November 2002
Plant of the Month
Zestar! Apple
(Zestar! Apple)
zone: 4
by Linda Stover

In 1998, the University of Minnesota’s fruit breeding program released Zestar! after 26 years of research. It’s a flavorful, high-quality summer apple. U of M fruit breeder, David Bedford, selected this seedling of a statefair x MN1691 cross made in 1972. There are very few apples that make it all the way. Only 1 in 7000 is good enough to receive it’s name. Zestar! proved to be a mouthful. When an apple gets released you know it’s a step above what’s out there. Take note of the exclamation mark that it’s name contains.

Zestar! is vigorous and upright growing at first, and then evens out. The dwarf rootstock M26 is a good selection for the backyard or the orchard. That size is easy to maintain and just right for picking. The tree is hardy for zone 4 and testing done now in zone 3 is showing good possibilities. The fruit ripen at the end of August when we’re in real need of a fresh face in the fruit section.

The apple is 60 - 80% red and a very nice size. It has good adherence on the tree; other early varieties tend to drop before they are mature. Zestar! is fairly resistant to most apple problems like fireblight, and has average susceptibility to scab. The dwarf tree usually starts producing fruit in three to five years.

One of Zestar! strengths is in its flavor, that’s where it really shines. A taste testing panel made up of people from all walks of life rated it with outstanding flavor and texture. It always came out on the upper end when compared to other early season apples in a week to week test. When compared to all other varieties in its first five years it came back number one in three out of five years. David Bedford sums up its taste as a nice balance of sweet and tart. Flavors of brown sugar and caramel give it a sweet, pleasant taste, like a baked apple! It’s an early season apple with late season quality.

It’s other strength is it’s long storage life. Many early varieties store for about 4 weeks, Zestar! keeps for up to 8 weeks in a cooler or the home refrigerator. Its good adherence on the tree means it does not get mealy or over-mature, it only gets sweeter. That means that the last apple will taste as flavorful as the first one of the season. The last one is what people always remember.

Zestar! is one of the best new early apple varieties for our northern climate. With it’s outstanding flavor and its long storage ability it should prove to be a good addition to the nursery and the backyard grower. They are hoping to have ample quantities of the tasty fruit available in 2003. This might be a good time to add Zestar! to nursery inventories. I’ve been growing a Zestar! in my own backyard and just thinking of next season’s apples makes my mouth water.

Linda Stover
Lazaroff Gardens
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