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The Gravenstein Apple Tree

Gravenstein Apple tree harvest time is eagerly anticipated by apple aficionados and culinary locavores. This heirloom variety is fun to grow and extremely prolific, but difficult to transport due to its short shelf life. Since it’s not a great keeping apple, you need to gobble them up or preserve them while they are in season.

Closeup of a girl holding a pair of freshly picked Gravenstein Apples.
Girl holding freshly picked Gravenstein Apples.

If you love great tasting apples, Gravenstein apples are an excellent choice. They are sweet and crunch with a hint of honey when you bite into their crisp flesh. You need to put one or two trees into your home orchard and grow yourself some of these golden gems. The yellow fruit with its mottled red stripes is striking against the dark green leaves. “Gravs”, to growers and apple enthusiasts, are widely adaptable to various climates, and they are super producer. 

Tart and sweet, Gravs are perfect for fresh eating immediately after harvest. They have a firm texture making them excellent for baked goods, sauces, and dried fruit.

History of the Gravenstein Apple Tree

In the 17th century, a Dutch Count, Frederik the Younger, brought this apple variety home to Grasten Palace. The cultivar became known as the Gravenstein, the German variant of Grasten. 

The Gravenstein apple came to North America in the 19th century. It is suspected Russian fur traders brought the fruit to Canada. Nova Scotia was known for its production of Gravenstein trees, and they still flourish there today. The apples are grown across the USA and Canada. This heirloom variety is grown widely in California, but the older orchards are giving way to increased grape production.

Gravenstein Fruit Tree Characteristics

The Gravenstein apples are perfect for the home orchardist because the apples ripen individually over the course of a few weeks. This makes harvesting easier for the home grower, but nearly impossible for the commercial grower who prefers to harvest the tree all at once. Additionally, the fruit has a short stem which mostly requires delicate hand-picking. 

In spring the tree is awash in pretty pale pink buds that break into fragrant white blooms. The trees have been known to produce a second blush of blooms, which makes this pretty fruit tree an excellent edible ornamental option.

Closeup of a white blossom of the Gravenstein Apple tree.
The blossom of a Gravenstein Apple tree.

It can take anywhere from two to five years for the tree to produce a harvestable size fruit production. The Gravenstein does have biennial fruit bearing tendencies which can be somewhat mitigated by planting a good pollination partner close by, within 50 feet.

As far as apple trees go, the Gravenstein is among the largest of standard apples. It supports a strong and wide branching structure and benefits from thoughtful pruning.  

Planting Zones

Grown virtually everywhere in North American and Europe, the Gravenstein Apple Tree’s USDA hardiness runs from zone 2 to zone 9 encompassing all the lower 48 states excluding only the lower tip of Florida. It requires only 700 chill hours, which is a low chill requirement, given it the widespread growing range.

Check out our piece on How To Plant Apple Trees. It will highlight all the important dos and don’ts of successfully growing your own apple trees.

Size and Spacing

The Gravenstein Apple Tree grows to a mature height of 15 to 18 feet and a mature width of 12 to 15 feet. The large deciduous tree lives a long and productive life. It is statuesque and will command a wide space.

Mature, wide-spreading Gravenstein Apple Tree.
Gravenstein Apple Tree.

Good for a large orchard with lots of space where it can stretch out, the Gravenstein Apple Tree can also be pruned successfully for use in a smaller garden or an edible ornamental plant. Just make sure to give this tree plenty of room, and it will reward you with bushels of tasty apples.

Pollination

A triploid apple variety, the Gravenstein Apple Tree requires pollination from another apple trees. It blossoms early and requires another apple variety that flowers early in the season to get the best pollination possible. Frequently it produces a second flush of blooms, so planting an early/mid, pollinator friendly apple variety also will increase the yield exponentially.

The Gravenstein is not a good pollinator — do not rely on it to help around the orchard. It likes to look pretty but does not want to join the pollination party.

The Gravenstein needs a good pollination partner. We have listed several excellent options below. Click through the link on these apple varieties to learn all about their growing habitats, care, and apple recipes.

Good pollinators for the Gravenstein Apple include:

Tree Care

Like most apple trees, the Gravenstein Apple Tree requires basic care and will reward you will a bountiful harvest. Select the right spot in your garden for your tree, and you will be picking beautiful apples for years to come.

Sunlight

  • The Gravenstein requires full sun. A solid six hours of sunlight, preferably morning sun, is necessary.
  • This tree has a large spread, be sure to give it plenty of room and avoid having it shaded from other trees.

