Specialty Fruit Varieties for Small Orchards

These specialty fruit varieties are ideal choices for small orchards.

Specialty Fruit Varieties for Small Orchards

We all know of McIntosh apples, Bartlett pears, and Elberta peaches. Following is a selection of new or little-publicized apple varieties for all climates, plus a selection of (normally sub-zero-winter-intolerant) pears and stone fruit for the north country.


Adina (Stark Brothers Nursery). A high-quality, low-chill apple from subtropical Australia that will produce from zone 6 to 9–Midwest south to Brownsville, Texas, or St. Petersburg, Florida. Ripens August.

Empire combines the color and tang of Macs with the sweetness of Red Delicious. Widely adapted; produces from zone 4 through 7, from Maine to the Carolinas, from Minnesota to Texas and Florida.

Enterprise is a late (October) red apple that is also good into zone 7. Best in overall quality of the new disease-resistant apples from Purdue U. Resists rust and blight.

New Zealand Apples

Gala. An elegant apple with the semi-heart shape, mealy texture, and low acid of Red Delicious, but with a dramatic yellow/red flame-striped skin, golden flesh, and a special tang.

Braebum. A heart-shaped, red/green apple with a tart/sweet flavor that is a tad milder than Granny Smith. Superproductive.

Japanese Apples

Fuji Squat. Unremarkable color with little aroma, but crisp with a perfectly balanced mix of tart and sweet and a sophistication all its own. Unlike many apples, leaves a pleasant (nonsour) aftertaste. Keeps a year in ordinary refrigeration. More character than Red Delicious, and replacing it in some markets as it is productive and bears young.

Mutsu (Crispin). A Japanese-bred variant of Golden Delicious; larger, better color, unique spicy flavor suggestive of licorice. Very hardy. September ripener.

Heirloom Apples for the North

Lodi A green pie apple that will thrive into zone 4–north to mid-Montana, the Sault St. Marie in Michigan, and southern Ontario.

Pound Sweet easily weighs 16 oz. and more if tree is kept watered. Unusual dark golden color, good sweet flavor. A great baking apple.

Seek-No-Further. Ugly, no good for cooking, and doesn’t keep. But a truly superior eating apple with a novel, stand-out flavor.

Sops of Wine harks to the Middle Ages. Red skin, white flesh with red net-veining. Good for eating, better for pies. Early to bear.

Summer Rambo. From 16th-century Europe. Big and dramatic with a striped skin. Good for eating; famous for applesauce. Ripens in August. Reputed to be Rocky’s favorite.

Tolman Sweet is a traditional transparent-yellow-skinned summer cooking apple most notable for surviving and producing a crop after any winter weather that New England can throw at it.

Wealthy came from the Twin Cities area of southern Minnesota back in the mid-1800s. Brilliant red; bears reliably and heavily throughout the North.

Winter Banana has an aroma reminiscent of its namesake and keeps all winter in common storage. Yellow with a red blush. Fine eating.

Snow Apple (or Fameuse) is big, speckled red outside, and brilliant white inside. All-purpose, early-September ripener.

Peach. Reliance was developed in New Hampshire. Survives below -30 degrees Fahrenheit and fruits reliably after winters of -20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pear. Starking Giant Asian (Stark Bros. exclusive) is a large round apple type pear that is good into zone 4.

Apricot. Moongold and Sungold survive -20 degrees Fahrenheit winters. Ripen a week apart. Not self-pollinating, so you’ll need at least one of each.

Nectarine. Mericrest from the New Hampshire Experimental Station. Dwarfs are hardy to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. A self pollinator.

Plum. Stanley is a large purple prune plum. Self pollinating. Dwarfs (on P. besseyi rootstock from Miller Nurseries) are hardy to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cherry. North Star is a semisour dwarf pie cherry originated in Minnesota. Vivid flavor. Survives to -25 degrees Fahrenheit. Self pollinating.

Exotic Fruit

Humble Exotics We don’t encourage you to plant much acreage to star fruit or loquats, but you might test a growing interest in “neglected native fruits.” It’s in part the same reaction to the homogenizing tendency of the TV age that’s generated interest in regional cuisines such as Louisiana Cajun and Georgia Sea-Island Gullah. I hear they’re even selling cookbooks for Midwestern meat loaf and Jell-O salad. But nurseries report growing demand for the following old-timers.

Persimmons–in particular the succulent fareastern cultivars–sell for a dollar and more apiece in the stores as curiosities, but they are native curiosities and delicious if ripened past the pucker stage.

Pawpaw or hoosier or Michigan banana is an ugly eggplantlike fruit that tastes like sweet banana custard if properly ripe.

Native Grapes: Fox grapes in the North and muscats (scuppernongs) in the South sell at high prices for jelly making. To avoid:

Mangoes and Papayas sell for several dollars apiece, and you see a box or two in every produce rack these days. But they are grown commercially (around Fort Meyers, Florida) on large farms. So are Kiwis and other true exotics.

Mulberry is good to distract birds from the cherry crop, but the tree grows large, with abundant fruit that is impossible to pick whole (without squashing it in the hand), that ripens over several weeks, and is seedy, bland, and almost flavorless. Mulberry juice stains–even when preprocessed by birds that will drop it all over your laundry that’s drying too near a mulberry tree.

Ginkgo. This most ancient of living tree species is gaining popularity for some reason–indeed has its own promotional organization complete with T-shirts. The exotic fan-shaped leaves are used in oriental medications (but you’ll need a lot of leaves to send to China). The fruit (on female trees only) is also used in oriental potions, but the thin layer of flesh that surrounds the inner nut makes a mess on the lawn and smells terrible. Thankfully, the tree takes 25 years to fruit, so young specimens will remain problem-free for a generation.

Osage Orange produces a nice saffron dye and excellent wood for Indian-style bows. But the grapefruit-sized “fruit” is inedible and makes a ghastly mess every fall. Back to Big Returns From Small Orchards

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