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All About Sweet Sixteen Apples

Sweet Sixteen Apples are a cold-climate apple, making it a great option for orchards and home growers located further north. This fruit has an interesting history and development, and although it isn’t a popular market option, there is definitely a niche for it in the world of apple lovers due to its unusual flavor.

Sweet Sixteen Apples
Sweet Sixteen Apples on the table

History of the Sweet Sixteen Apple

The Sweet Sixteen apple has humble but impressive beginnings at the University of Minnesota. As America developed there was a surge in plant breeding, especially breeding new varieties of apple that met storage, travel, and unique climate conditions. Over the years, many universities have dropped their plant breeding programs; but the University of Minnesota kept theirs around, and they’re well-known for producing a variety of apples, pears, plums, and other fruits and veggies. They are most recently famous for the development of the Honeycrisp apple, a consumer favorite.

In 1977 they developed the Sweet Sixteen from parent apples Northern Spy and MN 447 (also known as the Frostbite). The Sweet Sixteen takes characteristics from both sides and has turned into an interesting specimen as far as growing conditions and flavor. Unfortunately, the University never patented Sweet Sixteen Apples, so they don’t have much incentive to promote it on the market. This makes it hard to experience the unique flavor of the Sweet Sixteen unless you know a small producer or home grower who chose to include the variety in their orchard.

What Do Sweet Sixteen Apples Look and Taste Like?

Visually, this apple is considered medium size with a base color of yellow, striped by a bright red-pink. It is a striking, vibrant coloration.

The flesh of Sweet Sixteen Apples are very crisp and juicy. But what draws most apple lovers to this breed is the taste.

It has been described by some as having notes of the following:

  • Spicy Cherry Candy
  • Licorice
  • Cherry Lifesavers
  • Bourbon
  • Vanilla

These interesting flavor hints come directly from the MN 447 (or Frostbite) in its parentage and play against the natural sweetness that lacks a tartness found in most apples.

For some people, the Sweet Sixteen Apples are too sweet. It has a higher sugar content than other apples, but is a great option for fresh eating.

How to Use Sweet Sixteen Apple Trees

Apple Pie with Sweet Sixteen Apples
Apple pie

Because they are a cold-climate apple, Sweet Sixteen Appless do well for harvesting later in the season and can keep from 5-8 weeks under the right conditions. To retain flavor, they should be harvested correctly and carefully. Avoiding bruising or nicking the flesh. Damaged apples should be used as soon as possible. Whole, unblemished apples are preferred for storage.

Apples store best in cool temperatures. In the old days that used to mean packing them in the root cellar with other fruits and veggies to last through the fall and winter. These days, they can be stored anywhere where the temperature is around 30 degrees Fahrenheit, with about 90% humidity.

Refrigerators work well for small amounts of apples, but if you have a good sized harvest, consider buying or making an orchard rack for single layer storage.

Sweet apples are best used in desserts if you don’t want to eat them fresh. However the Sweet Sixteen Apple breaks down very slowly and ultimately dissolves in most recipes. Apples that don’t hold their shape aren’t a great option for very visual desserts, like apple pies and other baked goods.

But Sweet Sixteen Apples most likely won’t need any sugar added to whatever recipe you choose. Here are a few options for how to use this apple variety in recipes:

Fresh apples also pair wonderfully as a snack with sides like peanut butter, almond butter, and cheese.

Health Benefits Of Sweet Sixteen Apples

Apples are some of the healthiest fruits out there, especially if they’re eaten fresh. One apple a day is a great source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin K. They also contain less substantial, but still important, amounts of other vitamins (A, E, B vitamins) and manganese. They are naturally low in sodium, cholesterol, and fat.

Due to these vitamins and nutrients apples are great for aiding in digestion, supporting your immune system, providing antioxidants, and even helping with weight loss. Just remember to keep the skin on – that’s where all the nutrients are!

Where to Buy Them

Unfortunately, due to the University of Minnesota lacking a patent for Sweet Sixteen Apples, it hasn’t really gained in popularity and isn’t readily available in-store as other cultivars (like the famous Honeycrisp) are.

[lasso ref=”nature-hills-apple-trees” id=”1375″ link_id=”2861″]

But for those interested in growing a sweet, cold-hardy apple, some  nurseries sell plants that usually come in a 2-4ft tall tree and are ready to be planted upon arrival.

Sweet Sixteen apple trees are also available in a dwarf size variety that still produces full-sized fruit. Keep in mind that this variety is not self-pollinating, so you’ll need at least one other tree to produce fruit.

How to Grow Sweet Sixteen Apple Trees

Apple Trees in Blossom

First, decide whether you want a full size or dwarf size fruit tree. Both provide full-size fruit, but the dwarf variety will take up less space and have smaller yields. This apple is a great option for those living in Northern, cold weather climates, as the tree is extremely hardy.

The Sweet Sixteen apple tree reaches up to 22ft in height at full maturity. The trees start bearing fruit between 3-4 years of age, blooms in late spring, and the fruit ripens mid to late September, making this a great option for harvesting later in the year.

As an added plus, the flowers on the Sweet Sixteen apple tree – which are white – are also extremely fragrant and last long on the branch.

