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Northern Spy apple

Northern Spy

Northern Spy is a very old-fashioned American variety which retains its popularity.  It is a typical winter apple variety, picked in late October or early November, and then used through the winter months.  It keeps in a cold store well into spring.

Northern Spy is well known for its winter-hardiness.  It is a naturally vigorous variety which will produce a relatively large tree, however whilst it grows strongly it can take longer than most apple varieties to come into bearing, and it also has a tendency to lapse into biennial bearing.

Northern Spy can also be used as a rootstock for other varieties.  It is one of the parents of the popular MM106 apple rootstock - more info here - and was chosen specifically because of its resistance to woolly aphid.

Northern Spy apple identification images

All images copyright Orange Pippin unless otherwise stated.

  • Northern Spy
  • Northern Spy

USDA identification images for Northern Spy

The identification paintings in the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection span the years 1886 to 1942.

  • USDA watercolor image of Malus domestica: Northern Spy
  • USDA watercolor image of Malus domestica: Northern Spy
  • USDA watercolor image of Malus domestica: Northern Spy
  • USDA watercolor image of Malus domestica: Northern Spy
  • USDA watercolor image of Malus domestica: Northern Spy
  • USDA watercolor image of Malus domestica: Northern Spy
  • USDA watercolor image of Malus domestica: Northern Spy
  • USDA watercolor image of Malus domestica: Northern Spy

Citation: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705.

