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The Cameo Apple Tree

Once called the Carousel apple, the Cameo apple is prized by chefs, farmers, and home growers alike. Not only is this apple cold hardy and easy to grow, it is also a heavy producer of delicious, long-keeping fruit. You can use it in almost anything, from fresh eating to baked goods. 

Multiple Cameo Apples on a Tree.
Multiple Cameo Apples on a Tree.

We can’t definitively say that the Cameo is the perfect apple variety, but it might be as close as you can get. Easy to grow and delicious to eat, this apple has a constant fan base among both consumers and gardeners that keep them coming back harvest after harvest. 

History of The Cameo Apple Tree 

The Cameo apple tree developed by chance in an orchard in Dryden, Washington, in 1987. The sapling grew independently on the border between Red Delicious and Golden Delicious groves. Because of this, farmers thought it might have been a natural cross between the two varieties. 

The fruit has become increasingly popular since then, but it is not widely grown. Whenever it is available, stocks do not last long. Though people are divided on the Red and Golden Delicious varieties, their descendent the Cameo is almost universally beloved.

Cameo Apple Tree And Fruit Characteristics 

The Cameo apple tree isn’t just prized for its delicious and easy-to-grow fruit. It is also a stunning ornamental tree offering beautiful views throughout the year. In the spring, they bloom with white, fragrant flowers that draw a variety of pollinators. In the autumn after the harvest, the foliage turns bright yellow.

The Cameo apple is a medium-sized, evenly-shaped fruit. It is most recognizable because of its distinctive red stripes that mix with shades of yellow and pale green. The fruit itself is extremely fragrant, just like the tree’s flowers. It has crisp, pale yellow flesh that smells amazing when cut. It is also known for having a thinner skin, which makes it easy to cut and great for baking. 

Planting Zones

The Cameo apple is extremely cold hardy. It thrives in USDA planting zones 4 through 8, making it ideal for cooler climates. However, it can also withstand a lot of heat, provided that it has enough water to stay hydrated. 

Size And Spacing 

Standard-sized Cameo apple trees generally reach between 18 and 25 feet at full maturity. They have a spread of between 15 and 18 feet. You can also find semi-dwarf varieties that are significantly smaller and thinner. 

The general rule of thumb for apple trees is to plant them as far apart as their canopy spreads. In other words, you want your Cameo apple tree to be at least 18 feet away from any other plants, trees, or structures. This ensures that it can adequately spread its roots and branches to get the most nutrients from the sun and soil! 

Bear in mind that Cameo trees need cross-pollinators. While each tree needs enough space to thrive, they shouldn’t be any more than 60 feet apart to encourage proper cross-pollination. 

Pollination 

The Cameo apple tree is not self-pollinating. It needs to be cross-pollinated by another sweet apple tree. The best choices include Pink Lady, Gala, Fuji, and Braeburn apples. Make sure to plant these trees close enough to allow for cross-pollination while giving each tree enough space to spread its roots and canopy. 

Bee Pollinating an Apple Tree
Bee pollinates apple tree flowers.

Tree Care 

The Cameo apple tree is widely known as one of the easiest apple varieties to grow. Its needs are simple, it is resistant to some pests and diseases, and you are almost guaranteed a good crop of fruit. As long as you provide for its basic needs, your Cameo is bound to thrive. 

Sunlight 

Apple trees need full sun, which means they should get sun exposure at least six to eight hours a day. More is even better and will help your tree thrive. Since apple trees don’t like excessive moisture, choose a spot where your Cameo will get some morning sunlight. This will help the morning dew evaporate off its leaves and branches so that it stays dry. 

Watering 

Cameo apple trees should have steady and reliable access to water without being drowned or oversaturated. While the Cameo apple tree is moderately drought tolerant, this is never ideal. 

In general, as long as your apple tree is getting water through rainfall (at least an inch every 10 days or so) you don’t need to water supplementally. If the season is drier, check the roots once a week and water just enough to moisten them. 

Apple trees may also benefit from deep soaking, especially in their first few years of life. To do this, turn your garden hose on just a trickle and nestle it into your tree’s root system. Let it drip directly into the soil for about an hour. Do this once a week when the weather is dry. 

Make sure your Cameo apple tree is planted in loamy, well-draining soil to avoid drowning the roots during wet seasons. 

Pruning 

The Cameo apple tree has very basic pruning needs. Ideally, aim to prune it during the late winter while the tree is dormant. Focus on removing dead or cross branches to open the canopy up to the sunlight. 

If you want to train your tree, this is a great way to keep it smaller to fit in your garden or yard. Some home growers trim their Cameo apple tree into an espalier shape, meaning that it can grow up against a wall. 

Espalier apple tree trained to grow up against a wall.
Espalier apple tree trained to grow up against a wall.

