MSU Extension Fruit Research Sites
The Flathead and Bitterroot Valleys are the largest production regions in Montana for commercial tree fruits like apples, pears, plums, and cherries. Many other parts of the state are lacking in fruit production, leaving rural residents without easy access to fresh, affordable fruit.
In 2012, MSU Extension was awarded a grant to establish fruit tree research sites outside of the Flathead and Bitterroot Valleys. MSU Extension personnel Toby Day and Brent Sarchet were the project leads. Using the results of the study, project goals included providing recommendations for appropriate cultivars for each region, developing fruit care resources for growers, and providing fruit tree outreach and education. Fruit tree research sites were planted between 2013 and 2016.
The project was transferred to MSU-WARC in early 2019, following project leads’ departure from MSU. In the spring of 2019, Chase Anderson of MSU-WARC worked to contact both Extension personnel and private landowners involved with these sites and coordinated visits to collect data regarding plots and trees.
Before planting, one must consider a multitude of variables, including site selection, design and management, severe weather, and pest and disease management. Individual sites were managed differently (Table 2) and environmental conditions varied (Table 1). Many cultivars had multiple replacements over several years, which confounds comparisons among cultivars and sites. However, survival rates provide a commentary regarding cultivars’ robustness to extremes in Montana’s harsh climate. Tree survival rates averaged across sites and cultivars were 63% for apples, 45% for pears, and 46% for plums (Tables 8, 9, and 10).
As of spring 2019, the best-performing cultivars in terms of survival were 'Zestar' apple and 'Mount Royal' and 'Toka' plum (see Fruit Tree Cultivars). Although rootstock is an important consideration that could influence tree survival, this information was not available and so was not considered in data analyses. As of spring 2019, we can summarize the following:
- Apples: The cultivar Northern Lights had a lower than average survival rate relative to 'Goodland', 'Honeycrisp', 'Frostbite', 'Sweet 16', and 'Zestar'. 'Zestar' had better survival rates than average; two site managers noted this variety as a site favorite.
- Pears: There was no statistical difference in survival rates among core pear cultivars 'Golden Spice', 'Luscious', 'Parker', 'Patten', and 'Ure'. These pear cultivars were selected for the research trial due to their cold tolerance, but less is known about their fire blight resistance. Additionally, one site noted difficulties ripening the fruit: it is unclear whether these pears exhibit typical “summer” vs “winter” ripening. We will explore these questions further as resources (and fruit production) allow.
- Plums: Survival rates were superior for 'Mount Royal' and 'Toka' plum varieties relative to 'Pipestone'. However, plums generally bloom earlier than apples and pears, which could make plums more prone to frost damage. We are planning to collect data on plum bloom timing relative to the other fruit species at two locations this spring (2020).
- Sour cherries: 'Evans Bali' sour cherry was planted at several sites, but not enough sites were represented to analyze survival rates. Note that MSU-WARC has research trials with these and other cold hardy small fruits.
A 2015 project summary is also available, with recommendations for growing fruit trees in Montana. See also this updated list of considerations and resources for growing apple trees.
Each of the 10 sites has a core group of cultivars replicated at all the sites, with three replications of each cultivar at each site. Sites with additional space have additional cultivars, some of which are replicated at other sites. The core cultivars were selected based upon anecdotal information that they would perform in Montana, and that they could be procured from wholesale growers.
- Apple cultivars planted at all sites: 'Honeycrisp', 'Sweet 16', 'Northern Lights', 'Goodland', and 'Zestar'
- Pear cultivars planted at all sites: 'Parker', 'Patten', 'Golden Spice', 'Ure', and 'Luscious'
- Plum cultivars planted at all sites: 'Mount Royal', 'Pipestone', and 'Toka'
Cultivar descriptions by Toby Day and Brent Sarchet
Fire Blight Resistance Code – R.D. Koski and W.R. Jacobi, Colorado State University; University of Minnesota Extension, MSU Extension
* High Degree of Susceptibility
** Moderately Susceptible
*** Moderately Resistant
?? Unknown Susceptibility
◊ Best survival rates across the state in 2015 evaluation
'Arkansas Black' – Old cultivar discovered in Arkansas in 1870; known for good storage. *
'Blondee' – Cultivar discovered in Ohio in 1998; early ripening. ??
