University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Tree Fruits for Backyard Orchards

January 11, 2001

Tree fruits can look to be very appealing additions to the backyard when paging through the new gardening catalogs. Not all tree fruits in the catalogs will do well in northern Illinois, however. Important considerations are hardiness, growth requirements, and maintenance needs to assure success in the backyard orchard.

Extreme winter conditions are the biggest limiting factor when considering tree fruits for the backyard. Crops such as peaches, nectarines, and sweet cherries will suffer when grown in our climate. Apricots have difficulty because they bloom so early in the spring, making them very susceptible to spring frosts. Choices for the home orchard are therefore best made from a list that includes apples, pears, sour cherries, and plums. Cultivar traits may vary among each.

All tree fruit crops prefer full sunlight. Although they may in fact grow in partial shade, fruit quality will most likely be lower. Choose a site that has a well-drained soil and also is somewhat higher than the surrounding terrain so cool air will "drain" to avoid frost damage as much as possible. Soil pH ranges from 5.6 to 7.0 are best for tree fruit crops.

Keep in mind the pollination requirements of the various trees. Planting two or more varieties assures adequate pollination and fruit set.

Apples are the most popular backyard tree fruit for this area. A number of varieties are available, with variation in time of ripening and best use (cooking, eating, or both). Scab immune (SI) varieties are resistant to apple scab disease. Plan on at least 2 varieties in the planting to assure cross-pollination. Requirements for pears are very similar to apples, although insect and fungus disease problems may not be as severe. Pear production is limited somewhat by a disease called fireblight, which also can occur on apples.

Plums will grow in this area, but European types are suggested over Japanese types and hybrids. Plant any two European types for cross-pollination. The most serious problem on plums in our area is black knot disease, which is difficult to control. Sweet cherries will not do well in this area, but tart varieties do. All are called self-fruitful, which means cross-pollination is not needed.

Finally, keep in mind both pest control and pruning are regular maintenance practices needed to grow fruit trees. Regular pruning will assure a strong framework for the tree, so it can support a load of fruit. In addition, regular pruning keeps trees productive, assure good airflow through the tree, and makes it easier to work in the tree.


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