For gardeners with time and patience, growing fruit trees is a long-term investment that can yield extremely satisfying results. However, the whole growing experience can go awry within the first year if you attempt to plant a fruit tree that is not right for your zone.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture examines annual winter temperatures and divides the U.S. into hardiness zones to help gardeners determine which plants will be most successful in their area. Growers in zone 7b have the good fortune of being able to grow at least five different fruit trees, ranging from common fruits like apples to unusual fruits like quince.
1. Apple (Malus domestica)
Apples are one of the most popular fruit tree choices for backyard orchards. With a huge variety of cultivars available, it is easy to see why.
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Before you plant an apple tree, consider your available space. Many apple tree varieties are not self-pollinating, so you may also need to plant another apple or crabapple tree nearby.
Rootstock selection will also play a part in your space planning. Apple trees that are grafted onto a standard rootstock will reach heights of 20 to 25 feet and will need that much space horizontally as well. If you graft an apple scion onto a semi-dwarf rootstock, you will need 12 to 15 feet of space; a dwarf tree will need six to eight feet of space.
If your space is limited, look for dwarfing rootstocks. They don’t require as much space but can still produce two to three bushels of apples per year.
Apple trees also need a location that receives full sun (six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day). They can thrive in a variety of soil types, but they don’t tolerate soggy soils or standing water.
- Water: Apple trees require about one inch of water per week during the growing season. If you live in a dry area, you will need to irrigate.
- Fertilizer: Apples require very little fertilization. In fact, if your soil is fairly fertile, your tree may not need any added nutrients at all. A soil test can tell you which nutrients are already available to your tree.
- Support: It’s a good idea to stake your apple trees while they’re young to protect them against wind damage.
- Pruning: Plan to prune your apple trees annually to remove dead wood, improve airflow, and distribute sunlight to lower branches.
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Red Delicious is the most popular apple tree cultivar in the U.S. Other favorites include Fuji, which is a dwarf or semi-dwarf variety, and Ginger Gold, whose fruit ripens as early as mid-July (source).
2. Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)
Delicious fresh, dried, or cooked, apricots are a good choice for growers with plenty of space.
While a single apricot tree can produce fruit alone, your chance of success will be greater if you plant a second apricot tree nearby. Apricots need about 18 feet of space, so bear that in mind as you consider your available space.
Apricots can be grafted onto almost any rootstock compatible with the genus Prunus, which includes peaches and plums. Several of these rootstocks, like Nemaguard, are resistant to soil-borne pests and diseases like root-knot nematodes (source).
When choosing a rootstock, keep spacing in mind, as a mature, standard-sized apricot tree can grow up to 50 feet tall.
Apricots should be planted in full sun and on slightly elevated ground where cool air is less likely to collect. They bloom fairly early in the spring, so choose a planting site that’s relatively protected from frost.
Apricot trees can tolerate any type of soil except those that are wet and heavy. Avoid places where water tends to pool.
Before you plant an apricot tree, it is also important to note that its leaves, stems, and seeds are toxic to humans, horses, dogs, and cats. If you have pets or farm animals who occasionally sample leaves from your yard, it may be best to plant something else.
- Water: Apricot trees need just over one inch of water per week during the growing season, either through rainfall or irrigation.
- Fertilizer: No fertilizer will be necessary unless your tree’s growth seems stunted or if your soil has a low nutrient content. Test your soil before applying any fertilizers.
- Pruning: Prune annually to remove dead branches, maintain an open shape, and encourage fruit production.
Sungold and Chinese are both known for their winter hardiness. Goldrich and Harglow are among the latest-blooming cultivars, making them somewhat less prone to damage during spring freezes.
Whether you like sweet or sour cherries, you’re in luck–both types can thrive in zone 7b! They don’t share all of the same growing requirements, however, so choose your cultivar carefully.
Sweet cherry trees need a considerable amount of space. A standard-sized sweet cherry tree will reach a maximum height and width of 25 feet, while dwarf sweet cherries may reach 14 feet tall and wide.
Sweet cherries are also self-unfruitful; two trees are required for pollination and fruit production. Trees should not be planted so closely that their branches will touch at full maturity. If space is a concern for you, try a dwarf rootstock.
Regardless of rootstock, sweet cherries need soils that drain well and are not heavy or contain too much clay. They also require full sun and adequate airflow, so avoid planting them too close to your house or another structure.
Sweet cherries bloom fairly early in the spring, putting them at risk of damage from late frosts. Avoid planting them on the southern or western sides of structures, where warm afternoon temperatures may prompt early blooming. Likewise, avoid areas with lower elevations where cold air is likely to settle.
Tart cherry trees are much smaller than sweet cherries, only about eight to fifteen feet in height and width. Furthermore, tart cherries are self-fruitful, so you only need one tree to produce a good crop.
Heavy soils are also less of a problem for tart cherry trees. If you have heavy soil, look for a tree grafted onto a Mazzard rootstock. Trees grafted onto a Mahaleb rootstock will do well in light soils.
Like sweet cherries, tart cherry trees need full sun and good airflow.
Both sweet and tart cherry trees are poisonous to cattle, sheep, and other grazing farm animals. Their leaves contain a cyanide compound that is fatal to them. If you live on a farm, plant your cherry trees well away from your pastures or choose a different fruit tree altogether.
