Perennial Orchard Groves for Growing Zone 5 (or colder)

When I began growing figs in 2012, I wanted to grow a full spectrum, and to help do so put together a fig color and flavor chart. Similarly, a few years ago I began growing a wide range of other fruits and recently put together a list of the broad spectrum of fruits (and nuts) viable in growing zone 5 or colder. At 50+ species (let alone varieties), the range of possibilities is numerous, so I needed a concise way of thinking about all possible fruits at once, classifying them in as few categories as practicable. The Perennial Orchard Groves chart is what I’ve so far sketched. A quick list of the chart’s groupings below.

Any suggestions of what might be missing?

I’m mainly interested in fruits best for fresh eating, and secondarily in high volume easy-growing fruits for processing, and finally for diversity’s sake most any perennial fruit or nut at all that might be grown in zone 5 or colder.

  1. blueberries & the like (haskap & juneberry)

  2. cherries & the like (dogwood aka cornelian cherry)

  3. currants & the like (other ribes & elderberry & eleagnus)

  4. mulberries & the like (brambles aka raspberry, blackberry, etc)

  5. frost bushes (seaberry, cranberry, aronia, etc, may sweeten post frost)

  6. groundcovers (strawberry, bearberry, lingonberry, wintergreen, etc)

  7. vines (grapes, hardy kiwi, arctic kiwi)

  8. trees (plum, pear, apricot, persimmon, apple, pawpaw, medlar, etc)

  9. goji [the anomaly]

  10. nuts (hazelnut, chinquapin, chestnut and seven others)

More detailed chart and more full explanation at link:

Set aside nuts, and combine goji with the vines group and with the mulberry and brambles group into a single “arbor fruits” group (which is how I’m growing the core plants of these kinds, on supports) and you are now down to the 7 groups of blueberry, cherry, currant, frost bush, groundcover, trees, and arbor (leaners).

Thinking about the fruits and nuts in these 7 or 10 categories has helped me to order yard and orchard placement (to the extent that I want it ordered, which can vary widely). Instead of thinking, Do I want to place one of 50+ fruits and nut species in any given spot?, I can consider locating 7 or 10 distinctive types of fruit. Blueberry kinds here, cherry kinds there, currant kinds nearby, frost kinds at a remove, etc. This helps a lot with considering the full range of fruit flavor and shape to harvest, and with plotting small groves, or groves of groves, in a yard or field. It’s a way to solve chaos and work with multiple species and countless varieties of those species in simple, orderly ways that inform planting and harvesting spots and ideas.

Even more concision is possible for the 50+ species, the 7 or 10 groups of fruits and nuts for short seasons, if the focus is mainly on the 4 basic plant shapes and sizes: 1) groundcovers, grow low, 2) trees, grow high, 3) bushes, grow "just right," and 4) arbor fruits, need infrastructure.

Each of the 10 groups has at least one member that can be grown in bush form, except for the vines, which can however be grown on sturdy short trees, so mechanical infrastructure while useful isn’t actually a requirement to grow every single fruit or nut. Thus, a comprehensive orchard can be planted in a semi-wild fashion. Or, conversely, the orchard can be tightly worked by way of dedicated pruning, limb training, sculpting to keep virtually any type of productive fruit tree or big bush at head height or lower. Groundcovers can be creatively raised to bush-level too.

Let to grow wild, of the 10 groups, 5 or 6 groups are mostly bushes, 2 groups are mostly trees, 1 group is groundcover, and 1 to 3 groups are arbor fruits. I try to locate groundcover fruits where they won’t get trampled. I try to locate frost fruits at a distance or on the margins. I try to locate tree fruits and nuts where there is room, where they provide good shade, and/or where they don’t obstruct a view. Arbor fruits go on a strong garden fence. The flavorful mainly bush groups like blueberry, cherry, and currants get prioritized locations (also weeping mulberry) since I favor them for combining big flavor with small size (of plant, also incidentally small size of fruit).

When trying to get the greatest diversity into the smallest space, a great help is to plant the smallest or most bush-like varieties of these species, the otherwise big bushes, or tall tree fruits and nuts. So, bush cherries rather than tree cherries; Weeping (bush) mulberry rather than tree mulberries; bush (Regent) juneberries rather than tree juneberries, Ranch elderberry rather than the bigger variants, Nero rather than Viking aronia, lowbush rather than highbush blueberries, and so on. These and other varietal delineations go beyond the scope of the species breakdown in the Perennial Orchard Groves chart.

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