Parents and other ancestors of this variety

Offspring of this variety

Visitor reviews

  • 17 Oct 2022 
    I am referring to the Northern Spy apple that we had about 50 years ago. I do not like the new bREED, It does not taste anything like the old ones.
  • 10 Oct 2022 
    Found this variety in a northern Maine campground. 6-7 trees with good production
  • 10 Oct 2020  WASHINGTON, United States
    I believe the tree in my backyard is a Northern Spy! Closest description I can find. Family members have been enjoying my deep dish apple pies from it years, & a neighbor made apple butter. The soil here is poor, having too much clay & I've been told the mildew & leaf curl on the branch ends is due to a root disease that cannot be treated “naturally.” Other than pruning, I have done nothing for the tree and would like to know more about keeping it healthy in Seattle moderate climate.
  • 20 Aug 2020  ME, United States
    Cant rate the taste because my spy was bought 4 yrs ago as a 5 ft bare root whip from fedco. Does have a strong pyrimdal growth habit so strong pruning a must and I staked 3 branches to grow horizontal. Just started to prune this last winter, wish I started in second year. I do have a cox pippin and ashmead kernel. about 100' from it don't know if its compatable.
  • 07 Sep 2019  ON, Canada
    I loved these apples as a kid. A few years ago we found an orchard just north of Toronto, Ontario that had some as a "pick your own". We used to get them for over winter as they store so well. Great for pies and in our lunches. We never went to pick them until after the first frost as Mom insisted it improved the flavor.
  • 07 Aug 2016  NEW YORK, United States
    14 years until first bloom on our full size specimen. Needs heavy pruning to develop a strong and spreading structure- wants to grow pyramidally, with many small branches. Good central leader persistence and sound branching. Lots of wood and leaf when grown in a fertile spot. Extremely late leaf out, while holding leaves well into December, which can be a problem when early (wet) snow bends the branches. Due to the lateness of leaf out, this is an excellent variety for understory cropping, lawn, or pasture- we grow strawberries, peas, or early potatoes under it. Large and attractive tree for landscaping. We're in zone 4b, on a dense silt loam, somewhat poorly drained/some panning @ 14-20". 50-60" annual precip- evenly spread- with 160-220" of snowfall. Spies are the best combination of taste, versatility, and keeping that I've found- a perfect 'only one tree' variety as long as you have pollinators flowering at the same time, and within a 1/4 mile of you. If not, you can graft on a couple of branches.
  • 08 Apr 2016  MICHIGAN, United States
    I fell in love with this apple when I was 4 yrs old. My mom and I went to a pick-ur-own orchard. Up the slope in the back, I found these absolutely HUGE apples that I could only hold with both hands. One bite and I was hooked. Nowadays they are almost impossible to find. Even here in apple country. (Romeo, MI is well known for its orchards). Dan from Ontario is spot on with his description about apple pie. It's not too mushy, nor is it too stiff. The texture is just right. Before they became so hard to find, there was a time when they were also used as part of the variety blend to make cider.
  • 23 Oct 2015  MASSACHUSETTS, United States
    Northern Spy makes the best pie. Newly planted trees are notoriously slow to bear fruit, which is why you seldom see it planted commercially anymore.
  • 19 Sep 2015  MICHIGAN OAKLAND, United States
    Have a 57 year old Northern Dwarf Spy Tree. It has produced every year. Some a lot more than others. We have had to suport the lower limbs. Our Tree Man injects it to keep it very healthy.
  • 03 Nov 2014  United States
    I have this fall, tried three different orchards in our mid Michigan area in my quest for tart, crisp, and long keeper SPY apples. All three orchards proclaimed they had spys, but all were much softer and not nearly as tart as in the old days. Has there been a change in what people call spys? Is there a difference in apples from old trees and younger ones, perhaps grafted ones? I know spy apples, and these are not them.....despite what the orchardist says
  • 19 Oct 2014  MI, United States
    Here in Western Michigan we have the biggest northern spy this year. As my mother used to say if you wa t to make a good pie use a northern spy. Also love the for apple sauce.
  • 06 Oct 2014  ONTARIO, Canada
    To get Spies these days you usually have to head to a good Farmer's market or an orchard. As mentioned, these are simply the best pie apples, producing absolutely perfect texture (soft yet toothsome) and good rich flavour (a hearty aroma, vanilla notes, perfect sweetness). Bake it with Spies and get ready for everyone to ask your secret. Great eating apples, too--excellent crunch, acid and sweet in what feels like a 50/50 balance.
  • 08 Sep 2014  NM, United States
    Northern Spy is my favorite apple, but I've not found them in NM. We had them back east (NY and New England) where I grew up, and in Western MI, where every fruit grows (!). I absolutely LOVE making pies with Northern Spy apples - yum!
  • 03 Nov 2013  PA, United States
    Central PA -- small crop due to the late spring, but the resulting fruit is excellent. My favorite of all apples, and getting hard to find.
  • 24 Oct 2013  MAINE, United States
    Our Spys are simply Gi-normous this year. It has taken many years for our new trees to come into production, and it was worth the wait. What a beautiful, sweet-tart, juicy apple.
  • 04 Sep 2013  MA, United States
    Spies for pies! The Northern Spy is one of two varieties I use for pies from mid-autumn on. I try to buy them in upstate New York rather than in Massachusetts, where I live, because I think Northern Spies grown in colder climates are better than those grown in milder climates.
  • 12 Feb 2013  New Zealand
    This apple had the pequliar flavor of bubble-gum and minty leather. I would recomend it to people who like bubble-gum and or minty leather.
