Garden: Growing fruit in western Colorado |

Garden: Growing fruit in western Colorado

Curt Swift
Free Press Gardening Columnist
Ripe peach
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Not all of western Colorado is suited for all types of fruit. The Palisade area, due to the funneling of warm air from the DeBeque Canyon, is especially suited to peach orchards and vineyards. Other microclimate areas free of late-spring frosts and cold air pockets in Mesa and Delta counties are also suited for sensitive fruit crops such as peach, almond, apricot, sweet cherry and wine grapes.

Higher-elevation areas and communities with shorter growing seasons are best suited to apple, pear, plum and sour cherry. Concord, Perlette, Flame seedless, Himrod and other table grapes are recommended for these cooler areas. Gardeners desiring to try a vinifera hybrid grape in cooler areas should try Seyval Blanc (Seyve-Villard 5276), DeChaunac or Aurora. Mutsu, Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples may not develop fully in colder areas due to their long required fruit development period. While the trees will do fine, little if any ripe fruit will be produced. Most other apple varieties should do well throughout the area as long as long as the fruit has sufficient time to mature. For example, some cultivars of apples mature in as few as 70 days while others often take 180 days or more. Climate not only sets the limits for a given crop, but it also determines the consistency of harvesting a crop each year.

If you are thinking of purchasing an existing orchard, a detailed evaluation should be conducted to determine and correct soil problems, adequacy of irrigation water, health (i.e. insect and disease problems) of the trees and possible income (or loss) potential. Older orchards were planted with fewer trees per acre than is now economically feasible. In addition, cultivars previously in vogue may no longer be as marketable as newer cultivars. Some new orchard owners attempt to correct this situation by planting young trees among existing trees. Interplanting is not recommended as fertilizer, water, pruning and spraying requirements differ between the young and old trees.

The apple rootstock M7a (Malling 7a) is likely the best for this area due to its semi-dwarfing characteristic and resistance to the crown rot fungus common to our soils. In addition to purchasing apples grafted to this rootstock, care should be given to the cultivar and form of apple selected. Most cultivars of apples come in either the spur or standard form. Spur-type apples are recommended in lieu of the more free-branching standard form as the former is capable of bearing more fruit per inch of limb than the older standard forms. The spur-type form has a more upright growth habit requiring less pruning and allowing more trees per acre than when the standard form is selected.

Other fruit that does well in this area includes the cane berries (raspberry and blackberry) and strawberries. The June-Primo cane (fall or ever-bearing) raspberries are recommended in lieu of the old biennial forms due to our dehydrating winters. Black satin and Dirksen (a thornless) are recommended blackberries especially for the colder regions. Loganberry and boysenberry also can be grown successfully in some of the warmer parts of western Colorado.

Caneberries and strawberries should be certified as disease-free. The use of diseased plant material defeats the objective of a successful harvest and may result in contamination of the soil and surrounding area by the plant disease. It is less expensive to purchase certified disease-free plants than to fumigate the area in the hopes of eliminating a pest brought in on poor quality plants.

Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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