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Our Gravenstein Apple tree is a delightful heirloom Apple variety that is losing out to the demands of our modern industrial food system. Because Gravenstein apples have a short shelf life, commercial buyers don’t want to mess with them, opting instead for less flavorful varieties that ship and store well. If you taste a Gravenstein apple, though, you’ll understand why this cherished old variety has hung on in backyards and small family orchards for almost 350 years! It’s crisp, tart, and very juicy, with just a touch of honey flavor to mellow it out. The fruit is delicious right off the tree and also makes mouth-watering pies, tarts, cakes, crumbles, and applesauce.
- Hardiness Zone: 4-8
- Spacing: 12-15'
- Exposure: Full Sun
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The Gravenstein Apple tree was first grown in Denmark in 1669. This classic fruit is still quite popular in Northern Europe and is Denmark’s “National Apple." It finally made its way to this country in 1811 via Russian traders, and cultivation of Gravenstein Apple trees thrived in Sonoma County, California for many years—until recently. Yes, the area still has its streets, schools, and festivals that are named after this beloved seasonal apple, but most of today’s farmers in California have grubbed out their Gravensteins to plant much more profitable wine grapes. Very soon, it seems, the only way you’ll be able to enjoy this heirloom fruit is to grow it yourself.
The fruits of the Gravenstein Apple tree ripen unevenly, which is another reason why commercial growers don’t like to deal with this variety. They like to harvest a crop all at once and ship it off. In your backyard, however, you’ll probably be happy that the apples ripen at different times, so you can snack on them over a longer season!
How to Grow
Apple trees need full sun, good air movement (to prevent disease), and moist but well-drained soil. In order to produce a generous harvest of fruits, most of them also need another variety of Apple tree nearby to pollinate the flowers. The Gravenstein Apple tree flowers early in the season, so you’ll need another early-blooming Apple tree nearby for pollination—an early-blooming Crabapple can also perform this task. We recommend Robinson Crabapple and Indian Summer Crabapple as the best pollinators for Gravenstein, though many of the Apples and Crabapples you already have in your neighborhood may also do the trick. Our fruit tree experts here at Bower & Branch™ are here to help you. For more information, please don’t hesitate to ask!
Questions & Answers
Q: What other variety of Apple do I need to pollinate my Gravenstein Apple?
One note to make is that the Gravenstein Apple is what we call a triploid - meaning it has three chromosomes as opposed to two (like most other Apples). This means that it will not pollinate any other Apple - it is 'sterile'. If you plant a Gravenstein, two other Apple Trees are required nearby, each of different varieties, which can cross-pollinate each other as well as the triploid Tree. This might sway you from growing triploid varieties, but they have many advantages including very good disease resistance!
Q: How big will the Gravenstein Apple be when mature?
A: We grow Gravenstein Apples on a semi-dwarfing rootstock (S-M7). This will give you an apple that will grow 12-15’ in height and width before pruning to form. You can expect a substantial harvest in 3 to 5 years using this rootstock, or about 3 years after planted at your home.
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