Ask the Master Gardener: You have options for growing apricot, cherry and apple trees in northern Minnesota

Tart cherries are the best option for growing cherries in a northern climate.

An apple tree.
You need to have at least two different cultivars, or a crabapple tree, within 100 feet of each other in order to get fruit from an apple tree.
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service

Dear Master Gardener: Will you please write about growing apricot and cherry trees in northern Minnesota?

Answer: Apricots need two varieties for cross-pollination. Two University of Minnesota apricot varieties, Moongold and Sungold, are usually planted together, as they make good pollination partners. They are both hardy to zone 4a, so zone 3b gardeners may not want to take a chance growing apricot trees.

Tart cherries are the best option for growing cherries in a northern climate. Evans Bali cherry is a self-pollinating Canadian variety hardy to zone 3. It is a compact fruit tree, ideal for a backyard orchard. Although the fruit can be eaten on its own once it’s ripe, it is usually used for jams, jellies, and pies. The leaves turn a beautiful orange in the fall. Mesabi, Meteor, and North Star are hardy to zone 4. Mesabi is sweeter than the others. Meteor and North Star are University of Minnesota varieties. All of them are self-pollinating.

Dear Master Gardener: What apple trees grow best in the Crow Wing County area?

Answer: The Agricultural Experiment Station, near the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, was created in 1887 with the goal of developing apple trees that could survive our cold, harsh climate. The University of Minnesota has developed some outstanding cold hardy apples, with the Honeycrisp being the most famous. Honeycrisp apple trees have a USDA Zone 4 rating. The majority of Crow Wing County is in Zone 3b (cold hardiness to 35 degrees below zero.), but there is a little section of the southwest part of the county that lies in Zone 4a (cold hardiness to 30 degrees below zero).


You need to have at least two different cultivars, or a crabapple tree, within 100 feet of each other in order to get fruit. All trees listed below are hardy to USDA Zone 3.

  • Zestar was developed by the U of M and released in 1999. The tree is vigorous, upright and very susceptible to apple scab. The fruit ripens in late August to early September. The most outstanding feature of a Zestar apple is its sweet-tart taste with a hint of brown sugar. It is juicy with a light, crisp texture and maintains its great taste and crunch for two months in refrigeration.
  • Haralson was introduced in 1922 and is a tree of low vigor. The fruit has a firm texture with a complex tart flavor that is good for both eating and baking. It is a late season apple and the fruit will store for four to five months. It has a tendency to be biennial, bearing every other year, and the fruit is prone to russeting (a brown, corky tissue on the surface of the apple). 
  • Haralred is extremely hardy and fire blight resistant. The dark red fruit is juicy, tart, firm and keeps well. The fruit ripens in September to early October.
  • State Fair, introduced in 1977, ripens mid to late August. It has striped, red, juicy, moderately tart fruit good for eating and cooking. The fruit will store for two to four weeks. The tree is susceptible to fire blight and can be prone to biennial bearing.
  • Sweet Sixteen was introduced in 1977. The tree is very vigorous, but the fruit can be subject to premature drops, which makes it a somewhat finicky tree to grow. It is worth growing because if you can get the fruit to peak ripeness, it has an amazing, unique flavor. The fruit is crisp and juicy with a very sweet flavor that tastes like sugar cane or cherry candy. The fruit ripens mid to late September and stores for five to eight weeks.
  • Fireside was introduced in 1943. It is a vigorous tree that has large fruit with a sweet flavor. It is an old-fashioned dessert apple.
  • Frostbite is a noncommercial variety that is extremely cold hardy. Grafting began in 2008 and the trees were ready for sale to homeowners in 2009. It is a grandparent of Honeycrisp and parent of Sweet 16. If you want a unique eating experience, it has an unusual flavor that tastes like concentrated fruit punch. Biting into a Frostbite apple is like biting into a piece of sugarcane. It is a late season variety that is quite small in size, about 2-1/2 inches in diameter. It is excellent for cider and those with a sweet tooth.

Dear Master Gardener: Do plains prickly pear cacti grow in Minnesota? Are they edible?

Answer: There are two species of prickly pear cactus native to Minnesota — brittle prickly pear and plains prickly pear. The flowers of both look very similar. Plains prickly pear cactus (Opuntia macrorhiza) is a native Minnesota wildflower that is a species of special concern. Although it is not endangered or threatened, it is rare in Minnesota, as this is the eastern edge of its native range. Plains prickly pear would be a very interesting and unusual addition to a garden! It thrives in a hot, sunny location in well-drained soil. It would make quite a statement in a rock garden. The plant has dark green, paddle-shaped stems covered with sharp-looking thorns and striking, lemon yellow flowers that bloom in early summer. Red, fleshy, juicy fruits follow. Prickly pear fruits and young flower petals are edible. Cut the fruits, called tunas, in half and remove the seeds. The tunas can be eaten raw or used to make jams and jellies.

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at and I will answer you in the column if space allows.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.

What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads