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Winter Apples

While winter apples may conjure up images of fruit that look like something from the movie Snow White and the Huntsman, they aren’t actually a specific apple variety.  Rather, “winter apples” is a term that describes late-season apple trees and their fruit.

Apple season doesn’t necessarily end when the leaves fall from the tree.  Patience has its rewards and winter apples are one such reward.  Keep reading to learn all about this special group of apples and how to make them part of your garden.

A red apple in the snow.

What Are Winter Apples?

A winter apple tree is any apple variety with fruit that ripens late-season and typically keeps well after harvesting (for up to a year, in some cases).  Depending on the variety, they can be used for the same things as early- and mid-season apples.

Apples on a tree with snow.  Late-season apple varieties are often called winter apples.

The History of Winter Apples

There’s no “official” history behind the breeding and cultivation of winter apples.  It’s more about how food was grown when families had to supply their own food sources – before mass commercial agriculture industry was created.

Many edible crops were bred to grow and ripen at different times in order to maximize the months of the year when food was available.  For instance, because there are winter wheats and spring wheats, a farmer could grow each kind and feed his family wheat year-round.

Apples are no exception to this practice.  Planting apple varieties with different ripening seasons means you get to enjoy harvested apples as early as June or July (depending on your zone) all the way into the start of winter.

An apple orchard in the winter with apples on the branches.

Winter Apple Tree / Winter Apple Characteristics

Winter apples include a range of trees with fruit of varying color, size, and sweetness.  There’s no specific description of a winter apple tree or its fruit, but that’s actually good news!  Because these apples fall along a spectrum of appearance and flavor, you have options when it comes to using winter apples in your kitchen.

Varieties of Winter Apples

So what are the varieties of winter apples?  Here’s a list of names to look for:

Apples on a tree covered with snow and ice.

Harvesting Winter Apples

Most of these apples start ripening in September and continue to ripen on the tree into November (or beyond).   Some of them only reach their peak flavor after staying on the tree into the start of winter.  Specific varieties differ, so to know when your apples are ready for harvesting, visit our guide about knowing the right time to pick apples.

NOTE: Some late-season apples don’t store well over the winter, so they only partially fit the description of a winter apple.  Use or preserve your Black Twig, Cortland, Honeycrisp, Newtown Pippin, Northern Spy, Pink Lady, Rhode Island Greening, Rome, Sierra Beauty, Stayman, and York apples soon after harvesting or purchasing them.

Closeup of snow-covered apples on a tree.

Common Uses For Winter Apples 

Winter apples can be eaten raw as snacks, used in salads or other fresh apple recipes, baked, or cooked as jellies, apple butter, or applesauce.  What you use the apple for depends on the variety.

Below are some suggested uses for winter apples that do store well throughout the winter.

Eating Raw For Snacks

These are ideal snacking apples to enjoy throughout the winter and into spring.

Arkansas Black, Baldwin, Braeburn, Brown Russet, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Enterprise, Fuji, Golden Russet, Goldrush, Melrose, Mutsu, Rome Beauty, Winesap.

Using Fresh In Recipes

These apples are great for salads (green and fruit).

Ashmead’s Kernel, Braeburn, Enterprise, Goldrush.

Baking

These are the apples to use for pies, tarts, dumplings, turnovers, muffins, cookies, cakes, pancakes or even whole baked apples.

Arkansas Black, Braeburn, Baldwin, Cameo, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Fuji, Idared, Mutsu, Rome Beauty, Winesap.

Apple fritters on a board.
Apple fritters.

Cooking for Applesauce or Apple Butter

Use these apples when you get a craving for homemade applesauce or apple butter.

Arkansas Black, Baldwin, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Fuji, Golden Russet, Idared, Winesap

Juice/Cider

If juice or cider is your thing, these are your go-to apples.

Baldwin, Brown Russet, Winesap

Glasses of mulled apple cider.
Mulled apple cider.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

If your late-season apple variety is one that doesn’t last in cold storage, you can still enjoy them throughout the winter — they’ll just be in a form other than fresh.

Apples can be canned as apple slices or you can make them into things like fried apples, applesauce, apple butter, or apple pie filling for canning. 

You may never have thought of freezing apples, but slicing them and freezing them for later use is a great way to make sure your late-season apples don’t go to waste.

Dried apple slices are another great option for preserving your apples for later use.

Dried apple slices hanging on twine.

Recipe Ideas

There are thousands of apple recipes out there to try.  Here are some of our favorites to get you started.

Apple Dumplings

Apple Chicken Salad

Apple Muffins

Apple Butter

Savory Onion Apple Tart 

Closeup of an apple pie with slices cut.

Health Benefits of Apples

There are lots of health benefits from making apples a regular part of your diet.  With winter apples, you can eat apples year-round for their nutritional benefits.

Where To Buy Winter Apples 

Grocery store produce departments carry lots of winter apple varieties.  Orchards and winter farmers markets carry the freshest ones.

Can You Grow Winter Apple Trees at Home?

 You can grow any of the winter apple varieties listed above, with one exception – RubyFrost is only available to commercial growers at this time.

Apples on a tree with snow.

Growing Winter Apple Trees

Growing winter apple trees is like growing most apple trees.  Click on the link for an apple name to read the apple’s blog post for specific growing or care instructions.

For information about growing and caring for apples in general, click here for our comprehensive apple tree guide.

Sunlight

Apple trees need full sunlight – at least 6 hours a day.

Soil

Plant apple trees in locations with well-draining, loamy soil.  A pH of 6.0-6.5 is the “Goldilocks” range for apples.

Water

Newly planted apple trees need regular, deep watering during their first year while getting established.  Fully soak the ground, but not so much that it leaves standing water puddles around the tree.

Apples on a tree with snow.

Apple Tree Care

Fertilizer

Feed apple trees half a pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer spread in a circle around each tree three weeks after planting.

Spraying 

Apple trees are sprayed to win the war against diseases and pests.  But you have to know when, how, and what to spray.  Read our blog post about spraying apple trees for all the information you’ll need.

Pruning

To stay healthy and to produce their best yields, apple trees require annual pruning.  Visit our blog post about pruning apple trees to learn how to prune like a pro!

Diseases & Care

Apple trees are susceptible to certain diseases and some are more serious than others.  To know how to identify, treat, and even prevent them, click here for our blog post about common apple tree diseases.

Pests 

Besides diseases, pests are another concern for any apple grower.  Like diseases, some pests are more troublesome than others so knowing the signs to watch for is key.  Click here for information on identifying and eradicating pests, as well as preventive measures to keep pests from returning.

Closeup of an apple on a tree covered with snow and ice.

Where To Buy Winter Apple Trees

With so many choices, finding a winter apple tree for your garden is easy.  There are popular varieties available at nurseries, garden centers, home improvement stores, and online retailers.  You’ll have to do your homework to find a retailer that sells the more obscure apple varieties.

Wrapping up Winter Apples

A single apple on a tree with snow.

“Let the apple ripen on the branch beyond your need to take it down.”  This is how David Whyte’s poem “Winter Apple” begins.  It’s a beautiful description of delaying the urge to harvest in order to reap the sweetest rewards.  Planting one of these winter apples (particularly a variety that stores well) means you’ll have flavorful fresh apples to enjoy long after apple season has ended.