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The Best Fruit-Tree Varieties for Organic Growing

Raising your fruit trees without the aid of man-made chemicals can be a challenge, so why not make it an easier and more successful endeavor by choosing disease-resistant organic trees at the outset?

Before choosing a disease-resistant variety, consider the earliest life of the tree. Has it been organically grown since propagation? By starting with a certified USDA Organic tree, you already have one significant advantage: the tree was grown in pure pastureland, never touched by toxic herbicides, pesticides or fertilizer. It’s “clean” from the very beginning, and will not have stress issues migrating from an early life of synthetic food that causes unnatural growth spurts to a slow, steady supply of naturally-occurring nutrients that the tree can take in as it requires. The long-term result will be a stronger tree with a healthier immune system.

Now you can consider disease-resistance. That’s your first line of defense as an organic fruit grower. If you plant a purple flower, you won’t have to worry about it producing red blooms. Same for disease-resistant fruit trees; if a tree is naturally resistant to apple scab, there’s no need to treat it for apple scab, which makes your life as an organic grower so much easier!

Here are some of the non-GMO, certified USDA Organic fruit trees that have natural, built-in disease resistance. Links to each variety’s page are included for your convenience.

CERTIFIED USDA ORGANIC APPLE TREES

Cox’s Orange Pippin Antique. A classic antique apple. Since its 19th-century discovery in England, this orange-red blushed variety has been inspiring apple lovers with its complex orange-mango flavor. Cold-hardy. Some resistance to mildew, fire blight and rust. Ripens in mid-September. Best organic pollinators: Cortland or Whitney Crabapple. Zones 4-8.

Cortland. Fruit’s snowy center won’t brown in salads. Very good in pies and cider. Cold-hardy. Some resistance to scab, fire blight and cedar apple rust. Ripens in mid-September. Best organic pollinators: Cameron Select™, Honeycrisp or Whitney Crabapple. Zones 4-6.

Liberty. A prolific bearer that excels where McIntosh won’t. Tree is low-maintenance due to its natural disease resistance to apple scab, cedar apple rust, fire blight and powdery mildew. Fruit has a yellow background with attractive red overtones, a crisp white flesh, and a harmonious sweet-tart taste. Perfect for fresh-eating, cooking, canning, or keeping – proper storage improves the flavor! Cold-hardy. Ripens in early September. Best organic pollinator: Cortland. A licensed variety of Cornell University. Zones 4-7.

Royal Empire™. An improved Empire, deeper in color than the original. This apple has the sweetness of a Delicious and the flavor of a McIntosh. White-fleshed. Some resistance to mildew, fire blight and rust. Ripens in mid-September. Best organic pollinator: Liberty. A licensed variety of Cornell University. Zones 4-7.

Starkspur® Arkansas Black. Good for baking, apple butter and cider. Tree bears fruit all the way down the limbs to the trunk. Stores up to 8 months in refrigeration. Cold-hardy. Some resistance to scab and fire blight; very resistant to rust. Ripens in October. Best organic pollinators: Royal Empire™. Zones 4-8.

Williams’ Pride. Early and spicy. This tree bears medium-large sized, distinctively colored apples. Cream-colored flesh is extraordinarily crisp with a slightly spicy, round, rich flavor. Great for fresh-eating and baking. Keeps up to 6 weeks in proper storage. Resistant to cedar apple rust, fire blight, mildew and scab. Cold-hardy. Ripens in early August. Best organic pollinator: Cortland. Zones 4-9.

CERTIFIED USDA ORGANIC CHERRY TREES

Emperor Francis (Sweet). Best picked fresh and popped in your mouth. Good for jams, jellies, canning, or homemade maraschinos. Ripens in late June. Crack-resistant. Best organic pollinator: Stella. Zones 5-7.

Starking ® Hardy Giant™ Antique (Sweet). Large, abundant clusters of sweet cherries. Clouds of pink flowers beautify your landscape in spring. Heirloom variety produces partially freestone fruit with deep red skin and flesh. Perfect for fresh eating and canning. Ripens in mid-June. Best organic pollinator: Stella. Zones 5-9.

Stella (Sweet). Productive tree yields abundant crops of plump, deep-red cherries. Good for fresh eating or canning. Resists cracking and is moderately disease-resistant. Ripens in June. Self-pollinating. Zones 5-8.

Lapins (Sweet). Unusually meaty texture. A Bing-type cherry, with deliciously dark, reddish-black fruit. Good general disease-resistance. Ripens in late July. Self-pollinating. Zones 5-9.

CERTIFIED USDA ORGANIC PEACH TREES

Redhaven. Easy-to-grow, blue-ribbon peach! Heavy-bearing tree yields bushels of large, almost fuzzless fruit. These luscious, award-winning peaches have a firm, creamy-yellow flesh. Good for fresh eating, canning or freezing. Freestone. Resistant to leaf spot. Ripens in July. Self-pollinating. Zones 5-8.

Contender. Perfect for northern gardens. Grow and harvest peaches where temperatures fall well below zero. Consistently yields large crops of medium-large, sweet, juicy fruit. Cold-hardy. Freestone. Resistant to bacterial spot. Ripens in August. Self-pollinating. Zones 4-8.

Blushingstar® Easy-care, late-season white peach. This “star” is one of our heaviest-bearing peaches. Firm flesh has a unique, sweet flavor and stores well. Cold-hardy. Freestone. Resistant to peach leaf curl. Ripens in August. Self-pollinating. Zones 4-8.

Sentry. Start the season off right! Early-bearing variety has firm, sweet yellow flesh. Semi-freestone. Resistant to bacterial spot. Ripens in July. Self-pollinating. Zones 5-8.

Now that you’ve chosen organic, disease-resistant varieties, there are several other good practices to remember. Growing fruit trees organically does require a different knowledge set than growing the traditional way. Keep these basic growing rules in mind for the best results:

  • Continuous soil-building is key. Don’t wait until you plant the tree to start a program of organic mulching, cover crops and a thriving compost pile. Plant the tree in healthy soil and then put as much effort into maintaining soil health as you do the tree itself.
  • Give your tree the best possible location. Plant the tree in full sun in a spot with good drainage. Those two circumstances along will prevent a host of problems.
  • Protect them against marauding wildlife. Deer, rabbits, voles and mice will cause physical injury to fruit trees, opening them up to disease and fungus problems. Fence your fruit trees and protect the trunks with tree guards.
  • Fruit trees are highly sensitive to mineral deficiencies in their “diet”. More frequent soil tests are required to make sure mineral levels are up to par and that the tree is getting what it needs to produce a good crop. Apple trees are especially finicky about calcium levels and generally require a supplement.
  • Read up on pests and diseases for the kind of trees you’re growing. Understand viral vs. bacterial diseases, and the insects that both plague and benefit your tree.

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