If you have a particularly large crop, make sure to thin the branches once the fruit reaches quarter size. This will help the remaining fruit take advantage of nutrients and grow larger, with more flavor and juice. 

Learn more about pruning the Cameo Apple Tree here.

Diseases And Care 

Although the Cameo apple tree is more resistant to diseases and pests than some varieties, you should still pay close attention to make sure it stays healthy. This variety is fairly susceptible to cedar apple rust, a fungus common in the eastern part of the continent. It may also develop canker, honey fungus, blossom wilt, or powdery mildew. 

If you see evidence that your tree is infected, act right away. It may be better to do preventative treatment to stop infections before they begin, especially if you live in an area where certain tree diseases are common. 

For more information on apple tree diseases, check out this link.

Pests

Some of the pests that Cameo apple trees might attract include aphids, apple scab, apple caterpillars, codling moths, and red spider mites. It is a good idea to learn to recognize the signs of these pests so you can take measures to protect your apple tree. 

Common Uses For The Cameo Apple

The Cameo apple is a wonderfully versatile fruit. It is used extensively for eating fresh as well as baking, preserving, and more. Because it keeps well, you can store it in your fridge or basement (ideally somewhere cool) for many months, even enjoying it through the winter. 

Fresh Cameo Apples.
Fresh Cameo apples.

What Does The Cameo Apple Taste Like? 

The Cameo apple has a thin skin that breaks with a snap on your first bite. It is a delicious balance of sweetness and acidity, with a bit of a sour zip. These medium-sized fruits also have a lot of juice, so there is almost no wrong way to enjoy them.

Cooking 

You can cook Cameo apples by stewing or roasting if you prefer. But they are particularly good for baking. This is because they hold their shape well. Instead of your apples turning to mush in a pie shell, they’ll become deliciously soft without falling apart. 

Eating Raw 

Cameo apples are delicious when eaten raw, as they are extremely crisp and juicy. They are also a great apple variety for adding to fruit salads and other raw dishes. They have a natural resistance to browning which makes them a both delicious and beautiful choice for adding to a plate. 

Canning/Freezing/Drying 

There are many great ways to preserve the Cameo apple, though they keep fresh for many months. These apples are a perfect choice for stewing or turning into apple butter, jam, jelly, cider, or anything else you can imagine. 

Apple butter on bread.
Apple butter on bread.

You might not have heard of freezing apples, but it is an excellent way to keep them for future use in baked goods or preserves. Cameos are a good choice for freezing, since sweeter apple varieties tend to hold their flavor in the freezer better than tart ones. 

If you have a home dehydrator, you can also try your hand at making your own dried apples. There are also ways to do this with a standard oven. Dried apples keep in your pantry indefinitely and are a great addition to baked goods and trail mix or just on their own. 

Recipes

There are countless ways to enjoy Cameo apples. Because they are so good in baked goods, you might want to try a recipe like savory apple onion tarts, old-fashioned apple crisp,healthy apple muffins, or apple fritters

Savory Apple Onion Tart can be deliciously made with Cameo Apples.
Savory Apple Onion Tart can be deliciously made with Cameo Apples.

Because Cameo apples store so well, you can keep a good stock of them on hand to bake with any time of the year. 

Health Benefits of that Fruit  

Like other apple varieties, Cameo apples have many health benefits. They are extremely high in antioxidants. Studies have linked regular apple consumption to a lowered incidence of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. They may also improve gut health by improving your body’s production of healthy intestinal bacteria. 

You can learn more about the health benefits of the Cameo apple here.

Where To Buy The Cameo Apple Tree

You can buy the Cameo apple tree from commercial growers like Nature Hills. They are a popular choice for home growers since they are a hardy and simple apple cultivar. They also respond well to training, so you can prune them into a smaller shape to fit any size yard. 

Where To Buy The Fruit 

Unfortunately, Cameo apples aren’t widely sold in grocery stores. If you are lucky, you may be able to track them down at a local farmers’ market. But depending where you live, the best way to taste a Cameo might be to grow it yourself! 

FAQs

What Pest And Disease Prevention Should You Do For The Cameo Apple Tree?

Because the Cameo apple tree is vulnerable to several types of disease and pests, you may want to consider treating the tree preventatively. In the early spring, spray with a commercial pesticide or fungicide specially formulated for apple trees. This will improve your chances of your apple tree staying healthy and producing a good crop of fruit. 

Wrapping up The Cameo Apple Tree

The Cameo apple is an easy-to-grow, dependable tree that produces delicious fruit. Though the apples are hard to find in stores, they are a consistent favorite of home growers and can be trained to fit any size yard. They produce a good amount of fruit that keeps in the fridge or cellar for many months, ensuring that you can enjoy the delicious taste long after the harvest is over.