Favorite Fruit Trees: Apples, Pluots and Pears, Oh My!

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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
Belle de Boskoop never disappoints.

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

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

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

Goldrush apple: disease resistance, great taste and excellent storing capability

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

Melrose apples wonderfully flavored and all purpose

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.

melrose apple sliced
Melrose great in lunchboxes, great in pies!

Choice Pears

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.

Arganche

agaranche pear

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

Funny, I ate all of my Aurora pears before taking any snapshots. This watercolor captures a close resemblance to the Aurora pear.

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

Super firm on the tree, Bosc pears ripen in cold storage.

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

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

ubileen pear tree
Ubileen pear, star of the early harvest!

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 Plum

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

flavor grenade pluot plum
flavor grenade pluots and flavor queen
Four Flavor Grenade pluots resting upon a sea of Flavor Queen pluots…

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

After picking the main crop, the fruit hangs evenly like ornaments on a Christmas tree.

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.

Flavor Queen Pluot in Bloom
Buddy enjoying the view and light scent from the Flavor Queen pluot in bloom.

Mirabelle Plum

Mirabelle Plums

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.

Fruit Nurseries

* 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.

Disappointing Results

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.

Apples

  • 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.

Apricots

  • 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.

Peaches

  • 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.

18 COMMENTS

  1. I’ll admit I had to go look up Peacotum (and found a nine-year-old SF Gate article, so clearly I’ve been out of the fruit loop awhile) (see what I did there?). Guess it’s not surprising they didn’t do that well there, given that apricots and peaches both don’t. I’m curious about the Flavor Grenade Pluots–do they appear in all those different colors? Thanks for the detailed lowdown though…even though your current orchard and my someday orchard (next house! Next house!) exist on opposite sides of the country, it’s still always nice to see and hear from a fellow enthusiast. And someone with like-Quixotic tendencies. I try to grow all sorts of things that probably never will thrive here in western NY, and yet, keep on trying.

  2. What do you do with all of your fruit? I have three peach trees, a prolific pear tree, and one apple tree. I live alone except for my pup.. I can only eat so much fresh fruit and only make so much jam before the fruit starts to go off. I cannot make a lot of pies I would not be able to get through the kitchen door if I ate that many pies..lol I do can some of my peaches and pears. Do not have a freezer.

    • Hi Janet,
      That’s a really good question, as I ask myself the same thing each harvest season. Like you, I eat it fresh and then make jams, jellies, chutneys and pickled fruit. I also share a lot, freeze for pies and cakes, dry, and juice. Oh and I make a ton of chunky applesauce. It’s my go-to snack and host/hostess gift. It’s some really good stuff, very lightly spiced and sweetened, and full of chewy apple bits, and makes a mean apple turnover, too. Next year I hope to have enough fruit to set up a farm stand or sell at our farmers market, as well as make some cider and perry, which both are my drinks of choice. Btw, unbaked pies freeze beautifully and bake the same. Just go low and slow in the baking, 350 degrees, middle shelf, until fruit filling bubbles in the middle. Before baking, brush the top with a little milk and dust lightly with granulated sugar. If edges start to burn, lower temp to 325 degrees F.

  3. Tom and Buddy, so happy to hear from you and all wonderful knowledge you have forwarded.

    Lots of joy,

    From V and the Delaney Furry Household ( inside and outside)

      • Tom, Thank you so much. Take your time it will not be apple picking time for a while. lol However I still have a ton of pears in my fridge that I will be cooking down over the next several months. They are canning pears but just have not had the time to can them this year.

        I want to wish you and your little friend, Buddy, a very Happy and Prosperous New Year. Looking forward to hearing what you are both up to this coming year.

        Sincerely Janet and Teddi says arf, arf to Buddy.

  4. Dear Tom, I so love reading your articles ! They are a delight to my eye and mind. You inspire me with all your knowledge. I have one apple tree, a grapevine, and several citrus trees. Meyer lemon is my favorite and the most bountiful producer along with the apple tree and grapevine. I too share a lot of the bounty with family and friends. I also can jams and make a lot of applesauce for all the grand kids.
    Happy Holidays and thanks again for all your wonderful articles !

    • Hi Sue, thank you for the kind words. It sounds like you have some great fruit trees. I’m going to try to grow some Meyer lemons in my greenhouse. I love them and have been lucky enough to have some sent to me from a friend in California. Take Care, let me know if you ever make it to Vashon. Cheers, Tom

  5. This post is worth gold and I will always come back to it when planting a new tree. Thank you!
    My favorite is my yellow Asian pear tree, don’t know the name.., over here on Bainbridge. The most delicious fruit imaginable and they last until Nov.-Dec. in the crisper of my icebox. But, out of 5 years so far, it has given us fruit 4 times…sometimes more, sometimes less. This year we had over 100, which was a bumper for this smallish tree. We had zero plums this year though…normally the boughs are beading with plums. The pears were plentiful, but someone got to my Boskop pears in October…the night before the day I was going to bring them in…hundreds of them gone instantly overnight…not one was left, not one on the ground. Must have been the raccoons raiding in stealth. They also know ripe when they smell it and beat me to it!

    • Chris that’s awesome. Let me know what Asian pear you’re growing if you remember. I had a couple Chojuro, but they succumbed to disease oddly enough. Keep up the good work on Bainbridge and here’s to beating the raccoons to the fruit! Thanks for the kind comments.

  6. Chris your raccoons might have two legs. I had someone come in two years in a row and strip my peach trees at night by moonlight. Also the same thief stripped my pear tree during the day while I was out with a friend. I had told my friend that when we came home I wanted her to hold my ladder so that I could pick my pears. When we came home a few hours later there was not a pear on the tree and it was broad daylight. Last year he thought I was gone and he actually backed his truck and trailer down my driveway. I made my presence known to him and he took off. I kept my flood lights on every night and made frequent checks until I could get them picked. I know who he is now. However this year no peaches due to a horrible cold wet spring.

    • Janet, that is one low human specimen, stealing from another person’s fruit tree. I think you’re right about someone taking Chris’ pears, as four-legged creatures chew on and take a just a few at a time, and always leaves telltale signs of tree picking escapades behind in trashed fruit and broken branches.

  7. Buddy,

    With all those great apples, plums and pears life is good on the island!

    I hope you and Tom have a Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Tad

    • Tad, Life if good on the island, indeed, and as long as I get three-square meals, copious snacks, regular rump rubs, daily outings and tabletop sits, my life is pretty good, too. Thanks for the kind words, well wishes and for most of all giving me top billing. Buddy

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