Program Specialist, Horticulture
Iowa State University Extension & Outreach
Several species of fruits can be grown successfully in Iowa for home use or commercial sales. However, because of our winter temperatures and local soil conditions, not all fruits or fruit cultivars (cultivated varieties) are adapted to all areas of the state. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists offer tips to assist home gardeners and potential commercial growers in selecting the fruit crops best adapted for their growing conditions.
Can plums be successfully grown in Iowa?
Cold hardiness is an important factor when selecting plum 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 a 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 possess excellent cold hardiness and can be successfully grown throughout the state. ‘Alderman’ (burgundy red skin, yellow flesh), ‘Pipestone’ (red skin, golden yellow flesh), ‘Superior’ (red skin, yellow flesh), and ‘Underwood’ (dull red skin, yellow flesh) are hybrid plums introduced by the University of Minnesota. BlackIce™, developed at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls, has purple-black skin and deep red 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,’ BlackIce™, and other hybrid plums.
Can apricots be successfully grown in Iowa?
Cold hardiness is an important factor when selecting apricot cultivars for home gardens. Many apricot cultivars are not reliably cold hardy in Iowa. However, a few cultivars 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 cultivar for cross-pollination and fruit set.
Growing apricots in Iowa can be challenging. Apricots bloom earlier than other tree fruits and are susceptible to damage from late spring frosts. A late freeze can severely damage or destroy the flowers, resulting in little or no crop. In Iowa, gardeners can anticipate a good crop about once every three years. Apricots are also short-lived. Trees typically survive for 10 to 15 years.
Can sweet cherries be successfully grown in Iowa?
Most sweet cherries don’t perform well in Iowa. ‘Gold,’ BlackGold™, and WhiteGold™ are sweet cherry 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. ‘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 additional sweet cherry cultivars that can be grown in southeastern Iowa. Plant at least two different cultivars for cross-pollination and fruit set.
Can peaches be successfully grown in Iowa?
Most peach cultivars are not reliably cold hardy in Iowa. However, ‘Reliance’ (yellow flesh, freestone), ‘Contender’ (light yellow flesh, freestone), and ‘Polly’ (white flesh, clingstone) can be grown in areas south of US Highway 30. Peaches are self-fruitful and do not require another cultivar for cross-pollination.
Growing peaches in Iowa can be disheartening. The flower buds on peach trees can be destroyed by low winter temperatures. If the flower buds survive the winter, the flowers can be destroyed by a late frost or freeze in spring. As a result, peach trees often bear poorly. Gardeners in Iowa can anticipate a good crop about once every three or four years. Peach trees are also short-lived. Trees seldom survive more than 10 years due to damage from low winter temperatures, diseases, and insects.