Apple Cultivars for the 4/6/2024 Grafting Workshop

These are the apple varieties available for grafting at the Benevolence Orchard & Gardens grafting workshop on Saturday, April 6, 2024

Akane       From "Akane is useful early season apple with an unusually good balance of sweet and sharp flavors. The flesh is firm rather than crisp, but with plenty of juice."

Ashmeads Kernel       Russeted apple. From "Ashmeads Kernel has remained popular for well over 2 centuries, and with good reason: it has a distinctive flavour which is quite different from most other varieties."

Baldwin       Good keeper, juice valuable in hard cider, and it does well here in the Boulder area.

Blanc Mollet       French bittersweet hard cider apple from the 1700s.

Cortland       A McIntosh-like apple. Good for juice and fresh eating when perfectly ripe, but doesn’t store as well as some.

Duchess of Oldenburg       1700s Russian apple, early season. One of the apples used to breed Honeycrisp.

Esopus Spitzenburg       Late 1700s New York apple. Very good eating apple. Keeps well.

Fireside       Good for pies, sauce, and fresh eating. Ripens later in the harvest season.

Freedom       Good for fresh eating and pies. One source recommends it highly as a dried apple. Resistant to two diseases, scab and cedar apple rust, that aren’t big problems here.

Gold Star       Pomiferous: "Moderately sweet with some tartness and perfumed, fruity aroma."

Golden Russet       Eric’s favorite apple — if I could only eat one apple ever again, I’d choose this one. Dense, bursting with flavor. High BRIX makes it valuable for hard cider. Grows well in the Boulder area. Late harvest season.

Grimes Golden       One of the parents of Golden Delicious. Unlike most apple cultivars, it is partially self-fertile and does not require another nearby tree for pollination.

Gros Frequin       Bittersweet hard cider apple. Gros Frequin has done well on the West Slope and we are trialing it here.

Harrison       Although considered a hard cider apple, I like Harrison for eating out of hand.

Hewe’s Virginia       A smaller-sized apple (sometimes called a crab), Hewe’s has notable astringency and is excellent in hard cider. I also like to eat this variety fresh, however.

Kingston Black       A bittersharp hard cider apple.

Liberty       A McIntosh-like apple. Useful for fresh eating and in hard cider.

Mutsu       Mutsu, also called Crispin, is a Japanese variety. It is like a very large Golden Delicious. Good cooking apple and very good for fresh eating. The largest apple I ever saw was a Mutsu, in California.

Prairie Spy       Prairie Spy is an early University of Minnesota apple that is very cold hardy. It would be a good one to try in mountain locations. Good eating apple.

Six-finger Jack       Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project in southwest CO has preserved and propagated this apple. It has a very high BRIX and would likely be good in hard cider.

Smokehouse       A fine cooking and eating apple that keeps very well into the late Winter.

State Fair       Summer apple. Very good when perfectly ripe, but doesn’t keep for a long time. A good choice for a small orchard that needs apples of various ripening times.

Sweet Sixteen       A fireblight-resistant mid-season ripening apple. From the University of Minnesota, so it puts up with cold climates.

Wealthy       Good for many uses. Commonly found on old homesteads on the Great Plains.

Wolf River       A very large apple very good for cooking. Very cold tolerant.

Fruit buds in quantity, at last, in the main orchard

The years of effort, waiting, work, waiting, sweat, labour, waiting, inputs, waiting, are, if the weather cooperates, going to result in some reasonable quantity of fruit this harvest season. A survey of the main orchard found at least 51 apple trees with fruit blossoms. Several varieties and all three root stock types (bud9, m111 and antonovka) have fruit buds. Last year, for comparison, we could count on one hand the number of trees with fruit buds, and we harvested all of 6 apples. Some of the older trees in the nursery bed, aka the Strawberry Patch orchard, also have fruit buds, for the second year. Those trees produced a few hundred Hewe’s Virginia Crab apples.

2022 Status of the wild apple collection

Recent high-resolution genomic analysis by USDA shows that some of the apples previously thought to be Malus sieversii are hybrid (or in a few cases just plain domestic apples). As a result, we’re updating our own information. If you have a grafted apple from us, you can determine its idenity with the table below.

The upshot is that we don’t have as many pure wild trees as we had thought. However, most of those that aren’t wild are hybrids, and still have some wild apple genes unlikely to be found in North American domestic apples. We’re keeping them for that reason.

