Scroll down for the List.
I am sometimes asked by friends “What variety of fruit tree should I plant?” And although many citrus varieties, loquats, figs, avocados, persimmons, and pomegranates are easy to grow locally, recommending other popular fruits is a little trickier. We live in Sunset zone 22 or USDA zone 10a. Even though many varieties are sold at the big home improvement stores or similar retailers, many are not well suited to our climate, especially if you don’t live inland. Around coastal Los Angeles County and other mild areas of Southern California, we don’t usually have enough accumulated cold hours below 45 degrees for many varieties of fruit trees to thrive long term. Other fruits sometimes need more heat like grapes and pomegranates. Thus, picking the right variety is one of the most important factors in a successful backyard orchard.
What is chill and why does it matter when picking out a variety of fruit tree?Click here to learn more about chilling and symptoms of insufficent chilling hours.
Where to check accumulated chill hours in your region of California: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/chillcalc/index1.htm
University of Maryland Estimated Chilling Hours – Map of the United States
My personal list comes from what I grow, other local gardeners I know have had success growing and harvesting from, or varieties reported as ideal in our climate by at least 3 of my favorite sources. I omitted a few varieties I don’t care for the fruit on. I can do that, it is MY list, and I would not want to recommend a fruit tree I don’t like the fruit on . I have slowly been transitioning to plants that need 250 hours of chill or fewer. Over the years, I have had a few varieties that needed up to 400 hours of winter chilling. They did bear in some years, but after a few disappointing seasons where the trees suffered from insufficient chilling, I decided to replace them with better, lower chilling choices.
List of Low Chill Fruit Varieties
Varieties on this list that I currently grow are in green.
Apple: Pettingill (started from a Long Beach seedling in 1949 originally), Dorset Golden, Ein Shimer, Beverly Hills, Anna – needs a pollinator.
Dorset Golden Apples on the tree, June 2010
Apricot: I have tried two varieties that were supposed to be good lower chill choices, Katy (400 hours) and Gold Kist (300 hours.) Although they had beautiful foliage and flowers most years, neither had large enough crops to justify continuing to grow them in my tiny yard. Also, the fruit was fair to bland in comparison to Blenheim / Royal, but that variety is rated for higher chilling hours. I took the Gold Kist out in 2009 and the Katy out before that in 2004. I don’t have a good recommendation for Apricot. If you happen to have an older tree that is producing well, make sure you keep it as long a possible because you are blessed. I believe, before L.A. County turned into an asphalt jungle, Apricots did better here. Now with so much concrete and structures, the surrounding terrain holds a little more heat from the day and thus it is a tiny bit warmer around most backyard orchards over night. My trees were about 5 feet from a block wall and the heat retention could have affected them.
Blackberries: Triple Crownthorn less black berry and Boysenberry are two good choices. I would guess the needed chilling hours of the Triple Crown to be around 200 hours, since I always get a crop. Our lightest crop was in 2005 when we didn’t get near as much chilling. Triple Crown tastes like an Olallie blackberry.
Triple Crown Blackberries
In addition, my neighborhood has a few patches of wild thorny blackberry. The neighbors all call it Hanbury Blackberry and it originally came to the neighborhood when an older neighbor cultivated it from Knott’s Boysenberry in 1973. It is spread by both birds dropping seeds and tip layering, so it is no longer exactly like Boysen. Hanbury is the best flavored blackberry I have ever had, but pretty thorny. I have a cultivated patch of it that has survived drought conditions, total neglect, block wall construction, and a tortoise burrowing under it.
Blueberries: Jewel, Misty, O’Neal, Sunshine Blue.
Southern Highbush varieties can grow here with acidifying soil amendments and regular irrigation. I have not tried Jewel, but it is supposed to need about 200 hours chilling. I only grow Sunshine Blue now because it is self fruitful, smaller, and attractive in comparison to the others. I did grow Misty and O’neal for 3 years, but have replaced them.
Cherries: Royal Lee, Minnie Royal (both need cross pollination) These have been growing across the street at my neighbor’s house since I talked her into planting them in 2007. She has been picking light crops since 2009.
Figs: Most fig varieties to do well around here. The two commonly grown ones are Brown Turkey and Black Mission. However, I prefer the flavor of Strawberry Verte and Violette de Bordeaux. Kadota is a recent one a neighbor gave me, but I think it might need more heat to do well. I am still waiting to pick the first fruits on the Kadota.
Black Mission figs developing
Goji or Wolfberry (lycium barbarum) : I have only been growing it this year, therefore, my experience is limited. I got a transplant from another gardener that had large clumps for many years in Newport Beach. It grows kind of like mint or raspberry; it spreads by underground runners and could be come invasive in the right conditions. The leaves and stems resemble salvias, but it has flowers like other solanaceae family plants. The fruit is orangeish-red.
Grapes: Many varieties of European table grapes need more summer heat than we get on the coast. American grapes are more disease resistant and forgiving. I grow both types. Some of the many choices for coastal grapes include Fantasy, Black Monukka, Jupiter, Venus, Concord, Ruby, Glendale, Candice, Flame, Niabell, Perlette (similar to Thompson, but not quite as sweet.)
Concord grapes almost ripe. July 2010
Kiwi: Vincent (female variety that needs a male plant to pollinate, like Tomuri, or other Kiwi listed as “Male”)
Developing fruit on the Vincent Kiwi, June 2010
Nectarines: Desert Dawn, Desert Delight, Panamint, Pioneer (150-350)
Southern Belle is an genetic ultra dwarf (150-300 ) *I also grow Snow Queen, but it doesn’t always do as good so it is not part of my recommended list.
Peaches: August Pride, Babcock (150-350,) Bonita, Desert Gold (I don’t like the fruit of this one,) Earligrande, Tropicberta, and Saturn. There is a new variety from a local seedling called “Long Beach.” It is listed at 200 hours, but was just introduced to the public this year. Bay Laurel Nursery carries it, and I might have to try growing it!
*I also grow Red Baron, but it isn’t always dependable so it is not part of my recommended list. The crop this year was light.
Pears: Hood, but others are listed at the sources at the bottom of this post.
Plum: Beauty, Burgundy, Mariposa, Methley, Santa Rosa, Satsuma (300 hours) many plums need a second variety for a pollinator.
Pomegranante: Sweet, Eversweet. I know some gardeners that have success with the popular Wonderful, but it needs to be the hottest sunniest part of the yard to do good here on the foggy coastline.
Raspberries: My favorite is by far Baba Red Raspberry, sometimes called Bababerry. I also like Anne, a Yellow raspberry variety. Over the last 13 years, I have tried Caroline, Rosanna, Josephine, Indian Summer, Heritage, and Kiwigold. Baba comes back year after year, regardless of the how mild or extreme the winter was here, and it doesn’t seem to need much chill.
There are a number of good sources available to help the backyard gardener decide what to plant. Here are the ones I often check before buying a plant or fruit I am unfamiliar with:
Bay Laurel Nursery has a good list as well as nice supply of the ideal varieties: http://www.baylaurelnursery.com/catalog/lowChillVarieties.html
Digitalseed, a San Diego resource: http://www.digitalseed.com/gardener/fruit/index_orchard.html
Daves Garden http://davesgarden.com/
Dave Wilson nursery http://www.davewilson.com/br40/sales_catalogFruit.html
Sunset Western Garden Book
California Backyard Orchard, Univ. of Calif. Resource for Fruit and Nut Crops: http://homeorchard.ucdavis.edu/general-tree.html
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