Tips for Apple Harvest and Apple Storage

Apple harvest and apple storage know-how are so important if you want to enjoy your homegrown fruits. Even a small apple tree in your garden can provide a generous harvest as fall moves toward winter. But all too often, homegrown apples are a disappointment – sometimes hard, woody and sour, or woolly and grainy at others. Picking apples at the right stage of ripeness is vital if you want to enjoy them at their best. Here’s how to time your apple harvest for immediate eating or reliable storage.

When Are Apples Ready to Harvest?

gloved hand picking red apples from a tree branch and placing the apples in a plastic bucket
Although different varieties of apples have different recommended harvest times, ranging from as early as July to as late as November, the weather has a major impact on when the fruits are actually ready to pick.
For example, a warm and sunny spring can bring blossoming forward, giving the fruit a head start for an early harvest. Similarly, a cold and wet summer can delay ripening, potentially pushing the picking season back by weeks. What’s more, apples at the top and sides of the tree will get more sunlight as they grow and will be ready before ones growing more centrally in the tree’s own shade.
close up of three yellow apples blushed red hanging on an apple tree branch
So, while you can take the variety’s typical harvest time as a guide, you need to check for ripeness before picking. Here are four steps for determining whether your apples are ripe and ready for picking:

1. Look for the apple to turn the color you’d expect from that variety, whether that’s a ruby red or a vibrant green.

2. Check that the apple seems firm and crisp but with a slight give rather than being woody or mushy.

3. Smell the apple; ripe apples should have a telltale odor that’s distinctly appetizing.

woman smelling an apple hanging from an apple tree branch to check for ripeness
4. If the apple seems ready for picking, have a final check for ripeness by gently twisting it in the palm of your hand. If it comes away easily from the tree, it’s ripe and can be harvested.

hand twisting a ripe apple from an apple tree branch
If it takes more of an effort to remove, and especially if it brings some leaves along with its stalk, then the rest could probably use a week or two more on the tree.

Picking Apples for Storage

boy holding a basket of apples he harvested in one hand and the pruners he used to snip off the apples in his other hand
The exception to this rule is when you’re picking apples intended for storage. In these cases, it’s better to err on the side of unripeness and harvest the apples before any sign of softness appears. When picking early, you may need to cut the apple away from the tree rather than twisting it off. If so, use a sharp blade and be sure to leave an inch or so of stalk attached which will help the apple store more reliably.

Are Apple Trees Ready to Harvest When Apples Fall to the Ground?

a white bucket of harvested apples on the grass surrounded by apples that have fallen from the apple tree
It’s common for an apple tree to drop some fruit early. Many people take this as a sign that the apples are ripe and should be harvested. But the fruit can fall for several reasons, including infestation with grubs, lack of water, too many fruits per branch or simply high winds. It’s worth checking fallen fruit for ripeness, but don’t assume you need to pick all the remaining apples before they spoil.

How to Harvest Apples Safely

woman on ladder picking granny smith apples from a tree with sun shining from behind her
Depending on the size of your tree, you may need help to reach the highest fruits. Use a sturdy step ladder, or if necessary, a longer ladder securely lodged against a thick branch. Never overreach or stretch for the last remaining apples. It’s better to leave some on the tree rather than risk an accident.
But if you have a particularly large tree, or maybe have several in a garden orchard, investing in a telescopic apple picker will make your harvest quicker as well as safer.
fruit picker tool being used to harvest a ripe apple from a high tree branch
However, don’t be tempted to shake higher branches to dislodge any apples you can’t get to. The apples will inevitably be damaged as they fall, making storage impossible.

Apple Storage

blue plastic box crates and a blue plastic tote filled with freshly harvested apples on a rustic wood outdoor table
If you’re blessed with a generous harvest, you’ll probably need to store some apples for later use. Mid- or late-season apples have the best chance of storing successfully, as early varieties tend to be softer and deteriorate more quickly.

Should Apples be Stored in the Refrigerator?

fresh apples in the clear plastic storage bin of a white refrigerator door
For short-term storage, apples will last for six to eight weeks in a refrigerator, compared to only a week or so at room temperature.

Long Term Apple Storage

overhead view of freshly harvested apples in a rustic blue bucket
To store for longer, go through your harvest and pick out any apples with bruises or other damage. As the saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the bunch, so be ruthless in weeding out ones that could risk rotting the whole harvest.
close up of a freshly harvested apple partially wrapped in brown kraft paper
Wrap each individual good apple in newspaper. Place the wrapped apples in a dark, airy, dry and cool place that has no risk of frost. Make sure the apples have good airflow around them and that they’re not touching each other. You can expect them to stay in good condition for up to six months.
Or, read our guide on Preserving Your Apple Harvest for tips on making applesauce, apple butter and more!
jar of apple butter on a wooden table with fresh apples and buttered bread in the background

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