I am planning to buy a new property, where I will be planting several fruit trees. Are there heritage varieties that do well in my area, or should I choose from what the local nursery has to offer?
The answer to both questions is yes, but the key factor is “local.” Fruit tree varieties vary tremendously in how many chill hours they require, which is the average number of hours when temperatures are below 45 degrees. If you plant a low-chill variety, it may start blooming so early in spring that the flowers and fruit are damaged from freezing. Varieties with high-chill requirements fruit poorly when grown in climates where winters are mild.
Local nurseries stay in business by selling climate- appropriate plants, and it’s worth checking around to find a nursery that is seriously interested in fruits. Some, but not all, chain stores choose varieties based only on name recognition, such as the ‘Bartlett’ pear (800 chill hours) or ‘Fuji’ apple (less than 400 chill hours). At a fruit-minded local nursery, you may find disease-resistant cultivars developed by university breeding programs in your area, as well as historical varieties that grow well locally. You also can network with the North American Fruit Explorers (www.nafex.org), which has a list of nurseries on its Web site.
New York is apple country, and it is a good idea to check with the experts at the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca (www.gardening.cornell.edu). They recommend disease- resistant varieties such as ‘Pristine,’ ‘Redfree,’ ‘Freedom,’ ‘Liberty,’ ‘Priscilla,’ ‘Jonafree’ and ‘Enterprise.’ For storage ability, Cornell experts say later varieties that ripen in mid-October to November are the best. Try traditional varieties such as ‘Northern Spy,’ ‘Winter Banana’ and ‘Roxbury Russet,’ or newer ones such as ‘Keepsake,’ ‘Idared’ and ‘Goldrush.’
— Barbara Pleasant, contributing editor