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Apple rootstock advice for Z 3a

3 months ago

I am planning to plant a few apples and crabapples at my brother's place just outside of Winnipeg (West St Paul). Zone 3a, in an area without great windbreaks. It will be sheltered from the north by a building, and a little bit from the west by a weak row of trees. Open to the east and south. I am looking mainly to grow apples and crabapples for making sweet cider. The nursery that I has the varieties that I am interested in sells mainly on Antonovka, B.118 and B.9 rootstock. I am not that stuck on a dwarfing rootstock because I am looking for a self supporting tree that won't have to be watered all the time. But does anyone on the Canadian prairies have comments on these rootstocks, or others that you have grown.

Comments (18)

  • nichols167

    BTW, the apple varieties that I am looking at are Goodland, September Ruby, Norkent, Carroll and Collett. Crabapples are Trail, Chestnut, Trailman and maybe Wickson (although I am not sure the latter will ripen here in an average year). The soil is heavy clay that I amended this fall with compost, peat moss. sulfur and sand. Your advice is appreciated! - Darrell

  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa

    I would suggest the Antonovka. My only experience with B118 wasn't good. The roots looked fine but there was a tap root that had been busted off of each. But they all died. I figured if I had a bad graft that I could regraft the following year, never expecting the roots to die.

    I'd also suggest you find seeds for the Antonovka. What I'm thinking is that if you plant rootstocks from seed that you'll have a tap root which will make the tree more stable and able to withstand drought. The seeds are available, but offhand I can't tell you where. If I were planting seeds for rootstocks I'd plant them where I want the tree and cage it in with a fence to keep from feeding the deer here. I'd also plant more than one seed per hole.

    You might check out Fedco Seeds web site as they're in Northern Maine and seem to have some experience with your climate. I don't think they'll ship to you but you can study their recommendations.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Malus antonovka - the Antonovka rootstock - is not tap rooted. Nor is any other apple tree.

    Growing from seed would just delay the time involved in getting the tree to fruit, as the Antonovka rootstock is not at all precocious. Will also generate a full sized tree (no dwarfing) and is not overly cold hardy anyway. Ranteka is typically considered the most cold hardy rootstock.

    nichols167 thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa

    Fedco states that if you grow fruit as far north as they are that the trees don't grow as large as may be expected farther south. They call semi-fulls semi-dwarfs. The B118 is a similar sized tree. The B9 is a dwarf tree. I have noticed myself that I don't get the sizes stated and I am no where near zone 3.

    It's said that a dwarf tree will produce an apple sooner, but while the semi-dwarf (M111) is starting to produce fruit it will produce more fruit than the smaller tree.

    As far as the taproot I googled "apple rootstock taproot". The first return there discusses rootstocks and specifically states including apples. I didn't even click on the link. It's right there on the Google page. Antonovka is well known for not requiring staking.

    nichols167 thanked John D Zn6a PIT Pa
  • wayne

    I had been trying to grow Honeycrisp for a few years, they were coming along slowly with a bit of die back each spring, last winter hit - 40c and lots of-30's. That was the end for them, the root stock has a bunch of shoots that regrew on both, they look different from each other and neither changed color before the leaves just froze. I don't think that I want to graft onto these and have them fail again. I had grafted scion's from the Honeycrisp onto my Royalty crab a few years ago, the scion is out growing the crab by a lot and still does not want to go dormant but I had flowers and one very dwarf but perfect apple after that cold. I had bought a Norkent on Bud 9 a couple years ago also, same thing happened to that, I had an apple from a scion on a different Royalty crab. These trees came from Jeffries Nursery. I will be looking for better root stock this spring. Hope this helps Darrell. I should say that the Norkent did survive below the snow and pushed out a new shoot also.

  • wayne

    Just read a very good article on Ranetka on the Alaska fruit growers website, well worth the read.

    nichols167 thanked wayne
  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa


    I found a place, I think in Canada to buy Antonovka seeds. It's at this site. I found it by including .ca in the google phrase, but never searched around the web site for their secret location. Antonovka seeds are known to reproduce true to type as does Famuese.

    I know you just want to buy some plants, but once you do you might want to improve what you have. Or maybe share the wealth.

