What’s the easiest fruit to grow organically in the southeastern United States? Over the past 10+ years, we’ve grown (or tried to grow) pretty much every type of fruit that can live in our climate zone. Here’s a list of 30+ types of fruit you can grow organically, ranked from easiest to hardest.
One question that’s popped up a lot over the years from new (and sometimes experienced) gardeners we know is: “is that fruit easy to grow organically here?” Depending on the fruit, our answer may be yes, somewhat, no, or don’t even try it.
First, let us start by providing the simplest definition of what we mean when we say “organic.” For the sake of this article, what we mean by organic is the fruit species produces well with minimal care and without need for synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
If you want to take a deeper dive into some of the technical differences between organic vs conventional gardening/farming, we encourage you to do so. But that’s not the focus of this article.
Two important qualifiers
Two quick qualifiers before diving into our list:
1. Fruit or veggie?
We’re not including plants like tomatoes and peppers, even though they’re fruit, botanically speaking. Our list is centered on plant species that most people would look at and identify as fruit, not veggies.
We’re in Ag Zone 7b in Greenville, SC, right smack in the center of the southeastern US. Hot humid conditions means the southeast is a haven for plant diseases and pest insects, making it much more difficult to grow certain fruit (and other crops) here organically than other parts of the country.
Granted, southern Florida is technically the southeast, too. Nevertheless, we’re only including fruit species that can grow in-ground throughout most of the southeastern US.
Easiest fruit to grow organically in the southeastern US
The below list is organized from easiest to hardest fruits to grow organically in the southeast. We’ve also included our estimation of the difficulty level required to grow each fruit next to each listing since some of these species are a tie, even though they’re listed in numerical order.
Easy to grow organically = 1; difficult to grow organically = 10.
1. Prickly pear fruit
Difficulty level: 1
As you might imagine, a native cactus is a pretty hardy plant. Prickly pear cacti are native to the southeastern US, so they’re pretty much as low maintenance a plant as you’ll find. The extent of our efforts is putting mulch around our cactuses 1-2 times per year.
Both the pads and fruit of prickly pear cactuses are edible. The pads (aka nopales) need to be cooked, but taste like slightly tangy green beans – quite delicious. The fruit is mild and sweet.
We’ve never had any pests or diseases impact the prickly pear cactuses we’ve grown, nor have we seen any signs of damage on plants we’ve spotted in the wild.
If you’re growing prickly pear cactuses for their edible fruit, you may want to avoid getting spineless varieties. Our spineless prickly pear cactus makes great pads with only very tiny spines, but it produces very few fruit. Our prickly pear plants with large spines produces lots of fruit.
2. Autumn olives and silverthorn
Difficulty level: 1
*Caveat right up front on this one: you should NOT intentionally grow Autumn olives or silverthorn fruit since they’re considered highly invasive. Forage them instead.
With that disclaimer out of the way, plants are deemed “invasive” when they’re incredibly hardy and spread like wildfire. Autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata) and silverthorn (Elaeagnus pungens) definitely match that description.
They also produce loads of small sweet and tangy fruit, although there is variability in fruit quality between plants due to hybridization. Autumn olives fruit in the fall (as their name implies). Silverthorn fruits ripen in late winter – early spring.
They spread invasively both via seeds dropping to the ground around existing plants and birds eating their fruit and pooping them into new spots. Same as mahonia, another highly invasive fruit plant we’re intentionally not including in this article so we don’t get grief!
Both species are considered invasive. Each seed you eat is a seed that doesn’t grow a new plant, so forage away! Plant goumi berries instead (see below).
3. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
Difficulty level: 1
A virtually indestructible, perennial native plant that produces fruit and whose leaves are scientifically proven to be as effective as DEET at repelling mosquitos? It might sound too good to be true, but that’s the story of American beautyberries.
