productive fruit trees for very cold climate

eatsivyFebruary 22, 2011

Hi all, I've been doing some research on hardy fruit trees.

I've narrowed my ideas down to a few varieties of apples, pear, and cherries I'm considering. I'm in zone four in the rocky mountains of Idaho.

It is my understanding that while some fruit trees may survive and grow in very cold winter conditions, they still may bear fruit sporadically due to cold snaps in the spring (killing the flower/fruiting bud when the tree is setting fruit). I'm here to ask if people in very cold climates have had good luck with any particular fruit trees. Perhaps some varieties of fruit trees flower later and thus are less susceptible to frosts in the spring.

I'm thinking that perhaps my best bet is to try and grow a sour pie cherry tree like a Bali, or Montmorecy. Also considering these pear varieties - Ure, Summer, and Nova.

Apples on my short list include:

Freedom, Red Baron, Norland, Carrol, and Keepsake.

Does anyone out there have success growing productive fruit trees (trees that bear fruit most seasons) in zone 4 (or even zone 3)?

Thanks, would love to hear about how others are doing growing fruit trees in very cold climates.

ps - I've posted this same inquiry on Gardenweb's "Rocky Mountain" forum as well. thnx

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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Yes, Evans sour cherry should do might be the Bail?
Pears is fine but it will be many years before you see fruits, for me the Golden Spice, does best, you can try Ure, Summer crisp..there are some others.

The apples you have chosen look fine, Norland is still one of the best early apple, doesn't store long. The Norkent is my best later apple and
the best keeper. Norson, September Ruby is good.
A must apple to have and annual producing is the Trailman crab apple, super sweet crunchy, excellent for juicing.

Then you might want Nanking cherry, Saskatoon berries. Western sand cherry and choke cherry for wine and jelly.



September Ruby or Ruby Red


Trailman crab apple


Golden Spice Pear

    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 8:53PM
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There are certainly a wealth of good apples you can consistently crop in zone 4. Take some time grazing through the fedco trees catalog or Stlawrence nurseries.

Cherries are going to be hit or miss depending on your spring weather/frosts...the same would be true for the hybrid plums or the hardy apricots...

There are a number of good pears as well, but Konrad is right about needing to wait for least on seedling rootstock, some of the OhXF rootstocks are supposed to be more precocious.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 11:02PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

Evans (Bali) would be a good cherry to try. Early Richmond would be good too. Northstar suffered some winter damage last year for me.

All the cherries I have bloom about the same time, early May. Early Richmond ripens in late June/Early July, Evans in August.

With Evans, they start turning red in late July while small and mostly pit. Leave them on the tree for several weeks while red and they will flesh up and become very large and juicy, making a very tasty cherry. Evans has been highly productive for me as long as I net it.

Yellow Transparent apples are also very hardy and bloom late yet ripen early. Whitney crab has also proven to be a very hardy apple that is quite good and large enough to eat.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 1:53AM
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You all rock!!! Thank you so much for this great information. Konrad's photos are beautiful and really have me inspired to get some fruit trees planted asap. Appreciate pear info on years to bearing fruit and every bit of the advice tendered.

I'm writing everything down so that I can go do more searching at St. lawerence nursery's online catalog (kind of a slow website to surf around on, but really interesting)
Will re-look now, armed with everyones tips/thoughts. Don't remember seeing trailman or Whitney crab there, but maybe I'm just not recalling correctly. Would be sweet to have a nice edible crab.

(Perhaps the following is a topic for another forum posting, but I'll throw it out there anyway) I have limited space so am considering options for how far apart to plant my trees. I understand some people plant apples quite close together when space is tight. I believe ST. L Nursery suggests upwards of 25' on-center spacing for a row of apple trees. I have seen info on web about planting trees much closer together, or using espaileir(SP?) techniques. Anyone have any advice on how close together I may want to push it, or thoughts on espailiering apples or other fruit trees?

(Come to think of it, I'd say "keeping it simple" is a good thing for me to keep in mind, but maybe training trees into espaileired forms isn't so demanding of time compared to more traditional fruit tree culture.)

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 8:49PM
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I do not know how Konrad does it. For the size of those trees they are just loaded with fruit. There seems to be more fruit than leaves, wish I knew his secret.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 9:14PM
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Great review here and good choices. Our best lasting tree has been September Ruby and the best apple as far as I am concerned is Norkent. Sadly it did not last here but I am not a keen enough grower to give it the best conditions.
You will want to look into Edible Blue Honeysuckle for jam. jelly and as a food color for juice that needs more depth. They will make wine too.
Another hardy berry for jam is Josta. Although it can be a little wild.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 10:50PM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

St. Lawrence Nurseries in the far north of New York State has a good selection of very cold-hardy fruit trees and an excellent reputation.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 11:07PM
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Evans cherry is called Bali in the US. I'm in zone 3a and it has done ok for me, but suffers in a harsh winter. Please note that there are six recently released (2004) varieties of sour cherries from the breeding program at the University of Saskatchewan that offer alternatives to Evans, in a bush-cherry form (6-8 feet tall bushes). Not sure if you can find these in the US yet though.

