The list below highlights some lesser-known but widely adaptable fruit varieties - some old, some new. All are wonderfully flavored fruits that - unless otherwise noted – are suggested for planting in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-9 either because they are known performers or they have physiological traits common to varieties successfully grown in these zones.
These selections should be of particular interest to backyard fruit pioneers who love to experiment and explore the limits. Please remember to share your results and help expand the selection of great tasting, great performing fruit varieties for backyard gardeners.
Top taste-test winner and a real performer in zone 3 to 8. What a flavor!!! Does not do well, however, in areas that have hot summers with low humidity.
Top taste-test winner and a copious producer. At its best fresh off the tree. Of course, the best often comes with a catch. If fire blight is a concern in your area, this variety may be a disappointment. Say "fire blight" and this variety gets it. If fire blight is not a concern, all you need is late season heat and this variety will give you absolutely wonderful apples.
A veritable jewel, and a great mid-season treat. Adaptable to zones 5 -9 and many climate conditions. In this time slot, nothing else compares. A small apple with big flavor, it is as consistent a producer as any variety under the most unfavorable conditions.
One of the uglies that most would not choose because of its looks. Eat it fresh off the tree, juice it, bake it – and one quickly realizes that this brown-skinned (russet) fruit is a swan under the skin. Ashmead's Kernel and a close second - the Hudson's Golden Gem - are two of the finest-flavored apple varieties.
Apricots can be marginal producers even in the best of climates. With this in mind, here are a few stand-out performers that are both dependable and great-tasting.
A proven variety for dependability. Praised throughout the U.S. as a great variety with great apricot flavor.
Good reports on this one for adaptability and for flavor there is no question – it’s a great variety. Can take a little longer to come into bearing: 2 to 4 years. Definitely not a low-chill variety, Harcot has a rigid 800-hour chill requirement. With beautiful red foliage in the spring, Harcot is an edible ornamental candidate.
Good reports from throughout the nation: Tomcot is a real performer - an early season variety that has no comparison. In many climates Tomcot’s the best because it always sets fruit.
Ripening as late as apricots ripen (August in central California), Autumn Glo is not for every location. Autumn Glo and its sister variety Earli-Autumn are both exceptionally flavorful apricots with the best qualities of the finest cots. The only catch is that the late ripening makes them only suited to areas that have long, warm, late summers.
Sweet cherry recommendations are challenging because all cherry varieties are so good, but here are some standouts...
Also known as “Self-fertile Bing”, this is a variety that works in so many ways. If there is only room for one tree, then this will fit well; a great-eating cherry and no pollenizer needed. Have a variety that you love but lost the pollenizer? Plant a Lapins nearby. Odds are the Lapins will do the job. It’s a great pollenizer for Bing as well.
This is a cherry to get excited about. Yellow with red-blushed Rainier-type fruit that has the most intense cherry flavor, and very sweet! The set on this variety is heavy, with large cherries hanging almost like grape clusters. This has been a taste test favorite since the Zaigers introduced it. Royal Rainier requires a pollenizer; try one of the two other varieties recommended here.
A top taste-test winner since Dave Wilson Nursery began doing blind tastings, always in the top 3 or 4. Utah Giant is a large, black cherry that is meaty and richly flavored. It produces no doubles and requires a pollenizer; try either of the other two varieties or Bing, Rainier or Van.
Figs are somewhat limited as to where they can be grown successfully, but the versatility of some figs is irresistible.
Violette de Bordeaux
This is a dwarf tree with dark purple fruit that has wonderful strawberry-like flesh. The fruit size is small to medium, but the awesome flavor is huge!
One of the best cold hardy figs. With protection, this variety will set in zone 6. Of course, some people can get certain figs to set in zone 5, but Excel there takes a little extra work. Yellow fruit with amber flesh resistant to splitting, this is an especially tasty variety. Reported to do well in a container.
Nectarines are not as widely adapted as peaches. Still, there are a number of varieties that seem to perform well in the more difficult climates. If you are in an area marginal for nectarines, try these varieties.
