University of Missouri Extension

G6005, Revised January 2012

Fruit Cultivars for Home Plantings

Michele Warmund
Fruit State Specialist
Division of Plant Sciences

Success in growing fruits in home plantings largely depends on the type or cultivar selected. Midwestern growing conditions — cold winters; frosty or rainy springs; hot, dry summers — make it difficult to grow some of the well-known fruits. Every gardener should be realistic and discriminating about what fruits to plant. Many problems with winter injury, diseases and insects can be avoided by choosing a fruit cultivar that is well adapted to your site conditions.

Adaptability

Performance of fruiting plants depends in part on how well their growth requirements are met. All fruits require full sun and adequate spacing for optimal crop production without shading. Also, fruit plants almost always require irrigation during July and August. For raspberries, plant growth is often limited by intense summer heat. In contrast, blackberries can be injured by low winter temperatures. In spring, buds on nearly all fruit trees are susceptible to frost. Thus, low areas or “frost pockets” should be avoided, as cold air settles in these sites. Rainfall near cherry harvest frequently causes fruit cracking.

Nearly all Missouri soils are low in phosphorus and may require adjustment of the soil pH before planting. Most fruits perform well at 6.0 to 6.5 pH, but blueberries require acidic soils at 4.8 to 5.2 pH. Thus, a soil test taken before the planting season is recommended. Although some plant nutrients can be added annually, others such as phosphorus or sulphur are best incorporated into the soil before planting to minimize root disturbance and enhance nutrient uptake after planting.

How much to plant

Beginners tend to plant more fruits than they need or want. A few trees or plants will provide a family with needed fresh and preserved fruits if given proper care.\

Table 1. Expected yields of fruits for mature producing plants that are given proper care.

Kind of fruit unit Potential yield (pounds)
Apple, per dwarf tree 50 to 150
Nectarine, per tree 125 to 200
Peach, per tree 150 to 250
Pear, per tree 400 to 650
Plum, per tree 40 to 120
Sour cherry, per tree 40 to 120
Blackberry, per 50 foot row 60 to 100
Blueberry, per plant 5 to 15
Currant, per plant 5 to 10
Elderberry, per plant 25 to 35
Gooseberry, per plant 4 to 7
Grape, per vine 10 to 20
Raspberry, per 50 foot row 45 to 75
Strawberry, per 50 foot row 30 to 65
Note
Higher figures represent the more productive cultivars in their most productive mature years, grown on adequate sites with proper care.

Obtaining plants

Many fruit cultivars are protected by plant patents. Thus, these cultivars must be obtained from a nursery. Grafted fruit trees, especially those with a dwarfing rootstock, produce a crop at a younger age. Semidwarf fruit trees are often crowded in small spaces and become difficult to prune and harvest. Most fruit trees grown from seed produce differently from their parents in fruit type and quality.

Small fruit plants produced from tissue culture or cuttings purchased from reputable nurseries are desirable, as they should be disease-free. Plant material supplied from existing plantings (by cuttings or division) may perpetuate disease problems.

Dwarf fruits

Nurseries choose specific dwarfing rootstocks that are best suited to the aboveground growth of the cultivar. For apples, rootstock choice is usually limited to dwarfing or semidwarfing types. Because dwarf trees produce heavy crops at a young age, they require support to prevent the aboveground part of the tree from breaking. Use an 8- to 10-foot post buried 2 feet into the ground for support. Tie the main trunk or central leader of the tree to the post using pliable material to prevent tree girdling.

Dwarf pear rootstocks are unavailable for planting in Missouri.

Peach, plum, cherry and apricot trees are naturally smaller than apple at maturity. Although dwarf trees are available for the stone fruit, they are often problematic.

Pollination needs

Requirements for pollination vary among kinds of fruits. The majority of apple, pear, sweet cherry, plum, blueberry, black currant and elderberry cultivars require cross-pollination. Two different cultivars that bloom at the same time can be used for cross-pollination. Tart cherry, European (blue) plum, peach, nectarine, apricot (with a few exceptions), grape, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, gooseberry and red currant cultivars will bear acceptable crops with self-pollination. Thus, several cultivars of self-pollinating crops are not needed unless prolonged summer harvest of fruit is desired.