These plants are commonly used as ornamentals in landscapes, so there’s a good chance you (or your neighbors) are already growing them. The tiny clusters of purple berries aren’t great to eat right off the plant, but they can be made into all sorts of delicious, healthy concoctions.
Suggestions/notes: Small shrub-like growth habit (they’re about the size of a forsythia) makes them perfect in an edible home landscape. If you’re space-limited in your garden, no worries. You can likely find beautyberries to forage around your neighborhood or in parks – the fruit ripens in late summer/early fall and remains on the plant into winter.
Difficulty level: 1.5
Everyone knows what a fig is, so no description necessary. The only tips we’ll add:
- You should also use your fig leaves for culinary purposes, since they offer a delightful flavor.
- Most fig varieties don’t grow well beyond Zone ~7; the most cold-hardy fig varieties are ‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Celeste, and ‘Chicago,’ which can be grown in colder zones.
Make sure you plant fig trees in a full sun spot with plenty of room to grow. After about 10 years, they can grow to have a huge spread, 20’+.
Difficulty level: 2
We grow a few different varieties of Sambucus canadensis, the dark purple-black fruited elderberry species native to the eastern United States. This is a seriously hardy species that seems to have no serious pest or disease pressure. Hurray for native plant adaptation!
Birds and leaf-footed bugs do enjoy elderberries, but we’ve never had them make even a small dent in our fruit production, perhaps because there’s so much other food around us to keep them distracted.
Mulch yearly, add some liquid gold around the plants when the urge strikes, and trim back branches in late winter.
- Complete guide to growing elderberries
- How to make sparkling elderflower cordial
- How to make elderberry syrup
- Recipe: elderflower kombucha
Difficulty level: 2
In case you’ve never heard of them, pawpaws are the largest fruit native to North America. And they taste like a mango banana custard. Do we have your attention?
The young trees prefer part shade, but after ~3-4 years, they’ll need full sun to reach their full productive potential. Mulch yearly and add some liquid gold around the plants when the urge strikes. No pruning or shaping necessary.
Since they’re primarily adapted to low-lying flood plains, pawpaws will benefit from being in a spot with ample soil moisture.
Not all pests are pests. If you notice striped caterpillars chewing on your pawpaw leaves, fear not. Pawpaws are a host plant for Zebra swallowtail butterflies. The swallowtail caterpillars don’t do significant damage, so let them continue down their lifecycle.
Difficulty level: 2
Aronia is a native fruit in the rose family that seems to be bulletproof when it comes to pests and diseases. There are a few different species with varying fruit color. We grow Aronia melanocarpa, which features purple-black fruit that potentially has the highest antioxidant profile of any fruit in the world.
Downside: the fruit is quite astringent. While I (Aaron) enjoy eating it fresh with a few stevia leaves, The Tyrant is not a fan of the fruit as-is. Perhaps the best use of Aronia fruit is as an additional flavoring in wines and meads. We have an elderberry-aronia wine aging that is already tasting mighty delicious.
Yearly mulch and some liquid gold during the growing season is all your Aronia bushes need to be happy, productive members of your plant community. Shield bugs show some interest in the ripe fruit, so you may need a small container of soapy water handy during aronia season to hasten the creatures’ journey to the hereafter.
8. Muscadine, scuppernong, and Concord grapes
Muscadine and scuppernong grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) are bred versions of native grapes. Hence they thrive in the hot humid, buggy southeast. Vitis vinifera, aka wine grapes, can grow in some areas of the southeast, but they require far more work.
Concord grapes (a hybrid cultivar) also grow pretty well here. The reason for the difficulty rating of 3 is primarily due to Japanese beetles, a non-native pest insect that is quite fond of grape leaves from any species.
However, if you have ducks or chickens, Japanese beetles can be turned from a problem into a great solution (fresh, nutritious eggs).
Muscadine and scuppernong grapes will require a large trellis and vigorous late-winter pruning.
Variety selection is key for northerly areas of the southeast. Most pomegranate cultivars grow from Zones 7-9, but there are newer varieties that can grow beyond these zones.
