The best time to plan for the 2011 growing season is during the cold, dreary, short days of winter when the new nursery catalogs magically appear with glossy pictures of luscious fruits. Although those perfect fruit photos of exotic new cultivars are tempting, the best plan is to choose cultivars appropriate for Missouri's erratic climate. Also, whenever possible, choose the most disease-resistant cultivars available to minimize control problems. Unfortunately, insect resistant fruit cultivars have yet to be developed.
In Missouri, the predominant disease that kills apple trees or causes significant limb loss is fire blight. Other major diseases include apple scab, cedar apple rust, and powdery mildew. The top three recommended apple cultivars for which there is immunity or resistance are Williams' Pride, Liberty, and Enterprise. Williams' Pride is a dark-red fruit with a sweet flavor balanced with acidity. This cultivar is harvested in late July to early August. Liberty is a very tart-flavored red apple that matures near Labor Day in central Missouri. Because of the high temperatures during ripening, both Williams' Pride and Liberty fruits soften rapidly at maturity. The harvest period for high quality Liberty fruit is short and apples will drop from the tree if not harvested quickly. Both cultivars have a relatively short storage life in refrigeration. Enterprise is harvested around October 10 to 15 in central Missouri and stores well as temperatures are cooler at this time. These apples will continue to hang on the tree even when overripe. Although Enterprise fruit can be eaten immediately after harvest, its spicy, tart flavor continues to develop and is enhanced after a month in refrigeration. Be aware that these cultivars are susceptible to other summer diseases such fly speck and sooty blotch.
Other old time apple favorites, that continue to be planted, are Arkansas Black, Red York, and Winesap. All three of these cultivars have withstood the test of time because of their disease resistance, late harvest dates, and quality during long term cold storage. As with nearly all apples, two different cultivars with overlapping flowering dates are required for cross-pollination and fruit set. Winesap is one of the few pollen-sterile cultivars so it cannot be used to pollinate other cultivars.
When choosing pear trees, select cultivars with fire blight resistance. As with apple, this bacterial disease can kill young trees. Timely spraying of a bactericide is often difficult in a backyard situation. Unfortunately, the high quality pears grown in the Pacific Northwest, such as Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc, and Comice, are very susceptible to fire blight. However, Moonglow, Starking® Delicious, and Seckel are resistant to this disease.
When choosing stone fruit cultivars, cold hardiness is important. For this reason, apricots, sweet cherries, and Japanese plums are not generally recommended for planting in Missouri. These fruit do not bear fruit reliably due to bud loss during periods of fluctuating temperatures in February and late spring frosts in central and northern Missouri. For peach, cultivars should also be resistant to bacterial spot. Some of the cultivars that have relatively good bacterial spot resistance and are therefore recommended include Biscoe, Redhaven, Redskin, Loring, Belle of Georgia, etc. The most reliable plums are the European types (also called prune-plums) such as Stanley and Earliblue. Tart cherries generally produce better than sweet cherries in Missouri because of their superior cold hardiness. Montmorency was first introduced into the United States in 1760 from France and remains a standard in home gardens. However, bright sunshine immediately following rain near harvest often results in fruit loss due to skin cracking. All of the stone fruits are plagued by brown rot, which is especially problematic during wet weather. Be aware that some of the exotic hybrids such as apriums (apricot x plum), plumcots (plum x apricot), cherums (cherry x plum) and peacotums (peach x apricot x plum) developed in California may not perform well under the Midwest climatic conditions. If you lured by the novelty of these exotics, it's probably best to purchase them at the grocery store.
The biggest problem home gardeners face is finding enough area in full sun during the day to plant all these terrific fruit trees. Pare down you list and only plant climatically adapted cultivars with good disease resistance in the well-drained spots in your yard. Choose wisely and place those orders now for on-line or mail-order fruit trees to ensure that the ones you want are available for planting during late March or early April 2011.
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REVISED: December 6, 2011