  • nichols167

    Thanks everyone for the comments. Wayne, I have noticed that the leaves froze green on a number of my apple and apricot trees this fall. I attribute that though to the fact that our late summer (August) was very wet, and then September and October were very wet as well. Not so much to rootstock. In addition, the weather in September was cool, but no hard frosts until October. i think that the trees did not harden off properly due to the wet conditions. When we hit mid-October, we started to get some heavy frosts, and November has been terribly cold. We could hit -21C overnight this Monday according to the Environment Canada website. This is not good for the fruit trees. I really fear what they are going to look like come spring.

    i read that article on Ranetka the trouble is I can't find any Canadian nurseries that seem to use it.

  • spartanapples

    M. 'Ranetka' is super cold hardy and should work for you. Antonovka too. I also recall Ottowa 3 being available in Canada (very cold hardy but tough to graft too, best to bud to it in late summer as it has very poor roots when young).

    M. 'prunifolia' was also available years ago and super cold hardy too but I believe Antonovka is hardier. I may be wrong.

    It is true that farther north apples on standard rootstocks seem to be shorter than if grown farther south. I have seen Hazen apples grown near Des Lacs, ND and they were short compared to Hazen on same rootstock grown in S.E. Minnesota when I lived there.

    Lawyer Nursery in Plains, MT used to sell Ranetka rootstock. Not sure if they even in business anymore.

    nichols167 thanked spartanapples
  • wayne

    I think that I will graft onto my roseybloom crab apple seedlings. I had read somewhere that they grow true to seed which seems correct from my observation. My grafts so far have been onto branches of the crab.

  • John D Zn6a PIT Pa


    You need to check on the life expectancy of the variety of crab apple you use. I had a large plot of land with 1000's of crab apples so thick I couldn't get my shoulders thru them. And then they were loaded with thorns. The surveyor made the comment that they will disappear. Well after spending years cutting up and disposing of them the remaining crabs just died off like he said.

    The base of the tree had wood almost as hard as oak. I usually got two sticks of excellent firewood out of each tree. Most of the ones I had didn't bloom and didn't produce fruit. In the spring you would see a trace of what looked like a hint of a purple mist.

  • wayne

    Hi John, The Roseybloom crabs are the new kid on the block for sure. There are lots of old white flowered crabs around here that look great. Some small apple orchards with 50+ year old trees also with the original owner having passed away. Most would be on there own roots I would imagine.Longevity, while important, is near the bottom of my worries.

  • ubro

    I have grafted many apples on hardy rootstock but I am in zone 2a so my experiences will not be yours. I did about 25 Ranetka, 50+ Siberian crab, 20 Bud 9 and a few Ottawa 3.

    Any of the dwarf rootstock will not survive my climate the bud 9 and Ottawa 3 were a complete bust and not worth the effort because they lived 3 years, just enough to make it disappointing to have to start over. They may be great for a trial in zone 3 but I think a person such as Konrad could tell you better. As apples are not large trees in my area, I go for hardiness rather than size, I can limit the size with proper pruning.

    As far a Ranetka I still have a few surviving, so for zone 3 it is possible, but again I wouldn't trust it for sure and the only ones that survived, for me, were the ones that I did not graft on.

    My best luck was on Siberian or other misc. crab seedling stock. I currently have a lovely Sweet 16 and Chestnut, on this miscellaneous stock and they have given fruit for the last 2 years. I also have a Golden Russet, Cox OP, State Fair, and Honey Gold that have survived these 5 years but remain small so I don't have much hope for them actually bearing fruit. Any of the standard prairie apples like Norkent, Trailman, Sept. Ruby, Goodland, Sk. Prairie Sun etc. do great on this rootstock.

    Silver Creek Nursery did sell the Ranetka rootstock, Select Seedling Nursery in Saskatoon sells siberian and other apple rootstock, Boughen in Nipawin Sask. and I believe Nutcracker Nursery.

    nichols167 thanked ubro
  • hungryfrozencanuck

    Read this alaskan rootstock trial:

    I would not use Antonokova. I would trial Bud118 and M.baccata (Siberian crab). Check out also the Hardy Fruit and Nut Trees of Alberta facebook group for good advice, in particular info from Konrad. You want standard or semi-standard. You want vigor to survive our winters and put on enough growth in our short seasons. Can keep them smaller by branch bending and summer pruning.