I have a Ure pear that I planted 20 years ago and grafted on another variety (forget the cultivar just now) to provide cross-pollination. The tree has never suffered winter damage in zone 3a, and though it took about 8 years to start fruiting, it now rains pears each summer. Personally, I find this annoying, as I only eat a half-dozen or so each year (I find pears don't ripen well on the tree -- they ripen from the inside-out, and are too much bother for me to do the pick, refridgerate 2 weeks, move to a warm place to finish routine), so mostly they fall onto the ground and attract a zillion hornets. That said, the tree is nicely shaped, grows slowly, and is now 15' or more tall, and colours up a reddish-purple in the fall -- beautiful even if it didn't fruit.

Carroll apple is wonderful -- like a Macintosh -- but I've had major problems finding a true Carroll at garden centres. I've always ended up with something else, bah.

September Ruby is a superb apple, reminiscent of a "Red Delicious" apple, but smaller. It fruits very heavily one year, then very lightly the next. Stores well -- in the crisper they will store until March (although they are pretty soft by then :) I put in a Sept. Ruby 20 years ago and it is still no more than about 12' tall with a 12' spread, so it may solve your space problems because it isn't a big tree. Never had winterkill, even at -40 degrees.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 2:15AM
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Konrad, Your orchard pictures are an inspiration. It must be regenerative to your spirit to spend time in such a beautiful orchard. Thank for posting the photos.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 12:05PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)


Love your pictures. You really know what you are doing!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 1:43PM
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How I wish we could get those Romance Series cherries in the U.S! The only one available here is Carmen Jewel, and at one time St. Lawrence had Crimson Passion, but that is no longer available, either. Maybe next year, sigh!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 8:55PM
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Some of you will be surprised by this... but what about apricot?

That is one tough tree, taking lots of cold (especially certain varieties such as Manchurian) and drought, and though it does flower very early, making it unreliable in many parts of the country, the blossoms freeze out only if you get lots of warm weather followed by a late spring freeze. I've noticed apricot crops in the mountains of Northern NM in years when everywhere else they failed, due to a later bloom in the mountains (I've noticed the same thing with apples too).

So, eatsivy, if you get gradual warming in your cold mountain location, you may have more to choose from.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 8:40AM
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Manchurian apricot eh? Very interesting. Do you grow this f_native? Are you in a cold zone/in the mountains? thanks, Chris

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 8:54PM
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If you are considering apricot in colder climate, you may consider the varieties Scout and Morden 604.
Both Scout and Morden 604 are mentioned good for Zine 3.
Both fruited for me the first time in Zone 5 having planted one in 2008 and the other in 2009 (bought from nurseries). However, in other colder zones the fruiting may not be on very regular basis.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 9:31PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Thank you all for these inspiring comments.

One's in a while we can have a crop of apricots, this one
is from a tree on a city boulevard, a no name cultivar or seedling the city of Edmonton planted over 30 years ago.

I grafted to a plum rootstock, fruited in the 3rd. season.

At blossom time...

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 11:45PM
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Thanks Konrad far north, for the pics and the evidence that apricot can be successful that far north!

Yes, eatsivy I do have a few apricot trees (mostly still young), and no, I don't live in a COLD mountain zone, but rather a WARMer one (7,000 feet elevation in north central NM). Unfortunately we almost always get lots of warm weather here before spring has really arrived. The apricot trees end up flowering late March/early April, and often don't set a crop, since our average last frost date is early May. But there's nothing quite like a good tree-ripened apricot, I think.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 8:41AM
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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

You shouldn't have any problem growing apples, pears, sour cherries, and maybe blueberries.

If you don't mind seeds in your grapes there are really lovely grapes that can take 20-30 below.

Apricot trees are very cold hardy, but the blossoms aren't, and they bloom early. I get fruit in zone 5, but I work for it.

For apples, most of the early apples aren't that great. The really late ones will ripen too late for you, so look for mid-season varieties.