Thinning and natural fruit drop

With any woody perennial fruit plant, development of a strong vegetative structure before fruiting is important. Thus, during the first growing season and the following year, remove all flowers or fruits from the tree or bush. This practice is critical for apples, pears, peach, plum, cherry, grape and blueberry. In the third growing season, allow the plant to produce a light crop. Thereafter, adjust the crop annually to balance fruit and foliar growth.

Flowers and fruits naturally thin themselves at specific times. Unpollinated flowers often drop in the spring. Small, immature fruits drop naturally early in the growing season. Fruits that are diseased, infested with insects, or moisture-stressed also often drop prematurely. Even so, most trees produce an abundant crop of small fruits at harvest. Thus, to increase fruit size at harvest, ensure a crop for next year and prevent limb breakage, thin developing fruits (less than 1/2 inch diameter) annually after the danger of frost has passed. For apples, remove all fruits in a cluster, leaving only the largest one. For peaches,thin fruits to one every 8 inches along the branches. Preferably remove small, misshapen or damaged fruit. Other types of fruit trees require thinning only when a heavy crop is produced. Thinning by hand is desirable to selectively remove fruit, but when hand-thinning becomes impractical, fruit can be knocked off with a rubber hose. The crop load on grapevines is generally adjusted during pruning, leaving enough buds to prevent overcropping.

Pests and diseases

All fruits are susceptible to insect pests and disease organisms. Often, apples, peaches and grapes are productive only under the careful use of a regular spray program. Spraying at specific times throughout the growing season is necessary because many pests attack different fruits multiple times. Protection of the foliage and bark is also necessary to maintain healthy and productive plants.

Certain fruit cultivars are susceptible to problems that cannot be prevented by cultural practices or spraying. For this reason, some well-known cultivars are omitted from the following list. For example, cultivars of pear such as Bartlett, Comice and Anjou are very susceptible to fire blight and not recommended over more tolerant cultivars. 

Birds often damage cherries, blueberries and elderberries. Although cumbersome to handle, netting is available to exclude these pests from plants.

Cultivars

Tips for success as a family fruit grower

  • Plant only two or three kinds of fruits that are easily produced and harvested.
  • Select the most disease-resistant cultivars to minimize the amount of spraying, especially if you decide to grow fruit trees.
  • If you cannot spray, plant fruits that are most likely to bear some edible fruits without spraying: blackberry, gooseberry or blueberry.

The following cultivars are suggested on the basis of vigor, productivity, climatic adaptability, fruit quality and relative freedom from the most destructive diseases. Wherever practical, several cultivars of each kind of fruit are listed to help satisfy personal preferences.

Apples

Pears

Several European and Asian pears are susceptible to fire blight. This bacterial disease often kills blossoms, shoots, branches and young trees of susceptible cultivars. Only fire blight-resistant cultivars are recommended for planting in Missouri, and they require a second cultivar for cross-pollination. Some Asian pears have a thin peel and are very susceptible to disease infection after hail. For optimal fruit quality, pears should be picked while firm and green and ripened indoors for several days at about 70 degrees F.

Peaches

The major factors in selecting peaches for home use are cold hardiness, disease resistance and season of ripening. After severe winters, oozing cankers may form on lower portions of the trunks and severely injure or kill trees.  Spring frosts may eliminate fruit for a growing season. Plant peach trees on high ground and in well-drained soils only.

Nectarines

Nectarine trees are almost identical to peach trees in appearance, growth habit and cold hardiness. Fruits are smooth and are smaller and more difficult to grow than peaches. They are generally more susceptible than peaches to low temperature damage and bacterial spot. Their flesh is firm, and they must be quite ripe to be freestone. Not all nectarines have been adequately evaluated under Missouri growing conditions. Performance will vary by area.

Apricots

Apricots are, unfortunately, the first fruit trees to bloom in the spring. Frequently, fruit buds or blossoms are killed by low temperatures. In central Missouri, apricot trees crop in two of seven years of production. The glossy foliage makes a nice ornamental tree, however, and a crop of fruit is considered a bonus.

