Cold Hardy Apples: Choosing Apple Trees That Grow In Zone 3

Cold Hardy Apples: Choosing Apple Trees That Grow In Zone 3

Dwellers in cooler climates still crave the flavor and satisfaction of growing their own fruit. The good news is that one of the most popular, the apple, has varieties that can take winter temperatures as low as -40 F. (-40 C.), USDA zone 3, and even lower temps for some cultivars. The following article discusses types of cold hardy apples – apples that grow in zone 3 and information about planting apple trees in zone 3.

About Planting Apple Trees in Zone 3

There are thousands of different cultivars of apples grown in North America with quite a few zone 3 apple varieties. The rootstock that a tree is grafted onto may be chosen due to tree size, to encourage early bearing, or to foster disease and pest resistance. In the case of zone 3 apple varieties, the rootstock is chosen to promote hardiness.

Before you make a decision regarding what variety of apple you want to plant, you should consider a few other factors besides the fact that they are listed as apple trees for zone 3. Consider the height and spread of the mature apple tree, the length of time the tree takes before bearing fruit, when the apple blossoms and when the fruit is ripe, and if it will take a frost.

All apples need a pollinator that is in bloom at the same time. Crabapples tend to be quite hardy and bloom longer than apple trees, and thus makes a suitable pollinator.

Apple Trees for Zone 3

A bit more difficult to find than some other apples that grow in zone 3, Dutchess of Oldenberg is an heirloom apple that was once the darling of English orchards. It ripens early in September with medium sized apples that are sweet-tart and great for eating fresh, for sauce, or other dishes. They do not keep long and won’t store for more than 6 weeks, however. This cultivar bears fruit 5 years after planting.

Goodland apples grow to around 15 feet (4.5 m.) in height and 12 feet (3.5 m.) across. This red apple has pale yellow striping and is a medium to large crisp, juicy apple. The fruit is ripe in mid-August through September and is delicious eaten fresh, for apple sauce, and fruit leather. Goodland apples do store well and bear 3 years from planting.

Harcout apples are large, red juicy apples with a sweet-tart flavor. These apples ripen in mid-September and are great fresh, for baking, or pressing into juice or cider and store very well.

Honeycrisp, a variety that is commonly found in the supermarket, is a late season apple that is both sweet and tart. It stores well and can be eaten fresh or in baked goods.

The Macoun apple is a late season apple that grows in zone 3 and is best eaten out of hand. This is a McIntosh-style apple.

Norkent apples look much like Golden Delicious with a tinge of red blush. It also has the apple/pear flavor of the Golden Delicious and is great eaten fresh or cooked. The medium to large fruit ripen in early September. This annual bearing tree bears fruit a year earlier than other apple cultivars and is hardy to zone 2. The tree will bear fruit 3 years from planting.

Spartan apples are late season, cold hardy apples that are delicious fresh, cooked, or juiced. It bears lots of crimson-maroon apples that are crunchy and sweet and easy to grow.

Sweet Sixteen is a medium size, crisp and juicy apple with a very unusual flavor – a bit of cherry with spices and vanilla. This cultivar takes longer to bear than other cultivars, sometimes up to 5 years from planting. Harvest is in mid-September and can be eaten fresh or used in cooking.

Wolf River is another late season apple that is disease resistant and is perfect for use in cooking or juicing.

Choosing Apple Varieties

If you were told about Johnny Appleseed as a schoolchild, you may hope to grow apples as easily as he did, dropping seeds in the ground and leaving a trail of apple-laden trees across the continent. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Apples require a fair amount of patience and planning. If you want a choice crop, you'll have to control insects, diseases, and other pests, keep an eye on the weather, and prune annually. And your first harvest will only come 3 years or more after planting. But the reward picking apples from your own garden is worth the effort.

When setting up a home orchard, you will find there are dozens of apple varieties to choose from. Talk to local nursery people, your county extension service agent, or other gardeners to help you select varieties that do well in your area. Rootstock choice determines whether a tree is a dwarf, semidwarf, or standard size. Dwarf trees grow to be 8 to 12 feet tall and just as wide semidwarf trees grow to be 12 to 18 feet tall and wide and standard trees grow to be 18 to 22 feet tall and wide. In general, semi-dwarfing rootstocks for apples are recommended, if space permits, as true dwarfs are somewhat less hardy and therefore less suited to the coldest parts of the country.

