Kentucky’s mild temperate climate, with its cold but not frigid winters, humid summers, and quality soils, can be the perfect place to grow a productive fruit orchard.
The challenges for fruits in KY are that the humid climate makes trees more susceptible to diseases, and late spring frosts are always challenging with those early-blooming fruits.
However, you can get productive crops in any Kentucky hardiness zone by choosing later-blooming and disease-resistant varieties. Those in the eastern mountains just need to add a week to your estimated harvest time and only choose cold-hardy varieties, and you will have productive crops, too.
11 Fruit Trees That Grow and Thrive in Kentucky
1. Plum Trees – Prunus domestica, Prunus insititia, Prunus salicina
The biggest challenge to growing plums in Kentucky is those late spring frosts, so choose from the later-blooming varieties below.
In KY, European and Damson plums work best. Damsons are closely related to the European Plum but are smaller and more tart and used for cooking and preserves.
Most Japanese plums bloom too early to be productive in KY, but the Shiro variety may perform best.
Plums can easily grow in full sun in any average, well-drained, sandy soil in the moderately to mildly acidic range. They should be watered every two weeks, but be careful not to over-water; they will not tolerate soggy roots.
Most plums are not self-fertile, so you must grow at least two varieties to produce fruit.
Kentucky also has the American Wild Plum and Chickasaw Plums, both native throughout the state. The fruits are small and tart but can be made into jams or ketchup.
Cold Hardy Later-Flowering European Plum Trees Suitable for Kentucky: Opal (self-fertile), Damson (Prunus insititia), French Prune, Stanley (self-fertile)
Cold-Hardy Japanese Plum Trees Suitable for Kentucky: Shiro
Other Common Names: Prunus domestica: Common Plum, Plum, Prune Plum; Prunus insititia: Damson Plum, Mirabelle, Wintercrack, Bullace, Damask Plum; Prunus salicina: Chinese Plum
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 25 ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread* *Size depends on variety
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers emerge from mid-March to mid-April; fruits mature from June to August, depending on the variety
2. Pear Trees – Pyrus communis, Pyrus pyrifolia
You can grow productive pear crops in Kentucky, but the humid temperate climate means that fireblight and late spring frosts are the two biggest things to worry about.
Asian Pears, also called apple pears, are crisp and juicy and often look more like an apple than a pear. These varieties tend to be more productive in KY because they better resist fireblight and seem able to survive the late spring frosts with less damage.
While no pears are completely resistant to fireblight, you should only choose Common or European Pears that are more resistant than others. The ones listed below will perform better in KY than the popular but highly susceptible Bartlett Pear.
Pears are cold hardy, heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant trees that are easy to grow in any soil type as long as it is well-drained, though they prefer neutral, fertile loams. Kentucky soils should present no problems to pear growers.
Asian Pears Suitable for Growing in Kentucky: Korean Giant*, Shinseiki, Olympic*, New Century (Self-fertile), Shinko, Kikusui, Chojuro, Megietsu, Yoinashi *Said to perform well in KY by the University of Kentucky (UK)
European Pears Suitable for Growing in Kentucky: Kieffer, Seckel, Starking Delicious, Moonglow, Magness, Harrow Delight
Other Common Names: Pyrus communis: Common Pear, Wild Pear; Pyrus pyrifolia: Apple Pear, Japanese Pear, Chinese Pear, Korean Pear, Taiwanese Pear, Zodiac Pear, Nashi Pear, Three-Halves Pear, Papple, Sand Pear
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8(9) (Common Pears); 5 – 9 (Asian Pears)
Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 20 ft tall, 7 – 12 ft spread* *Size depends on species and variety
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom in April; fruits mature from summer to fall, depending on the variety
3. Peach Trees – Prunus persica
You can grow peaches in Kentucky with its nice sunny, warm summers that aren’t too dry, limiting irrigation to periods of drought. The biggest challenge for peaches is the late spring frosts. In KY, late winter and spring temperatures can fluctuate, enticing trees to bloom far too early.
Peach trees love heat but are not overly cold-tolerant either. In KY, the best region for growing peaches is in the state’s western third. Those in the eastern mountains will have a harder time, but choosing one of the later blooming cold-hardy ones listed below will improve your odds significantly.
Peaches grow best in full sun in a protected location in well-drained, mildly acidic to neutral soil. Ensure your soil is well-drained since they do not tolerate soggy roots.