One of the highest-scoring nectarines in the history of the Dave Wilson Nursery taste tests. A great “eater” with a very rich, classic nectarine flavor. A Canadian nectarine with some cold adaptation, it’s a good producer in Idaho and Utah. There are some good reports from the East Coast as well. Of course, it needs all the care that any peach needs, so be prepared to spray. This nectarine is worth the effort.
A taste test winner. For many years, Juneglo has been one of the better backyard nectarines for zone 6 -7 and some zone 5 - if you're lucky. Early ripening, but late blooming – the key to its success. Don’t worry about this one lacking flavor - it's a tasty nectarine!
A white-fleshed nectarine of exceptional merit. Not the most adaptable, but where nectarines do well, Arctic Blaze is close to the finest piece of fruit one can grow. Very low in acid, but just enough to make the flavor perfect. Sooooo sweet...it could not be improved. Recommend for some marginal areas (zone 7 for instance). The fruit is large, juicy and eats well all the way from firm to soft-ripe. Long harvest season – up to three weeks.
Peaches are perfect candidates for 3 or 4 in one hole because there are so many great choices and combinations.
This is one of the highest-rated fruits ever at Dave Wilson Nursery tastings. It’s exterior isn’t pretty, and it needs a pollenizer - unusual for a peach - but all that is small potatoes compared to what you get from this incredibly fine-tasting fruit. Inside, Indian free is a strikingly beautiful combination of crimson streaks and white flesh. Bonus: Indian Free is highly resistant to peach leaf curl. It needs good heat in the late season so it is not a variety for the coast or areas that cool suddenly in the late summer.
Year after year at Dave Wilson Nursery this is a variety that we all look forward to. June Pride is an early season fruit with rich flavor and the longest hang-time of almost any peach: up to 4 weeks, continuing to get better and better the whole time. Does fine in zones 6-9 and is a good candidate for testing in zone 5.
O’Henry saw its beginnings in the commercial markets. But the Home Garden guys at Dave Wilson Nursery just left it on the tree a little longer back in the early 80’s. What they discovered was a large, superb-flavored, firm-fleshed fruit. This is absolutely one of the best late-season peaches. A very dependable bearer that sets a full crop almost every year. O’Henry can be planted everywhere that peaches do well in zones 5-9.
Looking for large size? That would be Snow Beauty: red skin, white flesh, big size and big flavor. It's also a big taste-test winner – one of the highest-scoring fruits ever at Dave Wilson Nursery's blind tastings. Ripening in mid season, Snow Beauty competes with some of the heavy hitters of fruit, but stands out for its unique sweet flavor. It has performed well in zone 5-6 trials.
Epitaph for a Peach by David Mas Masumoto reintroduced us all to this jewel of a peach. Read the book while you eat the peach! Savor the experience - this fruit is as elegant as Masumoto says it is. A late bloom and good frost hardiness has given this fruit great reports even from zone 5a. Suncrest is worth planting wherever peaches are grown in zones 5-9.
The best-tasting of the white peaches for colder climates. A No.1 taste test winner in 1998, it has been popular with roadside-stand growers for years. This is a great low-acid high-sugar white peach that will perform well in zone 5b.
Pears are more difficult to recommend. Considering that the most important qualities for the average home gardener are disease resistance and, of course, great flavor, here are two good choices.
A Dave Wilson in-house favorite since we first sampled it. Harrow Delight produces a Bartlett-like fruit without the Bartlett susceptibility to fireblight. Smooth flesh - and perhaps better flavor than Bartlett. A heavy producer at a young age. Needs a pollenizer like Bartlett, Bosc, D’Anjou or Moonglo.
This may be the most under-appreciated pear. Warren has great flavor, smooth flesh, and is very fire blight resistant. With a juicy, buttery flavor, this variety probably just lacks good word-of-mouth (or hand-to-mouth) advertising.
