Alan's Edible Plant of the Month for October; Dessert Apples

Published on October 2nd 2019
A red apple
My edible plant of the month for October is the dessert apple. In the UK, we are extremely fortunate to have both the climate and an extensive range of varieties available to grow truly exceptional fruit.


  • Most of us will have been brought up on apples from the supermarket where the choice of varieties is minimal.
  • This limited choice is dictated by the need for uniformity, reliability of supply and low prices. It may also be influenced by the level of knowledge that the supermarket's category buyer has.
  • As a consequence, mediocre varieties dominate the market and are often sold before they ripen. 'Golden Delicious' and 'Granny Smith' illustrate this well.
  • Gardeners, on the other hand, are in a great position to grow much more exciting and delicious apples. I hope that after reading this, you will agree.
A pile of fruit sitting on top of a red apple
Apple 'Royal Gala'
  • Britain has many apple varieties which have been selected (or bred) to grow well in a specific county or region.
  • The best place to see these regional varieties is at The Newt in Somerset.

Earliest Varieties

  • Varieties that mature early are ready to pick during August and September.
  • These very early varieties need to be eaten or conserved as soon as they are ripe.
  • Varieties that that mature later tend to be much better than early varieties.
  • The British bred variety 'Discovery' dominates early apples and is an excellent choice.
An apple hanging from a tree
Apple 'Discovery'
  • The September maturing varieties 'Worcester Pearmain' and its improved relative 'Katy', now known as 'Katja', will keep a little longer.
  • These are best consumed as soon as they are picked or made into juice.
  • 'Katy' has become a popular variety for producing a sweet and light cider.

Mid Season

  • These varieties taste good straight from the tree but still have a limited storage life. For that reason, you will only see them on sale infrequently.
  • With limited ability to buy these, it is worth considering growing these in your garden.
  • Typical mid-season varieties include 'James Grieve', 'Lord Lambourne', 'Sunset' and the aptly named 'Scrumptious'.
A bowl of fruit
Apple 'Sunset'

Main Crop

  • Cox's Orange Pippin is perhaps the best known of the main crop, but not the easiest to grow. It is prone to both mildew and apple scab.
  • Fortunately, plant breeders have found the flavour of Cox in newer varieties - 'Queen Cox', 'Crimson Cox' and 'Self Fertile Cox'. The self-fertile selection can be planted alone and will still provide a crop. However, the yield will be better if cross-pollinated with another compatible variety.
A bowl of apple fruit
Apple 'Queen Cox'
  • If you like a crisp, juicy apple, then rather than buying an immature supermarket 'Granny Smith', you should try growing 'Greensleeves'. It has excellent disease resistance too.
Green apples
Apple 'Greensleeves'
  • 'Braeburn' is an excellent apple without a doubt, but the fruit is so widely available to buy that there is little point in growing it! Instead, why not plant 'Kidd's Orange Red', a truly exceptional variety.
An apple hanging from a branch
Apple Kid's Orange Red'
  • Russet skinned apples fall into this group with 'Egremont Russet' perhaps being the most widely available.
A close up of a fruit hanging from a branch
Apple 'Egremont Russet'

Late Varieties

  • Late maturing apples are almost as limited in choice as the very earliest.
  • If you lack suitable storing facilities, then very late-maturing varieties may make the most sense to grow.
  • 'Winston' and 'Tydeman's Late Orange' are two old varieties that mature very late in autumn.
  • Supermarket 'Golden Delicious' may disappoint, but if grown at home, and left on the tree until most of the leaves have fallen, it is a very fine apple indeed. It can also be used for cooking.


  • The picking time is critical to proper storage and for the best flavour to develop.
  • Apples should readily detach from the tree if lifted with a cupped hand. It should not be necessary to tug at them!
  • Cutting through a representative fruit should reveal pips that are chestnut brown rather than white or dark mahogany brown.
  • A few varieties have pips that rattle when the fruit is ready to pick - a trick worth trying!
A pile of fruit
Apples and pears


  • Few gardeners have stores devoted to apples nowadays, so we have to compromise.
  • My personal preference is to store only the perfect, blemish-free apples in clear polythene freezer bags.
  • Fill each bag and then invert it. Puncture a few small holes in the bottom of the bag and then place the bag upside down. I then place mine in heavy-duty plastic crates but wooden ones - if you can get them - will do just as well.
A person putting a bag of apples into a wooden box
A bag of apples ready to store
  • Place your bags in a cool building away from direct sunlight. A garage or cool outbuilding will do, but if you are lucky enough to have an unheated cellar, even better!
  • Check your fruit regularly and remove any rotten fruit promptly so that it doesn't spread to others. Remove and eat fruit as it ripens.
  • Watch how I decide when to harvest and how I store apples here:

My Pick of The Best

  • My pick of the earliest varieties has to be 'Discovery.'
A close up of a red apple on a leaf
Apple 'Discovery'
  • It's tempting to go for 'Katy' in the mid-season group, but I would grow 'Lord Lambourne' for the best flavour.
  • 'Lord Lambourne' is an old, heavy variety that has been grubbed up from commercial orchards primarily because of its sticky skin.
  • An apple that doesn't have a natural shiny skin is automatically at a disadvantage, as sticky apples pick up dust as they roll through grading equipment.
  • My main-crop pick of the apples is 'Kidd's Orange Red'. It's not an apple that you can easily buy in the shops, but it is easy to grow and a good all-rounder.
A close up of a fruit hanging from a branch
Apple 'Kidd's Orange Red'
  • 'Ashmead's Kernel' keeps beating 'Cox's Orange Pippin' in blind tasting tests and will keep right through until early May. This is a variety that I would not be without.
A close up of a fruit hanging on a tree branch
Apple 'Ashmead's Kernel'
  • I struggle to recommend an excellent late variety and suggest that you look to improve your storage facilities instead!

Family Trees

  • These are trees with more than one variety budded and grafted on a trunk. There are generally three varieties.
  • Family trees are an ideal solution if you only have room for only one apple tree.
  • The tree grower chooses complementary varieties to pollinate one another and mature at different times.
  • It is sometimes possible to buy a tree that has two dessert varieties and one cooking variety. But beware of including the ultra vigorous variety 'Bramley Seedling' in your choice. It will dominate the tree unless very carefully managed.
A hand pruning an apple tree
Apple 'Bramley Seedling' being summer pruned
  • Prices for family apple trees are typically three times the cost of a single variety of tree. This is because considerable skill is required to produce them, and they are often a year older.

Planting Time

  • Autumn and winter are the best times to plant apple trees.
  • Pot grown apple trees can be planted throughout the year but require more attention and watering to get established.
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