Selecting non-marginal fruit for cool summers and mild winters (East SF Bay Area Zone 10a)

Hi folks,

Please comment on this list! I am in the Berkeley Hills of SF Bay Area. I want happy and productive plants. I want to know if there is anything here that will disappoint in my cool-summer and mild-winter climate—a somewhat challenging one for fruit selection! I worry the summers here aren’t warm enough to sweeten black mulberries or figs or the Weeping Santa Rosa plum. And I wonder if berries would be productive (as I sometimes see them listed as only up to zone 8). Thank you for your advice in advance!

Anna apple
Dorsett Golden apple
Weeping Santa Rosa Plum
Beauty plum
Black mulberry bush (Trees of Antiquity)
White Persian mulberry (Trees of Antiquity)
Chocolate persimmon
Saijo persimmon
Izu persimmon
Desert King fig
Violette de Bourdeaux fig
Pineapple guava (5 varieties)
Reed avocado
Bacon avocado
Black Knight passion fruit
Golden muscat grapes
Quinault strawberry
Taye berry
Fall Gold raspberry
Thornless Chester blackberry
Carolina Raspberry

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I live out at Point Reyes, an environment not much different from yours (if a bit windier). I grow mostly apples, and based on my experience, I think it pretty unlikely that you have to limit yourself to low-chill varieties like Anna and DG. Almost everything that I’ve tried has done great here. I have apples ripening from early July into December.

Loganberries bear well here, and I’m adding tayberries this winter. Raspberries do fine with supplemental water. Figs and pineapple guava bear well, too. Beauty plum didn’t bear well for me, but neighbors have Santa Rosas that do just fine. I also have a very productive Burbank plum. A neighbor also has a productive persimmon, though I’m not sure of the variety. Many neighbors have productive loquats.

Peach leaf curl is a problem here, but Indian Free and (especially) Black Boy peaches have done well for me.

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I was also wondering if you were being conservative in your apple varieties because you thought only the low chill apples would grow there. I’m also in zone 10a on the coast, though not in the Bay area. I agree with @jerry that you don’t need to limit yourself so much on the apples.

I have a weeping Santa Rosa plum. It does great and produces awesome fruit. I also have a Violette de Bourdeaux fig, but I just planted it a couple of months ago, so too soon to tell.

Might I suggest that you look into a day-neutral variety of strawberry such as Albion or Seascape? With the temps you have there, you should get berries almost every day of the year if you go with day-neutral varieties.

I notice you don’t have any peaches or nectarines on your list. Do you dislike them, or is that you think they won’t grow well there?

You should be in a good climate for many of the European plums. There has been some success in PNW with Hollywood plum, Emerald Beaut plum, Flavor Grenade pluot, and Emerald Drop pluot. Jonagold and Gala apples do well, but there are many others that thrive in the mild weather. Blueberries would probably be a good choice.

A quick search is showing similar temperatures in our near/extended forecast. Your chill hours probably differ. I found this very useful. pnw fruits.pdf (1.1 MB)
It lists some proven varieties for the mild climate of W Washington.

@jerry and @CA_Poppy I’d love to hear what apples you’ve grown successfully! There are lots that look interesting to me, but have no idea how far I could push the envelope in terms of chill hours. Last I looked, we got 166 chill hours here.

Besides wanting apple trees that will be productive and happy (and hopefully disease-free!), I also want trees that are good pollinators. I hope to experiment with grafts and don’t want to be limited by bloom time. What do you think of White Winter Pearmain, Golden Delicious, or Grimes’ Golden?

As for plums: Excited to hear the Weeping SR does well for you @CA_Poppy !
@jerry That’s interesting to know about your Burbank plum too.
I was thinking we just didn’t get enough heat to justify NOT getting the one I see described as the one most likely to actually taste decent in this challenging summer climate. I will look into the Burbank. Any other plums you think I should consider?

I worry we don’t get enough heat to make the peaches and nectarines sweet and tasty enough to justify the tree space. The Master Gardener’s file for my county claims peaches and nectarines must be planted in the warmest spots to succeed in this area. I don’t think that applies to us. I just took another look (https://ucanr.edu/sites/ccmg/files/228958.pdf), and I noticed they don’t have the same caution for apricots. We are sunset zone 17

Re strawberries: Will certainly check those out!

@nil I initially wanted an Emerald Beaut plum, it’s my absolute favorite. However, after learning it requires 800+ chill hours, I decided it was out of reach for us (less than 200 chill hours). Will check out the others!

Thank you for all your thoughts!

I am Sunset zone 17 as well.

