Thanks to many determined individuals, professional and hobbyists, fruit on the prairies has evolved from gathering in the wild to orchards.
The original hardy apple, malus, varieties whose fruit was used for jelly evolved into larger crab apples and apples. It takes time for new varieties to be grown, trialed, released then to be made available for sale. The process is ongoing. Look for updates and research what is on the market and will work in your garden.
Apple trees are grafted onto a different, hardier, variety of rootstock. The choice of rootstock determines the size of the mature tree.
Apple trees grafted to dwarfing root stock will only grow up to 20 per cent of the usual size. They tend to fruit quicker but often need to be supported, especially when the fruit begins to grow.
Plants on semi dwarfing root stock reach between 12 to 16 feet at maturity which makes it easier to prune and pick.
Plants on non-dwarfing root stock will grow to full size.
There are pear trees dotted across the prairies but the fruit is usually tart. New introductions from Russia have arrived. According to D’NA Gardens these are new, sweeter pears that are hardy on the prairies.
Sour cherry bushes that were introduced by the University of Saskatchewan have spread across the prairies. The plants are classified as a large shrub allowing for easy picking. Once established, the plant requires little in the way of maintenance. Water it too much or too late in the year and the plant might winterkill.
Allow the fruit to ripen to a deep red before picking and the cherry is tasty and sweet. It can be made into jams, jelly preserves, pies, dehydrated or eaten fresh.
Hardy plums have been available for a few decades but can appear to be inconsistent in fruiting. The key to a good plum crop is to have the correct pollinator. Either do research or purchase the plants from a knowledgeable seller.
Apricots varieties are sold in Alberta. If planted in a sheltered location the trees survive and even thrive. They produce beautiful flowers early in the season but the flowers are often damaged by frost.
Unnamed grape vines have been growing for years along the south side of the W. J. Elliot Agricultural Mechanics building at Olds College. They appear to produce fruit yearly with very little care and attention. Beta, Valliant and Kay Grey are the varieties that are commonly sold throughout Alberta. Research varieties or purchase from a reputable nursery.
Beta and Valiant produce bunches of purple flavourful grapes that make great jelly and are used for wine. Kay Grey is a green grape that can be used for jelly, wine or eating.
For the best results plant grape vines along a fence or trellis in a sheltered location with a southern exposure. Laying the vines down in the fall and covering them with a heavy layer of mulch will give them much needed winter protection.
For the most part, hardy fruit trees and vines will thrive in Alberta if given a good location. To achieve a better crop, ensure the correct pollinators are planted and prune regularly.
Linda Tomlinson has gardened in central Alberta for over 30 years. She can be reached at email@example.com.