Best fruit trees to plant in southern Michigan?

Asked September 27, 2017, 6:52 PM EDT

My students and I are looking to plant 8 fruit trees at our school in Chelsea, MI this year. Which type of fruit trees would you recommend? And, where is the best place to purchase them? Thanks for any suggestions!

Washtenaw County Michigan

1 Response

Grampas Orchard is a pretty good Michigan based online store for fruit trees. Order in the fall for spring delivery and planting.

Regarding what to plant--this is a tough question as there are different ways to go--exotic, old favorites, very hardy. There is also the consideration that many varieties are self-infertile and require a pollination partner.

Here are some suggestions:

Saturn doughnut peach --white peach, early, very sweet, productive

Crimsoncrisp apple -- needs a pollinator, perhaps Golden Delicious

Messina peach, or Redhaven peach -- both of these are self-fertile

Skeena sweet cherry, add Kristin sweet cherry if you want 2 varieties. Skeena is self fertile, Kristin needs a partner.

Plums - Stanley and Italian are partially self-fertile European plum varieties.

Here's a larger list of fruit varieties commonly grown in Michigan, see the comments.

Estimated harvest times for peaches is commonly expressed as days before (-RH) or after (+RH) Redhaven, a midseason peach that harvests approximately the last week in July to the first week in August in southern Michigan. Peaches are particularly sensitive to mid-winter low temperature damage. More winter hardy varieties of somewhat so-so quality are Reliance (-0 RH), Madison (+28 RH) and Harcrest (+28 RH) but even these do not fare well when temperatures reach -13F or below. Redhaven is relatively tough as well, has good reputation for flavor but tends to have split pits. Other varieties with reputation for good flavor but less hardiness are Desiree (-26 RH), Summer Serenade (-10 RH) , Starfire (+3 RH), PF Lucky 13 (+6 RH), Bellaire (+3 RH), John Boy (+3 RH), Loring (+12 RH), Coralstar (+12 RH), Messina (+17 RH), Sweetstar (+20 RH) and PF24C (+24 RH). These are all yellow melting flesh peaches. Varieties ripening before Redhaven tend to be clingstone, after tend to be freestone. Varieties commonly found in Michigan area garden supply stores include Redhaven, Elberta, and Redskin. Elberta (+30 RH) is moderately hardy, somewhat fuzzy, so-so red skin coloration, medium sized, with good firmness and medium eating quality. Redskin (+28) has decent hardiness, medium size, good quality, and moderately attractive medium colored fruit, sometimes irregularly-shaped fruit.

A unique peach to consider is Saturn, a white flesh peento = flat doughnut peach variety. This variety is small, requires extra labor to thin and pick, has a tendency to split skin at the stem and is prone to brown rot, but has excellent flavor most years and has been commanding excellent prices. New peento peach varieties coming from New Jersey (NJF15, NJF16, NJF17, NJF18), and North Carolina (Galactica) have not shown sufficient winter hardiness.

Another peach niche are high quality non-melting yellow flesh varieties from the Vineland Ontario breeding program. These new varieties include Vulcan, Vinegold, Virgil, and Venture. Non-melting yellow flesh types are traditionally used as processing varieties—however, these types of varieties are also prized for their excellent fresh-eating qualities. Unlike the older processing types such as Babygold 5,7 and 8, the Vineland series have excellent bacterial spot resistance. All non-melting peaches are clingstone, which is not usually a problem to consumers.

The choices for nectarines are more limited because of the tendency of nectarines to have disease (brown rot and bacterial spot), surface blemish and small fruit size problems. Some of the more popular yellow and or promising yellow melting flesh types are June Glo (-7 RH), PF11-Nectarine (+0 RH), Flavortop (+12 RH), and Fantasia (+31 RH).

For the Michigan climate the recommended rootstock for peaches and nectarines are Bailey, Lovell, Tennessee Natural, Rutgers Redleaf, and slightly less desirable Halford. Guardian and Siberian C have shown some problems in the Midwest climate and the rootstocks Citation and Nemaguard are definitely poorly suited for the Michigan climate. Trees on Halford tend to be smaller than those on Bailey, Lowell, or Tennessee Natural.

Japanese type plums such as Early Golden, Methley, Shiro, Elephant Heart, Simka,

and Red Heart bloom relatively early in Michigan and are subject to spring frost problems. Bacterial spot is a common disease problem of Japanese and European plums in sandy sites exposed to wind storms.

European plums are more suited to the Michigan climate. Damson types, the #2 plum in Michigan, are small, have a tart flavor and are used mainly for processing. Stanley, the #1 plum, is medium quality but relatively hardy. Best opportunities for higher quality European plums in Michigan are the NY9, Castleton, Vanette, Victory, Vision, and Empress. Unlike Stanley, which was sour around the pit, these plums are sweet throughout. Stanleys have nice flavor but ripen quickly from sour, to just right, to soft.

