Hello, faithful readers. If you didn’t read part 1 of this backyard orchard series, please do so when you get a chance. In it, I go over some basic information about growing fruit trees and define a few terms that will be helpful.
Let’s go a bit deeper into building a backyard orchard and I’ll start by talking about some of my favorite trees that grow well in North Texas. I’ll even tell you about a few varieties that you should stay away from. There are thousands and thousands of varieties of fruit trees out there and it would be impossible for me to touch on all of them. I simply want to shine a spotlight on a few different varieties that I have had luck with or that are good for this area. Don’t be afraid to try a variety of tree that is not on this list, especially if you hear good things about it. Half the fun of this is the trial and error process. I hope you find this helpful in planning your backyard orchard!
Few treats can match a homegrown apple, but there are some challenges involved. There is a soil disease called cotton root rot that can kill apple trees in Texas. Unfortunately, there is no test to determine if your soil has this disease, so planting is always a risk. Be ready to battle critters; birds love to peck away at ripe apples, but that’s only if the tree rats don’t eat them all first! Our erratic winters can be hard on apples as well, but some, including myself, have had luck with the proper varieties. When possible, plant two different varieties to provide cross-pollination and a better harvest.
Recommended apple varieties:
Granny Smith: Very late to ripen – usually late October to early November. Makes a good pollinator for other varieties. If properly ripened off a tree, these can be much better than store-bought. Excellent variety for baking.
Gala: Great choice for North Texas. Handles the heat well. Ripens late August to early September. Apples can be small some years but are super sweet. Known to be a good producer in the Metroplex.
Pristine: Ripens super early for an apple – usually early July. Produces large yellow apples that are of good quality. Bred to be disease-resistant. I grow this one and it has done well for me. The few apples I have been able to wrestle away from the squirrels have been good.
Gold Rush: Another disease-resistant apple. This one ripens very late October to November. Very spicy tangy flavor. This is a great storage apple. Can be kept in the fridge for months and stays fresh. I grow this one, too, and it has done well.
A disease called Fire blight is the biggest limiting factor when growing pears in Texas. Fire blight turns the tips of branches black and moves very quickly throughout the tree. If the trees are not resistant to this disease, they can be killed; therefore, we should not grow the famous Bartlett and Comice varieties of pear here. If you stick with Fire blight-resistant varieties, growing pears can be very easy in North Texas. It is not uncommon to find pears 100 years or older growing on abandoned farm sites without any care!
There are two types of pears: 1) European and 2) Asian. Euro pears are picked off the tree, then need to sit on the kitchen counter for a week or two to finish ripening. The end result will be a soft-textured, super sweet treat. Asian pears are crisp-textured, more like an apple, and are ready to eat right off the tree. Just like with apples, plant two different varieties for cross pollination.
Recommended European pears:
Moonglow: Reliable producer of very nice pears. Ripens in August. Good pollinator for other pears.
Dabney: High-quality pears. Ripens in August. Takes a few years to start setting pears, but becomes a very reliable producer.
Ayers: Another high-quality, disease-resistant variety for North Texas. It may not produce well some years due to lack of chill hours, but most years it will set just fine. Also ripens in August.
Recommended Asian pears:
Shinko: Round with brown skin. Can be really sweet. Late ripener – usually in late September. Makes a beautiful tree.
Korean Giant: As the name implies, makes a huge, round, brown-skinned pear. Has a unique, almost liquor-like flavor reminiscent of butterscotch. Very late to ripen – usually into October. Good storage variety.
Tennosui: This pear is a Texan! Actually, a European-Asian hybrid pear that was developed in Houston. Ripens on the tree in August. Very unique, high-quality flavor. Fruit is high in antioxidants, as well.
To me, peaches are the essence and flavor of summer! They can be a bit high maintenance though. Peaches are bug magnets and surprise, surprise, they are a favorite of birds and squirrels. Of chief concern bug wise is the plum curculio and the oriental fruit moth. In rainy years, there are some fruit rot diseases that can affect peaches as well. A fairly strict spraying schedule is usually needed to get good fruit, and organic methods are available. Even with all that possible adversity, peaches are precocious and very productive fruit trees in our area. If someone is willing to fight the battles, they can be rewarded with huge crops of delicious fruit! Peaches are considered self-pollinating so you can plant a single tree and still get a full crop.
Recommended peach varieties:
Harvester: Medium-sized peach of high quality. Ripens in late June. Very productive and very reliable.
Loring: Large, beautiful, rounded fruit. Mostly orange skin. Great quality fruit ripens around the Fourth of July.
