Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pettingill Apple Review- Bad news

I always have great hopes for the different trees I plant. It is a commitment of time, money, space and energy (not to mention water and fertilizer). And, if you make a bad choice, you have to start over and wait for the new choice to see if it is better.
SO, I researched the low chill apple trees. I read reviews and advertisements and planting guides. And the first apple tree I planted was the Golden Dorsett. This tree is incredible for the coastal San Diego area. It fruits 2 or 3 times a year. It has large abundant crops. It is ready June 1 but keeps on the tree for a whole month. Then there is another crop for Thanksgiving and it blooms again (but I don't let that one fruit because we both need a rest).
The only draw back for the Golden Dorsett is that it turns to sauce when cooked. It doesn't have any structure left- so it doesn't really work for Pie.
I was hoping that the second apple tree- the Pettingill- would be the fall pie apple for me
The Pettingill was advertised as a coastal low chill apple. The fruit would be ready in Late summer to early fall. It is redish with some green in the skin, shaped like a Granny Smith.
OK- now for the reality. The tree grew like crazy- long straight branches, no fruit spikes or buds. I pruned heavily. More growth, late dormancy, long dormancy, wouldn't bloom for 3 years. Finally, it bloomed and set 1, that's right just one, apple. It fell off in August- sour as can be. This year it bloomed well, for a long time and set about 12 fruits. One fell off in early August. The others grew large and turned very red. So, at the end of August - first week of September really, I pick 4 to make a "test Pie".
The "test pie" was very sour even with lots of sugar- it was almost too sour to get down- we tossed 1/2 the pie. And to make it worse, NO TEXTURE. Again we had a sauce apple. Not juicy either. We waited on the other apples to see if we had just been too early.
Late September, I picked one very large, very red apple. It was light so I was certain there was little sugar or water. And I was right. It was too sour to eat. I sliced it thinly and nibbled a few bites, but it just couldn't be eaten raw. I tossed it.
Now it is October and there is one apple left to taste. But I already know the answer for this tree- Applewood smoked bacon and sausage. I am not talking about turkey stuffing, I am talking about killing a tree. For me, this is one of the hardest things I can do. I have 5 years invested in this tree and it is a complete disappointment.
SO- this is my review. This Pettingill Apple tree is not what it is claimed to be. It has a higher chill factor than is listed in the advertisements. It flowers irregularly, sparsely and sets very little fruit in the San Diego Coastal climate. The fruit it does make is not edible. On the good side, it makes excellent long straight branches for wands and kindling. There is abundant wood for applewood smoking of smoked meats and fish. The leaves are glossy and large and the birds don't want the fruit either.
I recommend saving your money for something better and passing on this tree. It isn't even good as a pollinator for other trees.
Ok. There I have said it. Now, where is the chainsaw? I have a job to do.


Kyrwyn said...

I know you had such high hopes for that apple. I can't say I'm sad to see it go, though. I'm a bit concerned that our apple is of a similarly unpleasant variety, but for San Diego inland. We got red-blushed green apples that were shaped and sized like Grannies... that went yellow and rotten before they ever went sweet.

I'm still hoping that it's just because the tree has been under such stress in recent years, and it will revive into something both healthy and tasty once its been pruned, fertilized and taken care of a while longer.

We'll take some applewood sticks... and help you cut down the offender, if you want help. :)

jengod said...

Thanks very much for the review. I planted this tree and it hasn't fruited for me yet either. I will definitely take your criticisms under advisement if it keeps misbehaving. :)

Larry said...

Pettingill is slow to fruit, but it is the most delicious low chill apple I know. Once it kicks in it is highly dependably and as a good sugar-acid balance. It definitely ripens late and if picked early is very tart. However, if left on the tree a bit past when it looks ripe, it definitely sweetens up.

It stores well and also sweetens over the first week or two it is picked.

My personal opinion is that we have become accustomed to the overly sweet flavor of red delicious, fuji and similar apples and have forgotten the intense sweet tart taste of the best apples.

Troy said...

We live in San Francisco and absolutely love our Pettingill apple tree. We get the most delicious apples and tons of them.

Kimberly said...

Thanks so much for the information on the Pettingill. We live in Cardiff by Sea and so have the same climate, soil, etc. as you have in Encinitas. I was about to order a Pettingill from Cedros Gardens and then decided to do some research online. I think I will order the Golden Dorset now...

L said...

If you like Golden Dorset you will probably also like Anna. This is another low chill option.

Rhonda said...

I found your post when searching for Pettingill apples. What a lovely coincidence that I live in the San Diego area also. I would love to know if you chose another apple to replace this one, or if you have given it a reprieve for another year or two? I am building a green house surrounded by a sustainable farm. I would welcome your input on my planting plan. You can email me at and perhaps we can plan a time to chat?

Marty said...

Anna is the best companion to your Dorsett Golden apple tree; Anna makes killer pies (spicy, firm, sweet/tart).

carrot people said...

Thank you for sharing! Another San Diego gardener is saved from this frustration. I'm thinking of trying out either Anna or Sundowner...

Axel said...

I am sorry to hear that people are having such trouble with pettingill. This is one of he finest heirloom apples that has originated in Southern California, and back in the 50's, it was the number one apple planted in the Southland. It makes the absolute best apple pie ever.

You have to be patient with this apple, it colors up before it's fully ripe, and picking fruits too early makes them inedible. It's also a partial tip bearer, which means it takes longer for it to start producing. Shoots go straight up, and it's not until the shoot reaches its full length that it starts to bear fruit on the tip. At that point, the shoot weeps down, and the following year more blooms and spurs will form along the shoot. It means the apple takes a few years to really get going. See for more details.

Don't give up on this apple, it's the best low chill apple you can grow.

Urban Orchards said...

I have 3 apples all over 8 years old here in Encinitas CA, less than a mile from the ocean. 1 Anna / 1 Golden Dorsett and / 1 Petfingill. The Anna and Dorsett cross pollinate and produce wonderful bumper corps. Had some scabe for a few years, but spray with Bordeaux oil and seaweed emulsion dutifully even during fruiting and I rake up all the fall leaf drop for the trash, NOT compost. The Anna produces crisp yellow flesh apples, great for apple sauce, pies and lunch box from Late May to July. The Dorsett comes on in July through August, whiter flesh, a little tart and crisp like a fuji. The Pettengill has been in 8 years, slow to produce it set 20+ apples this year, all seemed mealy, pithy and had a funky tart apple flavor. Not giving up on the Pettengill yet after 8 years but might just need more winter cold and summer heat. I am planing on planting an Einshemer low chill from Israel / excellent pollinizer for Anna's. If you want quick production and wonderful summer apples plant the Dorsett and Anna, they will start producing good fruit in 1-2 years.