'Carroll' – Moscow pear x Melba cross developed at the Experimental farm in Morden, Manitoba in 1961. Excellent eating apple. Not as vigorous as other apple cultivars. ***
'Chestnut Crab' – University of Minnesota release in 1949. ***
'Cox’s Orange Pippin' – Originates to England in 1825. **
'Frostbite' – A Malinda seedling released from the University of Minnesota in 2008; grandparent of Honeycrisp and parent of Keepsake and Sweet 16. ??
'Gale Gala' – A Gala sport discovered by Wally Gale in his Malaga, WA orchard. **
'Ginger Gold – A seedling discovered in the Harvey orchard near Lovingston, Virginia in 1980. *
'Goodland' – Developed from a Patten Greening seedling at the Experimental Farm in Morden Manitoba in 1931. Excellent eating apple, and excellent cold hardiness. Best performing apple cultivar in the research. **
'Good Mac' – Goodland x McIntosh cross released from the Experimental farm in Morden, Manitoba; one of the best performing apple cultivars in the trial. ***
'Gravenstein' – Old cultivar originating from Denmark in the 1700’s. Questionable cold hardiness east of the divide. **
'Honeycrisp' – Macoun x Honeygoldrelease from the University of Minnesota in 1991. **
'Northern Lights' – Haralson x McIntosh cross made in 1938 at Geneva, New York and introduced from North Dakota State University in 1990. It has not performed in the research; we have had to replace them frequently from winter kill. ***
'Mutsu' – Golden Delicious x Indo cross developed from the Aomori Apple Experiment Station in Japan, 1937. **
'Prairie Magic' – Goodland x Mantet cross released by Mr. Wilfred Drysdale of Neepawa, Manitoba. Limited number of propagators. ??
'Ruby Mac' – McIntosh sport. ***
'Smokehouse' – Old cultivar discovered in Pennsylvania in 1837. ***
'Stayman Winesap #20' – A cultivar of the original Stayman Winesap discovered by Dr. J Stayman of Leavenworth, Kansas in 1886. Known for their long shelf life. **
'Sweet 16' – University of Minnesota release in 1977; good cold hardiness. ***
'Wealthy' – Old seedling cultivar discovered in 1869 in Minnesota; a popular choice in many of Montana’s first orchards. It is still a dominate cultivar in heritage orchards located across the state where trees are 100 plus years old. *
'Zestar' ◊ – State Fair x MN 1691 cross released from University of Minnesota in 1999. One of the best apple cultivars in the trial; great flavor; good cold hardiness. **
'Clapp’s Favorite' – Discovered in Massachusetts in the 1800s. *
'Flemish Beauty' – A seedling discovered in Belgium in the early 1800’s; very cold hardy with excellent fruit; few propagators of this cultivar. *
'Golden Spice' – A release from the University of Minnesota in 1949; best performing pear cultivars in our research; small fruit but makes a wonderful cider and is very cold hardy. ??
'John' – Aspa x Siberian pear cross released from the University of Saskatchewan in 1960; vigorous growth, very cold hardy, early blooms (late April in Helena area) are susceptible to frost damage. ??
'Luscious' – A South Dakota State University release; questionable cold hardiness east of the divide. **
'Parker' – A University of Minnesota release in 1934; questionable cold hardiness east of the divide. ??
'Patten' – Seedling discovered in Iowa; questionable cold hardiness east of the divide. ??
'Pioneer' – Developed by A.L. Young of Brooks, Alberta in 1936; good cold hardiness. ??
'Ure' – A release of the Morden, Manitoba Research Station in 1978. ??
'Mount Royal'◊ – A European plum with dark blue fruit.
'Pipestone' – A University of Minnesota release in 1942.
'Toka'◊ – A Prunus Americana x Simonii cross introduced in 1911 by Dr. Neils Hansen.
'Evans Bali' – Discovered by Leuan Evans in an old orchard near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in 1920s.
Research Site Access
Some MSU Extension Fruit Research Sites are on public land, while others are on private land. To visit an MSU Extension Fruit Research Site, please work with local personnel or extension, as listed by site, below. Plot maps, last updated in spring of 2019, are available as a downloadable Excel file.
