Choosing the best plants

Here are a few things to think about when deciding what new plants to grow:

What is the intended use of the fruit? Are you using the crop strictly for fresh eating, or some form of processing? Some varieties of apples for instance, will do better than others in a pie, as a sliced apple. Some will be great in cider, and others better in sauce. You never get everything in one package, but with a few varieties planted you will. Aronia and chokecherry are tolerable as an occasional treat, but in juice mixes they are unrivaled. 

Where is the fruit headed? Some folks are happy to have fruits that will be eaten fresh in season, and then be done with it. Others will be freezing those berries. You may be looking for storage pears and apples to put in the root cellar all winter. This all plays a part in variety decisions. A summer apple for instance is wonderful when you want to taste a fresh Yellow Transparent in July, but they are ephemeral, lasting only a week or two. A Haralson or Fireside apple may last months in the cellar, but you have to wait until fall to get that first taste. Some berries freeze better than others (gooseberries are best). 

Are you planning a commercial-scale venture or just a little homesteading? Keeping scale in mind is often overlooked. Some plants take more care (strawberries are laborious due to weeding). Most bush fruits are more care-free. Numbers are worth mentioning too, as it is easy to overplant if you have other commitments (plants require time). 

Consider your region and search for varieties known to do well there. Take a look at a zone map and a chilling hours map and your location. Most of our plants will grow anywhere in the US, due to our choice of cold hardy stock. In the extreme south be diligent about the chilling hours, and in the extreme north the zone hardiness. When in doubt be conservative, unless you want to have fun and gamble with a plant or two. Usually plants will not die if out of their comfort zone, but we all want our plants to thrive, right?

Do you have enough space for when the plant reaches maturity? Our fruit trees can grow 30 feet tall and wide. A burr oak three times that. A berry bush wants about 4 feet of space. However, pay attention to the descriptions, or contact us for details. You can do some pruning to get things closer together, but do not overdo it. Better to have fewer healthy plants than many crowded ones. This rule is more important with trees than with bushes and vines, but be wise with everything. 

Is disease resistance important in your area? A species or variety can be grown in just about any area that the climate is ideal for. There will be pest and disease pressures everywhere too, so doing a bit of research will pay in dividends. Most any attack can be prevented or dealt with through management, but in areas of high disease pressure you may want to choose one species or variety over another. In excessively damp climates you may want to choose a scab resistant apple, or a mildew resistant grape. In areas heavy with wild cherries, you may want to avoid stone fruits altogether (they are a vector for pathogens often). That does not mean you cannot plant your favorite anyway, it just means you may have to manage more intelligently (as in a few more organic sprays to apply, or more clever pruning). 

What plants will do well in the coldest hardiness zone? You folks in the upper midwest, northern New England, and interior Alaska pay attention. Apples and crabs will be the best bet for tree fruits, and you have plenty of varieties to choose from. Pay particular attention not just to cold hardiness in terms of absolute lows, but also the length of the season. Alaskans know that what is a summer fruit in Iowa may be a fall fruit in Fairbanks. If you have temps below 26 degrees on Sept. 2, your season may be done, no matter how cold hardy that trunk is. Ribes (currants and gooseberries) are very cold hardy, as are saskatoons, most brambles and King of the North grapes. Our rootstocks are all cold hardy at least to zone 3, often colder. Crabapples are also an unsung hero has an edible fruit, and many are hardy into zone 2. 

How important are aesthetics? Not everyone will admit it, but we all like things to be attractive. For some it is tidily trimmed hedgerows or ornate espaliers, for others a crabapple pruned to look like an angry spider. Your choice of plant will can make your desired outcome a little easier to achieve. A hops plant can grow in any shape you want, or even a natural winding mess, but it dies to the ground each year so you can have a do-over every season. An elderberry is pretty from a distance, but makes more of a spreading, messier area than say, an aronia,  which will make a more attractive and colorful shrub (or better yet tall hedge) even though the uses of the fruit are similar. Pruning will mean a lot here, so you will want to educate yourself in those principles (shameless plug for our pruning training here). 

Make sure your state or county does not have a plant restriction. Some plants are discouraged (by law) in some states. We have listed a few, but the onus is on you to check as regulations are constantly changing. Gooseberries, currants, grapes, hops are examples of plants that some states frown upon. Usually this is a pest or disease issue that impacts an industry, and sometimes an invasive species consideration. However, few states restrict, and nearly all our plants have no issue anywhere. 

Do you need a pollenizer? And yes, that is pollenizer, not pollinator. A pollenizer is a plant that will fertilize another plant (a pollinator is the vector, such as a bumblebee). So, you will need at least one partner for some plants. Most tree and bush fruits need a pollenizer. Exceptions are currants, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and most grapes. There are a few apples that need a third if you happen to choose a polyploid apple, which due to defective pollen will not pollenize another variety. Polyploids are rare, and we will list this aspect in the description. 

Is your land dry enough for the plant you chose? If you have to ask if your land is too wet, it probably is. In a truly wet area you could get away with alders, mint and cattails, but not much else. Even elderberries don't want to be buried in the muck. What can be done is to design the landscape so that higher and dryer areas are created. This can be done though mounding spots into islands, or creating long windrow like planting sites. Ditching for water egress, or full blown drain tile will create planting areas as well. In these cases it is best to plant species with smaller root systems that will stay above the water table. Aronias are a good bet (we have planted many in areas like this). Elders, blueberry, currants and gooseberry, and brambles will all work if you keep their roots out of the muck. Don't push it by planting the larger trees, as these will need a good 4 feet (ideally more) above the water table. When in doubt, dig a hole that deep and see what you get. Spring meltoff doesn't really count, but continuously wet soil will lead to root and lower trunk disease for certain. Trees also love to lean in a mushy soil. 

What can I plant in the shade? Ribes species are the best in our opinion. This will include the gooseberry, all currant types, and jostaberry. You want a bit of sun for these, but a few hours a day morning sun, or some dappled sunlight through the day will work fine. Most other fruits will do ok with 6 hours direct sunlight. More important for full sun will be heat lovers like grapes, and things you want to color nicely like those late fall apples. Many plants will survive in shadier areas, but the more sun, the more fruit set. This is especially important with plants that are not pruned to allow for better light penetration, so worse case scenario will be that bushy mess of an apple tucked under a bunch of maples.