Widespread Malus Wild and/or Central Asian apples
  PI 656998
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657017
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657041
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657044
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657047
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657053
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657106
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657107
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657110
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657111
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657112
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657114
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657117
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657120
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657752
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657754
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657755
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657756
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657757
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657758
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657759
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657760
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657761
  Malus sieversii
  PI 657762
  Malus sieversii
  PI 633830
  Malus orientalis
  PI 633831
  Malus orientalis
  PI 666155
  Malus orientalis
  PI 650945
  PI 657008
  PI 657010
  PI 657021
  PI 657085
  PI 657089
  PI 657090
  PI 657093
  PI 657096
  PI 657097
  PI 657099
  PI 657105
  PI 657109
  PI 657113
  PI 657116
  PI 633920
  Malus domestica
  PI 657100
  Malus domestica
  PI 657101
  Malus domestica

Winter watering is essential this year.

The weather has been exceptionally dry this year, with very little precipitation up and down the Front Range of Colorado. This means that most trees are getting VERY thirsty. They’ll need winter watering in order to avoid the possibility of serious damage and/or death.

This is something you can easily do with a hose and sprinkler if the soil around your tree soaks water up fairly quickly, such as areas of mulch, lawn, or other growing groundcover. If you have bare soil that doesn’t like to soak up water and/or a slope that water would tend to run down, you may want to use an irrigation needle — view the video at the link below for more information about those.

I use a sprinkler that can be turned on low to cover an area about 5 feet wide, and adjust the spigot until I get the coverage I want. Then, I let it run for half an hour or an hour before moving it to the next spot around the dripline of the tree (see picture below). When you irrigate this way, place a number of open-topped plastic containers in the area covered by the sprinkler, and watch them to see how much water you’ve applied. This way, you can get a good idea for how long you need to run the particular sprinkler you are using. Aim to put down at least an inch of water.

You may need to water several times per winter. Water once a month if it doesn’t snow very much.

Trees that don’t have enough soil moisture can die of drought, but they can also be seriously weakened, making them more susceptible to disease or insect damage. Avoid these risks by keeping your trees irrigated.

Here are some additional resources on winter watering:

Winter watering video from Tagawa Gardens.

Fall & Winter Watering from CSU Cooperative Extension

Winter Watering from Colorado Springs Utilities

Got Malus sieversii seed?*

Seed from Malus sieversii, USDA accession PI 657118, from Kazakhstan.

*NOTE, January 1, 2023: PI 657118 is now known to be a hybrid of Malus sieversii and Malus domestica, NOT pure Malus sieversii.

We do. That’s all of them, right there. PI 657118, obtained from USDA and grafted in 2016 on highly-dwarfing Budogovsky 9 rootstock, produced four apples this year, still living in a 3-gallon pot. Granted, it’s not much seed, but it’s the first from the trees we grafted ourselves (we’ve had a bit of seed already from a purchased Malus sieversii tree). It’s a start.

PI 657118 is from Kazakhstan, close to the Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan borders. The pollen parent for our small seed harvest is not known.

Locality where PI 657118 was collected. Photo from Google Maps.

I was surprised we had any fruit at all this year, given the April plunge that pretty much ruined the local crop. We are poised to produce more seed than this; the trees at the orchard, which will be in their sixth growing season in 2021, should have a crop the next year we have favorable weather.

This post is mostly just a “Wheee! We did it!” item. Growing wild apples is a way to protect genetic diversity that may be especially important for breeding new apple cultivars in a time of climate change. It’s also fun.

I forgot to take a photo of the fruit, but USDA has one (photo from USDA)

If you happen to be interested in Malus sieversii, we do have a few seeds to share, but there are still better options at this point. Contact the people in charge of the national apple collection at Geneva, NY. Last time I checked they’d still send 100 seeds (25 from each of 4 mother trees) to any interested person, free. Instructions for germination and care are included. Google around to find them, or feel free to email, and I’ll send you the contact info.

Are you interested in apricots?

I’m propagating a couple of interesting apricots.

One is/was the co-state champion tree for Colorado, with a trunk much larger than I can get my arms around, but it’s in severe decline. I grafted a copy in about 2014 that’s now reached bearing age.  Apparently the original is well over a century old. It is also more reliable than any other apricot I’ve seen in the Boulder area, producing a few fruits during many years that other apricots are barren.  In 2008 we made quite a bit of jam from groundfalls. (Visit this tree on the north side of the West Senior Center in downtown Boulder).

The other is from 8100′ in Garfield County, next to a dirt road, two thousand feet above the Colorado River. This had fruit when I first noticed it in the summer of about 2003. It bore a good crop a couple of years ago. This tree is in quite a xeric spot — dry hillside, south facing — but has been doing pretty well there. As with the other tree, fruits are small, but good-tasting.

This apricot tree, on the Coffee Pot Road in Garfield County, is the highest fruiting apricot I've yet seen in Colorado.

