One of my biggest joys is growing fruit trees. Their roots nurture my roots; their growth heartens my growth; and their bounty is shared bounty. They are part of me and part of the farm, and someday part of someone else’s joy.
I’d like to share my thoughts on the best fruit trees to grow in the Puget Sound region. If you’re thinking of planting and growing a fruit tree, do a little research regarding what you want to grow, and its nature and adaptability in your own backyard. A healthy, productive orchard starts with selecting the best trees for your land and climate. My message? Choose wisely, grasshopper.
For example, I have several figs trees that have let me know they’re not happy here, begrudgingly divvying up one fig per branch. Their message, “We prefer the heat units of California!” In addition, some apple trees renown for vigor and fruit production in other areas sprout contempt, not fruit, in the maritime Northwest, and again prefer a warmer, drier place to set up roots. And then there are apricot trees with a death wish built in when planted west of the Cascades. And don’t get me started on peach trees (oops, too late). I now grow all of my peach trees in the protected and drier conditions of my high tunnel hoop house for more fruitful conditions, with the exception of the Nanaimo peach, a worthy peach-leaf-curl-resistant orchard tree that can take our rainy Northwest fall and winters and still set fruit in the spring.
Before I wax on about my favorite fruit trees, let me say this is by no means a comprehensive list. Think of these exalted trees like you would an Olympic medalist. At one specific time, season or year, these results were the best for my efforts in the Puget Sound area. Next year, the winners’ names may all be different. And because I’m always trying new varieties, it’s likely you’ll see some changeups and new stars in the years to come. So for now, for 2019, these are worthy orchard contenders sporting vigor, fruitfulness, good health and habit.
Orchard Location Vashon Island, Washington :: Weather Profile
Very Good Apples
On my little island in Puget Sound, these are my favorite apple trees for 2019. And to be fair, I also love Spitzenburg, York, Karmijn de Sonnaville, and Jonagold apples, but I had serious snow and vole damage so no fruit this year. Also, I’ve recently planted some new varieties showing a lot of promise: Cosmic Crisp, Palouse, Golden Russet, Ambrosia, and Arkansas Black.
Belle de Boskoop
Belle de Boskoop apple: I would have planted this tree merely for its name (pronounced Bell-da-boss-k0e), but lucky for me it’s an all-around great apple with lots of personality. Wonderfully tart, the flavor is unique as if you spritzed lemon juice on it. Belle de Boskoop bakes and cooks well, and is perfect for chunky applesauce, sturdy pies, bubbling crisps, and juicy cobblers. At first, the tree produced fruit biennially, that is bumper crops one year and little to no fruit the following year; but I found if I thinned fruit in spring, I’d have a good crop of apples every year. I’ve nicknamed this apple, “Old Reliable.” My tree is a spreader, growing wider than taller.
Beni Shogun Fuji
Beni Shogun Fuji apple, one of my favorite eating apples, is sweet as can be. Because Fuji needs a long growing season, and I live west of the Cascades where long hot summers rarely prevail, I was in search of a more adaptable sport of Fuji that was better suited for cooler climates. I found Beni Shogun Fuji, and I’m happy to report old Beni is a champ, weathering our cool growing season admirably and ripening about a month earlier than the standard fuji apple. The apples are glowing red and firm as an unripe pear. A few weeks in the fridge and they mellow into juicy little sugar bombs.
Bramley’s Seedling apple is hands down one of my favorite baking apples. Such a very heavy producer, Bramley’s Seedling usually requires support stakes to keep the overloaded limbs from breaking. Apples are big, firm, crisp and flavorful–spirited for sure, and perfect for cooking or eating fresh though on the uber-tart side when first picked. My tree has proven to be a biennial producer, but again, if I thin the apples the tree becomes more of an annual producer. Bramley’s Seedling is said to be Great Britain’s favorite cooking apple.
Goldrush, the best storage apple in my orchard, remains firm and sweet up until spring, and that’s on my unheated enclosed back porch. According to researchers, “The fruit is characterized by a complex, rich spicy flavor with a high degree of acidity and sweetness. Acidity moderates in cold storage, resulting in exceptional overall quality after two to three months. The apple retains its complex sprightly flavor and crisp, firm texture for at least 7 months at 1 C. The cultivar has been rated consistently as the highest quality apple after storage of all selections or cultivars tested at Purdue University.” Coddling moth and apple maggot tend to ignore it, preferring red-toned apples.