About a decade ago, a friend gave us rooted cuttings of an heirloom pomegranate that’s been grown by her family locally for over a century. Ours is now about 15′ tall and loaded with flowers and fruit each year.
The only pests that seem interested in our pomegranate fruit is a family of chipmunks that fattened themselves on our fruit last summer. Our hope is that the kingsnakes on our property enjoyed pomegranate-finished chipmunks last fall so we’re less inclined to mumble profanities in front of our baby human during pom season.
Tip: Harvest pomegranates after first frost for best flavor.
Our only complaint is that pomegranate trees can get a bit unwieldy. Rain and fruit seems to weigh the branches down, making them unruly neighbors for other nearby plants. We’re not sure if this is true of all pom varieties.
Perhaps this problem could be countered by pruning and bracing the trees.
10. Kousa dogwood
Difficulty level: 4
Asian Kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa) are a fairly common landscape plant in our area. They’re very pest and disease-resistant, and just need mulch plus decent soil moisture to thrive.
Kousa dogwood fruit tastes similar to ripe American persimmons, but with a slight grittiness to the fruit. Since they’re primarily bred for their showy appearance rather than their edibility, there’s quite a bit of variability in fruit size, color, and flavor between trees.
At maturity, Kousa dogwoods can be 30′ tall x 30′ wide, so make sure you have the planting space before you get one. They are hermaphroditic/self-fertile, so you only need one tree to get fruit.
Since there’s a large number of kousa dogwood trees growing within a mile of our home, we forage rather than grow the fruit.
- How to grow, forage, and harvest Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), the edible dogwood
- Recipe: Kousa dogwood pudding cake
11. Goumi berries
Want a plant that can actually grow its own nitrogen fertilizer? Goumi berries (Elaeagnus multiflora) is for you. Similar to legumes, the roots on this fruiting plant form a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria, allowing them to convert atmospheric nitrogen into bioavailable nitrogen.
If the scientific name of this plant sounds familiar, refer to fruit #2 on this list: Autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata) and silverthorn (Elaeagnus pungens). Unlike those invasive Elaeagnus species, goumis aren’t invasive.
They produce large quantities of sweet-tart berries in the late spring.
To get large harvests you may need to figure out methods to keep birds off your goumi fruit. And to get better fruit set and larger fruit, you’ll want at least two varieties to cross-pollinate even though the plants are fairly self-fertile.
12. Che fruit
Che fruit (Cudrania tricuspidata) is a mulberry relative native to China. It produces compound fruits that look similar to raspberries but taste like a cross between watermelons and figs.
The branches are somewhat thorny and the trees can get fairly large. Ours is on a forest edge squabbling with two elderberries for rights to sun. The che tree is now quite a bit taller than the elderberries, so the debate has been settled.
Our che tree is only about 6 years old, so this will be our first year getting a significant amount of fruit.
Some sources say you need a male and female che tree to get fruit. We’d held off on getting che trees for this reason due to lack of space. At a farmers market, a person was selling che trees that supposedly didn’t require a second tree, so we bit.
Update: Get two che trees for good fruit production. Our single supposed “self-fertile” che tree has thus far failed to produce mature fruit.
Although che trees are pest and disease resistant, apparently che fruit can also be a favorite for birds. Protection may be needed (and a taller ladder to harvest fruit from upper branches).
Everyone living in the eastern half of the country is likely familiar with the American mulberry (Morus rubra). Mulberry trees are loaded with blackberry-like fruit in early spring. Park your car under one for an hour when the fruit is ripe, and you may need new paint by the time the berry juice and bird droppings have been cleaned off.
Mulberry fruit quality varies considerably by tree and cultivar, so get bred varieties for intentional cultivation. This is another native fruit that is extremely low maintenance.
Plan for a LARGE growing space since mulberry trees can get huge. You can also find dwarf cultivars that can even be grown in pots.
