The Windy City may be known for its skyscrapers and deep-dish pizza, but many might be surprised to learn that Chicago also offers a suitable climate for growing several types of fruit trees. Given its USDA Hardiness Zone of 5b to 6a, the city has the potential to nurture a diverse range of fruit-bearing trees. Here, we list ten of the best fruit trees to grow in Chicago, along with some tips and insights on their care and harvest.
1. Apple Trees (Malus domestica)
Characteristics: Apple trees are perhaps the most adaptable fruit trees and can thrive in Chicago’s climate. There are many cold-hardy varieties available, making them one of the best fruit trees to grow in Chicago.
Maintenance: Regular pruning is necessary for apple trees, especially during their early years, to encourage a strong and productive branching structure. It’s also essential to ensure that the tree gets full sun and well-draining soil.
Harvest: Depending on the variety, apples can be harvested from late summer to early fall. It’s best to pick them when they’ve reached their full color and come off the tree easily.
2. Pear Trees (Pyrus communis)
Characteristics: Pear trees, specifically the European varieties, are suited for Chicago’s cold winters. Varieties like ‘Bartlett’ and ‘D’Anjou’ are particularly popular.
Maintenance: Like apple trees, pears also require full sun and well-draining soil. Regular pruning helps in maintaining their shape and increasing their yield.
Harvest: Pears are typically harvested in late summer to early fall. They should be picked when slightly underripe and allowed to ripen off the tree.
3. Cherry Trees (Prunus avium & Prunus cerasus)
Characteristics: Both sweet and tart cherries can grow well in Chicago. The Montmorency tart cherry is a favorite and considered one of the best fruit trees to grow in Chicago.
Maintenance: Cherry trees need full sun and prefer slightly acidic, well-draining soil. It’s essential to keep an eye out for pests, especially cherry fruit flies.
Harvest: Cherries are generally ready for picking in mid to late summer. They should be harvested when they achieve a deep, even color.
4. Plum Trees (Prunus domestica)
Characteristics: European plum varieties are best suited for Chicago’s climate. Examples include ‘Stanley’ and ‘Damecla’.
Maintenance: They require full sun and well-draining soil. Pruning is essential for maintaining a strong branching structure.
Harvest: Plums should be harvested in late summer when they’re fully colored and slightly soft to the touch.
5. Peach Trees (Prunus persica)
Characteristics: While peaches are more commonly associated with warmer climates, specific cold-hardy varieties can succeed in Chicago.
Maintenance: Peaches need full sun and well-draining soil. They are susceptible to diseases like peach leaf curl, so regular monitoring is essential.
Harvest: Peaches are typically ready for picking in late summer when they are fully colored and slightly soft.
6. Apricot Trees (Prunus armeniaca)
Characteristics: Apricots, with their beautiful spring blossoms, are a treat for both the eyes and the taste buds.
Maintenance: They require full sun, well-draining soil, and occasional pruning. Protective measures against spring frost can be beneficial.
Harvest: Apricots are typically ready to pick in early to mid-summer when they have a deep orange color.
7. Persimmon Trees (Diospyros virginiana)
Characteristics: American Persimmon trees can withstand Chicago’s cold temperatures and produce sweet, pulpy fruit.
Maintenance: Persimmons prefer full sun to partial shade and can tolerate a variety of soil types.
Harvest: Persimmons are usually ready for picking in late fall. They should be fully colored and slightly soft to the touch.
8. Mulberry Trees (Morus spp.)
Characteristics: Mulberry trees, especially the red mulberry, can thrive in Chicago and provide delicious, nutritious fruit.
Maintenance: They prefer full sun to partial shade and adapt well to various soil types. They require minimal pruning.
Harvest: Mulberries can be harvested in early summer when they are fully ripened and soft.
9. Serviceberry Trees (Amelanchier spp.)
Characteristics: Serviceberry, also known as Juneberry, is a native tree that produces small, blueberry-like fruit.
Maintenance: This tree is quite adaptable, growing in full sun to partial shade. It’s also drought-tolerant once established.
Harvest: Serviceberries are usually ready for picking in early summer when they turn deep blue or purple.
10. Fig Trees (Ficus carica)
Characteristics: While not as common, certain fig varieties, like ‘Chicago Hardy’, make it one of the best fruit trees to grow in Chicago.
Maintenance: Figs require full sun and well-draining soil. In colder winters, it’s a good idea to protect them with a thick layer of mulch.
Harvest: Figs can be harvested in late summer to early fall when they are soft and drooping.
Chicago’s diverse climate provides an ample opportunity for gardening enthusiasts to experiment with various fruit trees. By choosing the right varieties and providing them with proper care, one can enjoy a bountiful harvest in the heart of the city. Whether you have a vast orchard or a small backyard, these are undeniably some of the best fruit trees to grow in Chicago.