Harvesting apples: how to pick apples, with expert tips from Monty Don

When it comes to harvesting apples, follow these few simple rules to get a good supply of fruit that will last you throughout the year

harvesting apples
(Image credit: Future)

Harvesting apples seems like it should be pretty straightforward, but there are a few key things to do if you want your crop to last in storage. Over to Monty Don for some expert advice then. In his new book My Garden World he reveals that he has over 70 apple trees in his orchard at Longmeadow, and he harvests enough fruit for eating throughout the year. So clearly he knows what he's doing. 

There’s nothing quite like freshly picked fruit from your garden. Apples are one of the most popular fruit trees to grow and productive trees will give you a proper harvest year after year. So if you long for a supply of fresh seasonal apples to create your very own bumper harvest, keep reading for the key things to remember.

Expert tips on how to harvest apples

By harvesting apples correctly, you can enjoy a bumper crop of delicious fruit straight from your own backyard trees

1. Choose the right time

Apple ‘Madresfield Court’- Monty Don

A photo posted by @themontydon on Sep 27, 2020 at 3:23am PDT

Timing is everything when it comes to harvesting apples. Pick apples too soon and you won't get the best flavour as you'll shorten their development time. But if you leave it too long they won't do so well in storage either as they will be too ripe. The best thing to do is check how ripe one or two individual apples are, whether they feel ready to pick and how they taste. Apples should be firm, sweet and crunchy, so if yours tick the box you're good to go.

2. Windfall know-how

Apples in a basket after being picked

(Image credit: Future)

As soon as apples start falling off the tree (know as windfalls), it's the big clue that it's time to start harvesting your crop. But the key thing to remember is that you can't store windfalls. As Monty Don explained on Gardeners' World, once bruised the apples will rot and this will spread to the rest of your fruit. So only store perfect apples with no hint of damage. But you can use the windfalls to make the most delicious juice in an apple press or juicer though.

3. Picking apples using the twisting technique

Harvesting apples

(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to handpicking apples you will need to test each one individually. Monty Don's trusted technique is to cup each apple in the palm of your hand and slightly twist and lift it. If it comes away in your hand that means you've chosen a ripe one. The fruit should detach from the spur easily while the stalk remains intact. If it doesn’t, don’t force it as it isn't ready. 

Monty Don's other key advice is to make sure you carefully place your picked fruit into your bucket or basket – never drop it in as you want to avoid bruising it at all costs.

4. Be patient

Apples trees ready to be harvested

(Image credit: Future)

Harvesting your apples will be a slow process. Apple trees may need three separate pickings if you are going to harvest the whole crop at the right time for the best results. Choose a nice dry day, otherwise if the fruit is wet these aren't the right conditions to put it into storage as it will encourage the fruit to rot and disease to spread. 

Storing apples properly is key if you want them to last. Wrap each one in a single sheet of newspaper and place them in single layers on a rack or tray. 

5. Watch out for wasps when harvesting apples

Apples for picking

(Image credit: Future)

Wasps make holes in fruit and can sting if you disturb them when you're picking fruit or pruning apple trees. Take care when reaching into the trees that are covered with foliage. Wasps may often be feeding in crevices in the fruit, and are especially fond of apples so won't enjoy being disturbed. If any fruit looks as though it has been affected by apple tree diseases such as fungus pick it and dispose of it carefully to avoid it spreading.

Sarah Wilson
Content Editor

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.