Stone Fruit Cultivar/Rootstock Recommendations for Climate Zone 7a

First off, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in a forum with such an august group. I am glad to discover there are others out there who have vast experience in some of the same approaches we are considering.

My purpose for posting relates to our interest in developing a high-density, multi-species, successive-ripening orchard on a 1/3 acre plot for home consumption and as an “incubator” for future development of a farmer’s market-scale orchard utilizing something akin to the “Backyard Orchard Culture” approach. We are located near Paducah, KY which is classified as USDA Hardiness Zone 7a (Sunset Zone 33).

We have learned through numerous discussions with our State Research Orchard and other commercial growers in our area that stone fruits (apricots/interspecifics, cherries and asian plums in particular and Peaches and Nectarines to a lesser extent) are difficult to grow successfully in our climate due to early blooming and disease vectors.

Along those lines, has anyone in the upper south had good success growing stone fruits? If so, do you mind to share what particular cultivars and rootstocks have proven most inherently robust to our regional climate and disease pressures?

For what it is worth, our particular soil is classified by the NRCS as “Feliciana” Silt Loam.

Thanks to all for any advice you might be able to share. I sincerely appreciate it!


For anyone else interested Feliciana silt loam is a deep well drained soil that should be prime orchard land in terms of tree health and water supplying capability.

Just as important for a stone fruit orchard site in a frost prone area is air drainage. I’ll assume that’s only fair at best. Stone fruit would do best on an elevated site.

I can’t help you with stone fruit selection for your area. And you already know that apples and pears are better adapted to that climate and soil than stone fruit. Nearly every big peach orchard in Texas is on sandier soil and sloping land.

Olpea is the one to help you with stone fruit variety selection. He’s near Kansas City on heavy soil. That’s a pretty similar climate with frost issues.

Welcome, Russ!

Let me get the attention of a couple people in your geographic area: @thecityman, @RobThomas, @Graftman, and @subdood_ky_z6b. Also @Olpea is in Kansas and knows a lot about good peach varieties.

My recollection from what people have posted here is that for stone fruits early frosts are a big potential problem, as are rapid temperature changes in mid-winter. So, I think fruitnut is right on target on the main issue, make sure you have a relatively good location so the temperature fluctuations will not be so bad. For varieties of peach, you want to avoid the early bloomers and also make sure they are bacterial spot and brown rot resistant. There are many many peach varieties, part of the problem is finding a retailer for the ones you like. I am a fan of the North Carolina peaches myself, they are bred to be highly disease-resistant and they taste very good as well. Winblo, Clayton, and Carolina Gold are some of the good ones from that program.

Hey Russ, nice to see a fellow Kentucky member on here, even tho we are about as far apart as you can be and still be in the same state! I’m in far NE KY, in zone 6b, near both the Ohio and WV borders.

I have been thru your area a few times, my kinfolk are in OK, and we drive thru Paducah right before we cross the river into Missouri. The terrain is quite flatter than here, and I imagine warmer in general, hence you being in zone 7.

Unfortunately, I can’t offer any stone fruit performance reports from our place as our peach trees have only been in the ground for a year, and a couple were planted in March. Peaches are hit and miss in the eastern part of the state, but are a better shot where you’re at. Apricots are even more of a long shot here, because they’re very early blooming. I considered adding some 'cots this year, but decided against it, as why bother with a tree that prob won’t produce most years?

Our soil is called Shelocta loam, and is generally a well draining soil, but it is very acidic, running around 5.0. Some plots are better than others, but where I have some apple and peaches, the pH is 5.0, not ideal for either fruit. If I knew it was that acidic before planting, I would’ve limed the plot to get the pH up. My peaches struggled to get going last year, the apples did better.

I got a soil test done on that plot this year, and applied lime and fertilizer to the trees that really needed it. The peach trees seemed to really have responded to it already. I’d suggest you get a soil test done, your county extension office can run your soil samples. It only cost me $3 a plot.

