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The Northern Spy Apple Tree

The Northern Spy Apple tree, as its name suggests, has a history full of insight and intrigue. This apple has played a role in the development of North American history as well as changing culinary attitudes towards classic apple applications.

Northern Spy Apple tree apples on branch.
Northern Spy Apples.

Whether you’re looking for an apple that tastes delicious and cider or a beautiful ornamental tree for your yard, this is your introduction to the exciting world of the Northern Spy Apple tree. 

History of the Northern Spy Apple Tree 

The history of the Northern Spy Apple is interesting, due in great part to the fact that no one is entirely certain how the apple came to have its name. The Northern Spy Apple was even the subject of a call on the popular NPR show, A Way With Words.

Despite the unclear origin of the name, the Northern Spy Apple has been honored by everyone from sitting officials in the United States governments to the postal service. This historic apple is recognized as one of the most prominent apples in American history.

The Northern Spy Apple tree got its start sometime in the 1840s on the farm of Thomas Chaplin. Chaplain was growing apples in Upstate New York when he developed and cultivated the Northern Spy Apple. Since then, this apple has taken on a second life as a favorite of historians and cooks all throughout North America. 

Northern Spy Apple Tree Characteristics

The Northern Spy Apple tree has some stunning characteristics.

The fruit of this tree grows green except in areas where the shade breaks. Where these apples are exposed to sunlight, they develop red blushes and streaks. This creates a colorful bouquet of apples that can be noticed from a good distance away. The apple tree itself also grows up to 16 ft tall and features short perky leaves. 

Planting Zones 

Learning how to grow the Northern Spy Apple tree starts with understanding its planting zones. This tree grows in zones 4 through 9. It’s a cold hardy apple tree that does better in Northern environments and can struggle as it gets closer to the equator.

Our guide on how to plant and grow apple trees will help you get all the information you need for growing a Northern Spy Apple tree.

Size and Spacing

The maximum size of a Northern Spy Apple tree is about 16 ft. This means it’s also going to have to spread that is close to 16 ft. You’re going to want to give the Northern Spy about 16 feet of space between itself and its neighboring trees. This will help prevent overcrowding and ensure that the apple trees don’t wind up competing for the same resources.


Unlike many other common apple trees, the Northern Spy Apple tree is not a self-pollinator. This means that this apple tree is going to require a pollinator in order to bear fruit. The best choice for pollinating your Northern Spy Apple is by planting a variety of other apple trees in the surrounding area.

Apple trees with white blossoms.
Apple trees in bloom.

Northern Spy Apple Tree Care

Now that you know how to plant a Northern Spy Apple tree, let’s talk about what you need to do to take care of these apple trees. The Northern Spy Apple has gained a reputation as being a historic tree here in the United States. Part of his reputation and his history comes from this tree being fairly easy to take care of.


The Northern Spy Apple tree requires full sunlight. This means that you want to plant this tree away from any buildings or obstacles that wood shade it during the day. In order for this apple tree to be healthy and to bear fruit consistently, it needs full access to sunlight.


When you first plant your Northern Spy Apple tree, you’re going to want to make sure it’s got a healthy amount of water. This will allow the roots to branch out in the tree to establish itself in its new environment. After your Northern Spy Apple becomes established, you can begin to lower the moisture content of the soil so that the tree does not become over water.

Closeup of someone holding a garden hose that water is spraying from.
Using a garden hose for watering.


Our guide on pruning apple trees will show you everything you need to know about keeping your apple tree in great shape. Here is the rundown for the basics of pruning a Northern Spy Apple.

The Northern Spy Apple tree is best pruned right as the dormancy period is ending in late winter. This is typically right before new buds start to appear. You can prune a Northern Spy Apple to maintain a great shape as well as to help promote fruiting in the upcoming season. Pruning can also be done throughout the season in order to handle any damaged branches or as a way to deal with illness or infestation.

Speaking of illness and infestation, let’s talk about diseases, pests, and how to care for them.

Diseases & Care 

Apple trees are particularly prone to various kinds of mildew, fungi, and mold. These can lead to discoloration on branches and leaves as well as problems with the fruit. Each infested apple tree can also become a threat to the other apple trees near it.

If you notice that your apple tree starts to look a little under the weather, the best time to take action is sooner rather than later.


Apple trees aren’t just a favorite of humans, they’re also a favorite of many small pests. Whether we’re talking about bugs or little woodland creatures, all kinds of pets can start to go after the fruit once it begins to ripen. There are also pests that will attack the leaves of the apple tree as well as attempt to bore into it and use the apple tree and use it as a home.