|County||City / nearest city||Contact name and affiliation||Contact information|
|Whitehall||Kaleena Miller, MSU-Extension||406-287-3282, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Gallatin||Bozeman||Mac Burgess, MSU-Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology Department||406-994-3510, email@example.com|
|Flathead||Columbia Falls||Pat McGlynn, MSU-Extension or Shari Johnson, Columbia Falls School (site manager)||406-758-5553, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Blaine||Lodge Pole||Hillary Maxwell, MSU Extension||406-353-2656, email@example.com|
|Toole||Shelby||Kim Woodring, MSU-Extension||
|Rosebud||Colstrip||Melissa Ashley, MSU-Extension||406-346-7320, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Valley||Hinsdale||Shelley Mills, MSU-Extension||406-228-6241, email@example.com|
|Broadwater* no responses from landowners in 2019||Winston||Allison Kosto, MSU-Extension||406-266-9242, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Lewis and Clark* no responses from landowners in 2019||Helena||Mat Walter||406-447-8350, email@example.com|
Research Site Locations
The map below illustrates over 70 heritage fruit orchards (with trees >75 years old) throughout the state along with the present MSU Extension research sites (diamonds), overlaid on NRCS Montana Rangeland Resource Units and EPA Montana Ecoregions. Click >> to view the legend (scroll down through legend to view all layers), and click on any individual point or polygon to view details. Individual orchard layout may be viewed and downloaded online.
Site photos from the spring of 2019, taken by Chase Anderson
The Future of the MSU Extension Fruit Research Sites
Funding specific to the MSU Extension Fruit Research sites, from the Montana Department of Agriculture - Montana Specialty Crop Block Grant, ended March 31, 2020. MSU-WARC will continue to coordinate research endeavors (e.g. insect trapping and bloom phenology) with sites and provide site support where possible and appropriate. For more information, please contact Rachel Leisso.
Due to differences in environmental conditions, differences in site management, and low numbers of fruit trees per cultivar per site, the reader is advised to consider each site separately, although general trends among cultivar survivability and productivity can be observed.
- Site Environmental Conditions
- Site Management
- Apple Cultivars
- Pear Cultivars
- Plum Cultivars
- Predicted frost damage to apple blossoms at full bloom stage for average blooming varieties at research sites, 2014-2019
- Tree survival rates
|SITE||Elevation (ft)||Average Total Annual Precip (in)||Annual Average High (F)||Average Annual Low (F)||Extreme High Temp (F)||Extreme Low Temp (F)|
Three trees of each cultivar were planted to each site, usually adjacent to one another in the same row. Sites were managed differentlyfor irrigation, weed control, pruning, and pest control, due to varying resource availability according to private ownership, school/college, and community-driven sites.
|SITE||Irrigation||Fertility management||Weed management||Pruning||Deer issues?||Fireblight presence||Insect notes||Other notes|
|Bozeman||underground sprinkler system, 2-inch, watered per night as needed||monitored (soil?) and fertilized as needed||6 ft wide mulch rows that are tilled and pepped each season. Weeds are sprayed and controlled through herbicides applications.||yes, each year for demonstration||fenced||no||no info||high incidence of vole girdling in the winter of 2020|
|Colstrip||handlines from river||none||mowed interrows, sod goes right up to trees||none||yes, not fenced||yes||no info|
|Columbia Falls||automatic sprinkler irrigation from well, watered every evening||compost from school||hand pull weeds; sod is cleared around tree at least 1 ft radius from trunk||yes, until fenced in 2018||yes||no||severe codling moth, abundance of aphids on 'Pipestone' plums|
|Helena||no response from landowners||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|Hinsdale||flood irrigated as needed||none||field is mowed; sod goes right up to trees||none||yes||yes||no info||hail damage and strong winds reported at site; herbicide damage two rows|
|Lodge Pole||drip system on solar powered pump, 4 gallons to each tree each evening||unknown||sod goes right up to the trunk of the trees||pruning is up to date, but trees are smaller than at other sites||unknown||no|
|Power||drip irrigation from well||none||site was mowed but in 2019 the grass was high and goes right up to trees||none||yes||yes||no info||Goodland and Sweet Sixteen apples were still alive|
|Shelby||drip system from well, 2 x 2-gallon emitters per tree||none||black weed mat around tree, interrows mowed||workshops are held by MSU extension||yes||no||no info||strong winds, herbicide damage one side|
|Whitehall||drip on well, 2-gallon emitters per trees||soil sampling and management per test results||6 ft wide mulch strips around trees; hand removal, no chemicals, grass mowed||yes, central leader||yes, now fenced||no||aphids||hail damage and strong winds at site, birds love the cherries|
|Winston||no response from landowners||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
In most cases, three replicates were planted for each cultivar
|APPLE CULTIVAR||Bozeman||Colstrip||Columbia Falls||Helena||Hinsdale||Lodgepole||Power||Shelby||Whitehall||Winston|
In most cases, three replicates were planted per cultivar
|PEAR CULTIVAR||Bozeman||Colstrip||Columbia Falls||Helena||Hinsdale||Lodgepole||Power||Shelby||Whitehall||Winston|
In most cases, three replicates were planted per cultivar
|PLUM CULTIVAR||Bozeman||Colstrip||Columbia Falls||Helena||Hinsdale||Lodgepole||Power||Shelby||Whitehall||Winston|
One of the project goals was to determine whether fruit trees could produce fruit at novel locations in Montana. We calculated the risk for frost during bloom—which could impair fruit set—for the research sites. See/download the full data here: MSU Extension Fruit Research Sites potential for frost damage during bloom 2014-2019.
