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Proven Selections for the Southwestern Fruit Gardener
Recommended by Tom Spellman
Tom’s top 21 picks were selected for their ability to produce quality fruit in Southern California’s coastal and inland valleys, as well as in Arizona and California lower deserts where wintertime chill hours are less than 500 per year. Consideration was also given to varieties that will successively ripen throughout the summer. Planting of the following selections would be expected to produce flavorful, quality stone and pome fruits from mid-May through October.
A fond favorite from the Bahamas, Dorsett is thought to be the lowest-chill apple variety in use today, needing less than 100 chill hours to set a crop. Bright yellow blushed with reddish pink, this fruit has a white flesh with a firm texture and excellent quality. It’s most popular as a fresh fruit but also works well for cooking, canning, and freezing. Dorsett can be stored for three months after harvest. It’s self-fruitful and also serves well as a pollenizer for other early-season apples, like Anna. Dorsett harvests in June and July in the Southwest and often produces a second, smaller crop in late summer.
Pink Lady - aka “Cripps Pink”
A cross between Golden Delicious and Lady Williams from Western Australia. With a chilling requirement similar to Fuji at 200 to 400 hours, Pink Lady has proven itself throughout the Southwest from the cool coastal zones to the hottest deserts. Its exterior color is a striking bright reddish-pink over green; its fine-grained white flesh is clean, crisp, flavorful, and resists browning. Pink Lady is self-fruitful and harvests from early September through the fall season, often holding on to the tree until winter. It’s also a good keeper, storing for six months or more.
Imported from Japan in the 1960s, Fuji is a cross between Ralls Janet and Delicious. Once thought to require high chill, Fuji has proven itself as a reliable producer throughout the low-chill Southwest. We now rate it at less than 500 chill hours and for practical purposes, it should be considered in the 200 to 400-hour range. Fuji’s exterior color is a lackluster yellowish-green with a blush of orange. Its interior color is a creamy orange-yellow with a wonderful crispy, crunchy sweet flavor so don’t let its dull exterior fool you. Fuji has fast become one of the most popular apple varieties in the world. Fuji is self-fruitful and is also a recommended pollenizer for other mid-season apple varieties. In the Southwest, it ripens from late August through October. Fuji is also an excellent keeper and can maintain good quality for more than six months.
An Aprium® is a plum-apricot hybrid that favors the characteristics of its apricot parentage. Both tree and fruit resemble apricot, the fruit having a distinctive flavor and texture all its own and high taste test scores; it’s one of the most flavorful early season fruits. Its chilling requirement is low, less than 300 hours. In the Southwest, Flavor Delight ripens from mid-May through June and is self-fruitful, though it produces better with cross-pollination by an apricot. With little tendency to alternate bearing, it produces reliably in most years. Developed by Zaiger Genetics of Modesto, CA.
An exciting new white apricot-plum hybrid from Zaigers. Cot-N-Candy favors its apricot parent producing an incredibly flavored, sweet, and juicy white-fleshed fruit with high taste test scores and consistent quality. It has an estimated chilling requirement of less than 400 hours. Harvest late June to mid-July. Self-fruitful and serves as a cross-pollinator for other Aprium® and apricot varieties. A Zaiger introduction is sure to become a favorite in your fruit garden.
Pollenizing companion to Minnie Royal, the Royal Lee ripens about one week later and holds well on the tree until mid-June. Royal Lee is a medium-sized red-to-dark-red sweet cherry with a very firm, crunchy texture. The flavor is rated as excellent. As with Minnie Royal, the estimated chill requirement is 200 to 300 hours, but my Royal Lee tree has proven fruitful with even less. Zaiger introduction, pollenized by Minnie Royal.
