Fruit Tree Selection

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Now is a good time of year to be thinking about what types of fruit you may want to add to your garden this spring. In Western NC, we are limited in what fruit crops we can grow. This is because of our potential for mild winter temperatures and late frosts.

Most apples are a good choice. Crispin (Mutsu), Gala, Empire, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman Winesap, and Yates are just a few of the many suitable varieties. Remember that each variety needs a suitable pollinator. Planting distances will vary depending on the type of rootstock you select. A spur type top on a dwarfing rootstock may only need 8 feet in the row. Trees on semi‑dwarfing rootstocks will need 10 to 15 feet while a standard top on a seedling rootstock may need 30 feet between trees. Be sure you know what type rootstock you have.

Pears will also grow in our area. However, they are susceptible to a bacterial disease known as ‘fire blight’ and if infected can then spread the disease to apple trees. If you grow pears, choose resistant varieties such as Moonglow, Kieffer, and Orient. Pears will need a pollinator.

Apricots bloom very early and are usually lost to frost in this area. We do not recommend them. Nectarines (a fuzzless peach), peaches, and plums may lose their crops to late frosts in this area also. These trees all have a low chill requirement which is satisfied early in the winter. Then, the mild winter days that often occur here cause the trees to break their dormancy and flower long before the danger of frost has passed. The trees themselves will live; they just have difficulty producing fruit in some years. There are varieties that are hardier and may produce fruit more often. If you choose to try them, pick varieties with a high chill hour requirement. For peaches, Surecrop, Dixiered, Redhaven, and Ranger require higher hours comparatively. For plums, the European types such as Morris, Ozark Premier, and Bruce need higher chill hours. Japanese type plums such as Methley and Burbank are more cold sensitive.

Cherries will grow here with sour types being hardier. Sour cherries are self‑fertile. Sweet cherries are unreliable here and need a pollinator. Cherries grow quite large so allow ample space.

If you want to grow nuts, Chinese chestnuts and black walnuts do well here. Pecans are not recommended. Our late frosts and short growing season are not favorable for nut production, though the tree will grow vegetatively. If you want to try one pick a hardy variety. It will also need another tree as a pollinator. Colby, Missouri Hardy, and Major are hardy varieties. Their pollination requirements differ. Nut crops may be small or nonexistent. Fifty to seventy-five feet between trees is required.

English walnuts are native to a mild, arid climate and we do not recommend them. If you decide to grow walnuts, pick a hardy variety. You will need a pollinator. Walnuts are similar in size to pecans. The nuts are highly susceptible to disease in our climate. Almonds are not suitable in our area due to late frosts and our wet humid summers.

In short, we recommend apples, pears, and sour cherries for tree fruits here. If you want to grow peaches, plums or sweet cherries, choose hardy varieties and expect to lose a crop some years. For nuts, black walnuts and Chinese chestnuts are recommended. For other fruits try American bunch grapes, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. As I mentioned, the difficulty we have with other fruits and nuts is a result of our potential for mild winter temperatures and extremely late frosts.

Be aware, tree fruits in this area need to be sprayed on a regular basis to produce quality fruit and in some cases to produce any fruit at all. And finally, when you plant, watch the spacing. All your plants will need ample space and their space requirements will differ.