For those that are in colder or more temperate climates it may seem like you are severely limited in what you can grow.
The truth is that thanks to some innovative fruit breeders and horticulturists, there is a plethora of fruits out there that you can grow at home without fearing each little cold snap that comes along.
Do Your Research When It Comes To Finding Out Your USDA Zone
“Cold hardy” is a broad term. You should think about how cold your area gets during a very cold year.
Sometimes even the spread of land you are on can be a bit colder than other places around you if you are on a north facing slope for example. USDA zone maps are a good guideline but they are not 100% accurate.
There is definitely some room for variation when it comes to these maps. To some degree the USDA has acknowledged this and split zones into A or B so you might be zone 5A or 5B depending on location and average temperatures.
Regardless of your stance on the reasons for a changing climate, the evidence is there that some places are simply warmer than they used to be. Older people in my area remember much colder winters and I don’t think that is just because they lived in more poorly insulated homes than people do now.
I think that while the USDA says I am in the colder part of zone 7, the elevation we are at and the microclimate makes our property perform more like it is Zone 6. Realizing just how many microclimates are possible in a small region is eye opening and very helpful when planning out long term fruit production.
Getting some trees, shrubs, and vines up to full production can take years so you want to try to make the right choices when it comes to varieties.
The many different weather stations that others have put up on Wunderground.com can help you more accurately predict how your local climate really stacks up. The data on this site is invaluable. In fact you may decide that a small weather station is a fun and worthwhile endeavor for your own place.
I know first hand that grapes are one of the major things you can grow in a colder climate. While the mountains of western North Carolina might seem warm to those in the midwest or further north, the truth is that at 3000 feet in elevation on the side of a mountain it can get to -10 degrees Farenheit in a cold winter.
The record is -20 in the nearest town. Grapes are a lot of work and investment which means that planting varieties that could not handle a very cold year was not a risk we were willing to take when planting our vineyard.
Of the varieties we planted, the most cold sensitive will start to see damage at -15 without any hilling or extra care being taken.
Our most cold hardy is good down to -40 degrees thanks to the outstanding grape breeding programs undertaken by the fine folks at the University of Minnesota. That being said here are a few of the most cold hardy grapes out there. There are more than what I list here but these are a few of my favorites.
NOTE: Traditional wine grapes are often produced in climates that are at the bare minimum USDA Zone 6 but work best in Zone 7 or 8. Only a few even work well in Zone 6. When I am talking about cold hardy grapes I do not list any that are not hardy in Zone 5 or lower.
This grape was developed for making a deep red wine in the coldest of temperatures. If wine is not your thing then it will still produce a heavy load of fruit that can reach a very high sugar percentage.
The vines grow fast and the wine from this grape is highly acclaimed.
This is one of my most favorite grapes in our vineyard. It reaches a high sugar and although it can be susceptible to early Spring frosts, it will still produce even if the buds get frosted on a time or two.
This grape is done maturing and ready to pick before a lot of the others so you can get your crop in before fall sets in.
It is prone to bird damage though due to a small berry size which means you need to use netting when they start to get some color on the fruit. A flock of starlings can take it all if you don’t. Birds love small berry size.
While peaches are assumed to be a hot weather fruit, there are some varieties that will grow in USDA Zone 4.
The Reliance Peach above is hardy to Zone 4 and available from Stark Bros.
Check out the Starking Hardy Giant Asian Pear here!
Pears need another variety to pollinate them but they will grow in colder areas. If you get a late frost, you can prevent fruit loss by covering trees with a sheet.
It has been a challenge for producers to create pear tree crosses that taste good and do well in a colder climate. Currently there are a few crosses available that can take USDA Zone 4.
If you are in Canada then you may have access to more varities than us down in the United States. Over the years there have been a lot of people working on cold hardy pear research.
Here is a link to Hardy Fruit Tree Nursery in Quebec, Canada. They have pears that can be grow in areas as cold as Zone 3a!
