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12 Best Varieties of Fruit Trees to Grow in Illinois


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Many homeowners become enticed by the idea of growing their own fruit trees. However, growing your own fruit comes with its own set of challenges.

Most temperate world fruit needs a certain amount of chilling hours (hours between 32°F and 45°F.) to properly set flowers and fruit.

Therefore it’s vital to check the hardiness map of Illinois beforehand to ensure that you plant varieties suited to your area. If in doubt, consult local growers and see what varieties grow well in your area.

The fruit that grows in northern IL may not be suited for the southern portion of the state and vice versa, due to the intensity of the winters in the north.

12 Best Fruit Varieties of Fruit Trees To Grow in Illinois

1. Apple (Malus domestica)

apple
Image by Sönke Haas via Flickr

Apple Trees are the most popular fruit trees for Northern Illinois homeowners due to the colder temperatures and the hardiness and productivity of apples in this kind of climate.

They are also commonly grown in other areas of the state. Plant apples in areas with full sun exposure and well-draining soil.

Apples will produce the most bountiful harvest if you have more than one variety that flowers at the same time to ensure cross-pollination.

Other Common Names: Apple Tree

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 25-35 ft tall and 25-30 ft wide

Varieties Suitable for Illinois: Stark Earliest, Viking Transparent, Redfree, Pristine, Prima, Gala, Empire, Ginger Gold, Molly Delicious, Ozark Gold, Sansa, William’s Pride, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Cortland, Liberty, Jonagold, Winesap, Turley, Fuji, Rome, Enterprise, Braeburn, Mutsu, Cameo, Goldrush

Flowering Season: April – May, 3-4 weeks after the leaves emerge and the chill hours have been met.

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

2. Pear (Pyrus communis)

pear on a tree
Image by Peter O’Connor via Flickr

Pear trees are suited to the cool climate of IL and make a great complement to apple trees, as they usually flower and fruit slightly earlier, meaning you can enjoy the spring blossom for longer.

Be sure to be vigilant against the bacterial disease fire blight when growing pears in IL. Plant more than one variety for cross-pollination. Full sun and well-drained sun will provide the best results.

Pear trees, aside from tolerating the cold, also do well in high heat, humidity, and some drought conditions.

Pear trees usually have an upright growth habit and a pyramidal crown.

Other Common Names: European Pear, Common Pear

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 25-35 ft tall 15-20 ft wide

Varieties Suitable for Illinois: Starking Delicious, Maxine, Seckel, Harrow Delight, Bosc, Anjou, Moonglow, Duchess Stark

Flowering Season: Early Spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

3. European Plum (Prunus domestica)

plums growing on a plum tree
Image by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson via Flickr

The European Plum is better suited to the cold winters of northern IL than the more delicate Japanese plum. They also have better resistance to certain bacterial leaf spot diseases. You’ll need more than one variety of European Plum with the same flowering time for cross-pollination to obtain the best harvest.

Plum trees are deciduous and feature ornamental white flowers. Whilst there are many fruit trees known as plums in English, not all belong to this species.

Other Common Names: Common Plum

Growing Zones: 5-7

Average Size at Maturity: 20-25 ft tall and wide

Varieties Suitable for Illinois: Dietz, Stanley, Yellow Egg, Damson, Green Gage, Bluefre

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

4. Sweet Cherry (Prunus avium)

sweet cherry
Image by hedera.baltica via Flickr

Sweet Cherries grow well in central and southern Illinois but are not suited for Northern IL. Cherry trees need regular pruning once they mature. Sweet Cherries will do best in full sun in an area with good drainage and air circulation.

Avoid planting in low-lying areas where water may accumulate as cherries cannot tolerate wet feet, and such areas are more likely to be colder than surrounding, higher-up areas.

Sweet cherries are not self-fertile so will require cross-pollination to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Other Common Names: Wild Cherry, Bird Cherry

Growing Zones: 5-7

Average Size at Maturity: 25-35 ft tall and 20-25 ft wide

Varieties Suitable for Illinois: Black Tartarian, Glass, Rainer, Stark Gold Yellow, Stella, Van, and Windsor

Flowering Season: Early spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

5. Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus)

sour cherry tree
Image by Jörg Hempel via Flickr

The Sour Cherry can be grown all throughout IL, unlike Sweet Cherries (Prunus avium) including in Northern IL and the Chicago area. Plant in a location that receives full sun and has good drainage.

Sour cherries trees will need to be pruned every year when they reach maturity. All cultivars listed below are recommended by the Illinois cooperative extension and are self-fruitful; meaning you won’t need more than one variety for cross-pollination to ensure a crop.

Other Common Names: Tart Cherry, Dwarf Cherry

Growing Zones: 4-6

Average Size at Maturity: 15-20 ft tall and 12-15 ft wide

Varieties Suitable for Illinois: Montmorency, Meteor, Suda Hardy, Mesabi, and North Star

Flowering Season: May

6. Peach (Prunus persica)

peaches growing on a tree
Image by Forest and Kim Star via Flickr

There are numerous varieties of peach that can survive and thrive in southern and central Illinois but won’t survive the colder climate of the north. Reliance peaches, however, are suited to the north.

They reach up to 20 ft in height, ripen mid-August and have yellow skins and bright yellow flesh. The pit is non-clinging and the flavor is sweet, with hints of honey. To avoid damaging late spring frosts, be sure to plant on mounds/raised areas.

Other Common Names: Peach Tree

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 15-25 ft tall and wide

Varieties Suitable for Illinois: Biscoe, Challenger, Contender, Earliglow, Encore, Flamin’ Fury, Harmony, Madison, Red Rose, Redhaven, and Saturn

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

7. Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)

apricots on a tree
Image by Malcolm Manners via Flickr

Apricot trees are small trees with a spreading habit and ovate leaves with pointed tips.