While many peaches are self-fertile, all will benefit from being planted with a pollinator companion to ensure good fruit production.
Cold-Hardy Later-Blooming Peach Trees Suitable for Kentucky: Canadian Harmony, Raritan Rose, Cresthaven, Glohaven, Reliance, Flamin’ Fury, Contender, Madison, Redhaven, Blushing Star (White), Encore
Other Common Names: Flowering Peach; in Latin Amygdalis persicus, Persica vulgaris
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 25 ft tall, 6 – 25 ft spread* *Size depends on variety
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers emerge from March to April; fruits mature early to late summer, depending on the variety
4. Nectarines – Prunus persica var. nucipersica
Sometimes, people think the nectarine is a cross between a plum and a peach, but they are a botanical variant of the peach with firmer, crispier fruits with no fuzz on them.
Being a variant of the peach, growing nectarines is the same as growing peaches. They want lots of sun, well-drained soil in the mildly acidic to neutral range, and irrigation during the summer droughts.
Unfortunately, nectarines are even less cold-hardy than the peach and could suffer in particularly cold winters. No matter where you live in KY, only choose cold-hardy varieties like those suggested below. You can grow nectarines at higher elevations in the east if you don’t have expectations of getting productive crops every year.
Nectarines are all self-fertile, so getting fruit from one tree is possible, but yields will be increased if grown with another tree.
Cold-Hardy Nectarines Suitable for Kentucky: Independence, Fantasia, Harko, Flavortop, Hardired, Intrepid, Red Gold, Sunglo
Other Common Names: Shaved Peach, Fuzzless Peach
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 30 ft tall, 6 – 30 ft spread* *Size depends on variety
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom from March to April; fruits mature from late June to August, depending on the variety
5. Apricot Trees – Prunus armeniaca
While Apricot trees are more cold-hardy than peaches and nectarines, they bloom even earlier than they do, so apricots are most likely to suffer that pesky late spring frost damage. Choosing only later-blooming varieties will help you get a productive crop, but some years they may just not produce.
Those in western KY or lower elevations in the east should have better luck getting crops most years than those at higher elevations in eastern KY.
But even in years they don’t produce, they can be grown as a beautiful accent or shade trees with showy spring flowers that may or may not produce fruits.
Even though many apricot varieties are self-fertile, most will still benefit from a pollinizer, so planting more than one variety will increase the yields of those tasty fruits.
Apricots grow best in moist, deep, fertile, well-drained soil in the slightly acid to neutral range.
Later-blooming Apricot Trees Suitable for Kentucky: Sunglo, Harglow, Harlayne, Moorpark, Golden Sweet, Goldrich, Tilton, Chinese (Mormon).
Other Common Names: Ansu Apricot, Armenian Plum, Siberian Apricot, Tibetan Apricot
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8(9)
Average Size at Maturity: 5 – 30 ft tall, 5 – 25 ft spread* *Size depends on variety
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers emerge in April;fruits mature early to late summer, depending on the variety
6. Apple Trees – Malus domestica
Apples are easy to grow in Kentucky with the rich soils, great sunshine, and temperate climate with cold winters and enough chill hours for the trees to set fruit the following spring.
However, be careful planting popular apple varieties that are often recommended online for growing in KY because some do very poorly, even though the climate and soils seem perfect.
This is because the humid climate means more apple diseases. The University of Kentucky says apple scab is the most serious disease in Kentucky, so they recommend only growing resistant varieties to ensure successful crops.
Apple trees are mostly self-sterile, so they must be grown with at least one other variety as a pollinator companion to ensure fruit production.
Check out the 6 Best Apple Varieties for KY for a list of suitable cultivars and their compatible pollinating partners that will also do well in KY.
Other Common Names: N/A; in Latin, often also called Malus pumila.
USDA Growing Zones: 3* – 9 *depends on variety
Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 25 ft* tall, 8 – 25 ft spread *height depends on dwarf, semi-dwarf, or standard rootstocks
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom from early to late spring; fruits ripen from early summer to late fall, depending on the variety
7. Pawpaw – Asimina triloba
The Pawpaw is a native tree found throughout most of Kentucky in floodplains and shady, rich bottomlands, often forming thickets.
Their fruits are the largest fruits native to the USA (excluding gourds, which are botanical fruits). They are like a large berry with delicious, creamy flesh that tastes like bananas.
