Growing your own fruit can feel like a daunting task, especially if you have to do so at high altitudes. The choice of which fruits to grow under high altitude conditions can make all the difference, so you must choose wisely.
Fruits grown at high altitude are hardy, late blooming, and early maturing, such as:
- Sour Cherries
In some cases, peaches and sweet cherries may also grow successfully. Varieties of each fruit may differ in their abilities to withstand high altitude conditions.
You may be asking yourself why some fruits grow at high altitudes while others do not and how it is that high altitude actually impacts fruit development. Read on for all your answers below, plus some simple techniques that will boost your high-altitude fruit harvest!
Fruits Grown at High Altitude
Fruits that can grow at high altitudes must have the hardiness to withstand harsh weather conditions. They must also bloom late and mature early due to shorter growing seasons.
Apple, apricot, pear, plum, and sour cherry varieties grow most successfully in high altitude conditions – assuming you employ proper maintenance techniques.
Importantly, fruit growth depends largely on the variety of each fruit type, a consideration nearly as important as the fruit type itself:
|Varieties Adapted to High Altitude|
|Apples||Centennial Crabapple, Lodi (Transparent), State Fair, others|
|Apricots||Harcot, Harlayne, Perfection, Sungold, others|
|Pears||Flemish Beauty, John, Summercrisp, Ure, others|
|Plums||Mount Royal, Stanley, Italian, Underwood, others|
|Cherries (Sour)||Meteor, Montmorency, Northstar, others|
Source: University of Idaho Extension, Black Gold
Apples tend to be consistently hardy. The use of dwarfing rootstock (which yields the smallest tree sizes) can further bolster hardiness, particularly through the winter temperatures. Dwarfing rootstock can also accelerate the fruit-bearing process – an important consideration given that apples bear fruit slowly.
Relative to other fruit types, apples are one of the more common fruits grown at high altitudes, with numerous varieties adapted to harsher conditions.
Apricots tend to bloom quite early, which presents a challenge given the shorter growing seasons characteristic at high altitudes. Thus, you must choose varieties that are late blooming in addition to hardy.
Pears tend to have no issues with hardiness, as they can withstand extremely harsh temperatures. The important characteristic to look for in pear varieties is early ripening, as many do not successfully ripen quick enough to bear quality fruit before the growing season ends.
Plums tend to be moderately hardy. Like pears, it is important to find varieties that are early ripening to avoid a premature harvest with the onset of cold temperatures.
Cherries, depending on the variety, range in their degree of hardiness. Varieties of sour cherries, also known as tart cherries, are extremely hardy. They do, however, bloom very early, which can present a challenge at high altitudes.
Some peach varieties, namely Reliance and Polly, as well as some sweet cherry varieties, may be hardy enough to endure mild winters. However, the flower buds of both fruit types are often significantly damaged, and fruit-bearing is extremely inconsistent.
How High Altitude Impacts Fruit Growth
Fruit growth depends on the blossoming, pollination, and maturity processes, which are significantly impacted by the unique weather patterns characteristic of high-altitude locations. Two conditions primarily impact growth:
- Cold temperatures
- High winds
These conditions pose specific challenges to the fruits’ growth cycles, hence why only a subset of fruits can successfully grow at high altitudes.
High altitude brings colder temperatures. If you ever look at pictures of mountain ranges, you’ll notice the mountaintops are often covered in snow. This is because temperatures drop as air pressure drops, and that is exactly what happens as you move to higher altitudes.
Fruit needs warmer temperatures and adequate sun exposure in order to thrive, which is a challenge when high altitudes bring bitter winters and late springs.
Shorter Growing Season
Colder temperatures compress the length of the growth window, as fruits in these areas are constrained by a later start and earlier end to the growing season.
More Frost and Fewer Pollinators
The cold can also hinder the actual growth processes themselves by causing freeze damage mid-way through blossom and/or by dissuading the presence of insect pollinators like bees.
|Start of Blossom||Late||Early|
|Risk to Blossom||High||Low|
|Risk to Pollination||High||Low|
|Time to Mature||Short||Long|
Taken together, cold temperatures at high altitudes make for extremely challenging conditions and therefore necessitate that fruits have both the hardiness to endure such conditions along with a relatively short time in which they grow.
High altitude brings high winds. This is due to a variety of reasons, such as lower air density and a general lack of objects like buildings or trees that can slow winds as they move through the air.
High winds can significantly impact fruit growth at all stages and may result in a number of challenges:
- Blossom drop – flowers fall off, which can disrupt pollination and may result in no fruit production
- Premature fruit drop – fruit falls before fully matured, which may result in under-ripe harvests
- Leaf scorch – leaves become discolored or die due to poor water circulation, which may signal poor tree health (typically from dry winds)
How to Optimize Fruit Growth at High Altitude
The actual process of growing fruit at high altitudes first requires careful selection of appropriate fruit varieties. After all, even if you have the greenest thumb in the world, you’re going to run into trouble if you choose a variety ill-suited for high altitude conditions!
You’ll also want to choose wisely with regard to where to plant your fruit so as to optimize sun exposure and wind protection. Depending on where you live or where you plan to grow your fruit, you may be able to leverage naturally existing structures.
For example, it may be advantageous to plan near a building, which could provide wind protection and foundational warmth while still allowing for exposure to natural sunlight for a large portion of the day.
Proper Care and Maintenance Is Key to Fruit Growth
Now that you’ve chosen your fruit variety and planting site, there are several maintenance techniques that you can employ to provide protection and, in concert, facilitate growth.
These techniques can specifically address the temperature and wind challenges presented at high altitude:
|Description||Temperature Resistance||Wind Resistance|
|Row Covers||Often made of fabric and placed directly above plants||✔||✔|
|Heaters||Any variety of charcoal, electric, propane, etc. to combat frost||✔||—|
|Sprinklers||Consistent overhead application from before freeze through the morning||✔||—|
|Pruning||Remove dead or drooping branches in the wintertime||—||✔|
In addition to the above, fertilizers may help facilitate growth, particularly complete fertilizers types. However, these should be used with caution – and their use should take into account the location of the fruit trees as well as the current growth patterns.
Time Required to Harvest Fruit at High Altitude
Now that you’ve done all the right things – chosen the proper variety, determined your ideal planting location, and employed proper maintenance techniques – you’re probably wondering when all your hard work will bear fruit (pun intended!).
Well, as you might have guessed, the answer really depends on a variety of factors. And at the end of the day, you have to be comfortable with the fact that fruit growth takes time.
Ultimately, you’re probably looking somewhere in the ballpark of 3 or more years. Growing fruit of any kind, especially if done at high altitude, is a game of patience and persistence!
- University of Idaho Extension (1) – https://www.extension.uidaho.edu/publishing/pdf/BUL/BUL0867.pdf
- University of Idaho Extension (2) – https://www.extension.uidaho.edu/publishing/pdf/BUL/BUL0859.pdf
- Fine Gardening – https://www.finegardening.com/article/fruit-trees-and-berries-for-the-mountain-states
- Black Gold – https://blackgold.bz/what-fruit-trees-grow-at-a-10000-ft-elevation-in-the-rockies/