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When Is the Right Time to Pick Apples?

There’s a reason why apples are among the most popular fruit consumed worldwide. They’re tasty, juicy, crisp, and packed to the brim with vitamins and nutrients. Indeed, they’re the perfect on-the-go, healthy snack.

So, what could be better than growing them right in your own backyard?

If you’re a home grower who has successfully planted and cared for your trees, the first signs of fruit may have you wondering “When is the right time to pick apples?”

In this post, we’ll take a look at how to identify ripe apples, when and how to harvest your fresh fruit, and how to preserve apples to keep them fresher for longer.

Closeup of a cluster or red apples on a tree.  Knowing the right time to pick apples is crucial to being able to enjoy the rewards of all the hard work of growing and caring for your apple tree during the year.
Knowing the right time to pick apples can mean the difference between apples that are hard and sour, mealy and bitter, or crisp and juicy sweet.

When Are Apples Ready To Be Picked?

While September is most often the month for harvesting apples, it depends on the apple variety you are growing.

For example, Gala and Gravenstein apples ripen early in the summer, whereas Fuji and Granny Smith are late season varieties that yield in mid to late October.

Therefore, the best way to determine if your apples are ready for picking is to observe them. Fortunately, these lovely fruits provide us with plenty of signs to indicate that they are ripe, including color, texture, and taste.

Checking for Color

Mature apples give off numerous color indicators to show us when they are ripe. With the exception of green skin apple varieties, most apples have a primary color (i.e., red or pink) and a base color. The base color of apples turns from light green to yellow when they reach maturity, and their primary color will become bright and bold.

In addition to this, the inside of your apples will showcase creamy white flesh instead of green, and their seeds will become dark brown instead of white.

Finally, the section where the stem meets the fruit turns a pale yellow when apples are ready to be picked.

Testing Texture

Along with looking for ripeness color indicators, testing the overall texture of your apples can tell you when your fruit is mature.

Ripe apples are weighty in the hand, firm, and crispy, but not hard. There should be a little give in their delicate flesh when you touch them, but not too much. They definitely shouldn’t be soft.

Furthermore, ripe apples come away from a branch quite easily. If their stems are resistant to your plucking skills, the chances are high that your apples are not yet ripe.  

The Taste Test

What’s the best way to know if an apple is ripe? Take a bite, of course. Ripe apples are juicy and crunchy. Learning about the flavor profile of your particular variety of apple will also assist you in knowing what to expect in terms of sweetness or tartness.

In short, when you’re wondering when to pick apples, the best way is to take one from the tree, observe its color, cut it in half to inspect its inner flesh and check for brown seeds, and taste it for readiness.

Closeup of the interior of a cut, ripe apple.  White, creamy flesh and brown apple seeds are signs that it's the right time to pick apples.

How Taste and Texture Are Affected By When You Harvest Your Apples

The timeframe in which you pick your fresh apples has a profound impact on both their taste and texture, so you want to make sure you get your harvest time just right.

Apples left on the tree too long become overripe, and their texture becomes starchy, grainy, and mealy. They may show signs of wrinkling, browning, and bruising. And in worst-case scenarios, they can start to taste bitter or moldy.

Conversely, unripe apples may taste tart or sour, and their flesh is quite hard and not all that easy to bite into and chew.

Sweet, crunchy apples taste just right. 

How To Pick Apples

Because apples bruise easily, they can only be harvested by hand-picking. This means even the apples you see in grocery stores are all picked by hand.  

The best way to go about apple picking is to cup them in your hand, lift them slightly, and give them a gentle twist until their stems release.

Another technique is to turn them upside down, thereby effectively separating them from the branch.

All apple growers agree that these fruits should never be “plucked” from their stems, as this can cause damage to branches and may impact the following season’s harvest.

Once you have picked them, place your apples into containers or baskets, taking care not to drop or throw them. When transporting apples, don’t allow them to rattle around, as this can lead to unnecessary bruising.

Harvesting Apples In Stages

Apples need to be harvested in stages, as all the fruit on your tree won’t ripen at once.

Instead, apples ripen from the outside in, so the fruits on the outside branches of your tree will be ready before those on the inner branches. Similarly, the side of your tree that receives the most sun may produce ripe fruit earlier on.

Expect to be picking apples for about two weeks. The best way to keep tabs on your ripe apples is to check your tree thoroughly every two days during this period. The largest apples ripen fastest.

A woman's hand holding an apple near an apple tree branch with ripe apples on it.  In addition to knowing when the right time to pick apples is, you must also know the right way to pick apples.

Do Apples Ripen After Picking?

Apples should be picked from your trees when they are perfectly mature because while they do continue to ripen after picking, it does not impact or improve their taste. They will only become softer but not sweeter or tastier.

In other words, picking apples while they are still underripe will not allow you to keep them for longer or ripen them over time. Their flesh will soften, but they will still taste tart.

Storing Harvested Apples

If you’ve harvested a whole load of apples, you’ll be pleased to know that these delectable fruits keep really well and can be stored for far longer than most.

On the counter or in a fruit bowl, apples can last for five to seven days. In a cool dark pantry, this timeframe is extended to roughly three weeks, whereas in the fridge, it’s even longer – a whopping four to six weeks.

Once cut, apples will stay fresh in the fridge (in airtight containers) for three to five days and in the freezer for up to eight months.

However, one thing to bear in mind is that apples emit an odorless, harmless gas called ethylene that causes other fruit and veggies to ripen faster. Take note of this when storing your apples close to other fresh produce.

Of course, if you don’t see yourself consuming your entire harvest before they go off, why not try preserving, cooking, or baking with them?

Apple tart, apple granola, apple cookies, or even apple bread are great ways to use excess apples.

Overhead view of a large apple pie, smaller apple pies, and whole apples on a wooden table.

Frost and Freezing: How Does This Affect My Apples?

While apples are pretty hardy, prolonged exposure to frost and freezing temperatures can damage them, so if you suspect a cold spell ahead, it’s a good idea to pick your mature fruit as soon as possible.

That being said, apples start to freeze around 28°F (-2°C). A few hours or a night at this temperature will be okay, but avoid picking them until they have thawed through, usually around midday after a night frost.

At 22°F (-5°C), apples’ cells start to break down, which causes softening and fruit drop. They may also begin to develop brown spots on their skin. This is a fruit defect known as russeting.

Temperature is something to bear in mind when selecting the trees you intend to plant in your garden. If your area is prone to intense frosts, choose apple varieties that ripen early on rather than late season apples.

Heat and Drought: Will They Hurt My Apples?

As with frost, excessive heat can affect the ripening process of apples too. Apples need hot days and cool nights to set their color.

On the other hand, too much sun can burn their skin and cause blotchy red and yellow areas to develop. Beneath these dark areas, they produce overly soft, spongy tissue that can quickly spoil the fruit.

With inadequate access to water, your harvest might suffer a loss brought on by wilting, yellowing, and premature fruit fall. Drought also impacts fruit size, producing smaller and lesser quantities of apples that ripen too quickly.

Apples with lesions caused by sunburn.
Sunburn lesions on apples.

Knowing the Right Time to Pick Apples Makes Apple Season Sweeter

Now that you know when to pick apples, you can start looking forward to your harvest. These gorgeous fruit trees are a pleasure to have in the home garden and are generally easy to look after. In turn, you’ll receive a handsome reward in the form of crisp, sweet apples to preserve or eat straight from your tree.

Are there other types of fruit growing in your garden that you have questions about harvesting? Click here to read up on how to know when it’s time to pick other fruits.