  • 26 Jan 2013  WASHINGTON, United States
    Was disappointed with this apple. After everything I had read, I anticipated a much better experience than what I got. Mushy texture, slight tang but overall rather bland. Might have been an older apple.
  • 16 Oct 2011  PENNSYLVANIA, United States
    Northern Spy is not an easy-to-find apple, but if you find them, buy them! They seem to prefer colder climates, and are not generally ready to pick until mid-October. They keep well, and if you can keep the family from eating them out of hand, they make the best apple pies, bar none!
  • 30 Sep 2011  PENNSYLVANIA, United States
    We just moved back to the Endless Mountains countryside and found a very mature apple tree in front of our house. My parents had it pruned as a gift to us, and now it is bearing lovely Northern Spy apples. We have picked a few early, and already they are delicious! Surprising to see such good bearing on an old tree.
  • 01 Apr 2011  OREGON, United States
    I was given a huge tree that was to be moved and hauled away from a bad location. I had it taken to my place in the Foothills of Mt. Rainier in the state of Washington where it is still flourishing. I am going back there this summer and try to get a cutting from it. The apples are so delicious and make an excellant pie.
  • 01 Nov 2010  NEW YORK, United States
    My grandparents grew Northern Spy apples on their farm in Coopers Plains, NY. I grew up enjoying my grandmother's "deep-dish apple pie" (a pie baked in a shallow rectangular Pyrex pan with only a top crust) made from those apples. Wonderful!
  • 15 Oct 2010  United States
    The Northern Spy was developed around present-day Bloomfield, NY, quite accidentally, by early settlers, the Chapin brothers. Search Northern Spy for the full history of their serendipitous route to this (plus two other recognized varieties), from the same planting & re-locating of young apple trees. Around here, we call 'em Northern Spies or just Spies, not Northern's Pie. Many people still prefer & ask for this apple at market.
  • 14 Oct 2010  MAINE, United States
    I bought an old farm in 1998 that was overgrown. In the woods (2' spruce and popple) there were apple trees. we cut about 3 achers of the woods carefully marking the apple trees in rows. One tree that had fallen over but not dead had fruit the next year. We pruned the others back about 1/3 and got some apples from almost all of them. I had a 50+ year old 3rd generation orchard owner come to tell me what to do from there. He told me to cut all the macs. they had scab to deep to spray out. but keep the spy untill I could graft from it he said it was the best tree he had seen. clean larg apples from a tree laying on the ground. I just picked 2 bushell of 3 to 4 inch apples from a 12' tree 5 years after grafting. I have 5 more trees growing on wild root stock from that tree but it is still producing 4-5 bushel laying down.
  • 12 Oct 2010  FLORIDA, United States
    A friend shared a pie made with the "Northern Spy Apple," and it was great. I would like to know where I can purchase some to share with my family.
  • 09 Nov 2009  PORTAGE CO., OH, United States
    These a big lumpy funny-looking apples, but my goodness I think they are my favorite. Tart and perfect and my go-to apple for galette aux pommes. Yum!
  • 16 Sep 2009  ONTARIO ,, Canada
    Hi Nancy.....from Nancy!!!! I've read different things about the odd name of this apple. This probably means nobody knows for sure. I've read that it's possibly "Northern's Pie Apple". That explanation makes most sense to me, since it was (& is) mostly used for used to be a dessert apple,too,But not until it "mellows" after long storage. I'm thinking that's why the "Northern's Pie" explanation is the right was definitely the #1 pie apple in Ontario(it's great for cooking, right from harvest till Spring) But only used for dessert, for a few months .... It really is more of a pie apple. Around here (Ontario) people who're familiar with it(mostly older people) usually just call it "Spy".
  • 27 Aug 2009  AURORA, ARAPAHOE COLORADO, United States
    Where can we purchase these apples? I have tried our local grocers, and some high end ones, and still no northern spys.
  • 29 Jun 2009  ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, United States
    In a recent conversation with friends about apples, the question arose as to why "Northern Spy" was so-named? Any answers?
  • 20 May 2009  CANYON/IDAHO, United States
    We found an ancient apple tree in a mountain gully, bearing golden/green with slight blush or brown streak from the stem over the shoulder of apple. It seems much like the Northern Spy trees I found in upstate New York. This tree ripens in early October, and is located next to an ancient mining road. Maybe a Johnny Appleseed Northern Spy? We picked a few that made great pie and sauce. Apples kept until March in dry, cool place. Buried the cores and pealings and VOILA 2 years later were the baby trees! About the 5th year growing at same elevation of mother tree, we had the first fruits!. Using Dr.Robert M. Crassweller's system, we sprouted seeds and planted indoors and have 13 healthy plants now, each about 8 inches tall. Question: Do we prune the top off this plant and move to gallon containers outside now that frost is past? HELP??? Any advice for culture of these young plants will be greatly appreciated!
  • 08 Oct 2008  ESSEX COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS, United States
    I have only had this apple once, some 20 years ago. I don't clearly recall the flavor, although I recall that I enjoyed the apple. I do recall that the flesh of this apple is naturally pale yellow in color, not white.
  • 24 Sep 2008  OREGON, United States
    We have an apple my great grandfather planted in the late 1800's or very early 1900's. It is not very large, has very deep, bright red color with tiny white spots on, white meat very juicy and flavourful. May have come from Johnnie Appleseed in a covered wagon. I would like to know variety.