- Water: If you don’t receive much rainfall during the growing season, plan to water deeply at regular intervals. Allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
- Fertilizer: It’s easy to over-fertilize cherry trees. If your tree is growing normally, and if a soil test doesn’t indicate a nutrient deficiency, don’t plan to fertilize.
- Pruning: Prune your cherry trees once a year to remove dead wood and encourage fruit production.
When choosing a cultivar, keep chill hours in mind. Each fruit tree requires an approximate number of hours between 32℉ and 45℉ in the winter. Both sweet and tart varieties require around 1,200 chill hours, but you may be able to find low-chill cultivars if you have short winters. (See Can Cherry Trees Survive Winter?)
Bing and Rainier are considered the “industry standard” for sweet cherry cultivars. North Star and Montmorency are tart varieties that do well in a variety of soils and climates.
4. Peach (Prunus persica)
Peach trees are another popular orchard addition across many zones in the U.S. and for good reason. There is a wide range of cultivars and rootstocks available, which means the odds are good that you can find the right peach tree for your yard.
A standard-sized peach tree will need quite a bit of space. They can reach heights up to 30 feet and need about 20 feet of space horizontally. A dwarf or semi-dwarf peach tree, however, only needs approximately 15 feet of space vertically and horizontally.
Additionally, peach trees are self-fruitful. If you only have room for one fruit tree, peaches may be the way to go.
Peach trees require well-drained soils. They are also susceptible to a number of soil-borne diseases, so test your soil before you plant. (See Why Is My Peach Tree Dying?)
Abundant sunlight is a must for peach trees; they need eight to ten hours of sunlight per day during the growing season. They also need protection from winds. If you have a slope in your yard, plant your tree on the hillside, not on the top, so it will have some shelter.
Like apricot trees, some parts of the peach tree are toxic to humans, horses, dogs, and cats. Leaves, seeds, and stems contain a cyanide compound and should not be ingested. Keep animals away from your peach trees or consider planting a different tree.
- Water: Plan to irrigate if you live in a dry area. Water deeply, allowing the soil to dry between waterings, or use a drip irrigation system.
- Fertilizer: Don’t fertilize newly planted trees until spring. Apply a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in March, May, and July.
- Pruning: Prune every year to maintain an open center, allowing for air and sunlight distribution.
Pro Tip: When planting, you can reduce stress and encourage better fruit production by planting your peach tree in the fall.
Again, consider the number of required chill hours as you choose your cultivar. There is a great selection of low, moderate, and high-chill peach tree cultivars.
In zone 7b, moderate-chill or high-chill cultivars will be the best options. Moderate-chill peaches include Goldprince and Topaz, which are also both resistant to bacterial rot. High-chill varieties also resistant to bacterial rot include Fireprince and Majestic (source).
5. Quince (Cydonia oblonga)
Quince is an unusual fruit resembling yellow apples or pears. It is rock-hard and bitter when raw but sweet and delicious when cooked or stewed into jams and jellies. If you’re looking for a fruit tree that’s off-the-beaten-path, look no further.
Quince trees don’t grow very large, usually not more than 25 feet, and often much shorter. In fact, pear growers frequently use quince as a dwarfing rootstock, since they tend to be small even when full-sized.
This makes quince a good option if you don’t have space for a large fruit tree.
Furthermore, quince is self-fruitful. If you plant two trees, both trees will produce abundantly, but a single quince tree will still produce an ample crop.
Unlike many other fruit trees, quince trees can withstand heavy, wet soils, although standing water should still be avoided.
Choose a planting site that offers some protection from wind, as quince trees are susceptible to wind damage. They can also be damaged by the sudden temperature fluctuations that are common in the spring, so a somewhat sheltered location will be best.
Quince is also one of the latest-blooming fruit trees, which means that late spring frosts are not usually a problem.
- Water: Quince trees are not drought-tolerant. If you live in a dry region, plan to water regularly during the growing season.
- Fertilizer: It is easy to over-fertilize quince trees, so do not plan to fertilize unless your soil test indicates a true nutrient deficiency in your soil.
- Pruning: Prune annually to remove suckers from the tree’s base, cut out dead branches, and encourage new growth.
Orange, Pineapple, and Smyrna are all considered “low chill” quince varieties, which makes them great choices for growers whose winters tend to be short. The Orange cultivar is also known for being highly flavorful.
Zone 7b Location and Characteristics
Any region in the United States whose lowest winter temperatures are between 5℉ and 10℉ is considered part of zone 7b. While southern states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are the most likely to include zone 7b, it is not exclusive to the South–even states as far north as Washington, Idaho, and Massachusetts have areas that fall under zone 7b.
To learn which zone you live in, use one of the many interactive tools on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. You may find it helpful to search by ZIP code since zones can vary even within counties.
Keep in mind that the hardiness zones are based only on winter temperature patterns. Other factors like soil quality, rainfall, and wind will vary throughout zone 7b and will factor into the success of your fruit trees.
If you live in zone 7b, you may be able to grow a wide variety of fruit trees right in your own backyard. In addition to the trees listed above, figs, pears, and even potted citrus fruits may do well in your area.
Don’t let your climatic zone be the only deciding factor, though. Before you choose a tree, test your soil, examine your available space, and perhaps even talk to a local expert who can help you decide which plant is right for you.