Imagine this: It’s autumn, and all the leaves on the trees have turned varying shades of crimson, marigold, and pumpkin orange. The air is crisp, and you’re curled up next to the fire pit with a good book. But something is missing.
What would make this picture complete? A glass of freshly made apple cider, of course! And even better– cider that came from cider apple trees grown in your very own orchard!
But what does it take to grow your own cider apples? How do you choose the best variety for your home orchard? Where should you begin in your quest for the perfect glass of homemade cider?
If you’ve ever asked questions like these, this article is for you!
Read on to discover tips and practices for choosing the best cider apples for your home orchards!
What is a Cider Apple?
First, it’s important to understand that not all apples are created equal–at least where cider is concerned. If making cider is your goal, you’ll need to choose specific varieties for your orchard.
There are over 7,000 different apple cultivars grown around the globe, so there are definitely options for starting your own orchard. But to make cider, you’ll need to plant cider apples.
Cider apples are cultivars grown specifically to make cider. Unlike many other apple varieties that can be eaten straight from the tree and considered “dessert” apples, cider apples aren’t the tastiest right off the branch. In fact, they’re typically either very bitter, sharp or very tart.
However, once pressed, the juice from cider apples can be used to create a delicious concoction that any cider connoisseur would approve of.
So what cider apples should you plant in your home orchard?
Well, there are over 300 varieties of cider apples, so you have options! However, there are a few key factors that you may want to consider when narrowing it down.
By examining the components of cider apples, determining what type of cider you’d like to make, and understanding a few other components, you can decide what cider apple variety is best for your needs.
Need more help? Keep reading!
Things To Consider When Choosing the Right Cider Apple Trees for Your Orchard
Components of a Cider Apple
Cider apples are made up of three main components that heavily influence their taste: acidity, tannins, and sugar.
The acidity of an apple determines its level of tartness. The higher the level of acidity in an apple, the more tart the apple will taste.
Tannins, an organic compound, are found within the skin of the apple and inside the flesh of the fruit. Tannins give the apple a dry or bitter flavor.
Sugar in an apple obviously determines its sweetness. A sweet apple will produce a sweeter cider, which is particularly important in producing hard cider, which uses sugar as a part of the fermentation process.
Making quality apple cider means understanding the balance between these three components. It’s also important to note that there is a lot of room for experimentation when it comes to flavor. Just like with apples in general, not all apple ciders are alike.
Thus, when it comes to choosing which cider apple trees you’d like to grow in your orchard, you’ll need to consider what type of cider you are hoping to produce.
Types of Cider and Best Apple Varieties for Each
There are four main types or kinds of cider: Sweet, Sharp, Bittersweet, and Bittersharp. Depending on how you’d like your cider to taste, each type has different varieties of apples.
Sweet cider is, of course, very sweet! It has a relatively low level of both acid and tannins.
The best apples for sweet cider are Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji, Roxbury Russet, and Golden Delicious.
For tart but not dry cider, also known as sharp cider, you’ll want cider apples such as Granny Smith or Mcintosh.
Other good apples for Sharp cider include Newtown Pippin, Cortland, Esopus Spitzenburg, and Harrison.
Bittersweet cider comes from apples that are high in tannins and sugar but also low in acidity. This type of cider isn’t super tart but does have a dry-tasting quality. The best varieties for this type of cider are Yarlington Mill, Dabinett, and Somerset Redstreak apples.
The opposite is Bittersharp cider, which has high acidity and tannins, making a tart and dry cider. Kingston Black, Foxwhelp, and Porter’s Perfection are the best apples for this type of cider.
Choosing the variety of cider apple trees for your home orchard is largely influenced by your own personal tastes and preferences. You’ll want to think carefully about the taste of the cider you hope to make when choosing what trees to plant. Sweet? Sharp? It’s totally up to you!
However, your palate is not the only thing you must consider before planting.
Your Orchard: Location & Size
A big component of the apple selection for your orchard comes from the size of the apple trees themselves and how much space you have to work with. Orchards of cider apple trees can be big or small, but before you begin planting any trees, you need to examine the location itself.
Having a plot of land that receives plenty of sunlight is essential, but you’ll also need to ensure enough room for the trees to have adequate ventilation. Without proper airflow, the apple trees could become sick with fungal infections or other diseases.
Full-sized trees require a lot of acreage and can be tricky when it comes to harvesting the apples. Most home orchards are made up of semi-dwarf and dwarf trees that don’t require as much space or care.
When choosing what variety you’d like to grow in your home orchard, you’ll need to carefully measure your location’s dimensions and ensure the apples you choose will work within that space.
This may mean you need to choose the semi-dwarf or dwarf variety to ensure there is plenty of room for the trees and the rootstock.
Whether your orchard is big or small, you’ll need to pay attention to the bloom time of your trees. In a smaller orchard, it’s best if the varieties all produce fruit around the same time. You can expect significantly more fruit in a larger orchard and stagger the harvest times.
Another important factor to think about is apple tree cross-pollination. Typically, cider apple trees thrive best in an orchard of mixed variety, and pollination is essential for fruit production.
Bees are the main pollinators of apples, and the process of cross-pollination is a very important one. When the bees go back and forth among the trees, they carry with them the pollen from the varying flowers. This cross-pollination is one that almost all apple varieties rely on to produce fruit.
Some apple varieties play more nicely together than others when it cross-pollination, so you’ll want to examine their relationship to ensure that your trees have the best shot at producing the fruit you will need to make your apple cider.
But how do I know which varieties would work well together?
That’s a great question! The key is making sure that the apples you choose are genetically different from one another and do not come from the same family group.
Go Forth and Grow!
Starting a cider apple orchard may seem a little intimidating at first, but really it’s not so bad! The key is choosing the right varieties for whatever type of cider you’re hoping for and ensuring ample space for those trees to grow and pollinate.
There are so many different options to choose from, but once you’ve chosen your apple varieties, the next step is to go forth and grow those trees!
Pretty soon, you’ll be sitting by that firepit with a glass of fresh, homemade apple cider from apples grown in your very own orchard! Not only will it be tasty and refreshing, but also incredibly rewarding. A fall treat you’ll look forward to every single year.
If you’re looking for even more ways to enjoy the fruits of your labor, check out these 50 recipes to make with apple cider.
And in the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about harvesting apples, how to properly care for your cider apple trees, or have questions, we encourage you to visit our Apple Trees page.