Watering

  • It grows best in moderate, damp, loamy soil with minimal soil drying during the summer months.
  • It will also tolerate short periods of dry conditions, but like all fruit trees, water is essential for producing beautiful, juicy fruit.
  • Gravensteins will not thrive in areas of high groundwater and require moderate protection against wind.

Pruning 

  • Pruning is important for healthy apple trees. It creates a sturdy scaffold to support heavy fruit bearing.
  • Pruning is also important to promote sunlight and air circulation.
  • See our Pruning Apple Trees: The Homeowners Complete Guide for all your apple tree pruning questions.

Diseases & Care

  • The Gravenstein is resistant to Cedar Apple Rust making it a good candidate for growers who want to stay as organic as possible.
  • It is susceptible to blight, apple scab, and powdery mildew, so you need to keep an eye out for signs of these diseases and pests.

Common Uses For The Gravenstein Apple

With its sweet and tart taste and crispy flesh, the Gravenstein apple is great for fresh eating off the tree. Due to the short shelf life, preserving this apple by making sauce or drying are two traditional ways of storing it through the winter. If your own tree isn’t producing fruit yet, seek out Gravs at the local farmers markets. When you find them, be sure to purchase enough to munch on and to cook with.

Closeup of picked Gravenstein Apples.
Gravenstein Apples.

This simple and easy Gravenstein Applesauce from The Heritage Cook works up in a jiffy. It’s delightful as a side dish, a topping for ice cream, or simply eaten on its own. Sugar, water, and flavorful heirloom apples make an applesauce that will be your go-to autumn recipe. Add a dash of cinnamon, and you will have a fan favorite.

In the Alps, you will encounter an artisanal brandy called Ostler. Typically made by farmers from fruit must, a selection of assorted fruits are fermented and distilled to produce this wonderful fermented liquor.  

Gravenstein apples make delicious dried fruit snacks. When your harvest is gluttonous, oven-drying these beauties will allow you to keep them ready for munching all year long. Here is a simple oven drying method to make crispy apple chips in just an hour. You can’t get any easier than that.

Gravensteins hold their shape when baked making them good candidates for your favorite baked apple recipe. We have a few favorites, try our Old Fashioned Apple Crisp recipe for a classic home style dish that is surely a crowd pleaser. 

The Gravenstein apple is a perfect substitute for almost any apple recipe. Apple pies, apple cakes, and baked apples are delicious when made with Gravs.

Apple Cinnamon Bread on a white platter.
Apple Cinnamon Bread (click for the recipe).

 

Health Benefits of Eating Apples 

A medium apple is a simple but perfect snack loaded with nutrients. A three-inch diameter apple will yield about one and a half cups of sweet, yummy fruit chunks or slices. We all need to eat more fruit and adding apples to your daily menu is simple. Grab one as your go-to, mid-day snack. They can be sweet and juicy or tart and crunchy, but anyway you slice them, the health benefits are clear, a diet high in fiber and low in calories is a perfect combination for a apple healthy snack. 

Check out all the great and wonderfully healthy things adding apples to your diet will do for you!  The 10 Amazing Health Benefits of Apples will get you started down a healthy path. When you grow your own apples, you know you have the freshest and most organic produce in your kitchen. 

Where To Buy You Own Gravenstein Apple Tree

When purchasing fruit trees it is important to select a tree that has had a good start. When you start with a healthy sapling, you are already on the road to success. We recommend Nature Hills Nursery, our trusted source for excellent fruit trees. They offer the classic Heirloom Gravenstein Apple Tree for your home orchard planting, and you can rest assured your tree has been cared for properly.

While not the easiest apple tree to grow, and not a good choice for a beginner orchardist, the Gravenstein Apple tree is sought by apple growers because of its superior flavor and bountiful harvest.

Where To Buy Seasonal Gravenstein Apples

Gravenstein Apples are not a good shipping apple given their short, two-week shelf life. Additionally, they ripen sporadically making it difficult for large commercial farmers to harvest. Therefore, to enjoy these tasty little gems, you need to grow your own. Alternatively, you may find them at local farm stands and farmer’s markets in the fall. You need to snatch them up when you see them, they will be gone before you can say “American as Apple Pie!” 

Wrapping up The Gravenstein Apple Tree

If you have a small established orchard, adding a Gravenstein Apple Tree is a great addition to your apple growing varieties. With its hard to find commercial nature, sweet and zesty flavor profile, and excellent baking ability, the Gravenstein Apple is a true gem. 

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