Also a tough category. All those tasty Asian pears are susceptible to fireblight. However! In most tastings that include Asian Pears, one variety of Asian Pear is usually placed in the top 10 of all fruits tested – if you want to try one, try the best.
Fine flavor and wonderful aftertaste. High-scoring in taste tests: perhaps the tastiest Asian pear. Large, juicy, sweet, flavorful, refreshing, crisp like an apple. Brownish-orange russeted skin. Ripens early to mid-August in central CA. Pollenized by Shinko, Chojuro, Bartlett, or 20th Century.
Plums are for home growing. There has not been a decent, tree-ripe plum in the produce markets for years. Black and Red is how they are described there. But plums are not about color; they have everything to do with the time of year, great flavor and the names that identify them.
The king of all plum varieties is Green!! Yellowish-green!! Taste scores near the top of all plums tested and it’s super sweet! On 10/23/06 Emerald Beaut gave a Brix sugar reading of 29 (in comparison, Thompson Seedless grapes are picked at 22-24 Brix), and better yet Emerald Beaut has a surprisingly long harvest period. Most plums begin tasting their best at 18 Brix; this crop of Emerald Beaut had been at 18 or higher for over two months - since 8/20/06. A further quality, which is unmatched, is that throughout its unusually long harvest period Emerald Beaut remains firm and crunchy. A pollenizer is required: Beauty, Burgundy, Late Santa Rosa or any other late blooming plum should work.
If you are inclined to complex fruit flavors that challenge your palate, Laroda is a top choice. The beautiful fruit has dark purple skin with red radiating into the amber flesh. Suggested for zones 6-9 (not known to have been tested in zone 5). Requires a pollenizer: Santa Rosa, Burgundy or Nubiana.
There is no plum that comes close to Superior for unique flavor. A very cold hardy variety, maybe the hardiest of all the Japanese plum varieties - perhaps because it is not entirely a Japanese plum. Its great adaptability is likely due to the fact that it is a hybrid of Japanese and American plum. Zone 5a is home for this incredible tasting variety, but it will do fine anywhere plums grow well, except in low-chill climates.
Green Gage (Bavay's)
Another green fruit that is near the top of its category. Bavay's Green Gage is not large, not pretty, not popular, but sooo good – a sweet, rich flavor. Fresh off the tree, cooked or dried, it is the European plum to which all others should be compared. This is a variety for the cold country folks - and the colder the climate, the better this variety does. A great zone 5a choice - and it could go to 4b.
Wow!! is the only way to describe the Pluot® - each with its own distinct flavor, as sweet and tasty as the best apricots and plums ever known. These outstanding fruits have their growing challenges, though. Only a few of the varieties offered so far have proven successful outside of the best apricot-growing areas. Fortunately, these are the ones that have the most outstanding flavors.
A unique fruit with many qualities and adaptations as well as a top taste winner on numerous occasions. Distinct plum-apricot flavor plus the advantage of being a good pollenizer for most of the other Pluot® varieties; for this alone, it's a very important variety. Dapple Dandy is also proven to set in zone 5-9. However! Be careful: if it gets a crop setback one year, it will probably overset the following season, perhaps leading to alternate-year cropping. The solution is to aggressively thin Dapple Dandy every year.
And it is the King!! Blindfold a person, put them in a room, cut open a Flavor King Pluot® and the taster would have no problem identifying it. The whole room fills with a unique, sweet, flowery bouquet. One bite and it turns to a flavor-spray with plum, mango, port wine and apricot overtones. This variety has proven successful in zone 5-9. But beware! Rain during bloom with this and other Pluot® varieties can lead to cracked fruit and spoilage.
Explosive flavor and one of the longest hang times of any fruit (if you can resist picking it!) - in some years, Flavor Grenade is harvested from backyards til after Halloween. Even then the fruit has a distinctive crunch and the flavor is sweet as honey. Good reports are beginning to come in from zone 5 areas that have good late-summer heat. Those who can grow Flavor Grenade Pluot® successfully will look forward to a special late-season treat – and a great excuse for a party.