5 Fruit Trees that Grow in Alaska

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Fruit Trees that Grow in Alaska

Believe it or not, you can grow things other than ice sculptures in Alaska. While most of the crops grown there are cold-hardy greens like kale and roots, you can also cultivate a number of different fruit-bearing plants. Like fruit trees! The fruit trees that grow in Alaska are as fierce and strong as the people who live there, and have evolved to thrive in its short summers and brutal winters.

Are There Any Fruit Trees that Grow in Alaska?

Although berry bushes thrive really well in that state, there are only a few fruit trees that will grow well in its harsh environment. The species and cultivars mentioned below are your best bet, but do your research before buying and planting any of them! When in doubt, talk to a garden center sales associate for advice on what will grow best in your region.

For example, the trees that can thrive in Anchorage may not be able to survive near Fairbanks. Alaska has varied elevations over 665,384 square miles, which results in several different growing zones. Trees that thrive in zone 5 will die in zone 1, simply because they don’t have the hardiness necessary to brace against such bone-chilling temperatures.

This isn’t a completely accurate zone explanation, but is a good general guideline to follow:

  • Areas north of the Alaska Range are considered Zone 1, which gets -50F winters (or colder).
  • Fairbanks, upper Anchorage hillside, and some parts of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley are zone 2: -40F to -50F.
  • The lower Matanuska-Susitna Valley, as well as the Anchorage Bowl and Kenai Peninsula are zone 3: -30F to -40F in wintertime.
  • Lower Anchorage, as well as Homer and Seward  fall into zone 4: -20F to -30F.
  • If you’re in Kodiac or the surrounding Southeast, you’ll be in zone 5: -10F to -20F in winter.

Needless to say, if you’re in the Southern areas, you’ll have a lot more options available to you as far as hardy cultivars.

That said, for the sake of generalization, we’re going to talk about the fruit trees that thrive best in zones 2 or 3. These should do best in some of the state’s coldest areas, and will also grow quite merrily in warmer zones as well. Just be aware that apple trees take longer to bear fruit in colder zones than in warmer ones.

1. Apple

The apple trees that thrive in Alaska are the hardiest ones around. They need to be able to survive its brutally cold winters, and leap into fruit production during Alaska’s abysmally short growing zone. 

If you’re looking for cold-hardy apple trees to grow in your garden, check out the following cultivars:

  • Parkland: Hardy to zone 2, creates crunchy, sweet, pink-red apples that can be enjoyed either raw or cooked.
  • Geneva Early: Sweet, crunchy, pink-red fruits that are perfect both raw and cooked. Hardy to zone 3.
  • Vista Bella: One of the best Alaskan apples for raw eating. It’ll survive down to zone 3, and produces abundant, dark red fruits in September.
  • Norland: Tart, slightly acidic fruits that can be eaten raw, but are better cooked, and can be stored for up to four months. Hardy down to zone 2.
  •  Patterson: A Canadian cultivar that’s hardy to zones 1 or 2. The crisp, juicy flesh is wonderful raw as well as cooked.
  • Red Duchess: This cultivar is best in zones 2 and 3, and creates very tart fruit. You can’t eat it raw, but it’s great baked into pies and other recipes with plenty of sugar added.
  • Westland: Ideal for zone 3, but can survive some areas in zone 2. This apple is better for cooking or baking, but you can eat it fresh if you don’t mind acidic tartness.

You May Also Enjoy: Fruits that Look Like Apples

2. Crabapple

Crabapples are famous for being very, very cold hardy. If you’re looking for a great cultivar to survive in Alaska’s harsh environment, try to find Siberian crabapple trees (Malus baccata). These are native to Siberia, Mongolia, and Nepal, and are some of the hardiest fruit trees on the planet. If you can’t find this cultivar, aim for Dolgo instead.

Not only do they withstand cold beautifully, they’re also resistant to the kinds of pests that tend to plague standard apple trees. Grow yours in the sunniest location possible, in loamy, well-drained, slightly acidic soil, and it should thrive beautifully. The only pests that might show up are aphids and tent caterpillars, but neither will threaten the health of your tree(s).

