We¬†had a great question from one of our Grow Great Fruit members about what causes russet on apples, which describes both the yellow marks (as you can see on the side of this Cox’s Orange Pippin apple), and the rough brown marks around the stem end of the apple.

A Cox's Orange Pippin apple with brown russet marks
A Cox’s Orange Pippin apple with brown russet marks

Russet is one of those curious conditions that occurs naturally – in fact several heritage apple varieties include it in their name, like Brownlees Russet, Egremont Russet and Old Somerset Russet.

It’s also commonly seen on pear varieties such as Beurre Bosc, like this trio of beauties:

Beurre Bosc pears showing their natural russetted skin
Beurre Bosc pears showing their natural russetted skin

These days, russet is not considered an attractive trait on apples (have you even seen a russeted apple in the supermarket?), and it’s just one of the reasons many of these beautiful old varieties have gone out of favour.

This is one of the reasons we’ve planted a new heritage apple orchard – to preserve many of these old varieties.

Our original plan (and in fact we planted the trees) was to grow a block with more than 1000 trees, but the kangaroos and hares had other plans!

So we’re concentrating on a smaller block – just 100 trees or so – to build up our collection of rare and unusual (but useful) varieties. More of that in another blog.

But back to russet…

A severely russetted apple
A severely russeted apple

Russet can also be an injury caused by environmental conditions like frost, sunburn, or hail, or by spraying your apples at the wrong time.

Even using sulphur (which is an organic fungicide we use occasionally) at the wrong time can cause russeting on some apples (as can a lot of the chemicals used by chemical farmers).

This damage-type russet (think of it like scar tissue) usually happens in the three weeks after petal fall, when the trees are flowering, or when the environmental challenge occurs.

It is often not a problem in itself, but it can make the apples much more vulnerable to other diseases, like various fungal rots, cracking, or even sunburn.

Russet, cracks and sunburn in Cox's Orange Pippin apples
Russet, cracks and sunburn in Cox’s Orange Pippin apples

Heritage varieties that were bred in the UK, such as the divine Cox’s Orange Pippin apples (above) or the much-loved Bramley (below), are really not suited to the harsh and hot conditions in Australia, and so it’s very common to see this type of damage on your apples

Beautiful Bramley, showing the sort of skin damage typical when grown in Australian conditions
Beautiful Bramley, showing the sort of skin damage typical when grown in Australian conditions

Of course once you realise that, you can set about creating micro-climates that these trees will prefer, and you may find that much of the damage is preventable.

You can find out more about creating micro-climates in your garden in Permaculture in Action, which goes into detail about creating the right conditions – or finding existing pockets in your garden – to grow a wide range of fruit outside of its preferred climate.

It’s a great way to not only extend your fruit season, but to increase the variety of fruits in your diet.