We have, however, been to a large orchard near Paris, KY, called Reed Valley, and they grow lots of apples, some pears, and peaches, along with various berry types. Last year they didn’t get any peaches due to a very late frost, in May I believe. This year, they had another freeze after bloom time, and they’re in a wait and see mode on how much they’ll have that come to fruition. Here is a link to their site, and this page shows what varieties of all the fruit they grow:

I kinda based what they could grow in our region for what I planted on our farm. We have Redhaven, Coralstar, Blushingstar, and Contender, which they also grow. I also consulted a University of Kentucky evaluation of peach and nectarine varieties, as far as cold hardiness, bacterial spot resistance, yield, etc is concerned:

Here is another UK write-up on growing peaches here:

For rootstock evaluations of various fruit trees, this is a very informative study from UK as well.

Another member from the forum, like @Lucky_P, who is in the Hopkinsville, KY area, might have some info for you as well. But like @fruitnut, and @scottfsmith said, @Olpea has a peach growing business in Kansas, and can give some more detailed insight.

Good luck with your endeavors, and welcome to the forum.


Hi Russ.

Scott and Fruitnut are fruit sages and have given excellent advice. Subdood is a regular enthusiastic contributor and has provided some great links.

Here apricots, J. plums and sweet cherries are pretty much non-starters. With few exceptions, they bloom too early for the frosts. Shiro is a J. plum which is a little more consistent cropper (still blooms early) but I had severe problems with black knot, so I removed it. Others on this forum don’t have issues w/ Shiro and black knot, but for me, it was the only plum variety out of about a dozen that I grow, which had a big problem with black knot.

Zard apriot is an exception to early blooming cots. I have a couple Zards that bloom with peaches. I haven’t tasted any of the fruit yet (they are young and just bloomed a little this season - just two or three blooms) but they seem to bloom much later than other “late blooming” cots I’ve tried. Scott says Zard blooms late for him.

Sweet cherries are very prone to canker in my climate. I would think the same would be true for yours. And of course they bloom very early. Plus they are prone to crack in rain, unless you get the right varieties.

Peaches are easier to grow than nects. They are also easier to sell (in my area). Many people here don’t even really know what a nectarine is. Peaches are a fairly profitable crop because they crop early and command reasonably good prices. Some years they are frosted out. Planting more frost resistant varieties (i.e. later blooming, and/or longer bloom, and/or very heavy setters) helps to mitigate the frost risk considerably.

I’ve listed more detailed reports on the forum, but off the top of my head some of my favorite varieties for cropping in adverse conditions and bac. spot resistance are Glengo, Saturn, Redhaven, Clayton, Contender. As Scott mentions the NC peaches are generally good for bac. spot resistance and frost resistance. I have Intrepid and Challenger from that breeding program, but this will be the first year to crop those trees, so I haven’t had them long enough to form an opinion.


Thank you very much for your helpful feedback. Your point about cold pockets is a good observation, and I appreciate it. You are correct that we tend toward a lower lying geology in Western Kentucky, though the area we are considering for our orchard is on a knoll north of a downward transition to lower elevations. In speaking with Mr. Jim Pitts with Auburn University, he indicated they only recommend stone fruit orchards on sites above 500’ in elevation for the vary reasons you stated. Along those lines, it has been suggested that there are three possible means of attempting to delay bloom apart from siting opportunities:

1.Trunk painting with 50% interior latex paint.
2. Copious mulching.
3. Foliar sprays (KDL or Ethephon)

Otherwise, I have been advised to focus on varieties with strong track records inclined toward disease resistance, late bloom and requiring at least 800 chill hours.

Thank you again for your helpful feedback. I do appreciate it!



Thank you for the gracious welcome. I am impressed with both the format and the helpful spirit of this forum. I hope to one day have some experience that affords me the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.

I sincerely appreciate the recommendations you have provided based on your personal experience. Have you found a particular rootstock has performed better for you long-term when paired with the North Carolina cultivars?