This apricot tree, at 8100′ elevation on the Coffee Pot Road in Garfield County, is the highest fruiting apricot I’ve yet seen in Colorado.

I’d like to get both of these trees grafted onto rootstocks and distributed to several interested, experienced gardeners/fruit growers.  For this next round of propagation, I want to ensure the continuation of these varieties, but in future years I think it would be great to see them more widely distributed.

If you are in the (general) Boulder/Denver area, and are interested in growing one or both of these, please contact me (Eric) and let me know a  bit about you and your experience with fruit growing.  It’s conceivable I’ll have some small trees in 2021, but due to a delay in receiving some rootstocks, it could be 2022.

Short of providing actual trees, I’m also happy to provide dormant scions/budwood or Summer budwood.  Let me know if that’s of interest.

Resources for grafting apples

If you’re participating in the Guidestone Colorado AgriSummit virtual grafting workshop, here are some resources you might find useful. These are what I use for dormant grafting in my unheated garage — generally in March in Boulder, CO.

NOTE: I’ll be adding to the list of requested links & resources in BOLD TYPE, just below, the morning of Friday, 4/17:

— Feel free to email with any questions.

Plant Propagation: Principles and Practices, by Hartmann & Kester. There are many editions. Find a used one for a low price on ebay, perhaps?

GATHERING SUMMER BUDWOOD — this article is right here on the web site.

(Below is just a TOOLS & SUPPLIES list. Look elsewhere for archived instruction and safety information)

KNIVES: The knife I show in the grafting workshop is the Victorinox Floral/Grafting Knife. It is under $20, beveled only on one side, and has a straight blade. I have done hundreds of grafts with mine, so they seem to last well. has a very similar one, also by Victorinox, that’s under $15. Cheapest option: use whatever very sharp knife you have on hand. I like using single-beveled knives, because it’s easier to make planar cuts with them, but there are plenty of people grafting successfully with utility knives.

Are you looking for a left-handed grafting knife (bevel on the other side from most grafting knives)? Try Due Buoi Agriculture — they have ’em (thanks to Reed Loefgren for the tip).

SHARPENING STONES: A very sharp knife is important, so be sure you have adequate sharpening equipment, unless you’re using disposable blades. I use diamond sharpening stones, but there are other options. NC State has a good video showing how to sharpen a new knife.

GRAFTING TAPE: I started out using 1″ Parafilm grafting tape, and still use it sometimes. A roll is only about $5 — which may be a consideration if you only need to graft a small number of trees. If you’re doing larger quantities, say for an orchard, consider Buddy Tape, which I absolutely love. Buddy Tape is more expensive, but there are many times more usable pieces per roll, so it’s probably roughly the same cost per tree as Parafilm. Cheapest option: cut strips of plastic from bread bags (you’ll need to remember to cut these off in mid-season so they don’t girdle the young tree).

HAND PRUNERS: I recommend bypass rather than anvil pruners. Be sure you get some that you can sharpen. I like Felco pruners, which can be disassembled to sharpen the blade. They’re a bit pricey, but spare parts are available, and they can last decades if maintained well. I use the Felco 8, but they have models for left-hand use as well as for smaller hands. Pruners don’t need as fine an edge as grafting knives. I use a small triangular file to sharpen mine. Cheaper option: any sharp pair of bypass pruners.

HAND PROTECTION: For cleft cuts, use an old CD or drill a hole in a board.

3-GALLON PLASTIC NURSERY POTS: I use these to hold my rootstocks in their bundles, and to hold finished grafts while they are healing. Nurseries and landscape contractors may have used ones that they’d give you. I block the drainage holes with small stones, so that water can drain but the moist sand I use to fill the pots won’t wash out.

NURSERY TAGS: If you’re just doing a few trees, these aren’t so important. You can tie pieces of string loosely around your finished grafts and tie different numbers of knots in the tail ends of the strings to designate the cultivar (make a written record of what means what). If you need more detail, embossable aluminum tags are nice because there’s no risk of ink fading in the sunlight.

Copenhaven Farms and Willamette Nurseries are good sources for larger quantities (bundles of 25 & up). Order in the Fall to ensure they have inventory. I suggest ordering smaller quantities from Fedco Trees or Cummins Nursery. Learn a whole bunch about different rootstocks before just buying some. I mostly use EMLA-111 and Antonovka for apples.

Masonville Orchards in Colorado has lots of cultivars.
Fedco Trees has a good selection.
And, you can cut your own scionwood in January from local trees. Read up on how to collect and store scionwood.

Moist sand for pots that hold rootstocks and finished grafts.
Isopropyl alcohol to sterilize blades between grafts.
Small candles if you’ll be sealing scion tips with candle wax (keep the candles away from the flammable alcohol).