Patti Marie Travioli is a horticulturist who, by night, blogs about her passion of growing plants and gardening at By day she tends to the plants growing in her garden as well as the greenhouse and gardens for the Department of Biology at Central Michigan University.

This article applies to:



Three Great Fruit Trees for the Midwest Garden
by Patti Marie Travioli       #Edibles   #Fruit   #Trees

As a kid, I didn’t care as much about the holiday meal as much as I looked forward to enjoying the homemade jams and freshly baked desserts. As an adult, I try to create something new for the holiday meal, while still including some traditional recipes.

It’s even better when I harvest the fruit from my yard. I recall my grandfather taking us for tractor rides to harvest apples from old trees near the woods. The fruit may have been imperfect to look at, but the crisp flavors were so tart and sweet. We would take them back to the house and cook them down, then take turns stirring with the wooden pestle, watching the warm apples ooze through the vintage cone-shaped metal sieve, transforming into sauce. If you have room, try growing these three fruit trees, which will provide delicious seasonal freshness all through the winter — apple, pear and tart cherry.

Site Selection

Fruit trees grow best in sunny areas, preferably on high ground in a sandy-loamy soil. Avoid low-lying areas where frost pockets can settle in early spring, damaging flowers and fruit. A south-facing, slightly sloping incline is best.

When to Plant

Early spring, while small trees are still dormant, is the best time. Although autumn will do, research has shown that spring-planted trees establish more quickly. Wrap the trunk with a protective wrap made specifically for trees to deter animals from chewing on the soft bark. This is especially important in the fall.


Provide enough space to allow good airflow for each tree. Most dwarf fruit trees can be planted 10-12 feet apart, but some varieties may need to be 15-20 feet apart. Make sure you know the mature size for the variety you plant.


The best time to prune fruit trees is when they are dormant. I like to prune during our January thaw into February. Pruning is not only a good horticultural practice, but an art form, as well. A general rule is to prune all suckers that grow at the base of the tree and anything crossing or growing vertically. The tree should have several open spaces throughout the branches.

Insects and Diseases

Using integrated pest management, or IPM, practices is the best defense against many insect and disease problems you will encounter while growing fruit trees. Various phases of growth, such as petal fall or size of fruit, are signals to look for certain pests and diseases, or perform certain pruning techniques.

Pears encounter the same problems as apples, and cherries may share some, but have their own, as well. It is important to know how to identify each pest and which ones may pose a problem at what time of year. Identification and timing are the keys.

For example, scale is a problem pest that peaks in mid-May, and is typically not a problem after June, but could peak again in July. To deal with this pest, you would apply horticultural oil in April. If you want to grow these fruits organically, you need to start with varieties that are resistant to the diseases they are most prone to, as well as using approved organic methods for insect and disease control.

Insects and disease found to be the most problematic with apples and pears include the European red mite, apple scab, leaf roller, aphids, powdery mildew, fire blight and plum curculio. For cherries, fruit fly, plum curculio, cherry leaf spot, American brown rot and powdery mildew are issues.


Most apples (Malus spp.)grow well in USDA Zones 3 through 8, depending on the variety. Apples grow best when they have another variety for cross-pollination. Harvest time is August through October. Apples are eaten fresh, sliced and frozen, dried, sauced and frozen or canned, or preserved as apple butter or jam.

Recommended Apple Varieties 

• ‘Braeburn’ - Sweet and crisp; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 5-8

• ‘Gala’ - Sweet and crunchy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 4-9

• ‘Ginger Gold’ - Sweet and spicy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 5-9

• ‘Honeycrisp’ - Sweet and juicy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 3-6

• ‘McIntosh’ - Sweet, tart and juicy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 4-6

European or Asian Pear

European pears (Pyrus communis) are hardy in Zones 4 through 9 and grow best in a sunny space with a well-drained soil. European pear varieties best for the Midwest gardens are ‘Bartlett,’ ‘D’Anjou,’ ‘Harrow Delight,’ ‘Spartlett’ and ‘Harrow Sweet,’ which is said to be more fire-blight resistant. You can eat them fresh or preserve them by canning or making jam. I especially love a spiced pear jam infused with ginger. 

The Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia), sometimes called an apple pear because of its apple shape and pear-like skin, grows well in Zones 5 through 9, and is best for fresh eating. Harvest season is August through September.

Tart Cherry

Most tart cherries (Prunus cerasus) are self-pollinating, but planting two varieties may increase fruit quantity. For tart cherries, try growing Balaton (‘Bunched of Újfehértoí’), a newer Hungarian variety that is a little sweeter and matures about a week later than the traditionally grown ‘Montmorency’ or ‘North Star.’ Tart cherries grow well in USDA Zones 4 through 8, depending on variety. Harvest time starts in mid-June.

When tart cherries are harvested at their peak, it is easiest to pit them. Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer until frozen. Once frozen, place them in a freezer storage container. This method keeps the cherries from freezing together in one big clump. Once thawed, you can use the frozen cherries for pies, muffins or jam. Dried tart cherries are one of my favorite things to add, along with nuts, to my oatmeal.

For more information:

Apples –

Michigan State University Extension –

Enviro-weather –

National Organic Program –

Holistic Orchard Network –

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue VI. Photo by Patti Marie Travioli.


Posted: 08/06/14   RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Other People Are Reading