Arizona is not all saguaro and sagebrush. Ponderosa pine forests cover much of northern and eastern Arizona, while high desert and grassland exist in the northwest and north central parts of the state. This wide variety of climates allows gardeners to choose from a variety of apple trees. Although gardeners in Arizona's low deserts have much less winter chill than northern residents, apple varieties exist for these tenacious gardeners, too.
Russian fur trappers in North America planted Gravenstein apple trees in the early 1800s, and cuttings became the foundation of California apple production. During World War II, Gravenstein apples were dried and sent by the ton to overseas soldiers. Sebastopol, California still celebrates this apple's flavor and versatility with the Gravenstein Apple Fair. However, Gravensteins do not ship or store well and, due to their short stem, are difficult to mechanically harvest. Commercial growers filled their orchards with the easily marketed Red Delicious apple. However, the superior flavor and heavy production make the heirloom Gravenstein a superb choice for gardens in northern Arizona; it requires 700 hours of winter chill. Gravenstein ripens in late July, produces sterile pollen and will not pollinate other apples. Choose an apple variety with a similar bloom time to act as a pollinator. Do not use Jonagold or Winesap apple trees as pollinators for Gravenstein.
For the low desert, choose Anna. This small, 2- to 3-inch apple variety ripens in late spring or early summer, avoiding the scalding heat of later months. The Arizona Master Gardener Manual describes the flavor as “excellent.” The apples have generous areas of red blush and keep for up to two months. Anna requires 200 hours of winter chill, easily fulfilled by lower desert; Maricopa county receives an average of 300 to 400 hours of winter chill per year according to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. Anna is self-fruitful but produces large, heavy crops with a pollinator like Dorsett Golden, another low-desert apple tree.
Fuji apples have a dull skin but a crisp, simultaneously sweet and tart flavor. Despite not being as bright and shiny as other apples, Fuji apples have a superior flavor to the attractive Red Delicious and are growing in popularity. Both large and local Arizona nurseries now carry Fuji saplings. Fuji apples ripen in mid-fall, are medium sized and bear heavily with a pollinator. The majority of their skin is a russet red over a light green base. Although Fuji apple trees have a lower chill requirement than many other apples, they still require 350 to 400 hours of winter chill, making them a borderline choice for Arizona's low desert. However, this is a superb apple tree for higher elevations.