Pawpaws are also beautiful flowering trees with unique and gorgeous flowers that should be easy to grow anywhere in KY in full sun in any well-drained soil with moderately acidic pH. Although they will grow in partial shade and poorly drained soils, fruit production will be reduced.
These trees are not self-fertile, so more than one tree is needed, and even then, they sometimes don’t cross-pollinate well. Some people turn to hand pollination to ensure bountiful crops.
Though tempting, don’t take wild cuttings because native Pawpaws like to spread vegetatively, and some never produce fruits. Buy nursery stock instead.
Pawpaw Varieties Recommended for Growing in Kentucky: NC-1, Overleese, Potomac, Shenandoah, Sunflower, Susquehanna, Wabash
Other Common Names: Indian Banana, Paw Paw, Papaw, Paw-paw, Custard Apple, Wild Banana
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 30 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Showy flowers bloom from April to May; large edible fruits mature from late August to October, depending on the variety
8. American Persimmons – Diospyros virginiana
American Persimmons are an uncommon fruit orchard tree, but they would work well in your Kentucky garden since they’re already native throughout the state. They will easily grow anywhere in KY in any decent quality, well-drained soil in full sun.
These lovely trees have large dark green leaves that make for great shade trees, and in the late fall, their bright orange fruits hang from the trees like Christmas ornaments.
American Persimmons are bitter until they are over-ripe and are generally left on the tree into late fall and even early winter when they become soft and sweet.
These mostly dioecious trees are naturally not self-fertile. However, northern varieties used commercially are more self-fertile than the KY natives, so for fruit production, buy nursery stock rather than propagating your own. Newer cultivars are also bred to lose their bitterness earlier in the fall and have fewer black skin spots.
American Persimmons for Growing in Kentucky: Prok, Killen, Claypool, I-115, Dollywood,
100-42, 100-43, 100-45, Early Golden, John Rick, C-100, Meader, Yates
Other Common Names: Common Persimmon, Date Plum, Eastern Persimmon, Jove’s Fruit, Persimmon, Possum Apples, Possumwood, Simmon, Winter Plum
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 40 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread* *Size depends on variety
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers emerge mid-April to late June; fruits mature September through winter, depending on the variety
9. Cherries – Prunus avium, Prunus cerasus, Prunus tomentosa
You can also grow productive cherry trees in Kentucky, but it is a bit more challenging. The ever-popular Sweet Cherry (Prunus avium) varieties are particularly susceptible to spring frosts, variable winters, and summer rains that can cause poor production or cracked fruits.
However, you can often overcome those issues by choosing later-blooming varieties and varieties whose fruits resist splitting.
Of course, Sweet Cherries are not the only option for growing cherries in KY.
Sour Cherries (Prunus cerasus) are hardier and bloom later to avoid those late spring frosts. They also mature later and are less susceptible to fruit splitting.
The Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa) is a favorite of mine. It is an exceptionally cold-hardy, tolerant shrub cherry that should perform well anywhere in KY, including at higher elevations in the mountains of eastern KY. Their fruits are also not prone to splitting like Sweet Cherries.
Other Common Names: Prunus avium: Wild Cherry, Gean, Bird Cherry; Prunus cerasus: Tart Cherry, Morello Cherry, Kentish Cherry; Prunus tomentosa: Nanjing Cherry, Korean Cherry, Manchu Cherry, Downy Cherry, Shanghai Cherry, Ando Cherry, Mountain Cherry, Chinese Bush Cherry, Chinese Dwarf Cherry
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 8* *depends on species and variety
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 30 ft tall*, 6 – 30 ft spread *depends on species and variety
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Showy flowers bloom early to late spring; fruits mature early to mid-summer, depending on species and variety
10. Red Mulberry – Morus rubra
The Red Mulberry is a widespread native tree in Kentucky, found in every county in the state where it grows on moist hillsides and riparian areas. Since it is already native, these moderately fast-growing trees will grow and thrive anywhere in KY in full sun in any moist, fertile, well-drained soil in the mildly acidic to neutral range. They will also tolerate rocky, dry, wet, and alkaline soils.
These moisture-loving trees may require weekly irrigation during summer droughts to ensure fruit production and prevent premature fruit drop.
Mulberries are self-fertile and can produce fruits with only one tree. However, crop sizes will increase if they are planted with another variety.
The non-native Black Mulberry (Morus nigra) is much less cold-hardy than the Red Mulberry and can only be grown in extreme southwestern KY, and the White Mulberry (Morus alba) is already an invasive species in KY and shouldn’t be planted.