    Look at for some proven hardy varieties.

    Had first fruit from Wickson this year in 4b Canada - meh. Norkent is awesome, best early variety so far (well actually I like Wynochee Early best but will not survive your area). September Ruby is pretty good. Love Crimson Crisp but not sure will work in your climate. Trailman is small, be a pain to pick to juice in my opinion.

    As for amending soil, don't dig it in. Put on top and let the worms incorporate it otherwise you get clay pot effect. Best would be ramial wood chips.

    Read my writeups for my 4b experience. 2018 and 2019 to come.

    nichols167 thanked hungryfrozencanuck
  • nichols167

    Ubro, thanks for the suggestions on the nurseries. There were some I had not heard of. I have bought from Boughen in the past but I didn't know what kind of rootstock they used. I have a Carrol in my yard from them with 3 seasons in the ground. It might have borne a few fruit last year except that I have hacked it up with grafting so much. It looks like it finally started to form some fruiting spurs last year. Hopefully a few fruit this year. It is now about 10 ft tall with good branching. It looks like a standard (or semi-dwarf) rootstock based on the growth. How did you learn that they are using Siberian crab? I don't see it on their website. Have you had much personal experience with the U of Sask apple varieties (Prairie Sun, Sensation etc)?

  • nichols167

    HFC, I appreciate the advice. I have been reading your posts with great interest for a few years. Both on this forum and Growing Fruit. I am thinking about getting Chestnut, Trailman, Norkent and Prairie Sensation on B118 from Whiffletree. What do you think of those choices? Like you, I am not overly enthralled with the size of Trailman, but am looking for something to add tartness to sweet cider and Trailman seemed to be highly regarded for that. Although it does ripen earlier than I would like. Perhaps your Wickson will improve in taste as it gets older. Many folks say that they have noted significant taste improvements over the first 3 or 4 years. I had some September Ruby this fall, first crop off a topworked crabapple tree. They were not very good and I let them ripen a long time, sampling over a period of several weeks.Do you feel that your Wickson were fully ripe when you picked them? Finding the optimal time to pick any apple is half the battle. A number of varieties that I initially thought were not very good were just a product of picking too early. Or assessing in a bad year. One last question (for now). When did the Wickson ripen for you, compared to Trailman? I think I may not have the growing season to properly mature a variety like Wickson that ripens late.

  • ubro

    I love Trailman, mine seem to size up nicely for a crab apple. If it is picked after a good frost it is both sweet and sour, and is one of the tastiest apples. Trailman makes great juice and is wonderful when dried.

    I have the Sask. Prairie Sun apple tree from the Uof S. The apple, although fairly large, has a weak flavour like Goodland, so IMO it is only good for cooking. I am using it as a tree on which to graft other less hardy varieties. I believe Prairie Sensation is a much better apple, but mine is only a couple of years old so I haven't really tasted it yet.

    There are two Boughen Nurseries, one in Sask. and one in Manitoba. I buy the siberian rootstock from the Sask. site, but given that some of these send out red leaves I do believe that the rootstock is probably from seed and not a true Siberian. That fact doesn't bother me much as the trees seem to do just fine.

    nichols167 thanked ubro
  • nichols167

    Ubro, when is Trailman ripe for you, and where exactly are you? From what folks say, it has the flavour that I want, but I was concerned that it would ripen too early. I do most of my pressing for cider in mid-September and that is when I prefer to have my apples come ripe. Does Trailman go soft/mealy quickly after ripening? If so, I will strike it off my list. If yours are hanging on the tree till frost, either they hang well on the tree, or else your frost comes earlier than here in Winnipeg. Regarding Goodland, I consider it to be one of the best tasting apples that is reliably hardy for our climate. I do concede that it is pretty mild tasting, although plenty sweet when fully ripened. It makes good juice, but you do need another more tart apple to give a fuller taste to the end product. I would be interested to hear how Prairie Sensation stacks up. If it has been two years in the ground for you, maybe you will see fruit from it this year. Red leaves on rootstock could mean that they are using Bud118. Stay warm! -28C here last night. Could have been worse. They were predicting -33C.

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