The main problems you’ll have with mulberries are: 1) being able to harvest the fruit given the size/height of the trees, and 2) birds, squirrels, and other critters LOVE them.
Difficulty level: 4
There are wild blackberries everywhere throughout the southeast. Some are wonderfully flavored and some are better for jams and pies due to lower sugar levels.
We grow several different cultivated varieties of blackberries, predominantly thornless varieties so our hands and our ducks’ flippers don’t get too many pokes. In our experience, blackberries are incredibly easy to grow here organically. We keep a thick layer of mulch on the soil surface around our cane berries to keep the soil fertile and moist.
The reason we have blackberries listed as a difficulty level of 4 is that lots of people say they have trouble growing them year after year due to certain diseases and pests. One new problem that is starting to hit the southeast is the spotted wing drosophila fruit fly (Drosophila suzukii) from southeast Asia, which can also affect lots of other fruit varieties as well.
If you notice discolored or rotting blackberries on your plants, this fruit fly may well be the culprit.
Difficulty level: 4
Everything we said about blackberries (see above) applies to raspberries as well. The only thing we’ll add is a recommendation to try different cultivars and species of raspberries to see which ones you like best and which ones grow best in your area.
We grow ever-bearing red, ever-bearing golden, and black raspberries (the native black Rubus occidentalis) and love them all equally for their subtle yet unique flavor differences. This diversity also helps us have a long raspberry season.
Difficulty level: 4
Highbush blueberries are another popular fruit species native to the eastern US. They’re also relatively easy to grow organically.
We grow 6 different cultivars of blueberries, from small-sized pink lemonade blueberries to a giant, aggressively spreading mystery variety dug from my mom’s blueberry patch at Lake Santee. As such, we can say that the cultivar(s) you select makes a big difference in how much care your blueberries require.
My mom’s blueberry patch is about 15 years old and the only care it gets is a deep mulching with pine straw every year. We primarily fertilize our blueberries with used duck bedding. Although there are plenty of diseases that can impact blueberry plants, we’ve never had a problem with ours.
Before buying a blueberry cultivar, select ones noted for their hardiness, not just their flavor. Grow multiple cultivars that fruit at different times so you get a longer supply, don’t get overwhelmed by harvesting needs, and can see which cultivars perform best where you live.
The biggest “pest” challenge you’ll have with blueberries is birds.
17. Japanese and American persimmons
Difficulty level: 4
Japanese persimmons (Diospyros kaki) produce huge fruit compared to their American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) cousins. Some Japanese persimmons, like Fuyu, can even be eaten when the fruit is still crunchy before first frost. Try eating a non-perfectly ripened American persimmon and your mouth will feel like it turned inside out from pucker.
Both are quite easy to grow organically in the southeast. We’ve found that Japanese persimmons require quite a bit of fertility, so organic fertilizer spikes or late winter soil top-dressing with compost then mulch is required, or your persimmon trees may drop a lot of their fruit. (Yes, we found this out the hard way.)
Japanese beetles like persimmon leaves, but don’t seem to do significant damage since they prefer other plants more. You’ll need to keep deer from eating your young saplings. Squirrels may take a liking to your persimmons, and we’ve heard reports of deer eating the fruit as well. (We’ve not had a problem with either, knock on wood.)
- Japanese vs American persimmons: growing, foraging, eating
- Persimmon bread with oats, walnuts, and honey (no sugar)
18. Pineapple guava
Difficulty level: 4
We grow two species of fruit commonly referred to as guavas.
- True/common guavas (Psidium guajava) are a tropical that grows in Zones 9+, hence the reason we grow them in pots so we can give them protection in the winter.
- Pineapple guavas, aka feijoas (Feijoa Sellowiana) which are not true guavas.
Pineapple guavas are hardy down to about 15°F, so they can be grown throughout most of the southeast. Some winter protection, such as frost cloth or blankets, may be required during winter cold snaps. Ours have made it through upper teens with no problem and no protection.