What little I have learned thus far has suggested that beyond the usual considerations of disease resistance and vigor, there appears to be a distinct North versus South inclination of the best rootstocks for Peaches and Nectarines.

For example, Michigan State would suggest that Bailey or Lovell are best-suited whereas Auburn would suggest Guardian or Nemaguard - seems like the mid south is in the mushy middle.

Thank you again for your helpful input. It is most appreciated.



I know you addressed your question to Scott, but wanted to mention there is no need to use Guardian or Nemagard in your soil. Nematodes harmful to peaches are generally found in light or sandy soils. If your soil is heavy, you shouldn’t have a problem w/ nematodes.

I have some trees on Guardian (not because I needed it, but that was the rootstock they came on) and as far as I can tell, those trees perform the same as trees on Lovell, Bailey, Halford, Tenn Nat., or random peach seedlings.

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Thank you for your kind welcome. Glad to see a fellow Kentuckian on here.

Your feedback is most appreciated, and I travel the state extensively for my day job, so maybe I can swing by for a visit some day when you are not too busy.

Like you, our soil is fairly acidic- pH of approximately 6.2, so copious application of lime is in my future too.

In speaking with several folks successfully growing Apricots in milder climes, they have suggested that foliar treatments to delay bloom might be an option. Everything I read however presents decidedly mixed reviews of this approach however.

I have had the pleasure of touring the State Research Orchard and I also had the chance to speak with Mrs. Trudie Reed and both were a wealth of information. In short, both gave me both encouragement mixed with equal parts of admonition but told me I was on my own as it related to Apricots and Cherries (in particular).

I will be glad to hear how your well-researched peach orchard does, and if you are ever again passing through our end of the state, give me a heads-up and we’ll buy you dinner on your way through!

Thank you again for your help. I sincerely appreciate it!


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Let me begin with my sincerest thanks for the great insight. I appreciate you sharing.

The only reason I have not preemptively given-up on Apricots, Sweet Cherries and Asian Plums is I have heard from several well-respected folks who swear that these fruits can be grown successfully in our climate under the right combination of siting, cultivar selection, foliar treatments (and maybe a lot of luck). That said, there is no one in my immediate vicinity (that I am aware of) growing them that I can go ask what has worked, so it may be a bit of wishful thinking- thus my rationale for reaching-out to you all who know a lot more than I do!

Regarding your excellent feedback about rootstocks for peaches (I will show my ignorance here) would a “Silt Loam” be considered a sandy soil and thus be more subject to nematode infestation in my climate?

Thank you again for your excellent feedback. I sincerely appreciate it!


hear is a paper summarizing the issues you will be tackling.

Development of rootstock focuses on disease resistance in areas already good for growing stone fruit. No one is investing effort into expanding the areas good for growing stone fruit. To do that you have to tackle the bloom time issue. Apricots, Japanese plums, cherry’s and peaches all bloom so early while European and American plums happily stay dormant till frost danger passes. What we need is a root stock that could delay bloom time for a month. The only way to do that is with hard data. Growing plantings of each root stock. Growing plantings of each root stock with 3 or 4 common popular cultivars on them. Then each year you have to meticulously document the bloom time, bloom survival of each combination. If you identify combinations that produce a positive push forward of bloom time you have a successful phase 1. Phase 2 might be crossing the best candidates of phase 1 retain bloom time and improve disease resistance.

Common root stock

Uncommon root stock
American Plum Prunus Americana Prunus americana - Wikipedia
Prunus angustifolia - Wikipedia
P. × orthosepala Koehne
Cherry Laurels Prunus laurocerasus and Prunus caroliniana
Prunus nigra (Canadian plum) it a few crosses with Japanese plums on the market Prunus nigra - Wikipedia .

