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The Best Apples for North Dakota


When it comes to planting trees, there is an old proverb that goes: “Today is the second best day to plant a tree. The best day was yesterday!”

Ripe apples on a tree branch

Don’t keep waiting. Apple is the #1 fruit grown by gardeners in North Dakota. Most apples in North Dakota take five or more years before they produce decent crops. That’s a long time!

Pick a sunny site that has good drainage and is sheltered from strong winds. Keep out of frost pockets.

An apple cultivar will reject its own pollen. Make sure there is another apple or crabapple cultivar within 100 feet if possible. 

Look for cultivars that are hardy, mature early and produce high-quality fruit. The earliest cultivars are generally good for fresh eating but do not store well. Later-ripening varieties store better, but they run the risk of never maturing before the snow flies.

Apple growers in Zone 4 should strongly consider a tree with a dwarfing rootstock, especially if snow cover is present during the winter. Trees with dwarfing rootstocks are easier to manage, bear earlier and are more productive. Staking is generally recommended to prevent dwarf trees from breaking at their graft unions.

Look for the hardiest rootstock available. Among the hardiest are Ottawa 3 and Bud 9, but these are not as commonly available as others. G30 from Cornell University is hardy and resists fire blight.

The introductions from Malling are most common in the marketplace, and M26 is the hardiest of this group. M7 has been widely planted in Midwest orchards for decades; it produces a freestanding tree. These rootstocks will create trees about 12 to 16 feet tall under normal growing conditions.

Dwarfing rootstocks are not hardy in Zone 3. These gardeners should grow “standard” trees with rootstocks of ‘Dolgo’ or ‘Antonovka’, and then prune aggressively to keep the trees 16 feet or lower in height.

The following are some of the best cultivars for North Dakota, listed in order of ripening. All are hardy in Zone 3 unless noted otherwise:



Dakota Gold

Large, yellow apple. Good for fresh eating, sauce and pies. Very hardy. Annual bearer. Tolerates fire blight. Ripens in late August. From North Dakota.


Orangish fruit with apple-pear taste similar to ‘Golden Delicious’. From Canada.

State Fair

‘Mantet’ x ‘Oriole’. Bright red apple with crisp, juicy white flesh. Fresh eating. From Minnesota.


Excellent early apple. Crisper and better storage life than other early apples. Striped red skin. Marginally hardy in Zone 3. From Minnesota.


Large, dark red fruit. ‘Duchess’ × ‘Starking Delicious’ parentage. Natural semi-dwarf (10 to 15 foot) tree. Does well without spraying. Mild flavor for fresh eating and cooking. Short storage life. From North Dakota.


Popular apple from Russia. Medium to large size; mildly tart taste good for pies and sauce. Shows resistance to scab, rust, and fire blight. Ripens in early September.


Striped red apple with tart flavor. Precocious bearer. Ripens mid-September. Stores well. Heirloom from Minnesota.


Medium-large apple; creamy yellow with blush of red. Ripens in late September and stores well. Flesh is crisp, juicy and aromatic. For fresh eating and especially good in pies. From Manitoba.

Red Baron

Medium-sized apple. Productive tree bears at a young age and tolerates fire blight. From Minnesota.

Northern Lights

Red with striped color pattern. ‘Haralson’ × ‘McIntosh’ parentage. Excellent, slightly tart flavor good for eating and cooking. Short storage life. From North Dakota.

Prairie Magic

Yellow with red blush. ‘Goodland’ x Mantet’ parentage. Medium-large fruit is sweet and crisp. Vigorous tree. From Manitoba.

Wolf River

Very large apple. Yellow with red stripes. Used for cooking. Zone 4 only.

Sweet Sixteen

Medium-size, red apple with spicy-sweet, crisp, aromatic taste. Creamy yellow flesh. Good for fresh eating. Takes a long time to bear fruit after planting.


Most popular apple in Midwest. Sweet and balanced taste; very crisp texture. Exceptional for fresh eating. Large fruits ripen in late September to early October and store very well. Marginally hardy in Zone 3. From Minnesota.


Bright white flesh that resists browning when sliced. Ideal for snacks. Shows some resistance to scab and fire blight. Zone 4.


The standard for cooking apples in the Upper Midwest. Pleasantly tart flavor. Some resistance to fire blight. Easy to grow and stores well. From Minnesota.


Popular heirloom in North Dakota. Green, knobby “ugly” apple is very sweet and stores well. Shows some tolerance to fire blight. Late.


Source: Tom Kalb and Kathy Wiederholt of North Dakota State University Extension; Charles Elhard and Jamie Good of North Dakota Department of Agriculture. Reviewed 2019. Starting a Community Orchard in North Dakota.  Photo courtesy of DataHamster.