Help choosing apple varieties for high desert southwest

I have two apple trees, Anna and Dorsett Golden, that were recommended by a local nursery. They are both good growers and ripen a decent crop of mediocre apples every year. They are both somewhat mealy with a boring, flat sweet/sour flavor.

These varieties were recommended because nurseries in the southwest tend to think we all need “low chill” fruit trees regardless of where we are. We were unaware at the time of buying the trees that we get around 1000 chill hours every winter at our 5000 ft elevation. We do, however, get pretty hot in the summer (~95-100F daily from June-August), and the dry heat in May and June can be stressful on some plants.

I would like to graft several different varieties to the trees but honestly have no idea where to even start as far as variety considerations. I’m leaning more towards southern heirlooms because of their heat tolerance, but was hoping some of you would have some “favorites” you all could recommend. I prefer crisp apples with sweet, fruity, aromatic and/or complex flavors that are primarily for fresh eating.

Thanks in advance for any and all advice!

cripps pink seems to fit the bill for heat tolerance, with taste/texture/flavor being ahead of anna and dorsett by a country-mile.

not sure if it will have the commendable longevity of anna though(speaking from experience with vegas anna’s).

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Cripps pink is an excelent choice. Thanks!


Anna and Dorset do not play well with others, and will dominate any high chill variety you graft on with them because they blossom months ahead of them. You’ll need to plant separate trees.

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The New Mexico State AG station at Alcalde recommends Imperial Gala. Good luck finding it.

Checked again. They also liked Ginger Gold.

Arkansas Black thrives in the climate of Reno NV. 4500’ with very dry hot summers winters much more severe than what you describe, might be one to consider. Maybe not all that complex but sweet/tart and delicious to me. Like Cripps it is a nice tree that doesn’t seem to need much besides water every week or ten days. Both have proven to be fairly precocious for me as well. Good luck.

What zone is that actually? 7 maybe?

It’s supposedly zone 8a, but the winters have been mild recently. We have a pretty long winter but rarely even get lows of 20F.

Everyone, thanks so much for these suggestions. Ginger Gold and Arkansas Black both look awesome. Someone on another forum offered me some Limbertwigs, which look delicious but I’m wondering how they would like my climate. Any thoughts on Limbertwigs in the high desert?

Both trees were pruned such that they have about 5 decent size scaffold branches coming from the main trunk. I was planning to cut all of them back and cleft graft onto each branch. This would mean the original Anna and Dorsett Golden would be acting as an interstem. Am I correct in thinking this will work okay?

I think your top-working plan will work fine. A few more varieties for you to consider:

Blue Pearmain
Claygate Pearmain
American Golden Russet
Hoople’s Antique Gold
Hudson’s Golden Gem
Lady Williams
Pitmaston Pineapple
Esopus Spitzenburg
White Winter Pearmain
Wickson Crabapple

Thanks for this list! I have a lot of varieties to consider now. Thanks to everyone!

That’s iffy; Anna and Dorset will wake up months before the others, and may try to push out latent buds into new growth. I’ve never had any success grafting anything onto them other than low-chill varieties like Shell of Alabama. They’re in their own little world.

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Stan makes some good recommendations. I’m in Reno at 4,700’ and can verify some of his recommendations, though I’d be leery of Gravenstein if your spring weather is unsettled. It’s an early bloomer that never fruited for me in 15 years. I’m guessing you’re in New Mexico or possibly northern Arizona, so your summers are a bit hotter and our winters are a bit colder. Here is what has performed for me so far, first from his recommendations and then a few he doesn’t have on his list:

Claygate Pearmain - practically bullet proof here and an outstanding apple
Freyburg - fairly regular and almost always excellent
Fuji - sporadic fruiting, though I moved the tree a couple of years after it started fruiting and set it back
Spitzenburg - excellent, but not as regular as Claygate Pearmain

I’ve only fruited these a couple of times, but they are young trees, so it’s tough for me to give you a reliability report:

Golden Russet - very light crops so far, but several were great
Pitmaston’s Pineapple - fruited two years ago but took last year off - very good
Wickson - excellent

I have a few others on his list, but they haven’t fruited for me yet. Here are some others that are good and fairly reliable here:

Newtown Pippen
Orlean’s Reinette (swoon-worthy)
Pixie Crunch
Sweet Sixteen

I fruited many other apples on young trees/grafts in 2016 for the first time. While I can tell you how much I did or did not enjoy them, I can’t vouch for their consistency in fruiting, production or taste so I won’t include them.


