by Bethany Hayes
Homegrown food is the best type of food, but everyone spends time focusing on growing extensive vegetable gardens. Over the last few years, I began focusing on more edible trees you can grow in zones 3-6, which is where I live.
Living somewhere that receives hard frosts, and plenty of snow makes growing fruit and nut trees limiting. Many fruit trees handle cold temperatures, but it affects the harvests when the temperatures dip into the teens or negatives. If you live in zones 3-6, you know these moments happen, so the trees you grow need to handle them.
In recent years, I learned more about permaculture and creating an edible landscape. While I investigated ways to make a food forest in my backyard, I found different edible trees to grow in my region. Here are some of the ones I want to grow soon.
20 Edible Trees to Grow in Zones 3-6
Most apple varieties are hardy to zones 3 or 4, so you have hundreds of types to consider growing. That’s not an exaggeration. I had a hard time picking the apple varieties to grow on our homestead.
You need to have a different mix of apple types for pollination purposes. Talk to the online or local nursery to make sure the types that you have work for pollination. Learn more about apple trees.
It’s harder to find apricot trees for zone 3, but it’s possible. They’re just not as common as zone 5 or 6. Areas with wet summers, like Vermont, struggle because of fungal diseases.
However, I live in Ohio, and plenty of people grow apricots in this area. If you want to add more edible trees in your zone 3-6 property, apricots are possible. Apricots grow best in regions that have more dry weather. Large amounts of rainfall create a lousy area for these fruit trees.
In some areas, autumn olives are considered an invasive species. These trees reach up to 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Autumn olives are wild edible that is easy to grow and produce small, soft fruits that are either red or gold.
Many nurseries don’t offer these. One of the easiest ways to grow an autumn olive tree is to find someone with this tree and take a hardwood cutting.
Homegrown cherries are the best types of cherries. These are delicious fruits broken down into two categories: sweet and sour cherries.
When you go to the grocery store, you’ll find sweet cherries for fresh eating. They’re naturally sweet, and these trees take 4-7 years to bear fruit. You can grow sweet cherries in zones 5-6.
Sour cherries are best for cooking. They taste great in pies, jams, and preserves because they require added sugar to be enjoyable. Sour cherries have a tart flavor rather than sweet. The nice thing about sour cherries is that the trees bear fruit faster, typically 3-5 years, and they grow in zones 4-6. Learn more about cherry trees.
Cherry plums are a different variety of plums that belong to a group of Asian plum trees. You can think of these trees as a hybrid between plums and cherries. This is tree typically reaches up to 15 feet tall, and the fruits are delicious.
If you grow cherry plums, you can make all kinds of jams and preserves. The cherries are the size of a plum, and nurseries offer different varieties, some of which are hardy down to zone 3.
Some people find growing nut trees intimidating, but chestnut trees, like the Chinese chestnut, are easy to grow as long as you have plenty of patience. Chestnut trees take ten years or longer to produce a full harvest, producing up to 50lbs. The trees start to produce a harvest after four years, producing up to 15lbs for a few years.
Chestnut trees are large, and they need to spaced 30 feet apart. It’s best to have two chestnut trees on your property for pollination to have an adequate harvest.
People discount crabapples, but they’re helpful for pollination. In my areas, it seems like most yards have crabapple trees. Make sure you don’t buy ornamental varieties and remember that these are sourer than regular apples. However, since you can add sugar, some people love them for pies, jams, and jellies. Learn more about crabapples.
Most people don’t think of fig trees as an edible tre that grows in zones 3-6, but the Chicago fig is hardy to zone 5! These trees produce golf-ball sized fruits on trees that reach up to 12 feet tall. It’s best to grow them in containers to allow them to overwinter indoors. Learn more about figs.
Ginkgo nuts grow on the Ginkgo biloba treat. Some people recognize this as a remedy for memory loss, or they might notice the fruits that have a distinct odor. Once you get pass the odor, you’ll find out that the nuts are edible, but the fruits release a nasty smell when dropped to the ground.
Once you get pass the scent, the nuts inside of the fruit are considered a delicacy. Ginkgo nuts have a soft, dense texture that taste similar to pistachios.