Watch out for these pests and if you start to notice them the best thing you can do is identify the pest. Once you’ve identified the creature that’s harming your apple tree, you can take steps to protect your tree from this particular type of insect.

Now that we’ve got a good new orchard full of happy and healthy Northern Spy Apples, let’s see what we can do with all this fruit.

Common Uses For The Northern Spy Apple

The Northern Spy Apple tree has some of the most delicious fruit out of all of the apples that grow in Upstate New York. It’s well known for its unique flavor as well as the unique texture of its flesh.

This apple is crunchy and has a bit more bite to it than the apples people are used to finding at their local shops. The skin of the sample is also fairly thin which changes how we need to approach it when it comes to cooking these apples.

What Does The Northern Spy Apple Taste Like?

The Northern Spy Apple is most commonly known as a cider apple. It’s got a good amount of tart bite as well as a sweet taste. This apple also has some subtle flavors and notes that make it a great choice for making cider. Many people also noticed some pear-like qualities when tasting the Northern Spy Apple.


There are countless ways that you can cook and prepare the Northern Spy Apple. This apple is a great choice for people who are looking to branch out in terms of what you can do with an apple. While this apple does stand up to most of the usual cooking routines, it is also a great choice for people looking to make cider for the very first time.

Eating raw

The Northern Spy Apple is also a great choice for eating raw. We already talked about it’s great flavors and subtle taste. It’s also got an incredibly unique texture that makes it a unique experience for people who are used to softer, more yielding store-bought apples.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Like many apples, this is a great choice for people who are canning or trying to preserve this album. The Northern Spy Apple is a great choice for freezing. Especially because frozen apples can be used later on for a variety of cooking applications as well as making cider.

Learn a Few Secret Northern Spy Apple Recipes 

Like all good spies, we’ve amassed a secret stash of apple recipes. These are a few of the recipes that you can use with your newly acquired Northern Spy Apples. We recommend trying out a cider recipe to see just what has made this apple so famous throughout the years. If you’re not interested in cider, you can try making Apple Crisp as well as Apple Fritters out of the Northern Spy.

A Savory Apple Onion Tart, a good recipe candidate for the Northern Spy Apple.
Savory Apple Onion Tart (click for the recipe).

Health Benefits of the Northern Spy Apple 

There are no sneaky secrets when it comes to the health benefits of the Northern Spy Apple.

These samples are well known for having a higher-than-usual vitamin C content. If you’re looking for an apple that has more vitamin C than most, this is the one for you. Outside of that, they also have a fair amount of potassium and other nutrients. Regularly incorporating apples in your diet is a great way to boost your personal health as well as expanding your culinary palette.

Where To Buy The Northern Spy Apple Tree ?

When it comes to buying the Northern Spy Apple tree, you’re going to have to search the internet. Since this is something of a historic apple cultivar, finding them might be a little bit more tricky then getting your standard Red Delicious.

There are a wide range of online retailers that carry the Northern Spy Apple tree. It is also possible to find these at your local orchard or green house for sale. If you are looking for the real deal straight from its natural environment, you can take a trip to Upstate New York in late fall and see if anyone is selling these apple trees.

Where To Buy Northern Spy Apples 

Northern Spy Apples aren’t as rare as a few of the other historic apple cultivars here in North America. It’s still possible to find the Northern Spy Apple at your local grocery store. This is especially true if you live in New England where these apples are commonly found.

If you’re from other parts of the country and you’re looking for the freshest Northern Spy Apples you can find, you’ve got two options. You can take a scenic leaf peeping road trip through New England during the fall, or you can ask your local produce shop to put in a special order for Northern Spy Apples. Grocery store co-ops typically offer this type of service.

Wrapping up The Northern Spy Apple Tree 

You won’t need to sneak around when you start growing a Northern Spy Apple tree in your yard. These apples are not only known for their delicious flavor, but they also have a historic reputation here in North America. When you start growing a Northern Spy Apple, you’ll be entering your page into history.

Excited for more apple content? Visit our apple trees page to learn more about apple planting, growing, picking, cooking, and more!


Friday 26th of November 2021

What apples do pollinate Northern Spy? Do honeycrisp & northern spy apples pollinate each other?


Saturday 29th of January 2022

Honeycrisp and Spy should get along nicely.

Fantastic pollination chart here:

Remember that most crabapple trees work well as pollinators.