The same rootstock combined with different varieties will produce trees of different sizes with differing degrees of vigor. Spur-type strains of a variety (for example, 'Winespur' is a spur-type strain of 'Winesap') produce more fruit-bearing spurs and less vegetative shoots than their parent variety. Not all rootstocks, nor the apple varieties grafted onto them, will be successful in every region. Most varieties survive well in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 7 there's a smaller, but still excellent, group of cold-hardy choices for zones 2 through 4. There are several low-chill varieties for the mild-winter areas of zones 8 through 10. Check apple varieties for cold hardiness, disease-resistance, and pollination requirements before deciding on a variety.

Try to pick pairs of different early, mid-season, or late varieties to ensure that pollen of two varieties is available at the same time. Depending on your variety selection, you can have fresh apples from early July until early November in many areas. Some apple varieties are best for cooking, others are good for eating fresh, and some are delicious for both. Varieties highly rated for eating fresh are numerous, including 'McIntosh' and other "Mac" types such as 'Jonamac' and 'Jerseymac', which bear fruit earlier than 'McIntosh'. 'Prima', 'Empire', and 'Macoun' are excellent for early, mid-season, and late harvests, respectively, and are enjoying increasing popularity. If you enjoy baked apples, consider 'Cox Orange Pippin' or 'Duchess' old favorites, or more recent choices such as 'Mutsu', 'Melrose', and 'Jonagold', which are excellent for cooking as well as eating fresh.

Buy dormant, bare-root trees, at a local nursery. Get 1-year-old whips, if possible if not, be sure the trees are not more than 3 years old. Younger trees will become established more quickly, are less costly, and allow you more control in the development of a good framework of branches.

Planting Bare Root Trees

  • Planting bare-root or bareroot trees can be one of the best bargains in gardening.
  • Many bare root trees have already been growing for two or more years before they’re sold.
  • You’re getting a good-sized tree ready to take off once it gets tucked into your soil.
  • Cost can be half the price of buying a tree in a container.

POLLINATION: Very Important! You must to have two different varieties of apple trees, in the same Bloom Time , to pollinate your apple trees. Apple trees NEED to be pollinated to produce fruit!

Bare-root trees root stock preferences for apple trees:

  • Dwarf | 8-10’ tall – Apples in 2 to 3 years. Prevent from growing fruit for the first two. This provides needed nutrition to the tree.

  • Budagovsky root stock or (B9)
  • Malling root stock or (M26)
  • Geneva 41 or (G41)
  • Semi Dwarf | 15’ tall – Apples in 4 to 5 years.

    • Malling 27 root-stock or (M7)
  • Standard | 25’ tall – Apples in 7 years.

    • Dolgo crab or Columbia Crab (Std)
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    • Your Personal Orchard design.
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    • Pollination: Very Important. Did you realize that you need to have two different apple trees in the same bloom season to pollinate your apple trees?

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    Caring for a Fruit Tree


    You can plant dormant bare-root fruit trees early in the spring, while you can plant potted nursery stock throughout the growing season.

    When planting bare-root trees, dig a hole larger than the root spread of the tree to avoid crowding or bending the roots. Take care when planting potted trees that are growing and in full leaf to prevent the loss of soil around the roots when removing the container. Always remove containers before planting. Do not place soil amendments and fertilizer in the planting hole.

    For apple, crabapple and pear, locate the graft (the bulge near the union of root and top) 2 inches above the soil level. Trees of stone fruits may be planted so their graft is at or slightly above the soil surface.

    Tamp firmly. Leave a depression around the tree and water thoroughly. The lowest branch should be located on the southwest side of the tree to reduce sunscald problems.


    Minimal pruning is done at planting. For branched trees, remove broken branches. If branches are rubbing against one another, trim out the least desirable branch. The tree may be trimmed back to 1 foot above its tallest side branch, making sure the top of the “central leader” remains the highest point of the tree.

    For nonbranched “whip” trees, cut the trunk at 30 to 36 inches. This will stimulate the first flush of scaffold branches at that point.

    A young tree needs little pruning except to select proper main branches. The first branch should begin about 30 inches from the ground.

    In the next 24 inches, develop the first series of major scaffold branches (Figure 2, Page 4). Four branches, one each facing a different direction (north, east, south and west), is ideal. These branches coming out of the trunk should resemble spokes coming out of a wagon wheel.

    Figure 2. Pruning for strong-structured apple trees.

    Maintain a 24-inch gap between this group of scaffold branches and the next. This will maximize sunlight and air movement between the sets of scaffold branches. As the tree grows, another 24-inch gap, followed by third set of scaffold branches, is developed.