Red Mulberries Suitable for Kentucky: Illinois Everbearing Mulberry, Red Mulberry.
Other Common Names: Common Mulberry, Mulberry, White Mulberry
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 50 ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers emerge in catkins from April to May; fruits mature continuously from June to August
Available at: Nature Hills
11. American Black Elderberry – Sambucus nigra ssp canadensis
American Black Elderberry is a widespread native shrub found in every county in Kentucky, where they typically grow in thickets in moist forest edges, riparian areas, roadsides, and old fields.
They are best grown in full sun in moist, well-drained, fertile soil for good berry production. In particularly hot, dry summers, they would perform best with mulch to keep the root zone cool and occasional irrigation. They can also be grown in partial shade to protect them from too much sun, but berry production will be reduced.
These shrubs are very important for native wildlife, with dozens of species that use them for habitat and many others that feed on the fruit, leaves, and twigs.
People often use the berries for juice, wine, jams, and pies. While the black elderberry can be eaten raw, they are somewhat bitter and can cause digestive upset if too many raw berries are consumed.
Other Common Names: Common Black Elder, Canadian Black Elderberry, American Elderberry
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 4 – 12 ft tall, 4 – 10 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Showy flower clusters bloom from June to August; edible berries mature from mid-August to mid-September
Table Comparing Fruit Trees in Kentucky
Here is a detailed table comparing some Kentucky fruit trees including fruiting season, average size, best varieties and USDA growing zones.
|Fruit Tree Type||Best Varieties for Kentucky||USDA Growing Zones||Average Size at Maturity||Flowering / Fruiting Season|
|Plum Trees||European and Damson plums; Shiro (Japanese)||4 – 9||10 – 25 ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread||Mid-March to mid-April / June to August|
|Pear Trees||Asian Pears: Korean Giant, Shinseiki, Olympic; European Pears: Kieffer, Seckel, Moonglow||Common Pears: 4 – 8(9); Asian Pears: 5 – 9||8 – 20 ft tall, 7 – 12 ft spread||April / Summer to fall|
|Peach Trees||Canadian Harmony, Cresthaven, Reliance, etc.||4 – 10||6 – 25 ft tall, 6 – 25 ft spread||March to April / Early to late summer|
|Nectarines||Independence, Fantasia, Harko, Flavortop||5 – 9||6 – 30 ft tall, 6 – 30 ft spread||March to April / Late June to August|
|Apricot Trees||Sunglo, Harglow, Harlayne, Moorpark, etc.||4 – 8(9)||5 – 30 ft tall, 5 – 25 ft spread||April / Early to late summer|
|Apple Trees||Various resistant varieties||3 – 9||8 – 25 ft tall, 8 – 25 ft spread||Early to late spring / Early summer to late fall|
|Pawpaw Trees||NC-1, Overleese, Potomac, Shenandoah, etc.||5 – 8||15 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 30 ft spread||April to May / Late August to October|
|American Persimmons||Prok, Killen, Claypool, I-115, etc.||4 – 9||25 – 40 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread||Mid-April to late June / September through winter|
|Cherries||Sweet Cherries: Later-blooming varieties; Sour Cherries: Hardy types; Nanking Cherry||2 – 8||6 – 30 ft tall, 6 – 30 ft spread||Early to late spring / Early to mid-summer|
|Red Mulberry Trees||Illinois Everbearing Mulberry, Red Mulberry||4 – 8||30 – 50 ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread||April to May / June to August|
|American Black Elderberry||–||3 – 9||4 – 12 ft tall, 4 – 10 ft spread||June to August / Mid-August to mid-September|
Fruit Trees That Thrive in Kentucky for Bountiful Harvests
As you have seen, there are many options for different kinds of fruit trees you can grow in your home orchard in Kentucky. You can even grow them alongside your nut trees for a well-balanced variety of productive crops.
The temperate climate and humid summers make it easy to find fruit trees that will thrive. However, diseases also thrive in that climate, so often, choosing resistant cultivars will be your key to bountiful harvests.
Other challenges for some fruits are the cold winters and the late spring frosts, but again, choosing the right varieties that are both cold-hardy and later-blooming will help ensure you get productive crops.
Now, you can go out and plan your Kentucky fruit orchard. Happy tree planting!
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Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences.
Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees.
She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing.
When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.