Southwestern fruit gardeners can finally celebrate the introductions of two new very-low-chill sweet cherries. Minnie Royal and its companion Royal Lee have proven themselves to be low chill adaptable. In fact, they may not require any chill at all. Minnie Royal is a medium to large size red cherry with a firm texture and superior flavor. Fruit begins to ripen in early May and holds well on the tree into June. The tree is very productive and sets heavy crops in southern California. We estimate the chill requirement at 200 to 300 hours, but some have produced with less than 100 hours. A Zaiger introduction, pollenized by Royal Lee.
Another important Zaiger introduction, Arctic Star has a low chilling requirement of less than 300 hours. It is striking in appearance, with an exceptionally dark red exterior color and a snow-white interior flesh. Arctic Star is the earliest to ripen of the new, low acid, super-sweet white nectarines. Its harvest season is June in the Southwest. Rating high in our early summer taste tests, a tree-ripened Arctic Star is a candidate for the best fruit of early summer. Self-fruitful.
A standout flowering/fruiting Zaiger introduction, Double Delight has a chilling requirement of less than 400 hours. Originally thought to be higher chill, it has proven to be a heavy producer in Southern California. Consistently one of the best flavored yellow flesh nectarines in our taste tests, it has an unusually rich flavor and aromatic fragrance. What really sets this variety apart is its eye appeal in the spring – a gorgeous display of showy double pink flowers. Double Delight is freestone and ripens through most of July. Self-fruitful.
A longtime favorite of mine and one of the first trees I planted back in the late 1970s. Snow Queen has a true, old fashioned Anderson-style nectarine flavor. Not sub-acid like many white nectarines but a true sugar-to-acid balance. A consistent taste test winner with a low chill requirement of 200 to 300 hours. Fruit ripens from late June to early July. The only drawback to Snow Queen is some susceptibility to skin cracking, also known as 'cat facing'. This phenomenon only affects a small percentage of the crop, and with such great flavor, I can live with a little cracked fruit. Snow Queen is self-fruitful and was introduced by Armstrong Nurseries of Ontario, California in 1975.
The first true Necta-Plum® released by Zaiger hybrids. In my personal opinion, Spice Zee could be the most important fruit tree introduction of the last 20 years. It has everything going for it. The tree itself is beautiful with a bold purplish-pink flower and long, glossy red leaves, turning to dark reddish-green in summer. A true edible ornamental, Spice Zee could be worked into any landscape as a contrast specimen. The tree is very productive, the fruit is a large dark maroon color with a mottled red and white flesh that melts in your mouth. The seed is freestone and the flavor is unparalleled with recognizable traits of both nectarine and plum. Spice Zee is self-fruitful with a very low chill requirement of 200 to 300 hours and is also very high-chill adaptable. A Zaiger introduction.
A Zaiger introduction requiring less than 300 chill hours. August Pride is a large size, all-purpose yellow freestone peach. Sweet, aromatic and richly flavored, considered one of the best. Good for fresh fruit, preserving, baking and dehydrating. It ripens late July through August in the Southwest. For three months of yellow freestone peaches consider planting May Pride, Eva’s Pride, Mid Pride and August Pride together in one hole. Self-fruitful.
Donut (Stark Saturn)
Also called “Saucer” or “Peento”, this unique flat-shaped peach with a sunken center is all the rage. Thought by many to be of recent origin, this variety has actually been in cultivation for more than 400 years. Donut has a low chilling requirement of less than 300 hours and seems to produce just as well in high chill conditions as it does in a low chill. Its white-fleshed, freestone fruit has a sweet, mild flavor with a hint of almond, ripening from late June through July in the Southwest. Also look for Sweet Bagel, a yellow-fleshed peento-style peach that ripens through August. Self-fruitful.
This delicious, fine-flavored large peach has a very low chilling requirement of 100 to 200 hours. Biting or slicing into one immediately reveals its special character; the yellow-fleshed freestone fruit has a unique red mottle to its interior. Eva’s Pride is a heavy producer with a harvest season beginning in late May and extending through late June in the Southwest. Fresh, tree-ripened Eva's Pride has a unique zing to its flavor that is retained when dehydrated. Also great for preserves and pies. This is one of those “if I were only going to plant one peach” varieties. Oh yes, it’s a Zaiger! Self-fruitful.