They bloom late in the spring and the blossom are easily killed by late spring frosts. For this reason, they are not suited for Northern Illinois but can be grown in warmer parts of the state. Whilst some varieties are self-fruitful, you’ll have better fruit set with more than one variety.

Apricots grow best in deep, well-drained fertile soil. They need regular pruning and do their best when trained to have either a central leader or an open center system.

Other Common Names: Apricot Tree

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 20-25 ft tall and wide

Varieties Suitable for Illinois: Earli Orange, Goldcot, Wilson Delicious

Flowering Season: Late spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

8. Nectarine (Prunus persica var. nucipersica)

nectarines on a tree
Image by sand_and_sky via Flickr

Nectarines can be grown in certain areas of Illinois, including the Chicago area. They fruit on one-year-old wood so need regular pruning to encourage reliable fruiting.

The canopy is best kept open, so they require plenty of space to be able to spread out, so aren’t necessarily suited to smaller yards. They are also fairly susceptible to fungal and bacterial diseases, so will require vigilance on part of the grower.

Other Common Names: Nectarine Tree

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 20-25 ft tall and wide

Varieties Suitable for Illinois: Sunglo, Redchief, Early Flame, Redgold, Cavalier

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

9. Fig (Ficus carica)

figs on a tree
Image by Jesús Cabrera via Flickr

Fig trees conjure up dreams of the sunny Mediterranean, but you don’t have to live there to enjoy the sweet jammy flavor of the fruit. In fact, fig trees are surprisingly hardy, and can be grown in Northern Illinois without too much fuss.

They fruit on the new year’s growth, so even if a freeze kills them back to the ground, you can still enjoy tons of sickly sweet homegrown figs.

Figs grow best in organically rich well-draining soils. Whilst they are drought tolerant, they’ll appreciate plenty of water when fruiting. In the coldest areas, site selection is especially important.

Consider planting next to a south-facing wall protected from cold winds and mulching heavily to protect the roots, as well as wrapping the trunks over winter.

Other Common Names: Common Fig

Growing Zones: 5-11

Average Size at Maturity: 15-30 ft tall and wide

Varieties Suitable for Illinois: Hardy Chicago (AKA Bensonhurst Purple) Brown Turkey, Brunswick, Petite Negra, Celeste, White Marseilles, Violette de Bourdeaux

Flowering Season: N/A

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

10. American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

american persimmon
Image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr

The American Persimmon is more cold-hardy than the Asian Persimmon and can be cultivated in northern Illinois.

Being a native tree (found in the lower two-thirds of the state) where it’s found in wood edges and dry woods, it provides food and shelter for a plethora of local creatures, especially deer. They’re also a pioneer species that colonize open areas that will later be taken over by larger canopy trees.

American Persimmons require little maintenance if planted in the correct location. They produce bright orange fruit in the fall that dangles ornamentally off the tree, nestled amongst the leathery green foliage.

American Persimmon is dioecious, meaning flowers will either be male or female. You’ll need more than one tree for cross-pollination. There are some self-fruitful varieties, such as Meader which will set (seedless) fruit from a lone tree.

Plant in well-draining soil; loamy moist soils are best but poor dry soils will also be tolerated.

Other Common Names: Common Persimmon, Date Plum, Eastern Persimmon, Possum Apples, Possum Wood, and Simmon

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 35-60 ft tall and 25-35 ft wide

Flowering Season: May – June

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

11. Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)

red mulberry
Image by mauro halpern via Flickr

The Red Mulberry is a native tree that can be found throughout IL, in upland woods, and on the edges of fields, in lowland or upland forests. The simple, oval leaves are arranged alternately along the stems and feature a heart-shaped base and can be six inches long and almost as wide, with one, two, or no lobes.

They are green and rough on the upper side and lighter and downy on the underside. Male and female flowers can either be on the same or separate trees.

The fruit (drupes) can be 1 – ½” long, red initially, and turning purple or black upon maturity.

Other Common Names: Red Mulberry Tree

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 30-50 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills

12. Paw Paw (Asimina triloba)

paw paw fruit on a paw paw tree
Image by Wendell Smith via Flickr

The Paw Paw is the most northernly and only temperate world cousin of the Annonaceae (custard apple) family. Paw Paw trees exhibit behavior normally only witnessed in tropical species, according to the Illinois co-operative extension.

They are also the largest native fruit trees in North America, with the fruit measuring 3-6” long, and have a subtropical taste somewhere between papaya, banana, and mango. The fruit has a short shelf life of 2-3 days making commercial operations unviable, so why not grow your own?

The flowers of the paw paw appear early in the season and are hidden by the leaves and feature a maroon to deep brown color.

Whilst understory trees in the wild (in Maple-Basswood and Maple-Beech woodlands) the best fruit production will occur when they’re planted in full sun. Be sure to plant more than one variety, as cross-pollination is required for fruit set.

Other Common Names: American Papaw, Pawpaw, Ozark Banana, Hillbilly Mango, Hoosier Banana, Indian Banana, American Custard Apple, and Hipster Banana

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 15-30 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: April- May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

Fruitful Homegardens

There’s nothing quite as rewarding and tasty as eating freshly picked fruit straight from the tree. More and more people are gaining greater connection with the natural world by growing their own fruit, just as it used to be done.

In times of such uncertainty, attaining some level of autonomy and resilience for your basic needs can be comforting at best, if not necessary. Plant your own fruit trees today and reap the benefits of your work for years to come.

Not only will you, your family, and your friends benefit, but so will the environment.

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