There are many different kinds of fruit trees that are well adapted for growing in the American Midwest. The backyard orchardist can choose from popular apple, pear, Asian pear, peach, nectarine, cherry, and plum tree varieties. A little more obscure, but just as much fun to grow are persimmons and pawpaws. Growing your own fruit trees is not difficult, but it does take a little planning and subsequent attention to be successful.
First of all, take into account your climate zone and don’t try to grow fruit trees that would likely be damaged by winter cold. Most apple and pear trees can handle down to -30°F; cherry trees to -20°F; and plum and peach trees to -15°F.
When selecting which backyard fruit tree varieties to plant, there are several considerations to keep in mind. Perhaps the most important key for success is to choose disease-resistant (or disease-tolerant) varieties. Varieties resistant to common diseases will make life a lot easier. Many apple varieties are susceptible to apple scab. Resistant varieties include Goldrush, Pixie Crunch, Honeycrisp, Suncrisp, and Liberty. Fire blight is the scourge of pear trees. Resistant pear varieties include Kieffer, Magness and Potomac. Shinko is an Asian pear that is resistant to fire blight. Cherry trees can suffer from leaf spot, so select resistant cherries such as Meteor and North Star. Peaches are more challenging and will almost always require a dedicated spray program to keep them healthy and productive. Of course you can plant varieties that are not disease resistant. There are many outstanding cultivars that are worth the extra effort. You’ll just have to be more vigilant and keep up with the appropriate sprays and techniques to keep diseases under control, or at least at a manageable level.
Size matters, too. Dwarf varieties that stay under 10 or 15 feet in height are easier to take care of and easier to harvest the fruit from. Even semi-dwarf varieties can provide fruit and still stay small.
Many fruit tree varieties (especially apples, pears, cherries and plums) require another variety to act as a pollinizer. Be sure to select at least two varieties that bloom at the same time. Check with your local extension agent to learn the best varieties for your location. Check out our blog post on cross-pollination.
A note about chill hours. What are chill hours? Chill hours are required in some fruit and nut trees as the average number of hours required in a certain temperature for the tree to flower and produce it’s fruit. Chill hours depend on the tree and also your location so be sure to check that before purchasing your tree.
When selecting exactly where in your landscape to plant a fruit tree, keep in mind these important considerations: The soil should have good drainage and never stay waterlogged. The site should get at least 6-8 hours a day of full sunshine. Good air movement around a fruit tree reduces moisture and humidity, which can foster disease. It also protects against late spring frosts. Your site should be out in the open where it gets good air circulation. Cold air sinks, so the site should not be in a low spot or depression where a late spring frost could damage developing blossoms. The site should not be off in a far corner of the landscape where wild critters can get to the fruits before you do.
Midwesterners are fortunate to have climate zones that allow them to grow many different kinds of fruit trees. Northern fruits such as apples and pears, as well as southern kinds like peaches all are possible. Make the best of it!