Regarding the apples, I started questioning the low chill limitation after visiting an apple farm that is in a coastal valley about 10 miles from where I live. They grow probably 30-40 different apples, none of them what we would classify as low chill varieties. Their apples include: Gravenstein, Gala, Burgundy, Laura Red, Ida Red, Mollie’s Delicious, Tohoku, Empire, Mutsu, Elstar, Jonathan, Hawaii, Jonadel, Bellflower, Redgold, Golden Delicious, Chieftan, Braeburn, Nittany, Criterion, Mohawk, Jonalicious, Red Delicious, Northern Spy, Russet, Spitzenberg, Calville Blanc, Black Amish, Honeycrisp, Red Yorking, Turley Winesap, Limbertwig (not sure which one), Stayman Winesap, Fuji, Rome Beauty, Heaven Sent, Little Gem, Splendour, Tydeman Red, Newton Pippin, Pink Lady, Chesapeake, Granny Smith, Black Twig, Sun Crisp, Sundowner, Lady Williams. Then I found this information. I was wanting to learn how to graft anyway, so I started an apple FrankenTree. It’s about 3 feet tall and has 10 different varieties grafted onto it. It’s still really young so a lot of the scions I grafted on it are less than two years old and haven’t fruited yet. But the tree was Gravenstein to start with, and it does bear yummy Gravensteins every year. I recommend grafting multiple varieties onto one apple tree as the way to go if you want to try out new varieties.

As far as peaches go, my favorite peach variety of all time for both fruit and flowers also happens to be low chill. It is called Red Baron. Here is a picture of it in my yard: https://growingfruit.org/t/back-yard-landscaping/27491. It hasn’t been in the ground long, but I got peaches off it last year and they were excellent.

And lastly, are you sure your chill hours are less than 200? Chill hours are generally defined as between 32 and 45 degrees F. For years I was given the wrong information by nursery people who told me chill hours were below 32 degrees. My chill hours here are usually in the 250-400 hour range. UC Davis has Cumulative Chill Hour Data compiled from stations throughout California.

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Those are all excellent pollenizers that do well in our climate, and they provide a good spread of bloom times. Another to consider for that group is Winter Banana. I grow all of these here and recommend them.

I also do a lot of apple grafting. I have about forty trees here, and several of the mature ones have 20 to 30 grafts each. I get to try out a lot of varieties that way. I’ve found that everything seems to do just fine here, so recommending varieties has more to do with what you like than what will succeed. That said, here’s a short list of other apples that are common around here and/or that I particularly like:

  • Crimson Gold
  • Freyberg
  • Golden Russet
  • GoldRush
  • Gravenstein
  • Hauer Pippin
  • Hawaii
  • Hudson’s Golden Gem
  • Hoople’s Antique Gold
  • King David
  • Lamb Abbey Pearmain
  • Newtown/Albemarle Pippin
  • Pink Parfait
  • Pink Pearl
  • Pitmaston Pineapple
  • Red Devil
  • Rubinette
  • Spigold
  • Stayman
  • Strawberry Parfait
  • Trailman
  • Wickson
  • Williams’ Pride
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@jerry @CA_Poppy Thank you so much for these lists!

@CA_Poppy beautiful garden! Re the chill hours: I looked up the info from the closest weather station to me, which is pretty close. I might get slightly more chill, but not much. This lines up with what I’ve casually observed in weather forecasts too.

I’m very encouraged that I can try many apples (with grafting)! I’ve decided to get two apple trees for now (with room for more later, plus grafting), so will have to make an a difficult decision. So much variety from which to choose! Any thoughts on what two starter apple trees you’d recommend if you had only two options? Considerations include bloom time, productivity, vigor, disease resistance, and storage. Anna and Golden Dorsett seemed like a great pair back when I thought I needed to be under 200 chill hours, but now that you have educated me, I’m less sure!

Thanks :slight_smile:

To those considerations, I’d add ability to pollinate other trees and ripening time.

You’ll want to avoid planting two triploid apples at first; at least one should be diploid. In my list above, I believe only Gravenstein and Stayman are triploid. If you do pick a triploid, make sure that the diploid partner blooms at around the same time and is self-fertile. There’s a good tool for checking this here. Once you have more trees and/or grafts, this will cease to be much of an issue.

You may also want to try to choose varieties that bear at different times to spread out your harvest. Again, once you have more varieties present, this will tend to take care of itself.

Beyond that, it comes down to what you like. I might pick Rubinette (late harvest) as one tree and either Kind David (very late harvest) or Williams’ Pride (very early harvest) as its partner. Your tastes and priorities might dictate a very different pair. If storage is your top priority, for example, you might want to choose a compatible pair which includes GoldRush or Hauer Pippin.

Remember that once you have healthy roots in the ground, you can easily graft onto (or over) whatever you decide to plant, so you’re not at all stuck with the choices that you make now. Do make sure that you pick appropriate rootstock, though. In our summer-dry climate, I recommend MM111 (or EMLA111) and using pruning to limit the size as desired.