These trees bear reddish-yellow fruit in late summer and early autumn. Although these crabapples can be eaten raw, they have a tart flavor and mealy texture. As a result, it’s better to cook them before eating them. Crabapples are high in pectin, so they’re perfect for transforming into jelly. 

Alaska Crabapples

3. Pear

Pears are some of the most difficult fruits to cultivate in Alaska, but you can still grow a few different varieties!

While many pear tree varieties are self-fertile, there aren’t any self-pollinating species that will thrive in Alaska’s cold zones. You’ll need at least one other cultivar for cross-pollination, grown within 10 feet of your other tree(s). Furthermore, be sure to plant many native flower and/or berry species nearby to entice local pollinators.

Talk to the growers at your local garden center and see if they have some of the following cultivars in stock. If they don’t, they might be able to special-order some of them for you.

  • Ure: A Canadian/Siberian (Ussurian) pear that’s hardy all the way down to zone 1, though it benefits from mulch in wintertime. 
  • Luscious: Another Canadian/Euro hybrid, its fruits are juicy and abundant, and ripen around late September. It thrives best in Southern Alaska, but may be hardy down to zone 2.
  • Nova: This cultivar is from northern New York State, and produces abundant, sweet pears in early autumn. Hardy down to zone 1, making it ideal for growing across the entire state.
  • Summer Crisp: A northern Minnesota variety that’s hardy to zone 3. Its fruits can be eaten raw, but are just as good in preserves and baked goods. Fruits should ripen by mid September throughout Alaska’s Southern regions.

Related Article: What are the Juiciest Pears?

4. Plum

It’s not as easy to grow plums in Alaska as it is to grow apples and crabapples. That said, you can still try to cultivate them provided that you provide them with some extra benefits to help them grow.

For instance, you’ll need to plant them in the sunniest place available. You can grow plums in containers too, so you can keep them in the sunshine during the summer, then move them indoors once the weather gets cold. You’ll need at least two trees to cross-pollinate: aim for Manchurian or Japanese-American hybrids so they can pollinate one another.

Plant your trees no further than 10 feet apart or they won’t cross-pollinate. If you want to improve their chances, either plant them close to a bee’s nest, or cultivate pollinator-attracting flowers around them. This will draw happy little bees over to fertilize the flowers properly. For best results, try to find one or two of these cold-hardy varieties:

  • Pembina: A Canadian plum cultivar that can do fairly well in southernmost Alaska. Should be grown in a container and taken indoors in wintertime.
  • Pipestone: You’ll need another, different variety to pollinate it, but if successful, it’ll bear fruit quite well. 
  • Superior: This cultivar comes from northern Minnesota, making it fairly cold hardy. It survives better in zones 4 and 5, but you can grow it in containers and bring it inside in winter.

5. Cherry

Cherry trees need sandy, loamy, well-drained soil in order to thrive. It’s rare for sweet cherry trees to survive in Alaska outside of the southernmost, warmest areas, but sour/tart cherry trees are significantly hardier. If you have a site that gets a lot of sunshine, try growing some of the following cultivars:

  • Meteor: You’ll get a tree that’s somewhere around nine feet tall at maturity. You can eat the fruit raw, but it’s better for baking and cooking. 
  • Montmorency: The fruits on these trees aren’t great when eaten raw, but are wonderful for pies and preserves. This variety can thrive in zone 3 provided that it gets winter protection such as ground-level mulch, and burlap wrapping.
  • North Star Dwarf: These trees will only grow about seven feet high, and create abundant yields of juicy, delicious, semi-tart cherries.

Remember that if you live in an incredibly cold environment, you also have the option to grow fruit trees in containers, rather than right in your garden. This is a great option, because you can bring the trees inside when the weather turns really cold. As a result, you’re not limited to the scant few species mentioned above. While the ones on this list are the best options for Alaska, you have a lot more options if you grow indoors instead.

Further Reading: 10 Fruit Trees that Grow Best in Pots

Just note that if you’re planting outdoors, you’ll need to fertilize your soil well. Alaskan soil needs added fertility in order to support heavy-feeding fruit-bearing species. Aim for a fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 8-32-16. This should offer enough phosphorous to encourage flowering and fruiting, while still offering enough nitrogen and potassium to keep the trees healthy.

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