Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Northern Illinois Fruit Guide

With its long, freezing winters and unpredictable springs, northern Illinois is one of the trickiest regions in the state to grow fruit trees or small fruit bushes. Also, unlike vegetables, the cost to maintain the tree will likely exceed any savings produced by growing your own fruit, which makes it even more important to do your research.

That's where we come in. Click the link below to expand the post and read information on select fruit trees and small fruit plants that can be grown in our neck of the woods.

The Honeycrisp Apple is a fall favorite in northern Illinois.
Fruit trees that do well in northern Illinois include apples, sour cherries, pears, and plums. Some peach varieties, such as the Reliance, aren't impossible to grow but would fare much better in the central and southern parts of the state.

Our basic planting rules apply for fruit trees, but there are some specifics as well. Plant the tree in an area where it will receive full sun and in well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH level. You can use a simple home pH test or pick up a free kit at the University of Illinois Extension's McHenry County office (you will have to pay $18 to get test results from the office).

To protect against frost, it is also imperative to plant the tree at a slightly higher elevation than the surrounding area.

Peach trees in particular have the best chance for success when planted in a "high and dry" location.

The extreme winter weather will be the biggest obstacle for your fruit tree, but animals and diseases also pose a threat. Use a cylinder of hardware cloth in winter to protect your tree from voles, mice, rabbits, and any other interested critters. It is especially important to do this with young trees.

Apple trees are susceptible to apple scab, a fungus marked by dark, circular lesions on the leaves and fruit. Since many fungicides have systemic qualities and can get into the fruit, proper pruning and maintenance is the recommended way to prevent the fungus. Pruning is important for all fruit trees, especially young ones, because it forces the tree to develop a strong support system that can hold a load of fruit.

Suggested Fruit Trees, northern Illinois
Apples Cherries (T)* Peaches Pears Plums
"Stark Earliest" (S) "Montmorency" "Reliance" "Maxine" "Stanley"
"Viking Transparent" (S) "Meteor"
"Seckel" "Bluefre"
"Redfree" (S) "Suda Hardy
"Harrow Delight" "Green Gage"
"Pristine" (S) "Mesabi"
"Anjou" "Damson"
"Golden Delicious" (F) "North Star"
"Bosc" "Mount Royal"
"Red Delicious" (F)

"Duchess Stark"
"Gala" (EF)

"McIntosh" (F)

"Fuji" (W)


Key: (S)-Summer-ripening; (F)-Fall-ripening; (EF)-Early fall-ripening; (W)-Winter-ripening; (T)-Tart cherries
*Cherry trees bearing sweet fruit are not recommended for northern Illinois, but can be bought in the region and grown under the care of experienced gardeners.

Many varieties of raspberry bushes can be grown in northern Illinois.
 Plant perennial, small fruit-bearing plants as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Small fruit plants need full sunlight, and well-drained soil with a good amount of organic matter mixed in. The pH level of the soil should be between 5.5 and 7.5.

Blueberries can also be grown, but they require a more acidic soil (pH between 4.8 and 5.2). The higher pH level of many northern Illinois soils makes it tough, but not impossible, to grow blueberry plants in the ground. To give blueberry plants a better shot, grow them in buried containers.

Though many garden centers in our area carry blackberry plants, they would fare much better in central and southern Illinois and aren't recommended in the northern part of the state.

If you don't have a lot of experience growing fruits it's best to stick to the varieties that are hardy for our region. See the table below:
Suggested small fruit plants, northern Illinois
*Strawberries Raspberries Grapes Currants Gooseberries
"Earliglow" (JB) R-"Boyne" (SB) "Niagara" "Red Lake" "Pixwell"
"Annapolis" (JB) R-"Latham" (SB) "Steuben" "Cherry" "Poorman"
"Honeoye" (JB) R-"Killarney" (SB) "Swensen Red" "Black" "Welcome" 
Everbearing R-"Liberty"(SB) "Fredonia" "Crandall" "Captivator"
"Delmarvel" (JB) R-"Titan" (SB) "Delaware"

"Seneca" (JB) R-"Ruby" (EB) "Concord"

"Jewel" (JB) R-"Heritage" (EB) "Reliance" (SL)

"Allstar" (JB) R-"Redwing" (EB)

"Kent" (JB) Y-"Goldie"

"Tristar" (DN) Y-"Amber" (SB)

"Tribute" (DN) Y-"Fallgold" (EB)



Key: (JB)-June-Bearing; (SB)-Summer-bearing; (EB)-Everbearing; (DN)-Day neutral; R-Red; Y-Yellow; P-Purple; (SL)-Seedless;
Sources: Strawberries, Raspberries, Grapes, Currants, Gooseberries

*Strawberries should not be planted in ANY area that has previously grown tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, melons, okra, peas, beets or roses. These plants are susceptible to the fungus that causes Verticillium Wilt and will leave the soil in a condition unfit for strawberry and bramble plants.