Favorite fruit trees in pacific northwest
January 20, 2016 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I have room for perhaps 5 semi-dwarf fruit trees in my backyard near Seattle (Zone 8b), plus a handful of berry bushes. I know blueberries and apples grow well here so I plan to have some of each. Also, some (all?) plums nearby seem remarkably pest-free. Are there other favorites that aren't too much fuss that the family can enjoy picking? Figs? Cherries? Are mulberries too messy? I'm usually a DIYer but is it worth it to hire a edible landscaping consultant in this case? Thanks.
posted by Space Dog to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
My main plant-choosing metric is whether I can find the fruit for sale easily. I went for yellow and black raspberries, gooseberries, wild blueberries, tart cherries (Carmine Jewel bush cherry - yum!), and heirloom apple varietals. I would have had apricots or plums if I'd had the space. Having decided that gooseberries aren't as delicious as I'd hoped, I might be about to rip them out and plant a grape vine.
Mulberries are a fine example of something much easier to grow your own than to find them for sale, but personally I don't like them (too bland), so there's none in my yard. If you think they're delicious go ahead and plant them.
posted by aimedwander at 9:28 AM on January 20, 2016

Quince also grow well here but are hard to find for sale, if you want something a little more exotic.
posted by The otter lady at 9:33 AM on January 20, 2016

We had a mulberry tree when I was growing up, and it was incredibly messy.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:35 AM on January 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Our house has a fuyu persimmon tree that's done very well. :)
posted by homodachi at 9:42 AM on January 20, 2016

Have you checked out the Raintree Nursery or Cloud Mountain Farm catalogs? They're both located in Western Washington (near Chehalis and Bellingham, respectively). The catalogs are helpful, and you can always call or visit to get advice or buy plants there about the best varieties for the Seattle area.

A previous house I lived at came with grapes, figs and cherries (Rainier) that produced well. Unfortunately, as soon as the cherries ripened, the birds got them all, so if you plant a cherry tree, make sure you keep it pruned such that you can keep netting over it. I didn't have any luck with a Frost peach, which supposedly can grow and fruit successfully in Seattle. I did have luck with a Pakistan Mulberry, but I didn't particularly like the flavor (too much of a vegetal flavor rather than fruity for me). We also had some success growing hardy kiwi vines, but it took a few years to get it to fruit.

I friend has been trying to grow pawpaw in Seattle - in the last ten years only once did the trees produce fruit that ripened (it was delicious, though).
posted by ShooBoo at 10:24 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend the Desert King fig cultivar. It may well be the most reliable producer in the Seattle area. You won't find the fruit in stores because it's so soft and gooey, it doesn't ship well. It's like giant droplets of candy hanging from the tree.
posted by oxisos at 10:26 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a some dwarf pear trees (Bartlett and Anjou). They're tiny, low maintainance and quiet fruitful.
posted by zinon at 11:31 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mulberry trees are messy and not that pretty and, in my experience, are frickin' huge.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:33 AM on January 20, 2016

Figs are great, but will draw raccoons from near and far (which isn't a bad thing, just something that'll leave you with no fruit for yourself until your tree is mature and makes more than a few figs).

If you're seeing happy plums near you, look into getting a greengage. They're not the most common plum in the U.S., and they're delicious. I grew up with plum trees, but never saw a greengage until I was an exchange student in France. It's a gorgeous tree, and it won't get monstrously huge (especialy if you prune it judiciously as it matures).

A friend of ours in your area has some huckleberries. They're very dense and pretty.

I make quince membrillo every year. Qunice are expensive! If you like cooking with fruit, quince is a winner that will reward you. Plus the shrub is gorgeous and represents seasons wonderfully. Note here that I'm talking about "true" quince (Cydonia oblonga) rather than "flowering" quince (the Chaenomeles genus), but both are great to have around. (I grew up with a flowering quince and it was very stubborn about fruiting, which may be different in your zone).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:08 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thimble berries (they taste like raspberry jam!) do really well there, and are delicate enough that it's rare to find them in shops outside of very local farmers' markets. For trees, try Montmorceny tart cherry.