Hardy pecan trees are deciduous trees that grow up to 100 feet tall – seriously! They adapt well to cold climates and make excellent shade trees if you have large backyards.
Pecan trees live for up to 100 years, so once you plant one, it’ll outlive you. It takes 7-15 years for the tree to start producing pecans. Learn more about pecans.
Not everyone realizes that hawthorn trees produce edible berries, but they are! Hawthorn seeds contain cyanide, so you need to spit them out, but the berries taste great for jellies. You can use the leaves, flowers, and berries to make tea.
If you want homegrown nuts but feel like you don’t have space, a hazelnut tree is one of the smallest nut-producing trees. These trees reach up to 10-20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. American hazelnuts grow well in colder regions, so they work for zones 3-6.
These nuts fall from the tree, and you have to rake the hazelnuts into a pile to harvest.
Our backyard has a huge mulberry tree, and it’s one of our favorite edible trees now. This tree is huge, producing berries each year, and when the birds eat the berries, they spread the seeds. You’ll end up with volunteer mulberry trees everywhere.
Mulberry trees are easy to grow. They need to be planted in full sunlight and rich soil, but after they are established, it takes no care to grow them.
Nanking cherry trees are a way to have homegrown cherries without huge trees in your backyard. They’re fast growing and reach up to 15 feet tall, but you can prune them into a shrub size if you prefer.
Nanking cherry trees produce small, dark-red cherries that are tart and yummy. They produce a harvest in July and August, and you don’t have to wait years for fresh cherries. You can use these for fresh eating, wine, juice, pie, and preserves.
Believe it or not, oak trees are a common edible tree species throughout North America, and they come in two groups: red and white oaks. Red oaks have pointed lobes and white oaks have rounded lobes.
Every fall, oak trees down all kinds of acorns on the ground. Never take them off of the tree; those aren’t right. Acorns are edible but require processing.
Paw Paw Trees
In Ohio, we have the American Paw Paw tree. These wild trees produce delicious, creamy fruits on a tree thas tropical-like leaves. The woods behind my house have dozens of these trees. When you cut open the fruits, you’ll find a custard-like texture, so they’re perfect for desserts.
Paw Paw trees are hardy down to -10℉, so it’s like growing a tropical fruit somewhere that has winter.
Peach trees are tricky; most varieties are hardy only to zone 5, and even then, it’s tough to grow peaches. All it takes is one rogue frost, and the entire harvest is gone. Look for peaches hardy down to zone 4 if you’re worried.
It’s worth the effort because homegrown peaches are one of my favorite treats. Peaches taste great in pies, crumbles, fresh eating, and canned. Canned sliced peaches in the middle of the winter are like a bite of summer.
Most people are familiar with pears; you’ll find pears in any local grocery store, where you’ll find one or more types of pears. Growing pears at home give you a broader variety to enjoy, and they’re one of the easiest fruit trees to grow.
Pears handle cold temperatures well, better than peaches, and they’re less picky than apple trees. So, if you’re new to growing fruit trees, these are an excellent choice.
Persimmons are one of the forgotten trees that Native Americans valued but have fallen out of popularity. The fruits from these trees hung on the tree well into the winter, and the settlers would pick them off. If you’ve never tried persimmon, they taste similar to apricots.
The great thing about persimmon trees is that they’re easy to grow. These were once wild trees that grew throughout North America. All they need is a sunny location and plenty of water, which is why they thrive in zones 3-6. Learn more about persimmon.
Last but not least, plum trees are another excellent stone fruit to grow in your backyard. Nearly everyone has tried a fresh plum from the store; they make yummy jams and cakes, and you might enjoy them as a fresh snack.
Before you buy a plum tree, take a look at the zones ideal for that cultivar. Most plums are hardy from zones 3-9, but some of the new hybrids are better in zones 3-5. If you live in zone 3, these are cold-hardy fruit trees that handle growing well into negative temperatures.
Who knew there were so many different edible trees you can grow in zones 3-6? Make sure to try adding a few of these trees to your property and enjoy homegrown fruits.