Selecting fruit trees and berries

From bountiful gardens of vegetables and fruits to edible landscapes filled with berries, the idea of growing your own food sounds easy. The first step towards success is making the right selection to start with.

hand grabbing peach from tree
Many peach varieties require at least 700 chill hours to bloom, which makes them a good fruit tree choice for our area. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet, Cooperative Extension.

If you are new to the world of fruit gardening, it is a different environment. Gone are the days of reading a packet and planting the seed. Now it comes down to what fruit you really like, if it’s a good species for the area, if it needs a pollinator, or what’s going to give you the most fruit production.

If you want to start with something easy, start with fast-growing berries. Grapes, raspberries and strawberries are simple additions to the landscape or garden and provide good harvests. Just make sure before you purchase anything, you know how cold it gets at your home, the USDA hardiness zone equivalent, and how much space each plant will need to grow. Most berries need room to spread and, in some cases, area to climb.

Be careful when using hardiness zone maps, as many do not recognize the cold pockets around Nevada. Many maps list the majority of our area as never dropping below zero degrees Fahrenheit, which places us at USDA hardiness zone 7a. The majority of northern Nevada areas have temperatures that can easily drop to the negative side of the thermometer because of the wind-chill factor. Keep this in mind when choosing plants. Choose plants hardy to negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit, which puts you in USDA zone 6.

When it comes to choosing fruit trees, you need to go a few steps further. First, think about what you like and ask yourself, can it grow here? Next, consider size. Do you have the space? Then it gets a little more complicated with pollination requirements, chill hours and rootstock.

It is important to read the tag and do research before picking up a tree from the nursery or ordering a tree online. It can be more than a disappointment when you put years of training and pruning into a tree that never produces fruit because it blooms too early and freezes, or needs another tree for cross-pollination.

Most fruit trees will not break dormancy to bloom until after they have received a certain number of cold hours. The hours of cold temperature must be in the range of 45 degrees Fahrenheit to 32 Fahrenheit during this dormant period; this is what we refer to as “chill hours.” In our area, plants perform best when they require at least 700 chill hours to bloom. That is why most gardeners tend to go for apples, pears, peaches and cherries. When it comes to plums and apricots, however, the selection of high-chill cultivars gets smaller.

All of this may seem a little daunting, but you can learn more about selecting fruit trees and berries by attending Grow Your Own, Nevada! or by contacting a local Master Gardener.


Wendy Hanson Mazet is the Master Gardener Program coordinator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Washoe County. Have questions about your plants? Contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or, or visit