Thanks for this! It’s great to have some additional first-hand recommendations from another region with “dragon sun.”

I live outside of Tucson, AZ in the foothills of the Catalina mountains at about 5000 above sea level. Since we are on the slope of a mountain whose peak is ~9100 ft, and we are so far south (only about 100 miles from the Mexico border) we don’t get nearly as cold in the winter as one might think. Personally, I think the climate in Reno is FAR more challenging for gardening. So, if those apples do well for you, I have no doubt they will do well for me.

I’m interested what else you are growing up there?

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Is your climate pretty similar to that of Wilcox/Bibsee/Sierra Vista which are nearby and similar elevation? There are several commercial and pick-your-own orchards there so I’d suggest you see what varieties they are growing. Yeah Anna and Dorsett are fine if you live in Houston or Miami or Vegas, but not what you’d grow if you had other options (Carnivale is a newer, better [in Houston]apple from Brazil for low-chill apples).

Some other potentially good ones to look into include: Winecrisp (which is a late season crisp, sweet apple that was bred in the midwest but recommended especially for hotter/drier climates), Goldrush, White Winter Pearmain, Newtown Pippin, Granny Smith, Kidd’s Orange Red, Sundowner, Gala, Fuji. I think a lot of the varieties developed in Australia and Japan may work well for you (warmer climates, lower chill…though chill doesn’t sound like it’ll be a problem for you).

What else are you growing? Figs, Persimmons, Pomegranates, Black Mulberries, Blackberries, Jujubes, Grapes, Feijoas? Persimmons, Pistachios, Pecans? If you like the improved Prickly Pears, TAMU has several good varieties that are hardy to between 0-10F.

I’m glad you asked about what else I’m growing rather than what else I’ve fruited, as I can now appear to be a talented home orchardist growing a wide variety of interesting fruits rather than a stubborn knucklehead with a history of poor planning followed by bad decisions…or is that bad decisions followed by poor planning? Here is what I hope will be my quick back story.

I moved into my current home 17+ years ago as a person who’d enjoyed some success vegetable gardening but had little experience growing tree fruit. I knew Reno was a tough place for tree fruit due to unsettled spring weather (frequent early spring warmups followed by later hard frosts). So my wife and I bought 1.3 beautiful acres in a frost pocket (didn’t appreciate that until later). I started my orchard two years later with a handful of trees, little understanding of my property as a (not) fruit producing mecca and planning sessions that consisted of “hmmm, that seems like a spot that needs a tree, that spot could use a grape and, hey!, over thar works for a blackberry.” The following years produced approximately five different orchard plans, moving many trees to accommodate those new plans (some of them twice to fit into the newest new plan) and continues to this day. I’ve moved five trees in the past three weeks, two of which are 10 year old Asian pears (runts though, so not too horrible) in order to meet the best spacing needs of my fairly close planting scheme. I hope to never move another tree (Ha!).

I’ve also made lots of dumb cultural errors, including not removing competing native brush from the orchard for the first few years of its existence (turns out sagebrush [Artemisia tridentata] and rabbitbrush are capable water competitors, especially when you don’t do a good job of getting regular water to the trees, as I did for newly planted fruit trees more than once in my first couple of orchard iterations, and don’t immediately put up a deer fence when those marauding ungulates discover your orchard 10 years after you establish it - waited three years in the vain hope that they’d move on while the first group invited friends in the following years). So, because my growing environment is so friendly and I’m such a smart gardener, I decided to ignore the repeated suggestions that maybe I ought to stick with a couple or three trees and be happy with a couple or three fruits every couple or three years, I planted 87 fruit trees with a few more on the way to mostly achieve the same crop load. At least until last year, when a combination of no late hard frosts and a reasonably mature portion of my orchard delivered a decent crop of apples, pears from five varieties if you include Shipova, and my first really nice crop of peaches from an old, hard used Veteran peach tree. I did not get any sweet cherries or apricots, which makes me 0-15 years on those fruits, though it seemed that every other sweet cherry and apricot tree in the area carried heavy crops.

