Yard and Garden: Selecting Fruit Varieties

AMES, Iowa — What fruit varieties will perform well in Iowa? Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answer questions about selecting plum, pear, cherry and peach varieties. To have additional questions answered, contact Hortline at hortline@iastate.edu or 515-294-3108.

What are some good plum varieties for Iowa? 

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

European plum cultivars 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 cultivars (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 cultivars must be planted to ensure cross-pollination and fruit set. ‘Toka’ is an excellent pollinator for ‘Alderman,’ ‘Superior,’ ‘Underwood’ and other hybrid plums. 

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. 

Which sour (tart) cherry varieties perform well in Iowa? 

‘Northstar’ and ‘Meteor’ are two of the best performing sour cherry varieties (cultivars) in Iowa. Both cultivars were introduced by the University of Minnesota and possess excellent cold hardiness. ‘Northstar’ is a dwarf tree that commonly grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Its fruit have a mahogany red skin, red flesh, and are 3/4 inch in diameter. ‘Meteor’ is a semi-dwarf tree. Trees may eventually reach a height of 10 to 14 feet. The fruit of ‘Meteor’ are slightly larger than ‘Northstar’ and have a bright red skin and yellow flesh. Another possibility is ‘Mesabi,’ a cross between a sweet and tart cherry. Its red-fleshed fruit are sweeter than ‘Northstar’ and ‘Meteor.’

Can sweet cherries be successfully grown in Iowa? 

‘Gold,’ BlackGold™, and WhiteGold™ are sweet cherry varieties (cultivars) that can be successfully grown in the southern two-thirds of Iowa. ‘Gold’ has golden yellow skin. It is self-unfruitful. Another late blooming sweet cherry cultivar must be planted for pollination and fruit set. BlackGold™ and WhiteGold™ are self-fruitful, mid to late blooming cultivars from Cornell University in New York. BlackGold™ has dark red skin, while WhiteGold™ is light yellow with a reddish blush. Other possibilities for southeastern Iowa include ‘Hedelfingen’ (self-unfruitful, red fruit), ‘Kristin’ (self-unfruitful, purplish black fruit), ‘Sam’ (self-unfruitful, dark red fruit) and ‘Van’ (self-unfruitful, reddish black fruit). 

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 also are short-lived in Iowa, often dying within eight to 10 years.