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Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Choosing Cultivars

Choosing the correct cultivars for your markets and your climate will be key to the profitability of your new orchard. Remember that you are planting for the consumers of tomorrow, so consider the trends in buying patterns ie. younger people, ethnic diversity and where populations are increasing.

In recent years, the most popular cultivars in new plantings include Gala, Honeycrisp, Ambrosia, and Golden Delicious, because demand for these cultivars is growing. Growers with retail markets often include cultivars for their niche markets like Sunrise for August harvest, and Silken and Aurora that require delicate handling. Each grower needs to evaluate cultivars suitable for markets over the next 20-30 years.

Consider these factors when choosing cultivars to plant:

  1. Climatic suitability: Will this cultivar grow well at my site? Winter hardiness, temperatures during the growing season, length of growing season, and temperature during ripening are important to consider. Honeycrisp and McIntosh prefer cooler growing areas, while cultivars like Red and Golden Delicious, Fuji, and Cripp's Pink require higher heat accumulations and frost-free season. Consult "Recommended Apple Varieties for Ontario".
  2. Markets: What cultivars do my buyers want? Your buyers may include packers, farmers markets, retail stands and local stores. Your orchard will be more successful if you grow the apples your markets demand. Otherwise, the low-priced juice market may be your only alternative. Here is a list of marketers in Ontario
  3. Disease susceptibility: Are you ready to manage disease problems in each cultivar? Most commercial cultivars are susceptible to scab (which requires a strict management strategy), but susceptibility to fire blight can be a much larger concern for new plantings. Cultivars like Gala are very susceptible to fire blight, but this problem is worse when grown on susceptible rootstock like M9. Be prepared for intensive management of fire blight on susceptible cultivars (and rootstocks), or losses of large numbers of trees may result. Using MaryBlyt or Cougar Blight to time sprays, frequent scouting to detect and remove strikes, timely removal of root suckers and use of Apogee will help keep fire blight in check.
  4. Harvest schedule: Will you have enough labour to pick your new orchard? Consider how adding new production will fit into your current harvest schedule. Some growers aim to start harvest in August with Sunrise, Gingergold and Paulared. The main commercial harvest in September includes McIntosh, Gala, Empire, and Honeycrisp. By October, cultivars will include Ambrosia, Red and Golden Delicious, Fuji, and Spy. Niche markets might also include Silken in September and Aurora in October (and many others). Read about the many considerations for harvest in "Harvesting and Handling Apples".
  5. Harvest management: Will your crew be able to pick each cultivar at its peak quality? Most cultivars have a 7-10 day window for harvest, so planting larger acreages of a single cultivar may require extra pickers. Some growers use plant growth regulators like ReTain to spread out maturity. But remember that extending one cultivar may interfere with the next maturing cultivar eg. Planting too many Gala may interfere with Empire or Honeycrisp harvest window.
  6. Pollination: Will my cultivar mix provide the cross-pollination required for high yields and quality fruit? To ensure an adequate pollen supply when blooms are open, check if bloom dates overlap adequately. Remember that triploid cultivars like Mutsu and Jonagold do not provide viable pollen, so at least 2 other cultivars need to be planted close to triploids. Interplanting several crabapple cultivars is an alternative way to provide a pollen source in larger blocks. Read more about pollination on the OMAF and MRA website.
  7. Legal considerations: Are the cultivars you want to plant restricted by patents? New cultivars and/or strains are often owned and managed by breeders, nurseries or marketers, and are often called "club" varieties. Some require a royalty paid on each tree purchase, or more recently, restricted on when and where the cultivar can be planted and/or marketed. Each cultivar will have its own rules which are stipulated in the agreement on purchase. In some cases, this may restrict your access to certain cultivars.
  8. Market prices: Does the expected price return enough to the grower? The price you receive will depend on the quality you can deliver, but there are large differences in prices by cultivar. The Ontario Apple Growers publish a survey each year in their annual report showing the average price paid by Ontario packers to their growers. Read more at This information should be combined with expected yields and additional input costs for each cultivar to evaluate the total profitability of a cultivar.

Choosing cultivars for your new plantings is a complicated process, but evaluating all of these factors will help you plan better for the cultivar mix that is right for your operation.