These trees prefer full sunlight, sandy loam to clay loam soil, and should be planted about 22ft apart (6-8 ft apart for dwarf varieties). The Sweet Sixteen apple tree does not self-pollinate, so you’ll have to bring in another cultivar for pollination. Options include the Prairie Spy, Yellow Delicious, and Honeycrisp.

One tree at full maturity can yield anywhere from 5-10 bushels of apples, which is most likely more than enough for one family. Be aware that the fruit may drop prematurely.

One of the best things about the Sweet Sixteen variety is that the trees are resistant to both fire blight and scab. It’s important to keep up with proper pruning for both home and commercial orchards, as trees will be encouraged to grow stronger and maintain an easy-to-manage shape. Pruning should take place in late winter or early spring while the trees are dormant.

Similar Apple Varieties To Sweet Sixteen Apples

Basket of different apples
3 Different kinds of apples

Sweet Sixteen Apples have an interesting heritage and are well-known for how sweet and unique their flavor is. Although some people might prefer their apples with a touch of tartness, a sweet apple makes a great snack or dessert. Here are some similar options:

McIntosh: One of the most popular varieties of apple in the United States, McIntosh apples can be found in almost every grocery store and orchard. They are similar in color to the Sweet Sixteen Apple and also ripen in late September. They also hold up beautifully when it comes to sweetness and texture, although they are just slightly less sweet. The McIntosh variety is also a pollinator option.

Honeycrisp Apples: Hailing from the same university breeding program as the Sweet Sixteen, it isn’t surprising that the Honeycrisp is similar or that it is a very popular “newer” apple on the market. The name says it all; Honeycrisp are known for being sweet, firm, and crisp. However, the focus was definitely on taste and the apple doesn’t always ship or store well. This is also a pollinator option for the Sweet Sixteen.  

Fuji Apples: Fuji apples are a much darker red in color than the Sweet Sixteen, but they are probably the most similar in flavor as they contain high sugar levels. They have an extremely long shelf life and a crispy texture that makes them popular with Japanese consumers, where their growing region is. The Fuji is also a pollinator option.

Golden Delicious: Lastly, the Golden Delicious also holds up well against the Sweet Sixteen due to its sweetness and humble beginnings. It now dominates the supermarkets, although commercial fruit is often much less flavorful than those grown in smaller orchards. The sweetness of the Golden Delicious is compared to that of honey. It also has a slight hint of spice, as does the Sweet Sixteen.

Sweet Sixteen Apples

Whether you’re starting a small commercial orchard or just looking for some interesting varieties to grow at home, the Sweet Sixteen should definitely be considered a contender. It may not have the versatility of many other apple varieties, but it’s an excellent option for fresh consumption and taking on that “an apple a day” approach to life.

The commercial market is missing out on a unique fruit, but homeowners and small growers have the chance to experience the eye-opening flavors that lie just beneath the skin of the Sweet Sixteen Apple.

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

Scott Lloyd Weisnicht

Saturday 25th of June 2022

I have made a sweet sixteen apple tree into an espalier tree. It is a full size tree rather than a dwarf. It does very well every year except that all of the fruit falls off every year. Is there anything I can do with pruning at certain times of the year, thin the fruit more or is this a variety not suitable for espalier? Thanks Scott

Scott Lloyd Weisnicht

Monday 15th of August 2022

@Scott Lloyd Weisnicht, Thanks for the reply. I do have Captan and Malathion so will use those next year. Here is the able for what I used this year. Bonide (BND2021) - Fruit Tree and Plant Guard Concentrate (16 oz.) My apples are starting to get red streaks. Do you know how long it might be before I can try one considering they usually have fallen off. I know I wait until my Honeycrisp are fully ripe as the ones in the store seemed to always be picked too soon. I could always send you a photo of them as well if you send me an email address. Thanks again

Scott Lloyd Weisnicht

Thursday 30th of June 2022

@Matt, I live in South central Wisconsin. The tree is up against a garage wall with vinyl siding facing the South. The fruit normally starts to drop when in the final stages of ripening but before being able to eat. The spray I use is Bonide fruit tree spray. I use the same on my Honeycrisp in my garden with no fruit drop. I could try to drape it with a shade cloth that I use for my lettuce in the summer just to see if that is the issue causing the problem


Saturday 25th of June 2022

What part of the country are you in? And is it up against a wall? It might be getting too much heat.

What time of the growing season does the fruit drop? Some fruit drop is normal. If you spray the tree with certain insecticides like carbaryl (Sevin), you can inadvertently cause fruit drop.

Suzi Blanchard

Friday 3rd of June 2022

Why isn't my sweet sixteen apple tree blooming? I planted it 2 yrs ago & it wasn't bloomed since I bought it. It had blossoms on it when I bought it.


Friday 3rd of June 2022

Great question, and you probably won't like this answer. A lot of potted trees at the nursery have blooms on them - and if you go there in June or later you'll probably even see little apples on them. No wonder you think "Yeah, I'm getting apples soon". However, the only reason they're doing this is because their roots are packed into a tiny little container at the bottom. The plant thinks it can't grow, it's hit the prime of it's life and it's time to reproduce!

But then you get it home and you give it infinite soil and sunshine and water and it realizes it's just an infant. Most apple trees need 3-7 years in the ground at their permanent home before they start producing. But it's worth the wait! Frustrating though, I know.

Do you have a pollinator for your Sweet Sixteen?