You could hire a professional, but if you take a day or two to observe your yard, you can probably do it yourself. Map out where the sun hits when in your yard to identify your high, mid, and low light areas and figure out how well or poorly your soil drains by looking at soil content and the slope or hollowing of the terrain.
posted by ananci at 12:24 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

In the same zone as you - my yard has plum, crabapple, persimmon, and asian pear trees. These are long established trees. The asian pear trees produce the most fruit by far, even after a drought and no supplemental watering, but they ripen very late in the season and quickly turn to mush. The Italian plums are in a bad spot (in the shadow of the cedar and douglas firs, what the heck?) and don't produce much. That said, I lived in another house, same zone, with a very neglected Italian plum tree and it produced plenty of fruit. It just wasn't great fruit. Our persimmons have been the victims of very poor pruning prior to our ownership - they are great big leafy trees but don't produce very much fruit (3-5 per tree), and, again, kind of bland. Our crabapple has actually given us the most satisfaction the past couple of years - they are juicy and sweet (... well, for crabapple, that is ...)! Everyone I know in western Washington who has a fruiting cherry tree has never gotten any fruit before the birds are it all up.

My main piece of advice is to not go too crazy adding several fruit trees all at once. The prior owners of my house/lot did that and it shows. Choose 1 or 2 carefully, and give them time to really develop.

p.s. For the love of god, don't lay your trees out in a too tight grid pattern!
posted by stowaway at 12:52 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Figs are great, but will draw raccoons from near and far (which isn't a bad thing, just something that'll leave you with no fruit for yourself until your tree is mature and makes more than a few figs).
I lived in a house in Ballard with a fig tree in the backyard and saw nary a raccoon in three years, so I'm not sure if this is Seattle-specific advice. (Which I say because I haven't seen a raccoon in Seattle, period, though I know there's plenty here. I have lived places with awful, obnoxious raccoons and am familiar with their antics, but Seattle ones don't seem to get in as much mischief!)

So, I would strongly recommend a fig tree, as they do really well here! The figs were absolutely delicious (as oxisos describes, like giant droplets of candy) and produced well without the huge mess we got from the cherry tree that was also in the backyard.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:11 PM on January 20, 2016

Gooseberries ARE delicious to some of us, pace aimedwander, and don't need as much sun as some other fruiting plants. Thorns, though. Use for tarts, in fruit compote, keep in freezer for jamish occasions. "Interesting" taste raw; so tasty cooked. Red currants are beautiful.

Sour cherries benefit from netting to keep the birds away. It's a pain but necessary. And being in the northwest you probably get more cherries for less money than we do on this other coast.

Quince are wonderful fruit—but the trees are disease prone. I don't spray and lost one to black knot (?). Stark Bros. will have at least one quince variety later in the year.

Am presently in love with Chestnut Crab apple. It's a larger crab apple and it's delicious. Fruited the third year, starting from a sad little stick. Some info here. And it was self-pollinating.
posted by xaryts at 1:22 PM on January 20, 2016

Asian pears grew well for me when I lived there and were delicious.
posted by summerstorm at 7:22 PM on January 20, 2016

Be aware that some fruit trees are self-sterile and require a tree of another variety in order to fruit.

Also, if you can't make up your mind, you can buy trees that are multiple varieties grafted onto the same root stock. This is nice for stone fruit when you don't want a tree full of apricots and would be happy with say, plums, apricots and peaches in lesser quantities.

If you want to choose from a wider variety of apple, take a look at Fedco - they have an astounding stock of apple trees.
posted by plinth at 5:31 AM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you can't get to Raintree or Cloud Mountain, Swanson's is also big and good and will advise you. I'd go with first choosing what you like to eat, then of that what doesn't ship well, then asking the nursery what they recommend.
posted by clew at 12:01 PM on January 21, 2016

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