Low-Chill Fruits for Small Gardens
With a bit of know-how, California gardeners can have luscious fruit fresh from the garden early summer though fall. Success in growing fruit in small gardens is all in the pruning. There’s no need for trees to grow any higher that one can reach.
There are other ways of optimizing small yards for growing fruit. Plant three different trees in one hole, or grow them flat against a wall—espaliering—to save space. They can even be grown as “stepovers.” That’s where trees are limited to two branches grown horizontally at knee height or lower—a beautiful edging for a kitchen garden.
There are intriguing new varieties for fruit lovers to try. But before you buy, you need to match your garden’s chilling hours with the trees’ requirements. Chilling hours are the number of hours (non-consecutive) of temperatures below 45 degrees a tree gets while dormant. This initiates flowering and fruiting.
Keep in mind that your garden’s chilling hours can be greatly affected by prevailing winds, mountain ranges or even buildings. If you garden in an area with a very high winter chill (areas with snow), then all (including the low-chill type) fruits will do well for you.
Reputable garden centers will always inform you of the chilling requirements for fruit tree varieties. A California Certified Nursery Professional can also help estimate your garden’s annual chilling hours. This information is critical to your success with fruit trees. If you don’t match a fruit tree’s chilling requirement with your microclimate, you get a nice-looking tree but no fruit.
Best Fruit Varieties for California Gardens
(Chilling hours are in parenthesis)
The top low-chill apple is Dorsett Golden. Fruit is firm, sweet and very flavorful.
Dorsett Golden (100) is self-fruitful (needs no pollinizer). Other great choices are: Fuji (400) and Gala (500).
Gold Kist (300) is an excellent backyard apricot for warm climates. It is self-fruitful. Other top choices: Blenheim (Royal) (500); and Bella Gold (500).
Until recently, there’s never been a low-chill cherry. That changed with the introduction of Royal Lee (250). You’ll need to plant ‘Minnie Royal’ as a pollinizer.
Nectarine lovers will want to try Snow Queen (300), a taste test winner with sweet, juicy, early white freestone fruits. It has a low chilling requirement and is self-fruitful. Other flavorful choices are Necta Zee (Genetic Dwarf) (500); and Panamint (250).
Mid-Pride (250) peach is considered the best yellow freestone for warm winter climates. It has exceptional flavor and is self-fruitful. Other tasty choices: Babcock (300); Honey Babe (Genetic Dwarf) (500); and Red Baron (250).
Bella Gold (300) is an interesting, new apricot with peach and plum in its parentage. Its hybridizer likes to call it a “Peacotum” and it has a wonderful, complex flavor. It needs a peach, apricot or plum to pollinize it.
20th Century (450) and Shinseiki (450) are both excellent Asian pears (sometimes called “apple pears” because of their crispness when ripe. Unlike other Asian pears, neither of these needs a pollinizer.
Fuyu (200) and Hachiya (200) are both well-known and widely-grown. Fuyu is a non-astringent type (sweet even before fully ripened), and Hachiya is an astringent type, needing to be very ripe before it becomes sweet.
Satsuma (300) is a very prolific and very flavorful plum—an old-time favorite and still one of the best. It is self-fertile. Other newer, flavorful plums are Burgundy (350) and Santa Rosa (500).