Thanks Russ for the kind invitation. I can’t say that I’m a native Kentuckian, I was born in OK, and have only been here three years, we’re on my wife’s family farm. I lived in TX for almost 30 years, I married my wife 8 years ago, and she moved down to be with me. But, she always wanted to come back here, and I finally gave in, so here we are!

It’s been quite a change for me, but I’ve grown to like it here. It’s a beautiful setting in the foothills, with lots of room, and peace and quiet. I’ve posted some pics of the farm and other things related to it on here, if you’re interested.

I’ve only got into growing fruit over the last couple years, so my experience is very limited. But, I’ve learned a lot from this forum, and other sources. We don’t have a big orchard, we just have one each of those peach trees, but more apples and pear trees, along with various berry plants. Our total tree count right now is 26, hopefully were done with planting trees! They’re listed in my profile. We also grow veggies, and it’s still a learning process.

Glad to hear that you’ve talked to the Reed’s, they are very generous with their advice and experiences. It was an awe-inspiring experience to see their orchard, at least a couple thousand apples trees, a few hundred pears and some peaches. Plus, blue, rasp and black berries, and some veggies. I highly recommend a visit to their place, it’s about an hour NE of Lexington.

BTW, UK doesn’t recommend Citation, Nemaguard, Tenn Nat as good peach rootstocks for our area, they mostly rec Bailey, Lovell, and Halford. But, they’re basing that a lot on winter hardiness. All my peaches are on Lovell.

I don’t think so. According to the link Subdood posted it seems to suggest nematodes are generally not a problem in KY

“PSTL is not common in Kentucky.
The disease is caused by a nematode
that thrives in sandy soils, which aren’t
commonly found in the state.”

There are nematodes which can live in heavier soils, but these are generally only a problem on replant sites.

The nematodes which Guardian is resistant to are the ring and root knot nematodes, both of which prefer sandy soils.


Thank you for the very helpful response. You are right-on-target: the Southeastern Fruit and Tree Nut Research Lab paper appears to bring light to most (if not all) of the issues I have heard mentioned when considering stone fruits in this region. It seems the issues boil down into three (3) main issues which all lead to early mortality:

  1. Early bloom, subsequent freeze damage/stress which creates vectors for disease entry during mild, wet springs.

  2. Poor graft compatibility when striving to address competing interests of well-established, healthy trees with rootstocks bred for root disease resistance and semi-dwarfing habit.

  3. The ever-present threat of pests (i.e. borers) which weaken a tree’s internal defenses to battle external disease pressures.

I’d like to take some time to read and digest what you sent, but I wanted to extend my thanks and sincerest appreciation for sharing your expertise.



Very good feedback, Olpea.

You’ve already solved one big question for me (i.e. rootstocks) and have me well on my way toward confidently answering another (i.e. cultivars).

Thank you again for your input. It is most appreciated!


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Thank you, Bob. I sincerely appreciate the feedback on the peach rootstocks and between you and Olpea, I think I can consider rootstock selection a closed issue. I’m afraid I might have been overthinking it!

For what it is worth, I am not native to Kentucky either- I grew up in NE New Mexico and found my way here because of Thoroughbred horses.

I will look forward to checking-out what you’ve got going on, and I am sincerely grateful for your input. You might say that your experience is very limited, but it is way above-and-beyond where I am at so I have learned a lot from you already!

Thank you again for being willing to share your insights. I appreciate it!


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THanks to @scottfsmith for helping me to notice your post. Welcome to the forum, you will love it here. I am right on the KY/TN state line just outside Franklin, KY, so we are definitely in the same area and zone. You will indeed read a lot about how stone fruits are really hard to grow in our area, but you will also see many people on this site who do it well. I have about 110 fruit trees myself and over 1/2 of them are stone fruit, and I’d done ok with almost all of them…they just take a little extra TLC. Let me also say up front that I’m not one of the true experts on here- far from it. My oldest trees are just turning 6 this year and most are only 3-4 years old, and what little I know I have learned durring those few years-whereas the real experts here have been growing fruit for much, much longer.