So, that is likely an adequately novelesque preamble for me to actually answer your question about what else I grow. I’m going to assume you were asking about all fruit rather than what other apple varieties I am growing (more than 100 of those, but more than 50 were grafted within the past two seasons, so I can’t comment on most of them). I have 14 European pears and three Asian pears, three sweet cherries, seven apricots, two peaches, five European plums, three Asian plums, four sour cherry varieties and one Pluot. Most of my trees are grafted with at least two varieties on board. Apples are the most productive thus far, which makes sense given that they flower the latest among these fruits, though I expect the pears to perform better in the future as my oldest trees are just now coming into bearing age. The same should hold true for the Euro plums, the oldest of which will enter fifth leaf next year. The best located peach tree produces every other year on average but is of inferior quality to the aforementioned Veteran peach, a much abused tree that has produced the past two years after giving only a handful of fruits one season in its first 13 years of existence (pathetic!). The Asian plums produced two tiny Superior plums on a tatty old tree last season, the first it’s ever delivered. They are very difficult trees in my orchard. The surviving tree (of two) that I have is in such rough shape that I’m getting rid of it this spring, but I’ll probably replace it because why not! The pluot, Flavor Grenade, produced its first and only fruit for me last year on a 4th or 5th leaf tree.

Slow learner that I am, it took me too many years to create a critical mass of improved cultural practices, varmint and bird exclusion (fencing and netting, respectively) plus orchard maturation and friendlier spring weather the past two years to improve recent productivity. I might even do a soil analysis this spring to see if missing minerals are contributing to some of my fruiting issues. I must admit to being a bit leery of doing much with my dirt, as my apples in particular are super intense, much more so than those of other local growers I’ve been able to sample. That may simply be due to unintentional water deficit on my part, but I think a lot of it is the dirt. I’ll definitely do spot manure/compost application on trees/varieties that have produced poor specimens up to now (English russets like St. Edmund’s Pippin and Egremont Russet in particular have been tiny, tannic balls of mostly cork here over three seasons) just to see if better fertility and more water on these varieties makes a difference. However, it may simply be that “dragon sun” you describe doing all the damage.

On the plus side, I get great crops from my blackberries, raspberries and table grapes every year and even the gooseberries planted against the north side of my house perform reasonably well, so cane/vine fruits are Reno winners. Melons and watermelons also make super sweet balls of goodness every year. I’ve got four hardy pomegranates that haven’t done much in four years and embarrassing riches of fig trees in pots that I lug around for eight months of the year but which don’t deliver nearly as much fruit as they ought to for all of that work. Still, they are so good I’ll keep doing it until I get that pit greenhouse I’m dreaming of built and can stick them in the ground.

Enough! If all you wanted was a list of apple varieties I’m growing, I’m going to be mad! (But I’ll list it in another post if that’s what you wanted.)


Peter’s Honey is supposed to do well in the Tuscon area. Do you have it?

Pecans too.

I’ll bet your figs, grapes, and melons are to die for.

Tried citrus yet?

That dragon sun is insane. I am from the shady East, but visited southern Arizona once. The desert sun there is frighteningly hot and blazingly bright.

We are just a little too cold for citrus… I tried kumquats a few years ago and they died VERY quickly after one night in the low 20s. I now have a few in an unheated greenhouse and that extra 10 degrees or so is a perfect buffer for them.

I’m one of those stupid fig people with over 100 varieties of figs. I do have Peter’s Honey and it’s a great fig… seems like one of those that does well in cool AND hot climates. It’s one of my first to ripen in the summer and last to keep ripening into the fall.

I grew up in Ohio and Missouri and every time I go back there I marvel at how mild the sun is! Sometimes I wonder how we are able to grow anything down here…