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I'm in USDA Hardiness Zone 5B (barely), and I've planted dwarf trees purchased from a nurseryman in Zone 4B who makes it his business to provide scions for varieties that will bring in crops reliably in northerly zones:
- Seed Savers Exchange, Inc. Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory. Ed. Kent Whealy. 3rd ed. Decorah, IA: Seed Savers Exchange, 2001.
- Dutchess of Oldenburg
- Egremont Russet
- Ellison's Orange
- Golden Russet for Drying
- Honey Gold
- Northwestern Greening for Pies
- Scarlet Surprise for Jelly
- Sweet Sixteen
- Wolf River for Pies
If you've watched The Botany of Desire reruns on PBS or read the book, you've been exposed to the notion that apples are extremely variable, adaptive, and opportunistic. Anthropomorphizing from apples' point of view, they are able to keep up with the whims of the human marketplace, so it's reasonable to expect that you can find apples that will grow and probably are near you.What climate is really best for apples?
I'm making the heroic assumption that you are in the US. Check with your County Agricultural Extension Agent, an outreach service of the nearest Federal Land-Grant college. He should have climate information for your area. He probably can provide you a list of apple cultivars that have been successful, and he may know local orchardists and nurserymen who will offer practical advice gratis. There has always been tension between interests of hobbyists and big agribusiness. Colleges try to steer a neutral course, but beware: Advice is not neutral so take it with a grain of salt. Alliances between backyard garden groups and the Extension system exist in some places, though. You may luck out.
Apples grow in all kinds of soils that are not too rocky or too gummy and wet. They grow around the world outside the tropics and the arctic and antarctic and at all altitudes. They are, however, grown by hobbyists and by farmers for fruit, and their range for practical crop production is considerably less.
To set fruit, apples need more "chilling hours" than other kinds of trees. This refers to the amount of dormancy between growing seasons. Fuji and Gala require the least of popular varieties and can be grown further south according to Wikipedia. Some nurseries list chilling hours as well as hardiness zones for the varieties they carry.
To set fruit reliably, all apple varieties should cross pollinate with distinct varieties that produce fertile pollen or with crab apples. Different varieties bloom at different times. Pollination and fruit set may be interrupted by late frost, so this tends to limit the upper altitude and northern extent of their range. They are grown successfully in microclimates around large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes that retard spring bloom until danger of late cold snaps is past. Late blooming varieties may be less susceptible to frost damage in your area.
To ripen fruit, apples need sunny, warm weather and drying days interspersed with rain. Different varieties vary as to how much. Late maturing varieties need more and may not get enough to ripen satisfactorily every year in northerly portions of their range, particularly following a late spring, although many cold-hardy varieties are late maturing. Similarly, early maturing varieties may not have weather warm enough to ripen satisfactorily in northerly ranges even though they are ready to harvest well ahead of cold weather.
Chilling hours, blossoming, and harvest season are characteristics of the scion, the fruit variety, but winter hardiness is largely a characteristic of the root stock and refers to the ability of the tree to survive dormancy in winter desiccation and cold. Hobbyists and commercial growers have their choice of root stocks nowadays that confer greater winter hardiness than seedlings of antiquity.
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