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Fruit Fetish

By J.R. Feucht, landscape-plants specialist, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

Growing Fruit in Colorado can be a pleasure and a challenge.  Success depends not only on the ideal exposure and proper soil preparation, but also the selection of certain varieties of fruit.  Many Midwest nursery catalogs offer appealing varieties.   These are often illustrated in full color and the descriptions usually include the word hardy.

Remember that hardiness in the Midwest is entirely different from hardiness in the Colorado High Plains, particularly in the selection of tree and shrub fruits.

The following recommendations are based on the experience of many Colorado horticulturists over the years.

Soil and Exposure

Fruits are best grown in well-drained soil.  If the soil is a heavy clay type, it is best to condition it to a depth of at least 12 inches with a coarse, organic material such as aged barnyard manure.  Thoroughly mix the organic matter with the soil to help open the soil and allow air and water penetration.

When planting a tree, dig the hole extra wide and improve the backfill before the tree is put in the ground.

Most fruits prefer full sun.  Raspberries require full sun but must be protected from drying winds.

To reduce frost damage, locate trees away from low spots in the yard, particularly where there are fences or other obstructions that stop the flow of air.  It is better to locate fruit trees in the "upper end" of your property.

Avoid placing fruit trees too close to buildings, particularly south and west exposures, as these will tend to cause bloom to occur early, subjecting them to frost injury.

Apples

Many varieties of apples can be grown successfully in Colorado.  Perhaps the biggest problem is fire blight, a bacterial disease that tends to strike crabapples.   It also infects Yellow Transparent, an otherwise hardy domestic variety.

The more reliable varieties are:

  • Cox Orange. Aromatic dessert apple. Yellow flesh.
  • Red Delicious. A good winter apple and very resistant to fire blight.
  • Golden Delicious. A fall apple of good flavor that bears sooner than most varieties.  Also a good variety to plant with other apple trees to ensure good pollination.
  • McIntosh.  An all-purpose red apple.
  • Johnathan.  A popular apple but fairly susceptible to fire blight.
  • Fameuse.  Old variety similar to McIntosh.

Cherries

The most dependable cherries for High Plains are the tart type.  Plant sweet cherries only if you are willing to risk losing the tree in a few years.  Sweet cherry varieties generally require a second variety nearby as a pollinizer.   Varieties most suitable are:

  • Montmorency.  The most popular variety not only for the home garden but a leader in commercial tart cherry production.
  • Meteor.  Similar to Montmorency, but a slightly more dwarf tree.
  • Van.  A relatively hardy tree bearing sweet fruit.  Excellent pollinizer for all sweet varieties.
  • Early Richmond.  Considered the most hardy, but the quality of fruit is inferior to Montmorency.
  • Black Tartarian.  A sweet cherry that may produce fruit in some years.  Subject to dieback in severe winters.
  • Kansas Sweet.  A sweet, early, dark red variety.
  • Stella.  Shown to have good winter hardiness and is self-pollinating.

Peaches

Peaches are not considered as dependable as apples, plums or cherries for High Plains growers.  One of their difficulties is their habit of early flowering.  Flowers often are nipped by frost, thus preventing fruit set.  They are rewarding if you can get past the growing difficulties.  Recommended varieties:

  • Elberta.  This is the common commercial peach produced on the Western Slope.  It is a bit more tender in most areas of the East Slope but many occasionally produce a satisfactory crop.
  • Haven. Many named varieties. Freestone.
  • Polly. A white freestone variety that matures in late summer.   Among the hardiest available.
  • Reliance.  Considered hardiest of all. Freestone type.   Others are Halehaven, J.H. Hale and Ranger.

Plums

Plums are considered among the hardiest tree fruits for the Colorado High Plains and are relatively dependable as far as fruit set.  Among the selections that can be made, the following are considered best:

  • Stanley.  Italian freestone variety
  • Green Gage.  An old, dependable variety having good flavor.
  • Blue Damson.  An early-bearing, small-fruited plum.  Fruits are of good flavor, bluish with a yellow flesh.
  • Waneta.  A late-summer maturing variety with large, red fruit.
  • Sapalta.  Considered one of the best for eating fresh from the tree; also excellent for canning.

Apricots

Much like peaches, apricots are not considered dependable for fruiting. They are even less dependable than peaches.  This is not because of hardiness but because their early flowering habit makes them subject to frost.  Try a thick mulch of wood chips after the ground has frozen in fall.  Even if apricots do not fruit, they are of use in the yard for aesthetic purposes.  The glossy foliage is unequaled in plants of similar size and shape.  The varieties Goldcot and Moorpark are worthy of trial in Colorado.

Raspberries

Raspberries are available in two types:  fall-bearing varieties that produce a first crop in July in the previous year's wood and a second crop in the fall on the new growth, and the standard summer-bearing varieties that produce vegetative canes the first season and bear fruit on lateral branches of these canes the following summer.

Indian Summer, Heritage, Pathfinder, Trailblazer and September are excellent fall bearing varieties.

Shrub Fruits

When all other fruits fail, currants and gooseberries succeed.  They can be included in shrub borders for aesthetic purposes, as well as bearing edible fruit and attracting birds.

Many native currants, including the Alpine and Golden species, can be used in cooking.  They're too sour to eat alone.  The best for eating is Red Lake.

Gooseberry plants, with their prickly stems, make excellent cover for birds and are dependable sources of fruit for pies.  These old-fashioned plants are beginning to return in many gardens.  The Welcome and Pixell varieties are recommended.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010