I've got a Gravenstein apple that is very early and tastes wonderful, but the window to pick is about 6 hours and they don't store more than 2 weeks. They are tasty and make the very best dried apples. Gotta tell you, early fruit is always welcome around here, so I check the tree a couple of times a day to try to get the apples when they are ready.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 7:10PM
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Thnx ORwoodsmoke - helpful tips and advice.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 8:14PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

Amazingly, apricot trees are fairly common in my area despite not being reliable fruiters. If you get a couple cold hardy ones, they provide refreshing early bloom to signal the arrival of spring and more flowers to come. My experience lately has been that with a fairly long bloom period (Moongold is one), I will get a few fruit most every year, but every several years you hit the sweet spot weather wise and get a bumper crop. I think the reward of getting a few exquisitely tasting fruit most years overcomes all the letdown from the years you get nothing. Hope springs eternal!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 1:55AM
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Hello all,
I've been trying to get fruit trees to produce here in White Mtns. of eastern Arizona at 7000 ft. elevation. We have high winds 70-90 mph in April and May with last frost as late as June 15th. In eight years, only had exactly 6 cherries on a Mortorency tree four years ago. Have one each of Stella, Black Tartarian, and Mortmorency. Very few bees here, so have been thinking about starting a couple of beehives to help with pollenation. Everyone around here battles wind and late frosts characteristic of our short growing season.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 12:22AM
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Yeah, sounds like a rough climate Virgil.
I'm at roughly the same elevation but our average last frost date is 4 to 6 weeks earlier than yours and winds that bad are almost unheard of, thankfully.

I've got three hives with bees, for fun, pollination, and of course, honey. I'm sure you've got lots of wildflowers in spring and with the monsoon to make bees very happy. I remember seeing loads of fernbush on the eastern approach to Flagstaff... a phenomenal native honey plant with an incredibly long bloom season!

My bees are always out in February ready to find the first flowers (usually silver maples in people's yards, followed by the non-native elms). Keeping bees really teaches you alot...

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 8:23AM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Ultra, you should try the Evans cherry, a good self fertile cherry, as
all sour cherries are, perhaps some are better then others.
I put in a couple of hives some years go,.. haven't seen any difference
in pollination,.. we must have still allot of native bees.
Here, bees don't find anything till mid April or so, but that's OK, we still
pull in more honey per hive here in Alberta then the US.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2011 at 2:13AM
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Does anyone know when is the best time to plant rose bushes?

It is still snowing here in Utah, so I guess we will wait until it starts warming up.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 9:17PM
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valree3(Nv zone 4)

I would like to plant apple and pear trees in my zone 3-4 yard. I was thinking about planting Haralred or Haralson apples but after looking at Konrads pics of Norkent and Sept. Ruby I may change my mind. A few questions about Norkent & Sept. Ruby trees-when do they bloom? Are they mid to late blooming trees? Where can I purchase them along with a trailman crabapple tree. Pear trees -can you use 2 Golden spice pear trees for pollination? I've been thinking about planting 1 golden spice and 1 ure pear tree. Any suggestions? Thanks for posting pics. I'm really excited about planting fruit trees this spring!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 6:11PM
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Hello, great to see such wonderful photos of fruit being grown outside Edmonton!
I'm in St. Jerome, QC and I have:
Apples: Priscilla and Reine de Reinette
Pears: Flemish Beauty and Luscious
Plums: Mount Royal and just bought a Mirabelle
Cherries: Carmine Jewel, Romeo and Crimson Passion. The Carmine Jewel has been absolutely brilliant for me here.
Apricot: Just got a Morden 604, we'll see how much fruit I get.
Saskatoons: Smokey and Thiessen

I have a whole bunch of berries as well and hardy kiwis, plus a fig and a lime tree. And an unknown peach experiment! Oh and I'm about to plant some elderberries, I just can't get enough elderberry flower cordial!

Would definitely recommend the U of Sask cherries, they are tough and good producers and have more of a bush habit making it easier to harvest. There should be many apples that will work for you. You might want to consider plums too, there are some very hardy hybrids available, as well as chums.

Most of my trees are quite young, had a few fruit on them last year, plums and apples (Mont Royal and Priscilla) were delicious, hoping for an even better harvest this year but bee activity seems way down. Even tried hand pollinisation just to try and compensate.

Good luck and don't be afraid to experiment. I have lost some trees and plants, but as someone recently reminded me, if you don't try you'll never know!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 1:52PM
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I live in zone 4 Idaho as well and I've had great luck with Honey Crisp and Macintosh apples but I have to leave the Macs on until mid November to develop good flavor. I know a guy nearby who grows Cortland, I bought some from him a few years ago and they were fantastic. I still think Honey Crisp is my fav though. I planted a Lapins Cherry and got a fair amount fruit from it in it's 3rd and 4th years, 2010 and 2011 but not 2012, the cool spring kept the bees away.

I'm looking for a good cold hardy apricot, I don't really care it produces a lot of fruit every year, every couple of years would be great, I'll just try to make enough freezer jam to get me by :)

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 12:02AM
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