Growing English Apples in North America

For those interested in growing traditional English apples in North America (or varieties originating in north western Europe), it is important to understand the very different climate of England, or the UK, compared with the North American continent.

The English climate

For a start, England is much further north than most parts of the United States - it is at roughly the same latitude as Newfoundland. However the effect of the Gulf Stream means it has a very mild climate - known as a "cool temperate" climate in meteorological terms. It is a small country, about the size of Oregon, and is an island surrounded by temperate seas, which greatly moderate changes in temperature between winter and summer

Winters are fairly mild, with temperatures rarely falling below freezing. Snow is common on higher ground but rare in most of the southern parts of England which is the main area for commercial apple growing.

By North American standards summers are cool. The weather is frequently cloudy and rain is a common occurence. Daytime maximum temperatures in June, July, and August are typically in the low 70s, occasionally reaching the mid 80s for short spells.

Annual sunshine hours are kept down by regular low-pressure systems coming in from the Atlantic ocean. In general, sunshine hours in the UK are lower than the eastern seaboard of the US. Rain falls throughout the year, and complaining about the weather is a popular pastime in England.

Most areas of England are the equivalent of USDA Zones 8 or 9 - on a par with parts of Florida and Texas as far as winter temperatures go. However summer temperatures in England are much cooler. In England the difference between winter and summer temperatures is nothing like as marked as it is in much of North America. Conversely, the northerly latitude of the UK means that summer daylight hours - when the trees are growing - are relatively longer than in the more southerly latitudes of much of the USA - even though the sun may not always shine.

English apple tree requirements

Traditional English apples have a high-chill requirement, usually needing more than 800 hours of temperatures in the range from about 7C / 45F down to freezing. This might seem at odds with the fact that much of England is Zone 8 or Zone 9, however the country usually experiences a definite period of winter temperatures from December through to February and therefore readily qualifies as a high-chill climate. The main apple-growing region of Kent in the south-east of England (the warmest part of the country) averages 900-1,200 chill hours, whilst the central and south-west cider-growing regions are in the range 1,000-1,400 hours. Note that temperatures substantially below freezing are not thought to contribute to the chill hours, and as it happens prolonged periods with temperatures below freezing are not that common in England.

English apple varieties are well-suited to this climate, and one of the challenges for North American enthusiasts of English apples is how to create the right conditions. The areas with the most similarity to the English climate are probably the north-west coast of Washington, and parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada. The main difficulty is not winter cold but rather the longer growing period which is a feature of much of the United States, and particularly too much heat, which can spoil the flavors associated with traditional English apple varieties. However, whilst it is not easy to match the English climate exactly in North America, rest assured that apples are adaptable and many English varieties would actually prefer a bit more sunshine.

Conversely, most of the popular apple varieties grown in North America simply will not ripen successfully in England. Gala can be grown commercially in the south-eastern corner of England, and Golden Delicious can develop good flavor in a sheltered south-facing garden - but very few other North American varieties are known in England.

English apple varieties in North America

So if you want to grow some of the traditional English apples in North America, it helps if you are in the cooler zones, or those with a maritime influence - but it is not necessarily essential. If you are in an area with high summer temperatures, consider planting your English apple trees in a part of your garden where they will receive some shade. If you are in an area where winter hardiness is important (bearing in mind that periods much below 32F are not that common in England) choose a winter-hardy rootstock.

Cox's Orange Pippin

Of the main English apple varieties, Cox's Orange Pippin seems to have the narrowest climate range. The Pacific North West around Seattle and Vancouver, along with Nova Scotia are the easist places to grow Cox's Orange Pippin in North America, but most areas in zones 5-6 are possible.

The main issue for much of North America is that the flavor and texture of Cox can collapse in areas of high summer heat. It is therefore worth considering some of the international varieties which have the English style but are better adapted to continental climates. Kidd's Orange Red is a marriage of Cox's Orange Pippin with Delicious, whilst Rubinette is Cox's Orange Pippin crossed with Golden Delicious. Both these apples are very close in flavor to the famous Cox's Orange Pippin, yet their part-American ancestry makes them more suitable for the North American climate.

Bramley's Seedling

Bramley's Seedling, an essential ingredient of English apple cookery, is very much at home in the USA and can be grown successfully in all areas, including the southern states and Southern California.

English russet apples

Ashmead's Kernel - this popular English russet apple appears to be well adapted to life in North America.

Egremont Russet - the definitive English russet apple, happy in most parts of North America and if grown on a suitable rootstock is cold-hardy to zone 4.

St. Edmund's Russet - quite similar to Egremont Russet in most respects, and easy to grow in most areas.

English cider varieties

The place of origin of a variety is not always a good indicator of how it will perform in different climates, but the feedback we have received suggests that, overall, English cider varieties do best in the northern states. For growers on the east coast, Virginia is probably the borderline - you are likely to be successful in some of the cooler areas of the state.