Pineapple guava fruit is tropical-flavored and delicious – one of the very best fruits you’ll ever eat. The taste of pineapple guavas is like pineapple and passion fruit combined, but unique.
Some people just scoop out the pulp and leave the skin; we eat them skin and all.
Pineapple guavas also feature our favorite edible flower petals, which have a delightfully fluffy texture and candy-like sweetness. Don’t pick the whole flower or you won’t get fruit!
You’ll want to plant at least two different cultivars of pineapple guava close together to get good fruit set. Mulch 2x yearly to keep soil fertile and moist. No pests or diseases to speak of, difficulty level 4 is due to their lack of extreme cold hardiness, which may make them difficult to grow in northern inland areas of the southeast.
19. Ground cherries
Difficulty level: 4
One of our absolute favorite summer fruits, ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa) are an annual nightshade fruit that tastes like a sweet tomato crossed with a pineapple. They look like miniature golden tomatillos.
Start ground cherry seeds indoors a little after your tomatoes and peppers for an earlier harvest.
Dropped fruit readily re-seeds so you’ll have ground cherries popping up in your garden for years to come (this is a good problem). Tip: for best flavor, bring the brown-husked fruit that’s dropped off the plant indoors to sit for at least one day before eating. The sugars condense and after about a week, your ground cherries will take on an almost caramel-like flavor.
Ground cherries are a short-lived plant that peters out after producing its fruit, almost like a determinate tomato. From a farming and production standpoint, they’re quite time-consuming to harvest on a per pound basis, especially if you remove the husks.
Pest problems are predominantly rodents, who love the fruit as much as you will. We often find piles of empty ground cherry husks from fat chipmunks.
20. Sunberries and Otricoli orange berries
Difficulty level: 4
Sunberries, aka wonderberries (Solanum retroflexum formerly Solanum burbankii) are small 2-3′ tall x 2′ wide nightshade plants that produce loads of tiny black-purple fruit about half the size of a blueberry. The fruit is quite tasty, but the thin skin tends to break during harvest, meaning you have to eat them very quickly.
Otricoli orange berries (originating in Italy) are another nightshade fruit popularized in the US by Baker Creek Seeds. It matches the description of sunberries almost exactly, except it produces bright orange berries.
Both plants are annuals whose growing and harvest season is similar to a pepper.
Expect some interest from shield bugs, but otherwise these plants are pest free. They don’t seem to succumb to diseases that impact tomatoes, their solanum cousins. It takes a long time to harvest a lot of fruit and the fruit doesn’t last long post-harvest, so best as an interesting novelty fruit, than a staple garden fruit (or commercial fruit).
21. Dwarf tamarillos
Difficulty level: 4
Dwarf tamarillos (Solanum abutiloides) are a nightshade fruit native to South America. They have the growth habit of leggy indeterminate tomatoes and produce attractive clusters of orange fruit.
We recommend growing them as annuals, like tomatoes, but we have a dwarf tamarillo growing in a pot that’s now five years old. (Tomatoes can also be grown as perennials in warmer climates.)
The leaves are pungent and the fruit is quite interesting. The front is sweet and tropical followed by a mildly bitter aftertaste. For best flavor, harvest only when the fruit turns a dark golden color.
Dwarf tamarillos don’t seem to be susceptible to other nightshade diseases, but leaf-footed bugs seem especially fond of the fruit and can diminish fruit quality.
Difficulty level: 4.5
No, we’re not talking about tropical passionfruit, we’re referring to our native passionfruit, aka maypops (Passiflora incarnata). A vigorous, climbing perennial, you can often find them growing in fields or clearings next to forest edges. Just look for their stunning purple flowers and you’ll know you’ve found a patch.
Native passionfruit is one of the very best flavors in the world. Tangy, sweet, tropical goodness. They’re delicious fresh (seeds and all) or made into cordials and jams.