Ah the blueberry. This gorgeous little shrub is great for edible landscaping and there are enough varieties out there that if you want to plant a lot you can get fruit for an extended season.
If you don’t like to pick fruit regularly during a season and prefer to get your crop all at once then you will need to plant two types of blueberry that harvest at the same time. You have to have two types anyway that bloom at the same time in order to get pollination and fruit set.
When buying blueberry bushes, you should make sure to get them from a reputable place.
Don’t buy blueberry starts from box stores like Tractor Supply, Lowes, or Home Depot. Those small starts that are $5 and in a bag are often allowed to dry out too much and do not survive a season. We calculated our loss at 50% when buying from these places.
When we got our bushes from a real honest to goodness nursery, we barely lost any. Also, don’t buy marked down bushes that have been setting on the shelf and not taken care of.
Most blueberry varieties are cold hardy to Zone 4 but there are exceptions.
There are hundreds of types of apples out there. Besides finding cold hardy ones, you need to also make sure that you find ones that are good for the purposes that you want.
Some apples keep better whole than others while there are some that are excellent for canning and cooking. Those that like a crisper apple and tarter flavor should look at green types of apples rather than the typical Red Delicious that you see in the grocery store.
Plum trees can produce a lot and we are lucky to have a few out there that can handle Zone 4.
If you are in Zone 5, there are many types to choose from. With a plum tree you can dry out your own prunes for use year round!
Apricots will grow in USDA Zone 4 but you can grow a lot more varieties if you are least in Zone 5. Harcott apricots like those in the picture above are some of the most cold hardy. These are very beautiful trees for your property and the gorgeous orange colored fruit is so good for drying and putting back.
The apricots you get in the store are often treated with sulfites to help preserve them so if you suspect you are sensitive to sulfites or just want to limit exposure, drying out your own home raised apricots is one solution.
No more paying $10 a lb for organic apricots when you have a good supply from your own back yard.
It is hard to beat the first cherries of the year but the price tag at the grocery store can be a bit off putting! I think Ranier Cherries are $6 a lb at the grocery store here when they first come in season in Washington state.
Shipping cherries to North Carolina is not the cheapest way to get fruit. When we first moved onto our property I bought some cherry trees that were from a really cheap nursery.
Cherry trees are not something you want to buy from the cheapest place. I think I was give wild sour cherries but didn’t find it out until they trees were a few years old and had not really done much.
The Difference Between Dwarf vs Semi-Dwarf vs Standard Dwarf
If you start to order fruit trees, you will notice that they can sometimes come in up to 3 different sizes. You also need to know that these size classifications have other implications.
There is a trade off in getting dwarf trees and not the larger sizes. First off the smaller sizes get to fruit bearing size sooner but produce less fruit due to a smaller size.
On the other side of the coin, you can plant them closer together and they are much easier to harvest. Here are some specs so you can make the right choice.
1. Dwarf Fruit Trees
- 8 ft-10 ft tall on average
- Quick to produce
- Production slows down faster. Expect to replant every 15 years
2. Semi-Dwarf Fruit Trees
- 12ft-15 ft on average with the exception of sweet cherry trees that are 15ft-18ft if semi-dwarfs
- Slightly slower to produce than dwarf trees
- Harder to harvest without a longer ladder or special fruit picking tools
- Longer productive lifespan than a dwarf
3. Standard Fruit Trees
- 15 ft and up except for standard peach or nectarine trees that can be as little as 12 ft at maturity
- Slowest to produce but can give a very large crop
- Very hard to pick if allowed to reach full height unless you have a lot of courage a big ladder
- Can live to be very old but production can drop as tree health decreases
For the small producer, I recommend getting dwarf trees and replanting as needed. You can pack a lot of them into a small space, spray and treat them easier, and the fruit requires little if any tools.
At the very most, you might want a 2 ft ladder or a small fruit picker that resembles a small basket on the end of a stick. They are inexpensive and can save over reaching or dropping fruit too much.