Peaches- I have had outstanding luck with peaches so far. It is true that there are going to be years where we get a late frost and loose the crop, but you just have to accept that and in my experience it’s only been 1 out of 5 years (this being that year!). Contender is best peach to avoid that because- at least here- they bloom a little later. It may only be 5 days later, but that can be a world of difference.

Apricots- You will really hear and read that its impossible to gtow these here due to their early bloom times. And unlike peaches, you will lose them more often that you will get a crop. But mine have made it to harvest about 1 out of every 3 years, and they are otherwise fairly easy to grow so I don’t mind keeping them and just waiting for those years when everything works out.

Cherries - Almost everyone and every source will tell you that sweet cherries are absolutely impossible here. But I’ve got some very healthy sweet cherry trees that have fruited almost every year, and because they bloom fairly late I find them more likely than some things to produce fruit…but its a REAL challenge- not so much due to late frost but also diseases…but I do it and so could you. Sour cherries/Pie cherries like Montmorency are one of the easiest fruits to grow here- no problem.

Plums- I have about 12 varieties and they actually do pretty darn good here. This year I did loose most of them due to early blooming and late frost, but I’ve got plums almost every other year.

Pluots- too soon to tell. I only have one older one and its done great but I just planted 5 more this year so we will see.

Nectarines- for whatever reason, they are harder for me to grow than peaches, but are certainly possible and I’ve had some good ones.

Far, far, far the biggest issue I face in this area with stone fruits is insects- specifically Oriental Fruit Moth and Plum curculio. I am almost certain organic growing of stone fruits here would be absolutely impossible. I have to spray as much as every 10 days and even every 7 if it rains a lot. WE can talk more later about what to spray if you wish, but others can also help.

hope all that helps some, feel free to ask anything I can help with. Nice to see another neighbor here.


Wow! I am incredibly impressed with how much you have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. Your list of varieties is a veritable “who’s-who” of cultivars, many on some of the lists of what will “never grow” in our climate. Good for you!

I would sincerely appreciate the opportunity to talk with you by phone or in-person at your convenience about what you have found that works for you (and maybe just as important- what hasn’t). If there is ever a time that is convenient for me to come down and visit your orchard, I would be grateful for the chance.

I appreciate your perspective about insect troubles- that appears to be the one common refrain for stone fruit growers in the Southeast, and I look forward to learning from your successes there as well.

In general, our philosophy is to be as organic as possible by selecting cultivars best-positioned to succeed in our specific climate. That said, we are not above calling in reinforcements when internal defense and organic methods aren’t up to the pressure.

One final thought- have you experimented with any cultural and/or foliar treatments to attempt to delay bloom on your early blooming trees? If so, have you found anything that has helped in this regard?

Thank you again for your input, and I look forward to discussing your efforts in further detail.



breading new fruit is a long hard process.

in reading the article they didn’t seem to evaluate the performance of all of those crosses as root stock. who cares if the fruit sucks if scion preform great on it.

Email them maybe they did some bloom time logging.

I have nothing whatsoever productive to add as far as my experiences, however–just to throw this out there–there is a gentleman in Idaho who is pretty much “the apricot guy” as far as home growers. I think he puts out an annual newsletter about apricot news, and has a farm/orchard that he sells a bunch of different scions. (I also got a whole tree from him, but I don’t think he does a whole lot of whole tree sales). I think he was involved in trialing some of the new apricots that came out of Rutgers. And a bunch of other qualifications… :wink:

Anyway, I corresponded with him in regards to apricots I can grow here (Georgia), and he gave me a few suggestions. He was very personable and put a lot of thought and effort into the questions I asked him. I know he also is an advocate of KDL and would probably talk to you about that as well.

Again, he doesn’t live in Kentucky and DOES seem to focus more on cold weather areas, but speaking with him might give you some more info about rootstocks, varieties, who else you can talk to, etc.

Good luck to you.

Here is his website if you are interested: