Planting several fruit trees together can provide you with the benefits of fresh fruit straight from your garden or orchard over a longer period. We have selected groups of fruit trees which might give you some ideas for your own collection.
You might also want to browse our fruit tree categories.
The story of the spread of new apple varieties across North America is a fascinating one. Whilst the settlers brought good European varieties with them, most of these proved unsuited to the climate of the New World. However the seeds of these apples were planted far and wide by Johnny Appleseed and others, and from these some grew and flourished. As the settlements spread westwards the more successful varieties were taken with new settlers and propagated in new orchards. In this way a tradition of apple varieties arose which was uniquely American.
Developed before modern scientific breeding methods were available, these antique apple varieties were nevertheless naturally productive and hardy - they had to be. However whilst many have a certain beauty about them, they could not compete with the new wave of American apples such as Delicious and Golden Delicious which were discovered at the end of the 19th century. The heirloom varieties that had served Americans well until then started to fall out of fashion, being less well-suited to large-scale production, transcontinental shipment, and long-term storage.
In the 21st century there is now a growing recognition that the diversity of the old heritage varieties should be protected - and the best way to do that is to start eating and cooking them! Growing your own heirloom apple trees gives you the chance to experience these old-fashioned flavors.
As a rule most apple varieties prefer a climate where there is a definite winter period with temperatures around or below freezing, and summer temperatures not exceeding the low 90s. In contrast Southern California has a "Mediterranean" climate, with long hot dry summers and mild winters. Typical of a Mediterranean climate, almost the entire annual rainfall occurs in winter.
The key challenge for growing apple trees in this climate is the high summer temperatures and long growing season, which can play havoc with the flavor and texture of varieties which are not suited to it.
Southern California's mild winters mean it is a low-chill climate, with fewer than 600 hours of winter temperatures below 40F. Although low-chill varieties may be preferred for this reason, the lack of winter chill is more of an issue for the choice of rootstock than the choice of scion variety. It seems that more vigourous rootstocks are needed to counteract the loss of vigour induced by the low-chill climate. In addition, once the tree starts fruiting in this climate it won't grow much more, another reason for choosing more vigorous rootstocks.
Fortunately there are number of good quality apple varieties which are quite happy in these conditions, which we list here. Perhaps surprisingly, the climate of the place of origin of an apple variety is not a reliable indicator of whether it will thrive in southern California (although apples from Australia do consistently well). We are grateful to Kevin Hauser of Kuffel Creek for these recommendations.
These are apple varieties that like a hot summer and a long warm fall to ripen. Many of them have a low-chill requirement, which means they will fruit reliably even in areas where winter temperatures rarely fall near to freezing.
Note that fireblight, an important disease of apple and pear trees, is prevalent in many of the south-eastern states. If it is in your area then we recommend you choose fireblight-resistant varieties and fireblight-resistant rootstocks.
USDA zones 3 and 4 experience minimum winter temperatures of between -25F to -40F. Many parts of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Maine, Minnesota, New Brunswick, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont fall into these zones.
The extreme winter cold, along with the shorter summer growing season is a challenge for growing apple trees, but there are a number of varieties that can be grown very successfully in these areas.
Make sure you choose a cold-hardy rootstock as well. The Budagovsky and Geneva series rootstocks are usually suitable, the Malling-series are not.
Cox's Orange Pippin is widely-regarded as one of the best-flavored apples, and this excellence of flavor is often apparent in some of its offspring. Whilst Cox's Orange Pippin is happiest in zones 5-6, many of its relations have a wider range.
There is a lot to be said for choosing apple varieties which are especially easy to grow, as these will reward you with good quality apples in most years and in most situations. This collection includes apples with good disease resistance and the ability to thrive in most US climate zones.
One of the great attractions of growing your own fruit trees is that you can decide exactly how you want the trees to grow. Many gardeners now prefer an organic, or better still, an "un-treated" or "no spray" regime where the trees are grown without the use of any chemical pesticides and herbicides. Most new community orchard projects also adopt organic or no-spray principles.
In a backyard or community orchard situation where outright production is not the main priority, almost any apple variety can be grown organically. You will probably get a slightly reduced crop - but you will have the benefit of knowing that the fruit has been grown entirely free of chemical contamination and is as healthy as possible.
However there are some varieties which are particularly worth considering if you want to grow apple trees without chemicals and sprays. These are generally trouble-free and disease-resistant varieties that do not seem to be bothered by the usual apple diseases of scab, canker, or mildew. Interestingly whilst some of the varieties we recommend are very modern ones which have been specifically developed to incorporate genes for disease resistance, some are older varieties which have a proven track record of being disease-free.
It is worth noting that most crab apples are also suitable for growing without herbicides and pesticides.
Finally remember that disease-resistant does not mean disease-proof - your trees will still benefit from a helping hand. Applying a protective mulch around the base is one of the best ways to help them establish, as it suppresses competing weeds and strong healthy trees are better able to fight of diseases.