Choosing the right fruit trees for your climate is an important step in deciding what to grow in your garden. Before you head to the nursery, do a little research to determine which fruit you enjoy that will thrive in your growing zone. You want to make sure you select something you will eat and enjoy!
Grow Your Own Mini Fruit Garden by Christy Wilhelmi of Gardenerd is a really helpful resource for growing fruit trees and shrubs both in containers and in small spaces. This particular excerpt, reprinted with permission from Cool Springs Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group, will help you assess your growing area and set you up for successful future harvests.
How to determine the right fruit trees for your climate
Whether you are a novice or an experienced gardener, the first rule applies to everyone: Choose cultivars best suited to where you live. After all, the goal is an abundant fruit garden, right? Planting a fruit tree that is appropriate for your growing region, microclimate, and chill hours is the key to success. What a shame it would be to plant a tree, and then wait five, ten, even fifteen years and never see a single fruit. It has been known to happen but is far less likely to occur if you choose the right varieties for your climate. Let’s dive into the checklist of fruit tree qualifications.
Hardiness zones run close to the latitude lines of our planet, grouping areas with similar temperature averages and frost dates into specific zones. These zones reveal the average extreme minimum temperature both in degrees Fahrenheit and degrees Centigrade. In other words, they tell you how cold it gets in each zone.
Hardiness zones start with zone 1 at the poles, with an average minimum temperature of below -50°F [-45.5°C] and increases in warmth toward the equator to zone 13, with lows around 59°F [15°C]. Seed catalogs and nurseries use hardiness zones to alert gardeners to the specific fruit trees and shrubs that will grow best in their zone. Some companies won’t sell live plants to regions outside of recommended hardiness zones, or they will waive replacement guarantees before shipping. Berries and fruit trees that are “not frost tolerant” are best suited to warm-winter climates.
For example, an avocado tree is generally listed as being safe to grow in zones where the average minimum temperatures don’t fall below 10°F [-12°C]. If you live where winter temperatures drop to -10°F [-23°C], you might want to skip planting an avocado tree. Or if you’re adventurous, grow it in a well-insulated greenhouse sited where it gets plenty of full sun, surrounded by drums of water (which will keep greenhouses warmer in winter) and see what happens.
Every continent across the globe has its own system of hardiness zones. Ask your local nursery to help you determine your zone in your respective country.
Fruits for chilly places
If you live in a northern (or southern in the southern hemisphere) or mountainous region, consider growing apples, cane berries, cherries, currants, pears, and stone fruits. They have high chill hour requirements that won’t be a concern where you live.
Image: Pears are ideal fruit trees for cold-winter climates.
Fruits for warm spots
If you live in a warm-winter climate where temperatures don’t drop below 20°F [-6.6°C], you can grow all citrus fruits and subtropical fruits including avocados, figs, guavas, mulberries, olives, and pomegranates. Look for low-chill varieties of stone fruits, apples, and blueberries.
Within those hardiness zones there are pockets of microclimates—climates that differ from the registered norms of the area. A house tucked into a forested canyon may be in one designated hardiness zone, but it might get much colder and windier there than its neighbors 100 yards [91 meters] away on the ridge in full sun. Your own backyard has microclimates too! That corner by the back wall that bakes in the hot summer is a different microclimate than the nook under the oak tree. Use these microclimates to your advantage. Fruit trees and berries that require more chill hours (see “Chill hours” below) may thrive in that nook if it gets enough sun throughout the day. Take time to explore your growing space to find the different microclimates. This will help you strategize the best locations for growing fruits.
One of the most important factors to consider when selecting a fruit tree is the tree’s chilling requirements. What are chill hours and how do we get them? The term “chill hours” is defined as the annual number of hours when temperatures are below 45°F [7.2°C] during a tree’s dormancy period. If you want to get more technical, some specialists say chill hours are measured in hours between 32°F [0°C] to 45°F [7.2°C]. It is also said that temperatures over 60°F [15.5°C] during dormancy are subtracted from total annual winter chill hours. But let’s keep it simple. Deciduous trees will not produce fruit (or will produce very few) if they don’t first go through a dormancy period where their requirement for chill hours is met.
For example, let’s say you want to grow pears. Chilling requirements for pear varieties range from 200–1,000 chill hours. That means different cultivars need between 200–1,000 hours of temperatures below 45°F [7.2°C] in one winter season in order to produce flowers and fruit the following spring. Asian pears and some newer cultivars sit on the low end, requiring only 200–400 chill hours, but most pears need 600 chill hours or more. Hence, the best location for growing pears is a cold or mountainous region that receives at least 600 chill hours for success.
Gardeners in warm-winter regions should seek out low-chill varieties that will produce fruit in conditions with minimal chill hours. Coastal climates tend to have moderate temperatures with fewer extremes, and therefore fewer chill hours. The ocean buffers nearby landmasses from plummeting temperatures in winter. Gardeners in cold-winter climates need not worry about chill hours (you’ll get plenty of them) but should instead focus on durability and frost tolerance when selecting fruit trees.
Common fruits and the range of chill hours they require
Now for the fun part, which is deciding what fruits will grow best in your climate. First, find out how many chill hours your growing region receives in a year. You can do that by searching the internet for “chill hours calculator (your city, region, state, or province).” Many university agriculture departments around the world have calculators that allow you to type in your city name or postal code, and the calculator provides you with averages. Be aware, as climate change affects our areas, hardiness zones are shifting.
Places that used to receive 300–500 chill hours may now get only 150–250. Times are changing, and we must adapt our mini fruit gardens to accommodate these shifts.
*Note: LC = Low Chill cultivars. Each fruit is listed with its typical chill hour range.
- Apple: 500–1,000 (LC 300–500)
- Avocado: No chill requirement, not frost tolerant
- Blueberry: 500–1,000 (LC 150–400)
- Cane berry (blackberry, raspberry, and so forth): 500–1,200 (LC 0–300)
- Cherry: 500–700 (LC 250–400)
- Citrus: No chill requirement, not frost tolerant
- Currant and gooseberry: 800–1,200 (LC 200–300)
- Fig: 100–300 (Not frost tolerant)
- Guava: 100 (Not frost tolerant)
- Mulberry: 200–450 (Some hardy to -30°F [-34.4°C])
- Olive: 150–300 (Frost resistant above 20°F [-6.6°C])
- Peach/nectarine/plum/apricot: 800–1,000 (LC 250–500)
- Pear: 600–1,000 (LC 200–400)
- Pomegranate: 100–200 (Not frost tolerant)
- Quince: 100–500 (Some hardy to -20°F [-29°C])
- Strawberry: 200–400 (Chilled after harvest)
Growing the right fruit trees for your climate and small spaces
For more information on finding the right fruit trees for your climate, as well as lots of other helpful information on growing fruit trees, check out Christy Wilhelmi’s book, Grow Your Own Mini Fruit Garden. You will find useful tips on topics from grafting and pruning, to managing pests and diseases.
Main image by Emily Murphy. Copyright 2021. Reprinted with permission from Cool Springs Press an imprint of The Quarto Group.
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