Mountain West Regional Reports

Fruit Trees and Berries for the Mountain States

'Fallgold' raspberries (Rubus idaeus var. strigosus, Zones 5-9). Photo: Mary Ann Newcomer

Apricots, apples, cherries, peaches, and pears add edible interest when planted right into your flower borders. For the typical suburban garden, I highly recommend semi-dwarf or dwarf trees. In my experience, the smaller the tree, the easier it is to maintain. Columnar types are relatively new but grow tall and narrow, producing up and down the trunk with few lateral branches. If you are growing fruit trees or cane fruit in pots, use very good soil, and plant in containers at least 18 inches in diameter.

Raspberries can be grown at high elevations and in the valleys. They can even take late afternoon shade. It’s hard to beat a homegrown raspberry. Most are 4 to 6 feet tall. For the best crops, water on a regular schedule, deeply and preferably at the bottom of the cane near the root system. Avoid overhead watering if possible. Raspberry Shortcake® (Rubus idaeus ‘NR7’, Zones 4–9), ‘Fall Gold’ (R. idaeus var. strigosus ‘Fall Gold’, Zones 3–8), and Heritage (R. idaeus ‘Heritage’, Zones 4–8) are reliable and produce the first year. Raspberry Shortcake® thrives in containers.

Apples are grown in almost every part of our region. Gnarled old trees stand as living monuments to the homesteaders of the 1800s. ‘McIntosh’ (Malus domestica ‘McIntosh’, Zones 4–8) and Gravenstein (M. domestica ‘Gravenstein’, Zones 3–9) perform very well across the West, and Honeycrisp (Malus domestica ‘Honeycrisp’, Zones 3–6) is a new favorite.

Peaches and nectarines are notoriously dicey to grow in all but the warmest parts of the Rockies. Late frosts damage the blossoms and may ruin the entire crop, but don’t give up—they are so worth it! Site these fruits in a warm spot or microclimate away from any frost pockets. Since our weather patterns are so variable, opt for the best late bloomers: ‘Reliance’ (Prunus persica ‘Reliance’, Zones 4–8), ‘Red Haven’ (P. persica ‘Redhaven’, Zones 5–8), and ‘Veteran’ (P. persica ‘Veteran’, Zones 5–9) are delicious, productive choices.

‘Elan’ strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa ‘Elan’, Zones 5-9) Photo: Mary Ann Newcomer

‘Tomcot’ apricot (Prunus armeniaca ‘Tomcot’, Zones 4–8) originated in Prosser, Washington, in the 1960s. Prosser gets less than 12 inches of rain per year and can be on the toasty side of warm. This consistently productive apricot variety has large, orange fruit with firm, sweet flesh. ‘Moorpark’ (P. armeniaca ‘Moorpark’, Zones 4–8), another outstanding performer, has been in cultivation since the 1600s.

Seckel, Bartlett, and Comice pears produce well in our hot region. Always opt for fire-blight-resistant varieties and late bloomers.

Blackberries are luscious, but they don’t do well where it gets really cold. Choose thornless varieties, since there is no reason to put up with berries that bite back. ‘Arapaho Erect’ (Rubus ‘Arapaho Erect’, Zones 6–8) needs very little in the way of trellising, and it is thornless, a win-win for any gardener.

Strawberry nomenclature can be so confusing, with terms such as “day-neutral,” “everbearing,” and “June-bearing.” We just want berries for our region’s crazy weather! I recommend ‘TriStar’ (Fragaria × ananassa ‘Tristar’, Zones 4–9), a favorite of restaurant chefs that is day-neutral (also called everbearing). ‘Fort Laramie’ (F. ananassa ‘Fort Laramie’, Zones 3–7) was introduced in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It is a June-bearing variety with one crop per year in June or early July. ‘Honeoye’ (F. × ananassa ‘Honeoye’, Zones 3–8) is June-bearing and a reliable, tasty producer. ‘Elan’ (F. × ananassa ‘Elan’, Zones 5–8), a new favorite, is a Dutch hybrid with outstanding productivity and flavor. You may have to search for that one, but it will reward you handsomely.

Mary Ann Newcomer is the author of two books: Rocky Mountain Gardener’s Handbook and Vegetable Gardening in the Mountain States.

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