Yard and Garden: Fruit Trees



Few things are more enjoyable for homeowners than going out the back door to pick ripe juicy fruit from a tree. With some planning even homeowners with only small yard space can successfully grow fruit trees, such as apples, pears, plums and cherries. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulture specialists share information about selecting pear, plum and apricot varieties. To have additional questions answered, contact the Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

What are some good pear varieties for Iowa?  

Pear varieties (cultivars) that perform well in Iowa include 'Summercrisp' (University of Minnesota introduction, large fruit, matures early August), 'Moonglow' (introduced by USDA, medium to large fruit, matures mid-August), 'Bartlett' (large fruit, matures late August, susceptible to fireblight), ‘Luscious’ (developed at South Dakota State University, medium-sized fruit, matures mid-September), ‘Patten’ (originated in Iowa, large fruit, matures mid-September) and ‘Seckel’ (sometimes called Sugar Pear, small fruit, matures mid-September).

‘Moonglow’ and ‘Bartlett’ are not reliably cold hardy in northern Iowa. They should be planted only in central and southern portions of the state. All of the other aforementioned pear cultivars can be successfully grown throughout Iowa.  

What are some good plum varieties for Iowa?  

Cold hardiness is an important factor when selecting plum varieties for home gardens. Japanese plums are not reliably cold hardy in Iowa. However, several European and hybrid plum varieties can be successfully grown in the state.

European plum varieties that perform well in Iowa include ‘Mount Royal,’ ‘Stanley’ and ‘Damson.’ ‘Mount Royal’ produces small fruit with bluish black skin and greenish yellow flesh. ‘Mount Royal’ can be grown throughout Iowa. ‘Stanley’ (dark blue skin, greenish yellow flesh) and ‘Damson’ (blue skin, yellow flesh) are not reliably cold hardy in northern Iowa, but can be successfully grown in the southern two-thirds of the state.

Several hybrid plum varieties (introduced by the University of Minnesota) possess excellent cold hardiness and can be successfully grown throughout the state. Hybrid plums include ‘Alderman’ (burgundy red skin, yellow flesh), ‘Pipestone’ (red skin, golden yellow flesh), ‘Superior’ (red skin, yellow flesh) and ‘Underwood’ (dull red skin, yellow flesh).

European plums are self-fruitful. A single tree will bear fruit. Hybrid plums are self-unfruitful. Two or more hybrid plum varieties must be planted to ensure cross-pollination and fruit set. ‘Toka’ is an excellent pollinator for ‘Alderman,’ ‘Superior,’ ‘Underwood’ and other hybrid plums.

Which apricot varieties can be successfully grown in Iowa? 

Cold hardiness is an important factor when selecting apricot varieties for home gardens. Many apricot varieties are not reliably cold hardy in Iowa. However, a few varieties can be successfully grown in the state. ‘Moorpark’ is reliably cold hardy in the southern two-thirds of Iowa. ‘Moorpark’ is self-fruitful. A single tree will bear fruit. ‘Moongold’ and ‘Sungold’ (University of Minnesota introductions) possess excellent cold hardiness and can be successfully grown throughout the state. ‘Moongold’ and ‘Sungold’ are self-unfruitful. Plant at least one tree of each variety for cross-pollination and fruit set. 

Are there any peach varieties that can be successfully grown in Iowa?

Peaches are not reliably cold hardy in most parts of Iowa. It is possible to grow ‘Reliance’ (yellow flesh, freestone) and ‘Polly’ (white flesh, clingstone) in the southern one-third of Iowa.

Growing peaches in Iowa is challenging. Cold winter temperatures may destroy the flower buds on peach trees. A late frost or freeze in spring can damage or destroy the flowers. As a result, peach trees often bear few, if any, fruit. Gardeners in southern Iowa can anticipate a good crop about once every three or four years. Peaches are also short-lived in Iowa, often dying within eight to 10 years.

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