Table 6. Predicted full bloom dates of early blooming apple cultivars at research sites, 2014-2019. Red cells indicate years/dates where predicted full bloom was interrupted by a frost that would have damaged at least 10% of blossoms (28.9 F or lower). Full bloom stage = 50% or more of blossoms open. Heat units accumulated prior to predicted full bloom are based on single sine modelling connected with apple bloom records from Montana in 2018-2019.
Table 7. Predicted frost damage to apple blossoms at full bloom stage for average blooming varieties at research sites, 2014-2019. Red cells indicate years/dates where predicted full bloom was interrupted by a frost that would have damaged at least 10% of blossoms (28.9 F or lower). Full bloom stage = 50% or more of blossoms open. Heat units accumulated prior to predicted full bloom are based on single sine modelling connected with apple bloom records from Montana in 2018-2019.
Table 8. Apple tree survival
|APPLE CULTIVAR||Bozeman||Colstrip||Columbia Falls||Helena||Hinsdale||Lodge Pole||Power||Shelby||Whitehall||Winston||Percent survival over all sites|
|'Carroll'||3/3||unknown||unknown||100% (one site)|
|'Chestnut Crab'||unknown||1/3||1/3||unknown||33% (limited number of sites)|
|'Cox’s Orange Pippin'||0/2||0/10||0% (limited number of sites)|
|'Ginger Gold'||unknown||4/4||4/4||0/3||73% (limited number of sites)|
|'Goodmac'||0/1||0/3||unknown||0/2||0% (limited number of sites)|
|'Gravenstein'||0/3||unknown||0% (limited number of sites)|
|'Mutsu'||unknown||4/4||0/4||50% (limited number of sites)|
|'Prairie Magic'||unknown||0/4||3/3||43% (limited number of sites)|
|'Red Stayman Winesap'||unknown|
|'Spartan'||4/4||0/4||50% (limited number of sites)|
|Percent survival per site||87.5%||30%||85%||unknown||27%||100%||14%||37%||76%||unknown|
Table 9. Pear tree survival
|PEAR CULTIVAR||Bozeman||Colstrip||Columbia Falls||Helena||Hinsdale||Lodge Pole||Power||Shelby||Whitehall||Winston||Percent survival over all sites|
|Percent survival per site||59%||18%||93%||unknown||0%||94%||13%||13%||75%||unknown|
Table 10. Plum tree survival
|PLUM CULTIVAR||Bozeman||Colstrip||Columbia Falls||Helena||Hinsdale||Lodge Pole||Power||Shelby||Whitehall||Winston||Percent survival over all sites|
|Percent survival per site||80%||22%||33%||unknown||22%||67%||11%||40%||100%||unknown|
Fruit tree cultivar survival were analyzed separately according to species (apple, pear, and plum), and included only cultivars present at most sites. Survival according to species was tabulated for in contingency tables (number alive vs number dead) and analyzed for “goodness of fit” according to chi-square distribution, where the null hypothesis is that there is no difference between the observed (alive or dead) and expected (alive or dead) frequencies. Where the overall chi-square statistic was significant, post-hoc tests were performed on adjusted residuals (to account for variation in sample size) with Bonferroni’s adjusted p-value for multiple testing comparisons.
- Apples: chi-square test statistic, 12.3; chi-square critical value, 11.1; degrees of freedom, 5; n, 139; p-value, 0.031.
- Pears: chi-square test statistic, 8.8; chi-square critical value, 9.5; degrees of freedom, 4; n, 121; p-value, 0.065.
- Plums: chi-square test statistic, 26.8; chi-square critical value, 5.9; degrees of freedom, 2; n, 71; p-value, 0.000001.
We would like to thank MSU Extension personnel, site landowners, and site managers for their time and contributions to the project, and Chase Anderson for site visits, data collection, and summaries, and Rebecca Richter for website content creation and management.
This project is funded by a Montana Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant.