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Desirable Fruit and Berry Varieties

[There are separate pages for Vegetable Types and Herb and Spice Types.]

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How Much Do You Need?

(This section is adapted from "Fruit Cultivars for Home Plantings" by Michele Warmund, University of Missouri Extension.)

Beginners tend to plant more fruits than they need or want. A few trees or plants will provide a family with needed fresh and preserved fruits if given proper care.

Expected yields of selected fruits, mature producing plants given proper care:

Kind of fruit unitPotential yield (pounds)
Apple, per dwarf tree50 to 150
Nectarine, per tree125 to 200
Peach, per tree150 to 250
Pear, per tree400 to 650
Plum, per tree40 to 120
Sour cherry, per tree40 to 120
Blackberry, per 50 foot row60 to 100
Blueberry, per plant5 to 15
Currant, per plant5 to 10
Elderberry, per plant25 to 35
Gooseberry, per plant4 to 7
Grape, per vine10 to 20
Raspberry, per 50 foot row45 to 75
Strawberry, per 50 foot row30 to 65

1. Higher figures represent the more productive cultivars in their most productive mature years, grown on adequate sites with proper care.
2. Except apples, figures are not for dwarf-type trees. (Peach, plum, cherry and apricot can be problematic as dwarfs.)


(A good starting point for your own research is the Northwest Berry & Grape Information Network web site.)

The task with selecting berries to grow is to avoid the "stamp-collector syndrome": you know, "I'll have these and these and these and . . . ." They're all good: some no doubt better than others, but all good. We've tried to keep to: 1) berries we know from experience we really like enough to use frequently; and 2) berries relatively easy to grow here. The envelope please . . . .

Serviceberries we also heartily recommend, and are growing, but are calling a "fruit tree" (see further below) on the logic of where and how we will grow them rather than the nature of the edible parts (though they do get awfully tree-like).

Grapes, both table and wine, can be grown in cold climates, and some season down the line we may look at this more closely, but for now we have all (and probably more than) we can handle with the other fruits. If you're interested in grapes, there's lots of information available on the web--perhaps you could perhaps start at Fedco's "trees" division for type information.

Blackberries, including their many named crosses (such as boysenberries and marionberries), seem to have more heat problems than their close relatives, raspberries. Washington State University says: "East of the Cascades, growers can keep vines of the trailing types on the ground and mulch them during the winter. Nonetheless, high summer temperatures and low relative humidities often result in small yields and poor fruit"--kind of discouraging. There are some varieties that might be made to work, but we feel--with regret--that we cannot see this as a useful way for the home gardener in regions like ours to expend time and effort.

Currants and gooseberries also look too tricksy climate-wise to try; they grow decently over on the cool, wet rainyside, but not here. And there are almost countless other berries that could be grown here, but we feel that blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, lingonberries, and serviceberries cover reasonable wants and needs for all but berry fanatics, who will in any event make their own plans.

Tree Fruit

This is another area where avoiding the "stamp-collector" mentality is a real challenge. We should be able to grow--according to a quite specific information page from WSU--at least the following types of tree fruits: apples, pears, sweet and sour cherries, plums, peaches, and possibly apricots and nectarines. Nor does that list include some viable less-common alternatives like hardy kiwi or--just possibly--the paw-paw. Now that's a heckuvva lot of fruit if you go crazy in your plantings. (Note: we are calling things like serviceberries and hardy kiwis "trees" because they form very tree-like bushes and will be planted out with the real trees.)

Here is a click-on link to the entire wonderful WSU page on Growing Tree Fruit at Home in Eastern Washington, which we also link at each particular fruit. Keep in mind that there may well be many other types of fruit tree that will succeed in a climate like ours; the WSU list is doubtless built around the most popular tree fruits.

Small rodents, especially voles, can utterly destroy an entire orchard in a single season, a very frustrating--and expensive--happening. Most folk remedies (poison, trapping, repellants of all sorts) are ineffective: the chief protections are mowing vegetation down and putting screen mesh around the trees and their roots. You can look up details in several places (they all seem to use the same basic article text), such as this Penn State article on mammal pests in the orchard, including control measures.

Based on our taste preferences, we have narrowed down the list of fruit types that we will try. For each fruit, while we had the rather considerable WSU list of recommended varieties--we didn't have any reliable information on flavor or certain other qualities. (One hears again and again that the common sorts, especially of apples, are by no means the best-flavored sorts.) In some cases, the choice wasn't too hard; in others, as with the myriad apple types, it was very tough. We will say more under each particular fruit type.

As to other possible tree fruit:

Apricots have a dangerous habit--for anyone not in a balmy climate--of blossoming far too early, so that spring freezes kill the blossoms. In our region, they are a very dicey tree indeed. In the light of their (at least to us) low position on the totem pole of desireable tree fruit, it seems pointless to try to defy nature so boldly. But, if you are an adventurer, the one to try looks like the so-called Chinese apricot, a self-fruitful (only need one tree), late-blooming (critical datum), quite hardy (Zone 4) apricot; it is known under a host of synonyms, including:

And here are a relevant apricot-related links: apricots (and other fruit trees) for cold-winter/hot-summer areas (in this case, the Palouse region of eastern Washington State).

Plums don't loom large in our life, but we'll be supplying some thoughts on them here Real Soon Now.

And, as a look in any good nursery catalogue will show, there are also lots and lots of other fruit and berry trees and bushes that would likely do well out here--many of them very little known at present in the western hemisphere. Perhaps in future seasons we'll take stock and end up adding some of those "novelties." (We tried paw-paw trees with zero success: probably our soil is too shallow for such a taprooted tree, but for others not thus limited, they're an excellent candidate.)

Here is a useful link on "Minor" stone fruit for northern climates (as a PDF file).

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