When I was younger, the adults would just shake trees and we would pick up the fruit but this can also bruise fruits so it is a trade off and it can be hard to shake some trees enough to get the job done.
Plan On Babying Your Fruits the First Year
When first establishing a small orchard or fruit growing area, you need to keep in mind that it is at its most fragile state. Developing strong and healthy roots is crucial.
Letting plants get too dry is asking for trouble and can even result in a total loss for the year. If you are not getting regular rains then make sure to water regularly. If you choose to use soil amendments and fertilizers be careful to follow directions well.
Some fruits have different nutritional needs than others. For example, blueberries like a more acidic soil than grapes who prefer a more neutral soil pH.
Some fertilizers can raise or lower pH so you need to make sure that you are not going overboard one way or the other. Strong nitrogen fertilizers can even burn roots if used in too great of a quantity.
I am partial to organic fertilizers that add actual biomass to the soil. Mulches and composted manures don’t burn. Fish based fertilizers can be a bit smelly to use but they are inexpensive and non burning as well.
Grazing Under Fruit Trees Or Under Grape Vines
It is very possible and quite common for people around the word to graze livestock through fruit producing orchards and areas during parts of the year. Animals keep rotting or bad fruit from laying around and spreading disease and attracting insects plus they keep grasses and weeds at bay so fruit can grow more easily.
For the small producer, the grazing can provide meat,fiber, and sometimes milk. It is a win win if you can get it to work.
We use sheep and geese in our woods and vineyard.
By using them in our vineyards, we have been able to reduce the amount of mowing and weed eating that needs done substantially and they help lay down fertilizer and beneficial microbes that keeps the land more productive and healthy.
From our vineyard, we plan on getting a regular wool crop and meat from our Shetland Sheep that graze the property. They are very easy to manage and a lot more my speed after trying to keep cattle and pigs.
It was good to have the experience but as I have got older, I am thankful for my chilled out old world sheep that are 2 feet high and sweet!
Of course this grazing method is only practical if you plan on planting a good sized space. It does bring up the fact that you can glean sub par fruit from the ground or your plants to feed livestock so that nothing goes to waste.
I am a firm believer in using as much as you can of what you produce with your hard work!
Precautions To Keep In Mind Grazing Under Fruit Trees
Wilted cherry leaves can be dangerous and toxic to livestock like goats, sheep, and cattle. Once the leaves are brown you are ok but when they are green and wilty they can have cyanide in them. Just double check after a storm for dropped branches if you are grazing.
Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies or just being hungry can cause animals to strip bark off trees, particularly during the lean months of winter. Keeping a mineral and salt block out that is appropriate for what you are grazing can help prevent some of this.
If you see bark stripping, you might also just have a hungry animal. Fall or late summer is popular times to allow intensive grazing and clean up, ideally after your harvest. If grazing during the spring and major growing season, graze just enough to keep the grass and weeds eat down but don’t over do it.
You definitely have to be careful about allowing animals to graze if you are spraying pesticides or herbicides of any kind on or near fruit areas. Even organic sprays can be problematic.
Sheep for example are copper sensitive so if you are spraying copper then the sheep cannot graze for awhile. Most sprays have withdrawal times listed but when it doubt, check out some sites to double check how soon after spraying you can allow animals in.
Growing Cold Hardy Fruit In Containers
Blueberries can definitely be grown in containers if you are lacking space or renting. It is sometimes just nice to have some plants around and if they give you some fruit to put back or enjoy fresh that is a bonus.
Those that are still planning their exit from city life can get started growing fruit this way and then bring it with them and transplant it to the ground on their land at a later time if it works out for them.
Columnar apple trees are kind of a new thing but they are able to be grown in a pot in a narrow space and produce an impressive amount of fruit. They can reach 8 ft- 10 ft in height if allowed to but are only 18-24 inches wide! They are sometimes called Urban Apple Trees too.