    When the tree reaches fruiting age, annual pruning will help maintain a healthy, well-structured tree and encourage annual bearing. On all fruit trees, prune all suckers that originate from the rootstock.

    Branches with narrow V-shaped crotch angles should be pruned and avoided. These crotches tend to split under the weight of a fruit crop.

    Vertical shoots (water sprouts) in the canopy are not productive and clutter the tree. Remove these shoots every year.

    Plum, cherry plum and apricot produce their best fruit crops on relatively young growth. Prune these trees more severely.

    The proper time to prune is in the early spring after severe cold weather has passed and before new growth occurs. However, broken and diseased branches should be removed any time of the year. Sterilize pruning tools between cuts with household bleach diluted to 10 percent (1½ cups to 1 gallon of water) if removing branches infected with fire blight.


    Cultivation is essential in establishing young fruit trees. In town, one or more trees can be grown in the lawn or along the edge of the property as screening trees for backyard summer privacy. A circle of cleanly cultivated soil 5 to 6 feet in diameter should be maintained around the trunk of each tree.

    Shredded bark mulch should be placed around the tree. The mulch should be minimal at the trunk and then reach an ultimate depth of 3 or 4 inches around the perimeter of the ring. Rock mulch will trap heat and should not be used.

    For orchard plantings on farms, a permanent grass cover crop such as bluegrass, orchardgrass or fescue may be used if water is available. Spray strips with glyphosate to kill weeds within the row.


    Watering is critical at the time of planting. Thoroughly soak the root area. The orchard will need to be irrigated regularly for at least two years. Water weekly, giving young trees 3 to 5 gallons each.


    Spring is the best time to fertilize. A good way to monitor the fertility of the soil is to see how much new growth is produced each year. The annual growth of a tree can be seen as the glossy tissue from the tip of the branch to a dark scar that encircles the branch. Young fruit trees should grow about 18 to 24 inches per year and then decline to about 10 inches per year when they get fruit-bearing age. If trees are not getting this growth, consider a soil test and fertilizer treatment.


    Staked trees will bear earlier and produce higher yields than unstaked trees. Staking will protect trees from damaging winds and keep the root system stabilized in the soil. In the case of grafted trees, staking prevents the scion from snapping off the rootstock.

    Protecting From Sunscald

    Sunscald is a very serious problem on fruit trees in North Dakota. Injury usually occurs in late winter or early spring when bright afternoon sun warms the southwest side of the trunk and exposed lower branches. The absorption of heat by the dark bark activates the growth of cells beneath the bark. These cells may be killed later by freezing.

    Sunscald injury can be prevented by installing white tree guards around the trunks to reflect the sun’s rays. Another means of protection is to paint the southwest sides of the trunk with a white latex water-based paint diluted to 50 percent.

    Managing Wildlife

    Rabbits and mice might become a problem in the winter, especially if their food supplies are low. Put a cylinder of ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth around the trunk for protection. The cylinder should reach up to the first major branch, approximately 24 to 36 inches high, and be buried a couple of inches in the ground.

    A wildlife repellent sprayed on the limbs will protect the rest of the tree.

    For deer, horticulturists recommend an 8-foot-tall fence for large-scale plantings. Fencing made of nylon is relatively affordable and will work for several years. Metal fencing is longer-lasting but more costly.


    The easiest way to control insects and diseases is to maintain a good sanitation program. This involves collecting dropped leaves and fruit from the planting. Burn or destroy all prunings, leaves and dropped fruits to avoid harboring pests.

    Insecticide sprays may be needed for high-quality fruit. Insect traps are available to monitor for codling moth and apple maggot. If the pest is not there, you don’t need to spray.

    Foliar diseases, such as apple scab and rust, are most likely to occur when the spring season is wet. The most critical sprays are early in the spring when leaves are emerging. Prune trees every March to maximize sunlight and air movement in the canopy. This will reduce the humidity in which most fungi thrive.

    Follow the recommended rates of application and allow the proper interval between the last spray and fruit harvest.

    Canadian Heirloom Apple

    16. Fameuse

    Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

    This aromatic, crisp eating apple is originally from Quebec, and was cultivated in the early 1600’s. A decade later, the Fameuse variety was one of the favourite apples of its time, growing extensively throughout Northern New England.

    In French, its name means “famous”, which seems quite apt ,considering its dominant popularity. Its green-skinned fruits have a distinctive sweet flavour. Due to their very white flesh, they’re also called “Snow Apples”. Also, this variety is able to tolerate extremely cold winter temperatures.

    Watch the video: 5 Year Old Zone 5 Canadian Food Forest Tour