Native passionfruit is the host plant of Gulf fritillary butterflies (often confused with Monarchs). Their scary looking black-and-orange spiky larvae are completely harmless to people. However, they can do significant damage to your passionfruit vines, effecting yields.
Other common problems with passionfruit: voles enjoy eating the roots and root knot nematodes can completely kill the plants as well. Grow spicy mustard family plants and/or marigolds for a season if you have root knot nematode problems.
23. Garden huckleberries
Difficulty level: 4.5
Garden huckleberries (Solanum nigrum var. melanoserasum) are an unusual annual nightshade fruit from western Africa. They thrive in our steamy hot southeastern summers.
The fruit isn’t good eaten raw. However, once cooked and sweetened it’s magically transformed into one of the most delicious fruits out there, like a cross between blueberries and grapes. The plants continue to produce abundantly from ~late June through first frost. Harvest the berries when they’re dark black.
Leaf-footed bugs and stinkbugs seem to love garden huckleberries. You may need to police your plants, and have gloves and a container of soapy water available as you go.
Difficulty level: 4.5
Honeyberries, aka blue honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea) originated in the northern hemisphere, thus they grow best in more northerly climates. However, they also grow well in the southeast, especially cultivars bred for warmer climates.
Honeyberries produce small, dark purple fruit that tastes similar to a sweet and tangy plum. They ripen very early in the season, right around the same time as strawberries. You’ll need two different honeyberry cultivars growing in close proximity for maximum fruit production.
We’ve lost honeyberry plants during heat/drought spells due to our negligence – the plants thrive in evenly moist soil. Our remaining honeyberry plant had a relatively small yield this spring due to its age and no other pollenizers being around. We plan to plant new ones in the fall.
- selecting multiple honeyberry cultivars to see which ones perform best for you,
- selecting cultivars bred to perform better in warmer climate regions since some will not grow well here,
- planting them in cooler microclimates in your yard that get afternoon shade or part shade.
No pest or disease pressure that we’ve experienced; only difficulty is due to climate challenges.
Difficulty level: 5
Watermelons may be the quintessential summer fruit. There’s nothing more hydrating than a giant slice (or three) of watermelon on a hot day.
There are numerous heirloom and hybrid watermelon cultivars to choose from. Our personal favorites:
- Ali Baba,
- Moon & Stars (yellow and red-fleshed), and
- Navajo Red and Navajo Yellow. (Navajo watermelons are small-fruited and very drought tolerant.)
There are quite a few watermelon diseases in the southeast that can wipe out your crops. One of the more common ones is powdery mildew, which can be prevented or treated with a foliar spray of 3 parts milk to 7 parts water.
Chipmunks and other other rodents love eating watermelons. Oddly, so do coyotes. Groundhogs will eat an entire watermelon vine for an afternoon snack.
26. Muskmelons & honeydews
Difficulty level: 6
Muskmelons (cantaloupes) and honeydews are seriously delicious melons that seem to have been mysteriously relegated to the breakfast menu. We like them with lunch and dinner, too.
We’ve never tasted a muskmelon or honeydew we didn’t like. Two favorites that deserve a mention:
- Toadskin, aka piel de sapo, aka Santa Claus melons. These are honeydew-like storage melons that will last for months. The best melon we ever grew and ate was a Toadskin melon that we saved and ate on Thanksgiving day.
- Rocky Ford is an old heirloom that tastes like a cross between cantaloupes and honeydews. Its skin looks like a cantaloupe but the flesh is green.
All the same diseases as watermelons (see above), but our muskmelon and honeydew fruit seem much more susceptible to pickleworms, which bore inside and quickly ruin the fruit. OMRI listed, organic-approved Bt spray can address that problem.
27. Arctic kiwis
Difficulty: TBD (perhaps very easy)
The addition of arctic kiwis to this list came by way of one of our readers. The reason we didn’t initially include it is because we got arctic kiwis about a decade ago and were told they’d begin bearing fruit within seven years.