Redskin: Ripens mid-July. Great tangy flavor. Bright orange flesh with streaks of red. Good variety for cooking and canning as well as eating out of hand.
Red Barron: A two-for-one special! Not only does it make good peaches that ripen in late June, but it also produces very showy red flowers. Very good tree shape. Wonderful ornamental fruit tree.
Plums have the exact same concerns as peaches. Some years, they bloom too early in our area and then a late frost kills the blooms and hinders the harvest. However, most years they produce fruit and I consider plums a great fruit tree to try to grow. Although some claim plums are self-pollinating, I believe they always do better when they are cross-pollinated. Plant two different varieties for the best results.
Recommended plum varieties:
Santa Rosa: Dark red-skinned plum. These usually ripen early in the growing season, often by late May. These can be very high quality with a true sweet-tart flavor.
Ozark Premier: A little later to bloom, which can be good. Large plums; one of the biggest we can grow here. Ripens in early June.
Morris: Dark red skin. Medium-sized fruit. Good producer of nice quality fruit that ripens in June.
Methley: An old standby variety throughout the South. Durable trees. Sometimes want to bloom too early in North Texas. Although small, the fruit is very sweet and of good quality. Ripens early — usually in mid-May.
Figs can be grown without the use of sprays. Usually, the only care they ever need is water when they are getting established. Figs are another fruit tree that are known for their longevity. Occasionally, ice and cold can severely damage a tree, but it usually grows again the following year from its root system and goes right back to being productive. Figs do not need pollination, so a single tree can be planted.
Recommended fig varieties:
Texas Everbearing: As the name implies, the fruit keeps coming and coming all summer from early June through the end of August. Fruit is small with a brown skin and red flesh inside. Sweet strawberry-like flavor. Old Texas standby.
Celeste: Brown fig of the highest quality. Honey-like flavor. Usually ripens in June. This is maybe the most cold-hardy of all figs that can be grown in Texas.
Alma: A white fig of very good quality. Ripens in late June.
Pomegranates are another variety to put on the easy-to-grow list. No sprays needed on these! Also, once trees are established, they are quite drought-tolerant and their late spring, orange, carnation-like flowers will soon become a favorite in your yard. Because of the hard outer skin, the fruit isn’t usually a favorite of birds and squirrels (not to say they are immune from damage). The only real negative here is that the trees can be severely damaged by cold in the worst winters. Normally trees survive, but it often sets back production quite a bit. New varieties are being tried that may offer better cold-hardiness.
Wonderful: For a long time considered the gold standard of fresh-eating Pomegranates. Large orange fruit with dark red fruit sacs inside. Great sweet-tart flavor. Can be quite susceptible to freeze damage in cold years. Ripens September through October.
Russian: Good sweet-tart taste. Very good tolerance to cold. Ripens in October.
One more for the easy list here. Persimmons make a strong, large, healthy tree. No sprays of any kind are usually needed. Birds like to peck at the orange fruit but rarely damage a whole crop. Trees have a long life span, and as an added bonus, produce beautiful fall foliage!
Fuyu: Super sweet flavor and almost pudding-like texture. Fuyu is most people’s favorite variety. Can be a little sensitive to our coldest winters.
Izu: Similar quality to Fuyu, but more cold-hardy. Ripens in September.
Saruga: Might be a bit cold-sensitive, but many have had great luck here with this variety. An outstanding feature is that this variety makes a much smaller tree than other persimmons, thus making harvest easier. Late to ripen — usually in November.
Apricots are a puzzle. They have a bad reputation for being very unproductive in Texas. Even in years when the trees bloom well, sometimes is minimal or nonexistent. However, some people in the Metroplex have had good or even great luck with these. One of the biggest problems with apricots is their habit of blooming too early and getting caught by a late frost. For this reason, proper variety selection is very important. If you are able to get them to produce, apricots tend to have fewer problems than peaches or plums. Trials are underway to find more varieties that will be good for us. I’ll spotlight a few that have a good track record for North Texas.
Bryan: Orange skin, small to medium fruit that ripens in late May to early June.
Tisdale: Another Texas-born fruit! This one was developed in Belton years ago. Later bloom time is a real plus. Good quality, medium-sized fruit that ripens in late May.
Lots of information here but growing fruit trees can be a complicated matter. A big part of growing fruit trees is trial and error. I believe in doing a little homework on this subject before you get started, so learn the basics, choose good varieties and then jump right in. Find a sunny spot in the yard and simply plant a tree or two! No matter what happens, I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did. Be warned, though – this is one hobby that can soon become an addiction!
Best of luck starting your own backyard orchard, and get those shovels sharpened because spring is coming soon!