Low-Maintenance Apple Trees

Disease-resistant varieties cut down on the amount of spraying.

By: Marie Hofer
Cortland Apple

Cortland Apple

An older, well-known variety, 'Cortland' produces medium-sized, bright red apples with a sprightly tropical flavor that are perfect for fresh eating and cooking.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

Having a couple of productive, low-maintenance apple trees in the backyard — ones that yield serviceable crops without lots of spraying — sometimes seems like an impossible dream. If the apple is America's favorite fruit, it's also the favorite of several significant diseases and pests. 

Depending on the geographical region and the weather, apple trees can be beset by cedar-apple rust, powdery mildew, fire blight, bitter rot and apple scab. Among the bugs, there are codling moths, plum curculios, mites, aphids, scale and leaf rollers. 

What usually helps the gardener is choosing disease-resistant cultivars. These varieties won't prevent the bugs from coming to your trees, of course, but they'll at least offer a good shot at thwarting whichever diseases tend to plague apple trees in your area. Planting varieties like these — or others as recommended by your local extension agent (how well any given cultivar does has everything to do with region) — can drastically cut down on the amount of spraying you have to do. 

Liberty. One of the best disease-resistant cultivars, Liberty is highly resistant to apple scab and resistant to cedar apple rust and fire blight. It ranges from moderately resistant to susceptible to powdery mildew. A medium-size McIntosh-like fruit that ripens midseason; it's sweet, juicy and crisp; color is red-stripe-over-greenish-yellow. It blooms midseason, so pair with other mid- or late-blooming cultivars. USDA Zones 4 to 7. 

Enterprise. Resistant or field immune to apple scab, highly resistant to cedar apple rust and fire blight, and variably moderately resistant to susceptible to powdery mildew. The large, bright red, glossy apple has a juicy, spicy and crisp flavor; it's thick-skinned. The tree blooms in mid- to late-season and the fruit ripens late. It keeps for months under refrigeration, and its flavor improves after the first month. Pair with Goldrush, Gala and Golden Delicious. USDA Zones 5 to 7. 

Goldrush. This variety is field immune to apple scab, highly resistant to fire blight, and moderately resistant to powdery mildew. It's susceptible to cedar-apple rust, however, so choose another variety if you live in an area where cedar-apple rust is common. It blooms late; pair with Enterprise, Gala or Golden Delicious. The fruit is large, yellow, semi-tart, crisp and juicy. The fruit ripens late and keeps well. 

Pristine. This cultivar is field immune to apple scab, resistant to cedar apple rust, highly resistant to powdery mildew, and moderately resistant to fire blight. It blooms early; pair with Liberty, Pristine, William's Pride, Redfree or Jonafree. The large, yellow fruit is tart and crisp. Great for cooking. Ripens early. 

Redfree. Field immune to apple scab and cedar apple rust, moderately resistant to fire blight and powdery mildew, Redfree blooms in midseason. Pair with other mid- and late-blooming cultivars. The medium-sized, bright red fruit is sweet and crisp. Ripens early and keeps about one month in the refrigerator. 

18 Apple Varieties to Try

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Cortland Apple

An older, well-known variety, 'Cortland' produces medium-sized, bright red apples with a sprightly tropical flavor that are perfect for fresh eating and cooking.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

Dwarf Fiesta Apple Tree: Produce Sweet Fall Fruits

‘Fiesta’ apple trees produce sweet apples in the fall.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Discovery Apple Tree: Produces Crisp Juicy Fruit

‘Discovery’ produces clusters of pretty white blossoms in the spring, followed by medium-sized, red-skinned apples that are usually ready to be picked between midsummer and early fall. The fruits are crisp and juicy.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Red Falstaff Apples: Renowned for Superior Flavor

Red Falstaff produces attractive round fruits that are ready to pick in the middle of autumn. These crisp apples store incredibly well and can last until spring.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Egremont Russet Apples: Sweet Nutty Flavor

This highly popular apple has a slightly rough, brownish-yellow skin. Harvested in early autumn, fruits will keep until midwinter if stored well.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Pixie Apples: Flushed Red Skins

Pixie produces medium-sized, sweet fruits with greenish-yellow skins that are flushed red. They look very pretty on the tree and are produced in abundance on small plants.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Improved Ashmeads Kernal Apples: A Heritage Variety

The Ashmead's Kernel produces highly aromatic fruits with pale yellow skins and a pearlike flavor. The sweet, juicy apples can be eaten raw or cooked, and they are ready in mid-fall.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Ellisons Orange: An Old Apple Variety

This dwarf apple produces crisp, juicy flesh and a slight aniseed taste. The red-flushed, yellowy green fruits are ready for picking in early autumn.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Kidds Orange Red Apple Produces Sweet Juice

Kidds Orange Red apple tree grows attractively, and the crimson pink blossom is a particular feature. Although primarily an apple for eating fresh, Kidds Orange Red also produces a very pleasant sweet apple juice.

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Royal Gala Apple Familiar Dessert Fruit

Royal Gala apple is medium in size with a sweet flavor, ideal for pies, sauces and salads. It produces a blush of pink of the skin, with the color varying from yellow to almost orange with deep orange stripes. It is dense, sweet, aromatic and juicy.

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Red Crabapples Offers Both Blossoms and Fruits

Malus x robusta, Red Sentinel, is a fantastic crab apple variety in every way. Scented white flowers are followed by rich red fruits that remain into the winter. It is extremely prolific and heavy yielding and an excellent source for bees.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited


Introduced by the University of Minnesota in 1999, 'Zestar' fruits early and produces crisp, juicy apples with a sweet tart flavor.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

SnowSweet Apple

'SnowSweet' is a cold hardy hybrid that is resistant to apple scab and fire blight. The apples have a sweet, slightly tart taste and are slow to oxidize when cut.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

'Red Regent'

'Red Regent' is popular for its large, juicy fruits that have a long shelf-life. The tree is moderately vigorous and trains easily.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries


A commercial success, honeycrisp apples are loved for their crisp, juicy flavor that is sweet, but balanced. The apples ripen in early fall, but store like a late season variety, keeping for up to 7 months.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

Haralson Apple

This semi-dwarf apple tree produces medium-sized fruits that crisp with a tart flavor. 'Haralson' is winter hardy, thriving in zones 3 - 6. It often bears fruit the first year.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries


As the name would suggest, 'Frostbite' is extremely cold hardy, making it a good choice for northern regions. Its small fruits have a sweet, intense taste that are good for cider or cooking.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries


Fireside' is favored for its large, sweet fruits and resistance to cedar-apple rust.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

Those are just a few of the great disease-resistant apples you could be planting. A couple of other points:

  • Take in some apple-testing festivals this fall and try new varieties. Consult your local extension office and regional nurseries to find out which cultivars do the best in your area.
  • Areas of the country that don't meet the normal chill requirements for most apples need low-chill cultivars like 'Anna', 'Dorsett Golden' and 'Tropic Sweet'.

So, about the bugs. These good cultural practices provide a little protection against pest attacks:

  • Give the tree the best possible location, and it will be better able to withstand stress and pest attacks. Sun and well-drained soil are essentials.
  • Remove all dead branches, using a 10 percent solution of bleach to disinfect the pruners before you move on to the next tree. If wood looks diseased, disinfect pruners after each new cut.
  • Spray horticultural oil at the first sign of green in the spring to help get rid of scale insects and limit mites and aphids.
  • Remove all dried fruit or fruit debris (either still on the branch or fallen) in the fall. Also rake leaves and remove them.
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