Ribston Pippin apple: cultivation & care


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Those who manage to grow the ‘Ribston Pippin’ apple are in for a real treat. Although it is a demanding plant, this variety rewards persistence with fine tasting fruit. Read on to find out more about this heritage variety and how you can grow it at home.

ribston pippin apple tree
The ‘Ribston Pippin’ is one of the most valuable and oldest apple varieties in Europe [Photo: Manfred Ruckszio/ Shutterstock.com]

The ‘Ribston Pippin’ apple belongs to the family of golden renettas. This family of apples is known for its particularly tangy and fine fruits. In English, ‘Ribston Pippin’ has a lot of different names, including ‘Essex Pippin’, ‘Beautiful Pippin’, ‘Formosa’, ‘Glory of York’, ‘Ribstone’, ‘Rockhill’s Russet’, ‘Travers’, and ‘Travers’s Reinette’. In other countries it is known as ‘Pepin Ribston’ (France), ‘Pepin Ribstona’ (Russia) and ‘Granatrenette’, ‘Kaiserrenette’ or ‘Goldrabau’ (Germany) – the ‘Ribston Pippin’ truly is an international favourite.

The taste of ‘Ribston Pippin’ is considered “outstanding” by specialised pomologists. However, it is very particular about its location and requires regular care and a good supply of nutrients for an abundant, disease-free harvest.

‘Ribston Pippin’: profile

'Essex Pippin', 'Beautiful Pippin', 'Formosa', 'Glory of York', 'Ribstone', 'Rockhill's Russet', 'Travers', 'Travers's Reinette'
Medium-sized; golden yellow base; crimson to dark red on top
FlavourJuicy, tangy, like sweet wine

YieldHigh and fluctuating; early start; large pre-harvest crop drop
Harvest time
From mid-October
Ripe to eat
From November
Shelf life
Very good; can be stored until March/April
ClimateMild climates with plenty moisture; sunny; when sheltered, can be cultivated in high altitudes
Pests and diseases
In poor locations susceptible to fruit tree canker, powdery mildew, blood louse, bunt

Origin and history of ‘Ribston Pippin’

According to legend, in the year 1690 (or around that time), a man named Sir Henry Goodrick sent an apple from the town of Rouen in Normandy to Ribston Castle near Knaresborough, which is about 100km west of York, England. A seed from this apple was sown at Ribston Castle and produced an apple tree whose fruits had superb flavour: the ‘Ribston Pippin’ was born.

At the time, ‘Ribston Pippin’ was admired throughout the region. Today, it is grown all over Europe. Unfortunately, the mother tree fell victim to a storm in 1815 – though it lived for another 20 years – and the descendants of ‘Ribston Pippin’ remain unknown.

Taste and characteristics

The fruits of ‘Ribston Pippin’ are often irregular. However, they are generally medium-sized, bulbous and round, with a flat bottom. The sides are smooth, though sometimes faint ridges are visible around the stalk, and the skin is medium firm, smooth or velvety and matte.

‘Ribston Pippin’ fruits are yellow-green when ripe and golden yellow when fully ripe. The top of the apple has dark red faded stripes, and crimson spots marble a quarter to a half of its surface. The apple’s skin tends to be spotted or interlaced with light brown patterns; and around the stalk, there is often a patch of russeting, called a “rust cap”.

Inside the delicately aromatic, golden renetta apple, you will find yellow-white, fine flesh. The flesh is firm at first, but slowly softens as it ripens. The taste is juicy, tangy and balanced; it resembles sweet wine, and is similar to the ‘Muskatrenette’ or the popular ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’. There are often deaf (unfertilised) seeds in the core of ‘Ribston Pippin’ apples.

harvested rust skinned ribston apples
The matt, light brown russet skin is typical of the medium-sized ‘Ribston Pippin’

Top tips to grow and care for ‘Ribston Pippin’ apples

If you are wondering whether the fine, aromatic ‘Ribston Pippin’ is the right tree for your garden, there are a few things to bear in mind. Among fruit growers, ‘Ribston Pippin’ is considered extremely demanding and picky. Few soils will allow the tree to thrive and fruit abundantly.

Specifically, for healthy growth, ‘Ribston Pippin’ requires moist, deep, nutrient-rich and loamy soil. Heavy, clayey soils are unsuitable and can promote fruit tree canker. While dry, sandy soils can cause crop failure, due to early fruit drop and poor tree growth.

Ideally, ‘Ribston Pippin’ needs a warm and humid climate, because it quickly drops its leaves in dry air. However, it also requires sufficient air circulation. Areas around a warm lake have proven to work particularly well.

If the conditions are good, ‘Ribston Pippin’ apple trees grow vigorously, both when young and mature. In fact, this vigorous growth can produce enormous, tall trunks, especially if the tree is grafted to vigorous-growing rootstocks, such as M25, which are hard to maintain.

When grafted onto semi-vigorous growing rootstocks, such as M7, it is possible to grow semi-dwarf or dwarf ‘Ribston Pippin’ trees. Here, you will need to prune the tree annually in winter. Alternatively, you can graft ‘Ribston Pippin’ onto dwarf-growing rootstocks, such as M27, if you can muster a sturdy connection. Here, ‘Ribston Pippin’ can be grown into an espalier or shaped fruit tree.

In addition to winter pruning and shaping, you may need to prune the tree in summer to slow its growth. The tree shoots early in the year, and forms frost-hardy wood, becoming a broad, large and later overhanging tree as it develops.

Ribston pippin apple tree shaped along a wall
The ‘Ribston Pippin’ can be grown as an espalier fruit tree [Photo: Andrew Fletcher/ Shutterstock.com]

‘Ribston Pippin’ blossoms medium early and remains in flower for a long time. Good pollinators of ‘Ribston Pippin’ include the ‘King of the Pippins’ and the ‘Berner Rosen’ apple.

The ‘Ribston Pippin’ is a variety with triple (triploid) genetic material. As such, it can be fertilised by both ‘King of the Pippins’ and ‘Berner Rosen’, but cannot fertilise them in return. If there is no suitable pollinator nearby, purchase one for yourself.

In unsuitable locations, ‘Ribston Pippin’ is susceptible disease, including powdery mildew and blood lice, which occur frequently, and stipple, which commonly occurs as a result of calcium deficiency. When grown in heavy soil, ‘Ribston Pippin’ is also susceptible to fruit tree canker.

Tip: If you have loamy soil, and want to improve its permeability and nutrient supply, work in a mature compost and fertiliser. Our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost is a sustainable and environmentally friendly compost, while Plantura All Purpose Plant Food applied annually will provide your soil with essential nutrients.

‘Ribston Pippin’ apple: harvest and use

Harvest ‘Ribston Pippin’ apples between mid and late October. Apples picked this early from the tree will keep for up to five months, if stored at 0°C. However, this apple variety will not be ready to eat until November, when its flavour has fully developed. Because of its firm skin, you should be able to store and ship a ‘Ribston Pippin’ apple easily.

‘Ribston Pippin’ apples are best enjoyed as a fresh dessert fruit, but can also be used to make aromatic juices, ciders and puree.

‘King of the Pippins’ is a pollinator of ‘Ribston Pippin’. Read on for top tips on growing and caring for ‘King of the Pippins’.

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