Rootstock for Japanese plums are Myrobolan and Marianna 2624, and for European plum use Myrobolan.

Pluots (Plumcots)
These are crosses between plum and apricot, are becoming available from nurseries. Some of these are very sweet, but generally are prone to winter damage to wood and fruit bud and for this reason are generally not grown commercially to any large extent.

Tart Cherries
The standard pie cherry is Montmorency. Unusual tart cherry types to investigate include Balaton®, Jubelium®, and Danube™. These are morello types with red flesh and juice compared to Montmorency with yellow flesh and clear juice. Danube and Jubelium ripens before Montmorency and Balaton slightly after. They may be more prone to light cropping problems due to low winter temperatures and/or earlier bloom than Montmorency. Northstar and Surefire are two tart cherry selections with Montmorency characteristics, more reliable cropping than Montmorency, but have smaller fruit size.

Sweet cherries
Probably the biggest recent development in the sweet cherry arena has been the introduction of the Gisela® dwarfing rootstock. These rootstocks allow growers to reduce tree size and greatly increase the early bearing of sweet cherry varieties. G5 is the most dwarfing, G6 is intermediate, and G12 is the least dwarfing, resulting in a tree slightly smaller than on standard rootstocks such as mazzard or mahaleb. G5 is too dwarfing on sandy soils. Mahaleb rootstock is preferred over mazzard unless the site tends to have wetter soil, a situation for which mazzard is better suited.

Some of the better older sweet cherry varieties still worthy of planting are Cavalier, Viva, Viscount, Schmidt, and Ulster. Cavalier is somewhat shy bearing. Newer ones that had performed relatively well are Attika, Summit, Kristin, and Regina. Much newer ones with promise include Burgundy Pearl and Black Pearl, both from New York. A few varieties such as Stella and Sweetheart are self-fertile, but most varieties are self-infertile, and so need a companion variety to provide pollen.

The greatest challenge to the European pear industry has been the extreme susceptibility of Bartlett, Bosc, and D’Anjou to the bacterial disease fire blight. The new Canadian variety Harrow Sweet ripens two weeks after Bartlett and has extremely good fire blight resistance, excellent fruit quality, and very good storage life for a relatively early pear. Fruit size of Harrow Sweet is the same or slightly smaller than Bartlett and may have a slightly rougher finish. Early thinning of Harrow Sweet is important to obtain good fruit size. Other flavorful varieties to consider are Flemish Beauty, Seckel, Moonglo, and Kieffer.

Asian pears
These are sometimes called "apple pears" because several of these varieties have round

shapes and crisp, crunchy flesh. Fruits must be handled carefully to avoid bruising the delicate flesh. Of the many Asian pear varieties, only a few (including New Century, Twentieth Century, and Chojuro) so far have proven to perform well under Michigan conditions although many varieties remain to be tested. The mild, unique flavor of Asian pears is quite variable from year to year. Like apples, they must be harvested when they are ready to eat and overripe fruit is sometimes unpleasant--experience with each variety is needed to determine the best timing. Both European and especially Asian pear varieties make excellent dried fruit slices.

Although relatively winter hardy, this fruit type tends to have problems in the Michigan climate due to early bloom. Some of the better ones for the Michigan climate are: Curtis, Goldcot, Harcot, Hargrand, Harlayne, Haroblush, Harogem, and Veecot. The best rootstock is Manchurian. Apricots grow relatively rapidly on the various common peach rootstocks but do not generally live as long as those on Manchurian.

There are many hundreds of apple varieties available to backyard gardeners that do well under Michigan conditions. We offer here some suggestions, realizing full well that we are excluding many that may be personal favorites of some of you reading this list

Numbers in parentheses following the variety name is the harvest days before (-) or after (+) compared to Red Delicious, which typically ripens approximately September 20 in southwest Michigan.

We start by listing some of the better apple scab resistant varieties. Less fungicides sprays are needed for these types, but sprays may be needed for other diseases and for insects.

Scab resistant varieties of decent to good quality

Pristine (-67) early yellow, smooth skin, will get fire blight
Williams Pride (-50) early Red Delicious type, productive
Crimson Crisp (–10) Red, medium sized, smooth finish, nice sweet / acid balance, nice eating quality, will get fire blight
Pixie Crunch (+5) Medium sized red apple on light green ground color, juicy, with crunch, mild flavor
Enterprise (+15) large bicolored cooking apple, okay eating fresh eating quality
Goldrush (+45_ very late, very firm yellow / green apple with russet tendency, medium size, with excellent storage characteristics, excellent slice and sauce apple