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No-spray stone fruits

Brown rotAt least in our area, stone fruits can be very problematic because they succumb to the fungal disease brown rot.  In addition, many of them tend to lose flowers during frosts that come behind spring thaws, so you may spend several years watching a beautifully trained peach tree bloom without harvesting any fruits.  Assuming you don't have just the right microclimate to keep them happy (early morning sun to dry the dew, low humidity in the summer, and a full-sun site that's shaded during the winter), you're once again stuck choosing varieties that will handle your conditions without the necessity of chemical intervention.

Sour cherrySour cherries are perhaps the most disease-resistant of the stone fruits, especially if you select a variety like English Morello or Meteor.  I've also read about Mongolian-cross bush cherries (Valentine, Carmine Jewel, Romeo, Juliette, Rose, and Crimson Passion), which are reputed to have big fruits with lots of sugar, to be tolerant of clay soil, and to fruit by the fifth year.  Unfortunately, the sweet cherries I adore are very prone to getting frost-bitten, to losing their fruits to brown rot, and to perishing in clay.  (We ripped out our dwarf sweet cherry after the Japanese beetles ate all the leaves multiple years in a row and the few fruits rotted away.)  If you live in a damp climate like ours and have had good luck with a sweet cherry, I'd love to hear about it.

Peaches are more tolerant of wet feet than cherries, but are very prone to lose fruit to bacterial spot and brown rot.  Disease-resistant varieties include:

  • Early Redhaven
  • Ernie's choice --- reputed to taste like a nectarine
  • Garnet Beauty
  • Harbrite
  • Harcrest
  • Harrow Beauty
  • Harrow Diamond
  • Glohaven
  • Elberta
  • Madison
  • New Haven
  • Raritan Rose

Hardired nectarineNectarines are simply a hairless peach, but most are especially prone to insect and disease damage (as we found in our own garden).  However Hardired, Mericrest, Midglo, and RedGold have at least some disease resistance.

Although the beautiful golden fruits of apricots always tempt me in nursery catalogs, it sounds like I'd be better off keeping my distance if I don't want to baby trees with little reward.  Of all the stone fruits, apricots are most likely to lose their ultra-early flowers to frosts, they have no tolerance for wet feet, and they get all the usual stone fruit diseases.  Selecting late bloomers like Alfred, Goldcot, Harcot, Harglow, Hargrand, Harlayne, Harogen, Jerseycot, Precious, and Sugar Pearls will at least weigh the odds in your favor.

(By the way, in case you're wondering why so many frost- and disease-resistant stone fruits have names starting with "Har", these were developed at the Harrow Research Station in Ontario.)

Methley plumFinally, we come to the plums, which are really two species --- European plums (Prunus domestica) and Asian plums (Prunus salicina).  The latter are less hardy, with zone 6 being their most northern limit, require light soil, and need warm, dry summers.  European plums are better for most low-key gardeners since they can handle clay and bloom later, so they skip some spring frosts, but they're less likely to be disease resistant (with Seneca and Imperial Epineuse being the only resistant varieties I saw listed).  Disease-resistant Asian plums include:

  • AU Roadside
  • AU Rosa
  • Methley (which is what we have, but it's not thriving in our clay)
  • Satsuma

You can also check out the more cold hardy Asian-American crosses, as long as you're willing to work harder to get them pollinated.  Disease-resistant and hardy varieties include Alderman and Superior.

As usual, I'd love to hear about the stone fruits you've grown without chemical intervention.  Be sure to mention your growing zone and general region since many varieties do much better in certain areas than others.  I have a couple of spots that I might be able to cram another tree into, and your tips will help me decide who makes the cut.

Next week, we'll finish up The Holistic Orchard by talking about berries, but in the meantime you might enjoy previous posts about beginning a holistic orchard, techniques for designing a holistic orchard, orchard soil health, managing fungi in the orchard, and disease-resistant pears.  After that, we'll take a week off, then will start reading Joel Salatin's Folks This Ain't Normal, which won the vote by a landslide!

You don't have to wait for my paperback --- my monthly ebooks have been revised with the same information.  Plus, Weekend Homesteader: April has just come out to round out the twelve months.


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When I was a kid a neighbor had a large Damson plum which dropped enough fruit the whole neighborhood ate what was picked up. This was north of you. The Damson I planted a few years ago now fruits like crazy. Some worm problems but manageable.
Comment by Errol Wed Nov 7 12:15:35 2012

You should look into some of the native trees. The Chickasaw plums do really well for me in fl. You have to look hard, but you can find dozens of varieties. I grow a Gurthie(?), nonsuckering, round orange flesh fruit, very nice. One called Strawberry, small fruit, big seed, but red flesh and amazing flavor. And Ping, the skin stays greenish, and very tart, the flesh is light and sweet. It has two seeds in most of the fruit.

If your looking for cherries, again your going to have to look hard, try looking for the native Black cherries. They're very good in their own wild state, but I know there are people working with them to improve size and what not. Maybe find some surplus experiments.

May take some effort, but these trees are worth looking into for the adaptability and resistances they haves.

I also grow a plum called Scarlet Beauty, a sturdy low chill plum high on flavor. I have sent some to Tennessee before, and they supposedly can take the cold quite well. And Sharcarpara(?)apricots, very Sweet white flesh, and they do flower a bit later for me.

Comment by T Thu Nov 8 01:11:01 2012

We lived in zone 6A in Arkansas, in the middle of rice country. The area is very humid. We had clay but also drainage. Odd but I guess due to New Madrid there are sand pockets under some of the clay fields. The home we purchased was over 100 years old and had 4 apricot trees on the city lot. From what I learned the former owners had purchased it in the 1930s. They planted the apricot trees from seeds/seedlings their family trees. These trees/seeds had been in the family for generations - as the family moved to the "west" from the Atlantic, to Georgia and eventually Arkansas they planted these trees. A granddaughter came to our home to get seeds for her home in Oregon. She liked the idea that the family tree had finally made it from coast to coast.

Anyway - these trees were/are over 50 years old - the extension agent said he did not think any apricot lived that long! But there they were and obviously old. The oldest two died in the ice storm but the youngers (by only a few years) are still producing. They are bi-annual with a huge crop of smaller fruit followed the next year by a light crop. Perhaps if we thinned it would be more even but they were very tall trees. We never sprayed and did not seem to have any troubles with insects or brown rot. The large, more sweet fruited tree is one of the ones that died, the others still produce. I would not say they are good for eating out of hand but they do make a very nice jam or jelly. Perhaps if we had fed them compost that might make a difference in flavor? We were just extremely happy to have fruit without a lot of effort.

We have since moved but still own the house. If it is a fruiting year would you be interested in seeds?

Comment by Stephanie in AR Thu Nov 8 21:50:29 2012

Stephanie --- What a fascinating story! I'm sorely tempted by your kind offer, but am really only a fresh-fruit eater --- no jams or jellies here. So I guess I'll have to pass.

(I'm appreciating the other variety advice too!)

Comment by anna Fri Nov 9 07:39:16 2012