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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” [PDF document, archived copy] by Michele Warmund, University of Missouri Extension.)

Beginners tend to plant more fruits than they need or want. Just 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.)


Bush-Berry Types

Regrettably, the once-fine the Northwest Berry & Grape Information Network web site seems to have evaporated: its supposed new home has been saying “coming soon” for years now. Fortunately, there are some other helpful sites:

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. Also, keep in mind that if you have a little room indoors, several fine berries grow well in containers, including all of those listed next.

We’ve tried to keep here 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, but are calling a “fruit tree” (see farther below) on the logic of where and how one tends to grow them rather than the nature of the edible parts (though they do get awfully tree-like).

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. But if you have room for a 2-foot-diameter pot indoors, you can have a bounty of blackberries.

Grapes, both table and wine, can be grown in cold climates, and some season down the line we may look at that 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 for type information. A grape arbor is a mighty fine thing in a summer garden.

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, serviceberries, and blackberries more than cover reasonable wants and needs for all but berry fanatics, who will in any event make their own plans.

Bush-Berry Protection

One important thing that we want to say here applies to all bush-berry types: if you want any berry crop at all, you must protect your berries from predators, most especially birds! Birds can and will wipe out an entire crop, berry by berry as they ripen, unless that crop is protected..

For bush berries, the simplest effective method is to construct a framework wooden box of sufficient width and height to accomodate the bush you seek to protect, then cover it with that inexpensive plastic “bird netting” one can find an almost any hardware store (just staple it down). For small bushes, such as lingonberries, you can build one cage to cover the lot; for others, it is best to build a separate cage for each bush. Remember that you will need to lift the cage off to prune or harvest, so keep it light-weight.

Pre-made commercial cages are available, but tend to be quite expensive. By far the best idea we have seen is to use small-gauge plastic pipe. That link is to an excellnt page on the subject.

(Note that—as that page points out—just casting netting over a bush with no framework is a bad idea: birds will just alight and hop under the netting, plus growing bush branches can easily get intangled in the mesh.)

If your bushes are not in containers (as blueberries or lingonberries likely would be), you should also protest against ground-based predators (mice, voles, rabbits, and the like). That is easily done by runninging a 1-foot- or 2-foot-high strip of metal mesh around the base of each bush cage. Make sure to use mesh of no larger than ¼" openings, and it is worth the small extra to go for stainless steel rather than the more common galvanized (amazingly, determined voles can actually chew through galvanized mesh).

Tree Fruit

Tree-Fruit Types

One thing that seemingly endless combing through on-line material about fruit trees of all sorts has brought home to us is that in a Zone 6 climate, much less a Zone 5 or Zone 4, almost all fruit trees are usually a colossal pain to try to grow. Notice that we said “try to grow”; the efforts often fail. The rosters of diseases and other maladies that such trees are subject to is nightmarish. One needs to be more or less a tree-fruit fanatic to undertake the effort in a northerly climate (and warm-weather climates come with their own different sets of griefs).

It is especially important to avoid the “stamp-collector” mentality. We should—according to a quite specific information page from WSU, linked below—be able to grow 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. But, as Sportin’ Life sang, “It ain’t necessarily so”. A lot depends on how much sweat, toil, expense, and frustration one is willing to put up with. But here is the information for those determined to plow on.

(Note: we are calling things like serviceberries and hardy kiwis “trees” because they form very tree-like bushes and would be planted out with the real trees.)

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

Be aware that small rodents, especially voles, can utterly destroy an entire orchard in a single season, if not a single week, a very frustrating—and expensive—happening. Most folk remedies (poison, trapping, repellants) are ineffective: the chief protection is putting partly buried metal mesh around the trees and their roots—something best done at planting time.

Here is a reasonable list of fruit types the enterprising home gardener might 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 say more on each particular fruit type’s page here.

As to other possible tree fruit:

Figs would, not so long ago, have seemed laughable for a northern garden, but things have changed. There is now a variety called the Chicago Hardy Fig, and it is supposed to be winter-hardy down to at least Zone 6 and, many say, even Zone 5. (Figs go dormant in the winter, so they can be bundled up with insulation if it’s a marginal climate.) The Chicago Hardy is supposedly able to produce fruit on new wood in spring even if the top died back to the ground over the winer—which means that as long as the roots don’t die one should get at least some crop from it every year. We tried a couple in containers (the classic half-barrel), but without success; YMMV.

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 a non-balmy clime, 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 is a relevant apricot-related link: apricots (and other fruit trees) for cold-winter/hot-summer areas [archived copy]—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 a reasonable candidate.)

Here is a useful link on “Minor” stone fruit [PDF document] for northern climates.

Tree-Fruit Protection

Everything we said above about predators applies in spades to tree fruit. You don’t want to go to the expense and trouble of trying to grow tree fruits merely to feed the neighborhood bird flocks or the neightborhood vole population (tunneling voles can strip a tree’s roots down to a stem nub in no time).

Even for small trees, building a cage is impractical. But what you really must do when first planting out a fruit tree is this: get some wire mesh (spring for stainless steel rather than the commoner galvanized: voles can actually gnaw through even galvanized-steel mesh) of ¼" mesh, at least 2 and better 4 feet in width (it comes in rolls). Bury at least 12 inches—and better 14 inches or even more—of it around the circumference of your planting hole, leaving at least 12 inches above ground. Voles are said to tunnel no deeper than a foot, but we have had them go under 12" buried mesh; meanwhile, you also need above-ground mesh to keep them (and other garden pests) off the bark. Some suggest a 4' width roll, with the buried part going down 24" and the top 12" of the above-ground part bent outward to form an outward-facing “shelf” to keep the little darlings from climbing over. (You can do that around your trees, but better, if affordable, is to do it all round your garden area, as voles will attack your vegetables as well, and they go at it day and night all year round.)

You then have to cast bird netting over the tree. Use enough that you can gather it at the bottom and tie it onto the tree trunk so that pests can’t just duck under it to get at the fruit. The many various anti-bird tactics commonly suggested—plastic owl statues, recorded bird distress calls, scarecrows, reflective flash stripes, and so on—are by and large ineffective (birds are a lot smarter than most people think); only physical exclusion barries really accomplish anything. (Detailed instructions on using netting are widely available on line.)

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