Dakota Gardener: Growing Apples for Cider

By Tom Kalb, Horticulturist
NDSU Extension
A mug of hot apple cider is a special treat on a cold day.

Have you ever drank a mug of farm-fresh cider? It’s absolutely delicious! Homegrown apple cider is much richer and more flavorful than what you can buy at the grocery store.

I was raised on an apple farm in Minnesota. Every fall we would crush our small apples in a cider press to make jugs of cider to share with friends. Our arms would be weary after cranking the machine for hours, but it was worth it.

Nothing tasted better on a cold day in winter.

After sliding down snowy hills or shoveling snow as a boy, I can recall the aroma of hot cider in the kitchen. The warm mug would comfort my frozen fingers.

Add a cinnamon stick to your mug, and you are in heaven!

You can grow your own cider (sweet or hard). It’s one of the most popular trends in fruit-growing today.

Cider apple trees may be ordered now from fruit nurseries. You buy them as bareroot trees that will be shipped next spring. A sampling of nurseries includes Cummins, Fedco, Grandpa’s Orchard, Maple Valley, Raintree, Stark Bros. and St. Lawrence.

Now is the time to take action. Cider trees are in great demand and some varieties have already sold out for planting next spring.

Know your Hardiness Zone (3 or 4). The northern quarter of our state is in Zone 3. This includes land north of Williston, Minot and Grafton. The remainder of the state is in “balmy” Zone 4.

Almost any variety of apple will make delicious apple cider, but some varieties will make an exceptional beverage.

Russet varieties are famous for making the finest cider. These rough-skinned apples have sweet and intense flavors. The hardiest russet is Minnesota 1734.

Other good cidermakers for Zone 3 include Whitney crabapple, Chestnut crabapple and Frostbite apple. Frostbite is a grandfather of Honeycrisp.

Gardeners in Zone 4 have additional options. Golden Russet has been called the “champagne” of ciders. Redfield has red flesh that will make your cider turn blood red. Wow!

Ashmead’s Kernel is famous for its pear-like flavor and rich aroma. Liberty resists diseases and is easy to grow. Cortland, Yarlington Mill and Fameuse will make great cider.

Besides selecting the variety, you need to consider the rootstock your tree will grow on. “Standard” rootstocks are usually used in Zone 3. These trees are very hardy, grow vigorously and will require lots of pruning to keep at a manageable height.

Semi-dwarf rootstocks are often used in Zone 4 because they bear crops earlier, grow shorter, and are easier to manage.

Small-scale fruit grinders and presses are available to process the apples.

If you have room for a cider tree in your back yard, I encourage you to plant one. It will fill your home with warmth and wonderful memories.

For more information about gardening, contact your local NDSU Extension agent. Find the Extension office for your county at