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Growing stone fruits in the home garden

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Quick facts

  • Stone fruit trees need full sun to produce the most fruit.
  • Space trees 12 to 20 feet apart.
  • Plant two different, compatible varieties to ensure fruit.
  • Prune annually to maintain tree shape and a healthy, open canopy.
  • Expect to get fruit 2 to 5 years after planting if you plant a 1 or 2 year old tree.
  • All stone fruits bloom very early in the spring. Some years flowers are damaged by freezing temperatures, meaning no fruit that year. But don't worry, you'll probably get fruit the following year.

Rewarding trees

Apricots, cherries, peaches and plums are called stone fruits because they have large pits or stones at their centers. Stone fruit trees are easy to grow, provided you accept a few limitations in northern climates.

In Minnesota, it is important to select varieties that are hardy to zone 4 or zone 3. Most stone fruit varieties are very much at home in zone 5 and higher, but there are a growing number that are proving to be hardy in colder climates.

The trickiest part about growing stone fruits is the fact that they bloom early in the spring. Spring is notorious for temperature fluctuation. A few warm days might be followed by a cold night with frost, which is the biggest enemy of stone fruits. The delicate flowers are easily frozen, and a whole season's worth of fruit might be lost in a single cold night.

As you can see, stone fruits pose a bit of a challenge in Minnesota, but don't let that worry you. The trees are relatively easy to grow and manage. They may not produce fruit every year, and they may not live as long as a cold-hardy apple tree, but if you enjoy eating these fruits the weather gamble is worth it. In the years you do get fruit, you will get a lot of it.

Caring for stone fruit trees through the seasons

March— For existing trees, prune before growth begins, after coldest weather has passed

April, May— If last year's growth was less than 12 inches, apply compost around the base of tree

April, May— Plant bare root trees as soon as the soil can be worked

May, June— Plant potted trees after threat of frost has passed

May through October— Water trees as you would any other tree in your yard, particularly during dry spells

June, July— Cut to the ground any root suckers near the tree; they look like stout seedlings and have similar leaves to the tree

June through August—Place netting over trees as fruit ripens to prevent bird damage

June through August— Harvest

October, November— Rake and compost fallen leaves and fruit

October, November— Apply tree wrap in late fall to prevent winter injury

November through March— Watch for deer and vole damage; put fencing around tree if needed

Choosing and buying plants

Variety tables provide hardiness, size and compatibility information for stone fruit varieties that have proven to do well in northern climates.

Remember, for most stone fruits, you will need to plant at least two trees that are compatible with each other to get fruit.

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Planting and caring for young trees

Learn how to choose a location, prepare for planting and space trees.

When planting multiple stone fruit trees, assume that the spread will be at least as great as the height. In other words, two trees with a mature height of 15-20 feet will need to be spaced at least 20 feet apart at planting.

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How to keep your stone fruit trees healthy and productive

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Pruning

The goals of pruning and training are to maximize light penetration into the tree and to maintain healthy fruiting wood.

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Emily E. Hoover, Extension horticulturalist, Emily S. Tepe, horticulture researcher and Doug Foulk

Reviewed in 2018

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