Tree register

United States




  • Hayden in Winslow, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA

New Zealand

Spring blossom records for this variety

2022 season

  • June  2022  - tree owned by Norman in Glennie, United States
  • 12th May  2022  - tree owned by Jim in Hallstead, United States

2021 season

  • 8th May  2021  - tree owned by Jim in Hallstead, United States

2020 season

  • 21st May  2020  - tree owned by Jim in Hallstead, United States

2019 season

  • 13th May  2019  - tree owned by Jim in Hallstead, United States

2018 season

  • 20th May  2018  - tree owned by Jim in Hallstead, United States

2015 season

  • 15th May  2015  - tree owned by Jeffrey in Saginaw, United States
  • April  2015  - tree owned by J. in Elmira, United States

2012 season

  • 9th May  2012  - tree owned by James in Estacada, United States

2011 season

  • 24th May  2011  - tree owned by Kris in Holden, United States
  • May  2011  - tree owned by v in Lucknow, Canada

2010 season

  • May  2010  - tree owned by Kris in Holden, United States

Record your blossom dates in our Fruit Tree Register - more >>.

Harvest records for this variety

2019 season

  • 2nd week November  2019  - tree owned by Jon in Shaw Island, United States

2018 season

  • 2nd week November  2018  - tree owned by Jon in Shaw Island, United States

2017 season

  • 4th week October  2017  - tree owned by Jon in Shaw Island, United States

2016 season

  • 1st week November  2016  - tree owned by Jon in Shaw Island, United States

2015 season

  • 1st week November  2015  - tree owned by Jon in Shaw Island, United States
  • 2nd week October  2015  - tree owned by Kathy in Picton, Canada

2014 season

  • 1st week November  2014  - tree owned by Jon in Shaw Island, United States

2013 season

  • 1st week November  2013  - tree owned by Jon in Shaw Island, United States
  • 4th week September  2013  - tree owned by Gary in Chesaning, United States

2012 season

  • 1st week December  2012  - tree owned by James in Estacada, United States

2011 season

  • 3rd week October  2011  - tree owned by v in Lucknow, Canada

2010 season

  • 3rd week October  2010  - tree owned by Kris in Holden, United States


  • Species: Malus domestica - Apple
  • Parentage: Unknown, possibly some connection to Spitzenburg
  • Originates from: Rochester, New York, USA, United States
  • Introduced: Early 1840s
  • Developed by: Oliver Chapin (farmer)
  • UK National Fruit Collection accession: 1951-102
  • We are grateful to Brogdale Farm - home of the UK National Fruit Collection - for providing samples of this variety.


  • Country of origin: United States
  • Period of origin: 1800 - 1849
  • Leaf colour: Green
  • Popularity: Best sellers
  • Annual cycle: Deciduous
  • Alleles: 1
  • Alleles: 3


  • Picking season: Very late
  • Keeping (of fruit): 3 months or more
  • Flavour quality: Very good
  • Flavour style (apples): Aromatic
  • Discoloration of fruit: Slightly oxidising (browns slowly)
  • Vitamin C content: High
  • Cropping: Heavy
  • Fruit persistence: Normal ripening
  • Food uses: Eating fresh
  • Food uses: Culinary
  • Food uses: Juice
  • Food uses: Traditional cooker
  • Picking period: late October
  • Wildlife: RHS Plants for Pollinators
  • Rootstock size class: Standard
  • Rootstock % of standard: 100%
  • Rootstock compatibility: Apple


  • Gardening skill: Average
  • Flowering group: 5
  • Pollinating others: Average
  • Ploidy: Diploid
  • Vigour: Vigorous
  • Precocity: Slow to start bearing
  • Bearing regularity: Biennial tendency
  • Fruit bearing: Partial tip-bearer
  • Self-fertility: Not self-fertile


  • Cold hardiness (USDA): Zone 4 (-34C)
  • Climate suitability: Temperate climates
  • Summer average maximum temperatures: Cool ( 20-24C / 68-75F)
  • Summer average maximum temperatures: Warm (25-30C / 76-85F)
  • Summer average maximum temperatures: Cold (< 20C / 67F)

Other qualities

  • Disease resistance: Poor
  • Cedar apple rust: Some susceptibility
  • Fire blight: Very susceptible

Where to buy trees

The following tree nurseries offer Northern Spy apple trees for sale:

Where to buy fresh fruit

The following orchards grow Northern Spy:

United States



  • Cedar-Apple Rust  
    Author: Stephen Vann, University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture (FSA7538)
    Rated as susceptible - control usually needed where CAR is prevalent.
  • Apples for the 21st Century
    Author: Manhart

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