Hudson’s Golden Gem
Hudson’s Golden Gem originally hails from Oregon, a chance discovery in 1931. Purported to be the largest russeted apple, the fruit is everything an apple should be: crunchy, juicy, sweet, and satisfying. The disease-resistant tree is vigorous, and insects seem to stay away from this curry-colored beauty. Because the fruit is so large, I definitely thin the apples on this tree to keep branches from breaking. Hudson’s Gem is one of my favorite eating-fresh apples, reminding me of a crunchy form of Juicy Fruit gum.
Melrose apple: I planted Melrose apple tree six years ago, and it’s already one of my favorite apples. Dripping with juice and bright flavor, the crisp apples grow large and are perfect for fresh eating and baking. Introduced in 1944 from Ohio State University (and now Ohio’s official state apple), Melrose won kudos for exceptional flavor, but never took off commercially as consumers preferred prettier apples. Big mistake. I don’t spray any pesticides on any of my apple trees, and surprisingly Melrose suffers minimal damage by coddling moths and apple maggots. This is a really great apple (a cross between the Red Delicious and Jonathan), which deserves to be more widely available. Plant one, you won’t regret it.
Pears need a publicist, as they are always seem to play second fiddle to the apple. I’m here to spread the word; pears are complex cousins of the apple, saturated in sweet, nuanced juices, and fraught with all-purpose adaptability. Because orchardists and snackers should not live by Bartlett alone, I’ve listed some exceptional pears to capture your hearts and tastebuds, whether eating fresh, sweetening your salad, enhancing your cheese board or crowning your tart.
This dreamy little guy hails from Macedonia and ripens to pear perfection in July, which is quite early for a pear. A creamy texture, juicy body and pronounced sweetness make this pear a must-have for any orchard, though it’s tough to find a nursery source. I found mine at Raintree Nursery, but not sure they still stock it.
Aurora: I love this pear, truly a standout. Cummins Nursery writes, “Exceptionally high quality–maybe the world’s best. This is a dessert pear that has large, regular fruit. Skin is bright yellow, lightly overlaid with a beautiful russet, frequently blushed. Keeps well in storage until December. Flesh is smooth, melting, and juicy, with a sweet aromatic flavor. The tree is vigorous and spreading. The only problem with Aurora is its susceptibility to fireblight.”
Bosc is an old reliable winter pear standard, never failing to produce crisp, sugar-laden dynamos for fresh eating or baking, and it’s rarely bothered by pests or diseases (at least in my orchard). Bosc pears also perform admirably in my favorite winter salad of wild greens, pears, blue cheese and candied walnuts. They’re picked firm in October and left to ripen slowly in the fridge, cold storage or chilly back porch.
Orcas pears appear at harvest time like beefed-up bodybuilders ready to take the podium. Here’s what Green World nursery has to say about them, “Discovered on Orcas Island, Washington, this excellent, disease-resistant variety, Orcas Pear, produces good crops of very large and attractive, carmine blushed, yellow pears with smooth, sweet, buttery flesh. Excellent for fresh eating, canning and drying, Orcas Pear is very reliable and productive and ripens in early to mid-September. These beautiful and tasty Pears can weigh of 1 lb. each.” Not great keepers (like most summer pears) Orcas pears ripen quickly on and off the tree.
Ubileen pears are bright stars in the great pear constellation. Ripening in July (again, super early for a pear), Ubileen garners even more accolades for its flavor, texture, and disease resistance–a newfound favorite.
Pluots and Plums for the Epicure
Castleton plums pop onto the scene with gusto, brandishing fine flavor and multiple uses from fresh eating to baking to drying to exceptional jam-making. As a heavy producer, Castleton plum trees need branch support to avoid breakage. Most Italian prune plums ripen in late summer, but Castleton ripens almost a month earlier than most.
Flavor Grenade Pluot
Funny name for sure, but the laughs stop there. Flavor Grenade, a firm, flavorful mix of crazy sweet and tart flavors, surprised me in many ways. First of all, I was suspect that anything with part apricot in its DNA would do well here in the Pacific Northwest. Well, Shazam, it did. Outstanding fruit quality characterizes this pluot, including off-the-charts storage capabilities. I picked from the tree during a five-week period starting in August. Three months later, I finished eating the remaining refrigerated pluots. This pluot (plum-apricot cross) is the standout fruit of the year in my orchard.