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Anna, Dorsett Golden, and Einsheimer seem to be the holy trinity of low-to-no-chill apple varieties. I will say up front I have not grown any of them, but in researching different apple varieties I have seen overwhelmingly favorable reviews for Anna and pretty good reviews for Dorsett Golden, but most people seem to find Einsheimer unimpressive in terms of fruit quality. Fruit quality is always my primary consideration in choosing a variety, because if you don’t like the fruit, why bother having the tree?

So I don’t think you would go wrong with choosing Anna and Dorsett Golden for your first two trees. They should be pretty bulletproof as far as being able to produce fruit at your level of chill hours. And as @Jerry pointed out, once you get those two trees established and start grafting, you won’t be limited to those varieties.

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My only concern with Anna and DG in our climate is that they bloom so early that they’re more likely to fall victim to late cold snaps. Cold can kill buds or blooms, and can even freeze the cambium of young trees that have broken dormancy. I’ve had the latter happen here a couple of times following a freakishly warm January, and one of the victims was a Shell of Alabama (which blooms at about the same time as Anna).

If you get an occasional late cold snap in the Berkeley Hills, you may see the same thing. Trees that bloom later are less susceptible.

Very interesting to know about Anna vs GD. And also interesting re the susceptibility to cold snaps!

Anyhow, I had what I’m calling “apple insomnia” last night, I kept reading about varieties, trying to decide. I finally settled on what I hope is a good duo: White Pearmain and Goldrush. I’m really interested in filling in the fruit gap in the spring, and I realized the earlier apples would certainly not work for that. Goldrush won out for its excellent storage capacity. And also for its disease resistance! I found a couple different sources describing it as basically resistant to everything except for Cedar Apple Rust.

I’m also a little nervous about totally ignoring chill hours, as it really is pretty mild here. Of the apples described as “good pollinators” that weren’t super early, WP had relatively lower chill requirements while also having decent storage. Besides, it’s native home is pretty mild, not unlike here. I get that maybe all those chill requirements are perhaps misguided, but I’m risk-averse, and so I’m trying to follow it at least lightly.

It felt so hard to leave so many enticing apples on the table! Good news is that we have room for more trees, and there is always grafting, so I’m hoping this is just the beginning!

If I were to later plant or graft an Anna, would it produce poorly having only the WP and the Goldrush nearby, which bloom later?

I hope this video in the link below will set your mind at ease.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=htz5BUNMB38

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Yes it does help a little :slightly_smiling_face: Still, tho, if I have a choice between an apple that everyone agrees will do well in my <200 chill hours vs one that many reputable nurseries list as requiring more chill… I do wonder. I’m a researcher by training and am constitutionally wary of anecdotal evidence. Just because we have examples here and there of trees producing at one point in time in a given climate, it doesn’t necessarily tell me they aren’t overall susceptible to disease, lower in production, etc. than would otherwise be the case in a more suitable location. Seeing actual systematic research (like I’ve seen on how Orange Cox Pippin sets better in some lower chill areas) is more convincing to me, all else being equal. But I’m new to this! So not taking a stand here, just articulating my hesitation

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I believe that @applenut has written that while Anna and DG will bear without another pollen source, they produce larger/better fruit when pollinated by another suitable variety. They bloom so early that they’re very frequently planted as a pair, though he reports that Shell of Alabama will also work for this. He has some notes on these apples here and here.

Are you certain you are less than 200 chill hours? What data are you using to determine your CH? Depending on terrain, there can be a significant difference, even a short distance away. Cold air can settle in some locations.

Just to add to what Jerry already said. @applenut has done a lot of experiments to bust the myth of chill hours in many of the Apple varieties. His place (and the nearby schools and other places he planted) in So. Cal should definitely have less chill hours than Berkeley and he can grow a wide variety of apples which were previously said to require lot of chill hours. You can find the warm climate Apple varieties and notes here

http://www.kuffelcreek.com/applelist.htm

Of course, this is not a rigorous scientific experiment, but the chill hours marked in Apple varieties are even less substantiated.

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Yes I’m fascinated by the fact that the chill hours are demonstrably wildly off! I’m still unconvinced that chill hours have absolutely no correlation with anything we care about, especially over the entire life cycle of a tree. Tho maybe that’s true! I hope to be convinced, that would be great news for apple growers in warm climates everywhere. Lots of fun reading ahead of me. Thanks for sharing

@nil Is there a reason not to trust the closest weather station data? As I stated above, it’s pretty close to me. It certainly feels plausible, as it’s rare for me to notice the temperature ever dropping below 40F on the thermometer. If anything, I’m surprised to see it’s so high, considering how mild it always seems to be here. You can look for yourself, it’s El Cerrito: http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/77176.pdf

The fine print for El Cerrito says only 2 years of data out of 14 was available. I would consider that a pretty good reason not to trust the data.

Interesting. I am curious: how would you go about determining chill hours in this situation? I’m also curious to know why you so strongly suspect I might have more chill hours. Is there something about my location? I’m telling you that the temp doesn’t drop much here, I live here :slight_smile: LOL