvest Cortland Apples in mid- September through October. Look for fruit the same time you would pick the Jonathan hybrids. This popular apple will quickly lose its crispness after harvest.

    Growth

    Apple Orchard on a Fall Day

    The most limiting factor of the Cortland apple tree is that it requiress 800 to 1,000 hours of chill hours. Sufficient chill hours, or vernalization, breaks down the hormone that creates dormancy in the winter.  When the hormone has fully broken down, the tree will bud out and create white flowers. 

    The mature size of this tree depends on the version planted.  The semi-dwarf reaches 12 to 15 feet in height and 12 to 15 feet in width.  The smaller dwarf version only reaches 8 to 10 feet in height and width.

    Regardless of size, the tree is cold-hardy and grows best in zones 4 through 9 and requires full sun. Fruit production should begin within 2 to 5 years.  

    Planting 

    Situate Cortland apples in an area with loamy soil with a pH level of 6 to 7.  If you are unsure of your soil’s pH, inexpensive testers are available online and at local nurseries.  For greater detail about your soil’s properties, you can send a representative sample of your soil to a soil testing facility.  Many state universities offer this service at a small charge; it is certainly less expensive than replacing several trees that fail to thrive.  

    When planing, be sure to dig the hole at twice the width and depth of the root ball.  Plant the tree at its original planting depth; you should see a line on the drunk showing how deep it was in the original soil.  

    Keep in mind that soil in a new, deep hole can settle, and your tree could end up at a greater depth than intended.  This can be a problem if the graft union sinks below the soil line and begins sprouting a second set of roots.  The second set of roots will lead to a larger tree.  

    Fertilize with low-nitrogen fertilizer.

    A new Cortland Apple tree will need about one gallon of water per week, and the need increases until the tree reaches maturity.  At maturity, the tree will better tolerate dry spells and need less supervision.  

    Pollinating

    Cortland apples are only partially self-fertile, meaning similar apple trees should be within 50 feet to produce the best crop. 

    When trees are cross pollinated, the original tree is fertilized with pollen from another tree.  The fruit remains that of the original tree.  Only the seeds will be changed by the introduction of another pollen type.

    Similar Apple Trees

    Cortland apples make great cross-pollinators for  McIntosh, Red Gravenstein, or Honeycrisp trees. 

    Tree Appearance

    White blooms appear mid-season starting in April. Before turning fully white, the bud will be pink.

    The tree bark is scaly and gray.

    Pruning

    Cortland apple trees bear fruit on the end of slender branches rather than dispersed on the sturdier, larger larger branches.  Pruning is particularly important for this tree because of the weight the heavy fruit will place on the ends of branches.

    Pruning of the central canopy will increase the sunlight to the interior of the tree, meaning the fruit in the interior will better ripen to its intended bright, shiny color. 

    Winter Care

    In colder areas, Cortland Apples will benefit from a few extra steps to insulate them in the winter.  Apply mulch to the base of the tree and the surrounding ground to provide the roots with extra insulation. 

    Wrap the tree trunks with a wrap to prevent frost cracking, which occurs when the sap heats up during the day and then freezes during the night. 

    Prevent Pests

    Rodents and Deer

    Small animals and deer love eating fruit trees, such as Cortland Apples, from the bark to the leaves and can quickly destroy a new tree overnight.  Wrap the trunk tightly to protect it from voles and mice and encircle it with chicken wire to prevent rabbits or deer from accessing the tree.  Replacing grass and sod from the base and substituting it with mulch can also act as a barrier to mice and voles by removing their habitat.

    Apple Tree Trunk Wrapped For Protection

    Insects

    Several insects threaten apple trees, and Cortland Apples are not among the pest resistant varieties.  If pests are common in your area or you suspect your tree has already been invaded, take steps as soon as possible to preserve the health of your tree and harvest. Generally, apple scab is not a common disease for Cortland apple trees. 

    In early spring, just before leaves bud out, spray the tree with a horticulutral oil to smother the dormant eggs of many insects. This both prevents hatching and starves the adults that feed on the eggs. The excess oil evaporates quickly, so there is no residual effectiveness.  

    In mid-summer, hang sticky traps in the tree near the fruit clusters to catch apple maggots and prevent them from laying eggs on and in the new apples.

    Curculio and codling moths also threaten fruit production.  Curculio, or apple beetles, will cause the fruit to drop prematurely.

    To remedy a curculio infestation, spray the tree with phosmet (an insecticide) after the flower petals drop and then spray again in 7 to 10 days.  

    Boring trace of a codling moth (Cydia pomonella) in an apple on a branch with leaves.

    Tackle codling moths with Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk).  Apply 15 days after the petals begin to fall and repeat in another five days.

    Left untreated, these pests will decimate your harvest and leave unpleasant visitors behind for you to find in the fruit.

    Cooking Ideas and Use

    Homemade Autumn Apple Walnut Spinach Salad with Cheese and Cranberries

    The slow-to-brown characteristic and crispness of the fruit lends a flexibility of uses not found in other apples and do not need to be relegated to apple butter or jam.

    Cortland Apples provide perfect texture for baked apple goods like apple dumplings or apple pies. 

    Consider Cortlands for salad toppings or fruit kabobs.  It can also be the star side dish in an apple slaw.

    Storage

    Given that the firm texture of the fruit melts away soon after picking, plan ahead to make the most of your harvest.  

    These are not tart apples.  The sweetness of Cortland Apples is balanced with just a bit of tartness, making it a good choice for a sharp-sweet cider or a delicious apple juice.  The drink will make a refreshing treat that is not excessively sweet.

    For a healthy, inexpensive snack that lasts throughout the year, dehydrate apples.  

    Finally, ensure that you have apples with which to cobbler, crisps, and muffins well beyond apple season by freezing your apples in slices.  

    To do so, simply peel, core, and slice the apples.  Soak them in a water and lemon juice bath (4 cups of water to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice) for five minutes. Drain very thoroughly.  Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and then freeze 4 hours or overnight.  Store the apples in a freezer-safe container for up to 1 year!

    Nutrition

    A Cortland apple a day helps keep the doctor away.   One apple contains 20 percent of your daily fiber needs, several vitamins, and even 3 percent of your daily iron.  They are also high in water.    

    Be sure to add this tree to your home orchard for a classic, popular apple with many uses for each dinner course.

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