How To Tell If Homegrown Apples Are Ripe

You did it. You nurtured your backyard apple tree from a tender sapling to fruiting. All in the course of about 4 to 8 years, depending on which type you planted. How can you tell if the apples are at the proper stage of ripeness for picking?

Apples turn red long before they’re ripe, so redness is a poor indicator.

Here are the best ways to know whether homegrown apples are ripe:

  1. Check the “background” color. That’s the non-red color of an apple. The background color of most apple varieties changes from green to creamy yellow or yellow-white.
  2. Cut an apple in half to examine the seeds. The seeds of a ripe apple are blackish-brown. The seeds of an unripe apple are light tannish or tan-brown.
    Ripe apple showing black-brown seeds and creamy-yellow background color.

    Unripe apple showing green background color and seeds that are tan-brown instead of black-brown.
  3. Taste the apple. Varieties vary greatly in sweetness and flavor, but if the apples taste good they can certainly be eaten.
  4. Apples develop a natural “abscission” layer at the stem that allows the fruits to fall to the ground when ripe, rather than clinging to the tree all winter. When apples begin to fall, check the previous indicators to tell if it’s time to harvest. Sometimes a few apples will drop prematurely, that’s why it’s important to check additionally.
  5. Check the average ripening date for your apple variety. Each variety has a fairly specific calendar window in which they ripen, which remains the same year-to-year and doesn’t vary greatly each year, even though each year’s weather varies. For example, a variety that is an October ripener will not ripen in August. An August-ripening variety won’t cling onto the tree until October in useable quality.

Here are the average ripening dates for the apple varieties commonly found in our area:

  • Beacon – mid to late August
  • State Fair – mid to late August.  (Keeps in storage 2 to 4 weeks.)
  • Hazen – late August. (stores 2 to 4 weeks.)
  • SweeTango – early September
  • Zestar – late August to early September. (stores 6 to 8 weeks.)
  • Chestnut crabapple – early September
  • Red Baron – mid September. (stores 4 to 5 weeks.)
  • Sweet Sixteen – mid to late September. (stores 5 to 8 weeks.)
  • Honeycrisp – late September. (stores 7+ months.)
  • Haralson – late September to early October. (stores 4 to 5 months.)
  • SnowSweet – mid October
  • Fireside and Connell Red – mid October.

Later-ripening varieties benefit from remaining on the tree until full ripeness, because the cooler temperatures of fall promote increased sugar-buildup in fruits. Frost isn’t necessary, just cool temperatures. Apples aren’t damaged by frost, and are fine remaining on the tree down to temperatures of about 25 to 28 degrees.

Happy Harvesting!