Heirloom Apple Trees

November 16, 2006

Following up on a recent theme related to the joys of heirloom apples

I thought I’d conclude with an article identifying a few good sources for purchasing antique and heirloom apple trees for planting in the home garden or to use in starting a backyard orchard.

Antique Apple Trees for the Home Garden

There are many varieties and types of heirloom apple trees available to the home gardener. There are even options for gardeners with little or no space for tree fruits to reap the pleasures of cultivating and harvesting home-grown heirloom apples in spite of their space limitations.

While I would generally prefer to grow the standard, full-sized fruit trees if space was not an issue, there are various rootstocks that can be utilized to restrict the size of the heirloom apple tree and make it better suited to fit the home garden and backyard landscape.

Antique apple trees are available in heights ranging from tiny five-foot mini dwarfs, to thirty-five foot full-sized trees. The smaller dwarf types have weaker root systems that will probably require permanent staking. They also are not as hardy, making them riskier for growing in extremely cold climates or areas that are subject to frequent drought conditions.

The dwarfed apple trees will produce fewer apples per tree but can be planted much closer together, resulting in comparable harvests per square foot of growing area. The dwarf trees also provide you with an opportunity to plant a larger number of assorted heirloom apples in less area than you could when growing standard sized trees.

Training Heirloom Apple Trees

There are also pruning techniques that can be employed to adapt antique apple trees to grow within small areas or even in containers. One such style of fruit tree culture is known as espalier and produces compact trees shaped in an assortment of forms such as cordons, tiers, and various “U” shaped espaliered trees.

I plan to experiment with an espalier form known as a “step-over” to grow a few heirloom apple trees right around my raised bed vegetable garden. A step-over is simply a tree trained with only two branches growing off of its trunk in a “T” shape. It can be trained to grow under a height of three feet but will bear harvests of normal sized fruit.

Then there’s the option of growing your heirloom apple trees in containers right on the patio or deck. As with the smallest mini dwarf fruit trees; container grown antique apple trees may require support to keep them standing upright, and additional protection or shelter during the winter in extremely cold climates.

So don’t allow limited space, rocky soil, or other obstacles deter you from growing and enjoying your very own antique apple trees and the delicious fruit that they will produce in the home garden or backyard orchard.

Heirloom Apple Tree Sources

Here are links to a few unique ornamental fruit and heirloom apple tree suppliers that offer an assortment of unusual fruits for the home gardener:

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  • Tony

    Looking for Milam Apple tree

  • Kenny Point

    Tony, I had never heard of that one but it seems like an interesting antique apple variety and is described on the National Park Service’s website: “It appears that the only surviving variety is the Milam apple, named after the Milam family of Madison County. It is believed that the Milam apple was developed in an orchard near the present day location of Milam Gap in the park at milepost 53 along Skyline Drive. Other previously thought extinct local varieties may still be growing in the hollows and on the mountain sides of Shenandoah National Park.” The Milam heirloom apple is listed for sale on the Urban Homestead website.

  • Tony

    Thanks for the post about Milam Apples located at Urban Homestead which has a web site at
    I also located another Apple Grafter at Oldapple@bighorsecreekfarm.com. Who is in N.C.
    I have printed the info at both sites & have given them to my Friend.
    The Milam Apple was a popular Apple in the Mtns of Eastern Ky in the Early 1900’s.

  • I have never thought of collecting antique apple trees. This is kind of unusual for me. Does the age have anything to do with the trees?

  • Phil

    I have been searching years for a tree that grew on an estate where I worked as a kid. The apples were dark, dark red oblate fruis with a light frosting of powdered sugar. When cut the flesh was PINK. More intense at the skin and fading to cream at the core. And sweeeeet. They tarnished quickly and did not keep well. But boy was it prolific.

    The specimen is now a development. Do you or anyone know what that was and is it preserved?



  • Kenny Point

    Hi Phil, I can’t identify that specific heirloom apple but here is a link to a site that lists a number of red fleshed apples, you may be able to find a picture or description of your fruit there: http://web.ukonline.co.uk/suttonelms/apple52.html. Good luck finding it, that sounds like a great apple and it would be nice for it to still be growing in a garden or orchard somewhere.

  • Ron Richard

    Hey Kenny,
    My father and I are looking for a Stearn Apple tree. They are large cooking and eating apple that last for some time. Any suggestions?

  • Kenny Point

    Hello Ron, sorry I am not familiar with the Stearn apple tree and have no idea where you could locate one. You might try contacting the Pennsylvania Backyard Fruit Growers or a similar group that may have someone who knows about the Stearn apple that you are searching for.

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  • Kathee

    Looking for a place to buy August Apples. I’m not sure they are still around, but my husband just learned that that was the name of the apples his dad grew in their back yard years ago and he loved them!

    When I do a search for August Apples, I get lists of all apples that ripen (or whatever) in August or Apple computer stuff. LOL

    Any ideas?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Kathee, I checked a couple of my sources and references but was unable to locate any information on an apple that goes by the name of “August.”

  • Kathee

    Thanks Kenny. It’s probably either been phased out, or renamed. Maybe one day I’ll run across something.

    Thanks for checking!!


  • Any tips for transplanting apple trees? I have 2 I want to move before Winter, and I’d hate to damage or stunt one.

  • Kenny Point

    Wait until the trees drop their leaves and go dormant, then dig up and move them with as much of the root ball as you can manage. Loosen the soil in the planting hole and plant the tree at about the same depth, making sure that the graft is above ground level. If you want to be particular then you can also take care to replant the tree so that it branches continue to grow in the same direction after the tree has been relocated.

  • eris

    I was looking for a source for Milam apples as well (many years after eating my fill of them in the Shenandoah backcountry), and found Urban Homestead through this page. I’ve got one on order for shipping this Spring. So, Thanks!

    Another great, GREAT source for hard-to-find antique apples is Tom Brown, here’s his page: http://www.applesearch.org/

    I’ve got a few from him on order as well.

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