You can check out the Blushing Delight Urban Apple Tree here.
Growing some fruit is an affordable and easy to do thing that gives you some delicious fresh fruit while also beautifying your home and surroundings.
If you have children then this is something they can take part in and feel very accomplished when they help you harvest the goodness!
1. Planning Your Location
If you live in a place where it gets pretty cold then it is even more important that you consider where you want to grow your fruit. If there is not a lot of sun during the day then it might not be the best choice even if you think it would look good.
If you have not already taken the time to observe, pay attention to sunlight patterns. If it is late in the day before the sun hits an area than fruit can be more prone to molds and mildews from dew or rain setting on them for an extended period of time.
You also need to think about the very long term. You don’t want to plant somewhere only to realize a few years down the road that you need that space for something else.
Also consider what is adjacent. Is there a chance you are going to want to put an outbuilding next to the space later on that may block the sun more?
2. Size Of Your Trees
While I mentioned height of trees you also need to consider how much a fruit tree can spread out. Apple trees are very prone to this. The space a tree or bush takes up is much more than it’s mere height.
If your tree is going to reach over onto an adjoining property when grown for example, you need to think about if that is okay or not.
3. Elevation Considerations
Elevation can have an effect because soil types can vary if you are higher up than a lot of growers in your area.
While I could not find any indication that the mulberry trees sold commercially are elevation sensitive, I do know that wild Mulberries don’t usually occur above 2,100 feet in the North Carolina mountains.
There is no harm in asking a nursery what they think about what you are planting if you are living in a high elevation area.
4. Dealing With Excess Fruit
Having some fresh fruit can help you and your family eat healthier and make it cheaper to eat that way. If you grow many trees or bushes then there is a good chance you are going to have excess fruit to put back.
Dehydrating fruits is an excellent method of preservation. You can use oxygen and moisture absorbers in a vacuum seal bag and keep dried fruits delicious for a long time.
Canning fruits in syrup or making excess into apple butter, jam, and other products is also popular. If you have a lot to put back you might want to do all kinds of things with your fruit.
The important thing to remember is that fruit is easy to preserve and a healthy alternative to processed sweet snacks.
While it is true that many home jam and jelly recipes contain white sugar, you can use other sweeting methods to make it a bit healthier. Honey is expensive but it does make a superior jelly.
Best Sources For Fruit Trees, Grapes, and Bushes
The Stark Brothers is a well known nursery that was started in 1816 and continues to provide the latest in fruit trees, bushes, etc at a reasonable price. They really care about their customers and will work to make things right if you ever have a problem.
While the prices may seem a bit higher than your local home improvement store, the quality and varieties offered more than make up for the additional cost. You can put your zip code in and they will tell you what trees and fruits have the best chance of producing well in your area.
This also tells you your USDA zone so you can use that info when researching other fruits to grow.
Even if you don’t choose to buy from them, they have a site that has a ton of valuable tools and they even have a live chat option so you can ask anything you want with ease which is a big help when planning out even a small orchard or fruit bush area.
Willis Orchards is another nursery that has been around awhile.
They have very reasonable prices and an easy drop down menu that allows you to just tell them your USDA zone and then you can just browse all the fruits they offer that will work for you. Willis is a good source of a huge range of cold hardy fruits including mulberries.
Other Cold Hardy Fruits
As you can see there are a lot of different fruits to choose from out there. While I have covered some of the basics, there are many other fruits developed for cold regions such as:
- Goji Berries
There are plenty of other as well. I hope this article has helped you realize that you are far from limited when it comes to cold hardy fruit production.
If you know of a great variety that is not mentioned here or have anything to add, please comment below!
Author Bio: Samantha Biggers lives on the side of a mountain in North Carolina with her husband and pack of loyal hounds in a house her husband and she built themselves. When not writing she is working in their vineyard, raising Shetland sheep, or helping her husband with whatever the farm and vineyard can throw at them.
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