Growing Fruit Trees in Maine - Selecting Varieties
There are many species of fruit trees to choose from, but not all are suitable for Maine’s cold climate, short growing season or common diseases. Low winter temperatures limit which species or variety that can be grown particularly in northern Maine. Apples and hybrid plums are the most winter hardy of the tree fruits and can be grown in most locations in Maine. Pears, tart cherries and common plum types are adapted to most of southern Maine. Sweet cherries, peaches and apricots are tender and are best suited to the most southerly and coastal areas. For information on disease resistant varieties, consult the section on diseases.
Apple varieties suggested for northern Maine are Beacon, Chestnut Crab, Duchess, Snow, Wealthy, Honeycrisp and Honeygold. The varieties Black Oxford, Fireside, Jonathan, Keepsake, Liberty, Lodi, Milden, Paula Red, Northern Spy, Pristine, Snowsweet, William’s Pride, Wolf River, Yellow Transparent, and Zestar! also have good winter hardiness. Varieties not listed here may also be sufficiently hardy for your area.
Maine’s growing season is too short for some apple varieties. Braeburn, GoldRush, Granny Smith, Mutsu, Pink Lady and Rome Beauty do not ripen before the first freeze and lack their characteristic varietal flavor when grown in Maine. Varieties that ripen after Golden Delicious require a long growing season and may not ripen in Maine.
There are two types of pears, European and Asian, and they differ in hardiness and disease susceptibility. European pear varieties suggested for central and southern Maine are Clapp’s Favorite, Flemish Beauty, Golden Spice, Gourmet, Harrow Delight, Luscious, Maxine, Parker, Patten and Seckel. Pears are not hardy in northern Maine. In contrast to European pears, the Asian types have a crisp texture and small fruit size.
There are three types of cultivated plums, Asian, Asian-American hybrids and European. They differ in winter hardiness and many other traits as well. Asian plums, also called Japanese plums, are round in shape and have good eating quality. Although the least hardy, they are the most widely grown type in the United States. Most Asian plums are hardy to -10°F, and can be grown in southern and coastal locations. The varieties Shiro, Methley, Vanier and Queen Rosa are recommended for the southern half of Maine. Asian-American hybrids resemble Asian plums, but have greater winter hardiness. By crossbreeding a native species with the Asian species, gardeners in cold climates can grow Asian-type plums. They are hardy to -30°F and can be grown in most regions of Maine. Varieties with sufficient hardiness for most of Maine are Alderman, LaCresent, Pipestone, Redglow, South Dakota, Superior, Toka, Underwood and a few others. European plums have a variety of shapes and flavors. The prune types are elongated in shape and very sweet in flavor. They can be eaten fresh or dried into prunes. The gage types are round in shape and also taste sweet. The damson types are small and sour, and are typically used as preserves. Most European plum varieties are hardy to -20°F. Two varieties with greater cold hardiness are Stanley and Mount Royal.
Sweet cherry trees are sufficiently hardy to be grown in the southern half of Maine. However, the flower buds become very tender in early spring and are killed by early spring freezes nearly every year. Varieties suggested for southern Maine are Black Tartarian, Hedelfingen, Kristen, Lambert, Lapins, Royal Ann, Stella and Van. Balaton is a tart cherry variety with flavor that is sufficiently sweet for eating fresh, but has greater flower bud hardiness than most sweet cherry varieties. Sweet cherries are prized by birds, so consider dwarf trees that can be netted with greater ease than full-sized trees.
Tart cherries are hardy in the southern half of Maine. Because of their sourness, they are primarily used in pies or jams. Varieties with cold hardiness are Mesabi, Meteor, and North Star, but Montmorency can also survive in southern Maine.
Apricots and plum-apricot hybrids
Apricots and plum-apricot hybrids are best adapted to the southern tip of Maine. Apricots have a short life expectancy, even in southern Maine. Plum-apricot hybrids are also called pluots, plumcots, and apriums.
Peaches and nectarines
Peaches and nectarines lack winter hardiness, but can be grown in southern and coastal Maine. The tender flower buds are not likely to survive winters colder than -15°F. Because the tree itself is also tender, peaches have a short life expectancy typically living ten years or less. This does not mean they cannot be grown in Maine, but instead, that they should be replanted often. Cresthaven, Harrow Diamond, Reliance, Redhaven and Surecrop are some suggested varieties. Select freestone types for eating fresh and clingstone types for canning.
Before planting fruit trees, consider your expectations when choosing which species and varieties to plant. Those who expect long-lived trees should select a type of tree and variety with winter hardiness and disease resistance. If tender fruits such as peach and apricot are desired, it is possible to grow them, but with the expectation that they can be short-lived in Maine.