Flavor Queen Pluot
Flavor Queen reins supreme as the most vigorous stone fruit tree in my orchard. Though a more modest producer of fruit, Flavor Queen makes up for the deficit by supplying well-spaced large pluots throughout the tree. I’m a big fan of its sweetness (18 brix) and slight apricot aftertaste. Oh, and it’s quite ornamental when in bloom.
Mirabelle Plums are a perennial favorite of mine. Read all about them here from an earlier post of mine: Mirabelle Plum, Nature’s Little Gumdrop.
- Adams County Nursery| Aspers, PA | 717.677.8105
- Bay Flora |Berkeley, CA | 510.705.1012
- Bay Laurel Nursery | Atascadero, CA | 805.466.3406
- Burnt Ridge Nursery | Onalaska, WA | 360.985.2873*
- Chestnut Hill Tree Farm | Alachua, FL | 800.669.2067
- Clifton’s Nursery | Porterville, CA | 559.784.3800
- Cloud Mountain Farm | Everson, WA | 360-966-5859
- Cummins Nursery | Ithaca, NY | 607.592.2801
- Eden Restored | Sea-Tac, WA | 253.202.5587
- Edible Landscaping |Afton, Virginia | 434.361.9134
- Fedco Trees | ME | 207-426-9900*
- Grandpa’s Orchard | Coloma, MI | 877.800.0077*
- Greenmantle Nursery | Garberville, CA | 707.986.7504*
- Hometown Nursery | Paso Robles, CA | 805.238.1976
- Mid City Nursery | American Canyon, CA | 707.642.4167
- Nourse Farms | South Deerfield, MA | 413.665.7888*
- Nature Hills Nursery | Omaha, NE | 402.934.8116
- One Green World | Oregon | 877.353.4028*
- Paradise Nursery | Chatsworth, CA | 818 . 701. 5656
- Peaceful Valley Farm Supply | Grass Valley, CA | 530.272.4769*
- Pense Nursery | Mountainburg, AR | 479.369.2494*
- Raintree Nursery | Morton, WA | 360.496.6400*
- Rolling River Organic Nursery | Orleans, CA
- Sanhedrin Nursery | Willits, CA | 707.459.900
- St. Lawrence Nurseries | Potsdam NY | 315.265.6739
- Stark Brother’s | Louisiana, MO | 800.325.4180
- Sakuma Brothers Berry Nursery | Burlington, WA | 360.757.6611 Ext. 149
- Trees of Antiquity | Paso Robles CA | 805.467.9909*
- Van Well Nursery | Wenatchee, WA |800.572.1553*
* denotes nurseries where I have purchased plant stock (and also been a happy customer).
Note: I have no paid affiliation with any of these nurseries.
Nursery Reviews and Searches
- Garden Watch Dog | Great gardener feedback, a site providing customer reviews of recent purchases from online nurseries and other garden retailers.
- Plant Scout | An amazingly helpful link because it allows you to search for a plant by its common or botanical name and share what other gardeners have to say about it. Even better, the search returns nursery sources for the plant, and reviews of the nursery.
Here’s a smattering of fruit trees on my poor-performer list; not keen to do much of anything in the orchard other than grow a little and act ornamental.
- Ashmead’s Kernel: still waiting for this esteemed heirloom apple tree to produce a crop of decent apples.
- Cameo: One of my favorite eating apples, but a non-performer in my orchard.
- Chestnut Crabapple suffers from fireblight, will remove this winter.
- My warning to keep you from lost-cause-orchard heartbreak: don’t bother planting an apricot tree west of the Cascades (even Puget Gold). If an apricot tree is the Lucy of Peanuts fame, I am its Charlie Brown–always trusting for a better outcome, that well, never comes.
- Not even Puget Gold has performed well, even the ones protected in my hoop house have struggled.
- I swear I’ve planted every peach leaf curl resistant variety available, and finally I must admit, peach trees are a real challenge better suited to warm, dry places. Here’s are my findings: Peach Tree Summation (Peach Leaf Curl Resistant Varieties)
- Interspecific hybrid Peacotum, very unhappy and prone to disease both in the orchard and hoop house. I love this fruit so much that I planted five trees. None of them have thrived or produced fruit, so they are coming out this year.