Plums

In Missouri, European plum trees generally bloom later and crop more reliably than Japanese plum trees. Japanese cultivars require cross-pollination, and their flowers are more susceptible to low temperature injury than other types. Thus, Japanese plum trees perform slightly better in the warmer, southern part of the state.

European

Japanese

Sour cherries

Sour cherries are reasonably well adapted to Missouri but should be planted only on soils that drain quickly after rainfall. During humid or rainy conditions, brown rot is problematic. Sour cherries are more tolerant of low temperature injury than sweet cherries. Trees are self-pollinating.

Sweet cherries

Sweet cherries are marginal fruit trees for Missouri. They must have a well-drained soil. The best soils in Missouri are the river hill (loessal) soils. River hill soils also provide the best spring frost protection by draining cold air away from the trees. Sweet cherries usually bloom early enough to be damaged by spring frosts or freezes unless they are planted on excellent sites. Most sweet cherries need cross-pollination for fruit set (with the exception of the self-pollinating types listed below), so two or more different cultivars must be planted. Fruit tends to crack when rainfall occurs near harvest, and brown rot is often problematic.

Self-pollinating types

Cross-pollinating types

Grapes

Table grapes with seeds

Wine grapes

Seedless grapes

Strawberries

Strawberries are easily established, but fungal diseases and rainfall during harvest are problematic. Weed control is a major task when growing strawberries. Everbearing or day-neutral cultivars fail to produce a good crop in warm Missouri temperatures.

Early

Midseason

Late midseason

Blackberries

Native blackberries are prevalent throughout Missouri but generally have small, seedy fruit. Sterility is problematic and may be transmitted to non-native cultivars. Infected plants bloom profusely, but no fruit sets. Plants infected with sterility should be removed — roots and tops — and burned. Plant only disease-free plants in another location. Because semierect and trailing blackberries are more susceptible to low temperature injury than erect-growing types, they are not recommended for planting north of Interstate 44. Erect-growing cultivars do not require trellising.

Thorned

Note
Primocane (fall) fruiting cultivars such as Prime-Ark, Prime-Jim and Prime-Jan suffer from severe summer heat stress and perform poorly in Missouri.

Thornless

Raspberries

All raspberries require well-drained soil to avoid root rot, and plants often suffer from summer heat stress. Black raspberries are susceptible to anthracnose and cane blight. Purple raspberries generally have larger fruit than black cultivars. Black and purple raspberries grow more vigorously and require more pruning than red-fruited cultivars. To maximize a single harvest of large fruit, prune all canes of fall-fruiting or primocane-fruiting red raspberries just above the soil surface during the dormant season.

Blueberries

Blueberries require an acid soil (pH 4.8 to 5.2). Before planting, incorporate sulphur to lower the soil pH, if necessary, and incorporate peat moss into the planting hole. After planting, use ammonium sulfate fertilizer to maintain a low pH. Use an organic mulch over the row, and irrigate routinely during dry periods. Use netting over a structure to enclose plants and prevent fruit loss from birds.

Gooseberries

The gooseberry, though not especially popular, is worth considering because of the small amount of care and space required. Plants are adapted to a wide range of soils. Improved cultivars such as Welcome, Pixwell and Invicta produce berries twice the size of most native plants. Gooseberries are used mostly for pies.

Currants

Currants generally prefer a cooler growing region than Missouri but will produce a crop most years. Black currant cultivars, including Blackdown, Consort and Crusader, require cross-pollination. Red Lake and Cherry Red currants are self-fertile, but under hot, humid conditions, fruit will drop. Currants are used for beverages, jams and jellies.

Elderberries

Large cymes (multibranched fruit clusters) are harvested from shrubs in July and August when all berries are fully colored. Missouri cultivars include Wyldwood and Bob Gordon, but others such as Adams, York and Scotia are available. Yields are improved with cross-pollination. Bacterial leaf spot, borers, mites and sting bugs may be problematic. Elderberries are used fresh in pies and beverages, frozen or dried.

G6005, revised January 2012

G6005 Fruit Cultivars for Home Plantings | University of Missouri Extension

Order publications online at http://extension.missouri.edu/explore/shop/ or call toll-free 800-292-0969.

University of Missouri Extension - print indicia