Considered the best yellow freestone peach for the warm winter climates of southern California; Phoenix, Arizona; Houston Texas, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Also adaptable to higher-chill climates. The beautiful double-pink flower is followed by a July harvest of large, yellow, flavorful freestone peaches. Great for fresh eating, canning, and pies. With Eva's Pride, Mid Pride, and August Pride you can successively harvest peaches for almost three months. Self-fruitful with a low chilling requirement of 250 hours or less. Zaiger introduction
This fruiting and flowering peach displays a beautiful double red flower. An old-time favorite in Arizona, California, and Texas, Red Baron would be a spectacular ornamental even if it didn’t produce fruit. (Fortunately for all us fruit lovers, it does!) Red Baron is low chill, rated at 200 to 300 hours, and produces a large, juicy, richly flavored yellow freestone fruit. Harvest season is from mid-July to early August. Plant it together with Saturn peach for a beautiful showing of double red and pink flowers and fruit for six weeks. Self-fruitful.
This Japanese-type plum is rated at 150 to 300 chill hours. Burgundy’s maroon-colored skin and deep red wine colored flesh have always been rated high for visual appeal and with its sweet mild flavor it scores high in our taste tests on a regular basis. If you want a sweet, tasty plum with no tartness, Burgundy is for you. It’s self-fruitful and considered one of the best pollenizers for other Japanese plum and Pluot® varieties. Burgundy’s season is from mid-July and often extends through September. It’s a proven producer throughout the Southwest and if I were only planting one plum, it would be Burgundy.
Medium-to-large size fruit with bright green skin and yellow-orange flesh. Consistently high taste test scores. Prolonged harvest from mid-July through August and sometimes into early September. Early harvest is firm and crunchy: the longer it hangs, the tastier it gets - with a melt-in-your-mouth sweet-honey flavor. An estimated chill requirement of 400 hours or less. The tree bears reliably and heavy. Pollenized by Splash, another Pluot® or Japanese plums. Zaiger introduction.
A Pluot® is a plum-apricot hybrid that favors the plum parentage. Flavor Grenade, a recent introduction from Zaiger, was originally thought to be high chill but could be one of the most widely adaptable Pluot® varieties to date, showing precocity and productiveness from the low chill Southwest to severe winter areas such as northern Idaho and Montana. Flavor Grenade’s chill requirement is not known with certainty but is probably in the 200 to 300-hour range. This elongated, red-blushed green fruit has a crisp texture and explosive flavor - a high-scoring taste test winner. Best when cross-pollinated with Burgundy plum or another Japanese plum or Pluot®. Ripens mid-August and holds on to the tree until October.
Another highly adaptable Pluot® variety with a chill requirement of 400 hours or less. Flavor King has a reddish-purple skin and crimson flesh with a unique sweet and spicy flavor and a sensational bouquet. Pollenizers can be a Japanese plum such as Burgundy, or another variety of Pluot®. Harvest is from August to September. Plant Flavor King with Flavor Grenade, Beauty Plum, and Burgundy Plum for good cross-pollination and fruit from June to October.
Small to medium-sized red-orange colored fruit with very sweet orange flesh. Consistently high taste test scores. Round to heart-shaped fruit is excellent eaten fresh, dried, or in desserts. Upright tree sets large crops once established. The estimated chill requirement of 400 hours or less. Pollenized by Emerald Drop, another Pluot® or Japanese Plums. Zaiger introduction.
A chill hour is approximated as one hour below 45° in late fall or early winter.
For Southern California, we consider “low chill” to be 500 hours or less.
Chill hours in the late fall and early winter contribute more toward satisfying a fruit tree’s chilling requirement than do hours in mid-to-late winter when the trees are beginning to push and break dormancy.
In Southern California and the lower deserts of Arizona our winters can be short, oftentimes lasting less than two months, so it's very important that we choose varieties that are "low chill".