At that time, there were no self-fertile arctic kiwi cultivars available. So we got a male and female kiwi plants, made a trellis on a fence, and waited… for ten years thus far.
The plants grow like kudzu every year and their trimmings make a wonderful contribution to our compost pile. However, they have made precisely zero contribution to our fruit piles. The male plant flowers in spring, the female has yet to flower, thus no fruit. (Perhaps she finds her designated mate unworthy.)
Get one (or multiple) of the newer self-fertile cultivars of arctic kiwis. Apparently, they’re not quite as vigorous and fast growing as the non-self-fertile cultivars, but they produce fruit within a couple years and they don’t require a second plant!
Also, be warned that Japanese beetles love munching the foliage of arctic kiwis. Established plants have no trouble growing right on through insect damage, but your newly transplanted kiwis may benefit from some protection.
Mmm, who doesn’t love strawberries. Unfortunately, they’re also usually #1 on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list due to the quantity and variety of pesticide residue found on conventionally grown strawberries.
It’s generally considered very difficult to grow organic strawberries in the southeast. We’ve done it for years by using mulches, compost, and compost tea to boost soil fertility and outcompete pathogenic microbes. The thing we haven’t yet figured out is how to keep voles (which live underground) from eating our strawberry roots and killing the plants. Perhaps the only downside of no-till gardening is that voles thrive.
Despite what you may see in your grocery store, there are different types of strawberries to choose from in addition to the classic large, red hybrids (which we also grow). Two additional strawberry recommendations that we find considerably easier to grow than red hybrids:
- ‘Yellow wonder’ strawberries (small yellow fruit that tastes like tropical fruit punch)
- native Fragaria virginiana (small fruit, but incredibly delicious)
Serviceberries, aka Amelancheir, are a native fruit that looks like pinkish blueberries but tastes like peaches and almonds. Delicious.
A native fruit that’s hard to grow in its native range? Yes, in our experience serviceberries are difficult to grow here due to fireblight and Gymnosporangium rust (spores of which spread to our serviceberries from our neighbor’s cedar trees). The plants are also a host to numerous insects, some of which can nearly defoliate the trees.
We removed our large serviceberry plants to make room for chestnuts and elderberries.
We do have a remaining dwarf ‘Theissen’ serviceberry variety that seems quite disease and pest-resistant (height about 5′). You can also sometimes find good patches of serviceberries to forage in the wild.
30. Incan golden berries
Physalis peruviana (native to Peru) also goes by the common names ‘Incan Golden Berries’ or ‘Cape gooseberries’. The fruit looks very similar to their close relative, ground cherries (higher up on this list). Frankly, they taste even better than ground cherries, like a cross between pineapples and tangerines.
Incan golden berry plants freeze back to the ground, but can overwinter and perennialize in the southeast. The plants grow to the size of indeterminate tomatoes by late summer.
They produce fruit later in the season than ground cherries, so start seeds early (around the same time as your tomatoes).
The challenge is getting a good harvest because pest insects love Incan golden berries and will often eat the fruit, leaving behind empty husks. Recommend either using Bt or insect cloth to make the effort worthwhile.
Difficulty level: 7.5
You have about as high a chance spotting organic cherries as Bigfoot in the southeast. However, we’ve started having organic cherry sightings in our front yard via our ‘Blackgold’ cherry tree the past two springs. (No Bigfoot sightings yet.) Our ‘Craigs Crimson’ cherry tree died a couple years back.
Like other plants in the genus Prunus on this list, cherry trees are very susceptible to numerous pests and diseases that proliferate in the southeast. Oh, and birds love the fruit, too. Grr.
If you’re going to attempt to grow cherries in the southeast, one thing we can say for certain is you’ll need Kaolin clay (which you can buy as Surround). It’s completely non-toxic but it creates a white film on the leaves and ripening fruit. Apparently to insect eyes, the tiny kaolin particles are very disorienting.
Surround also seems to keep our resident mocking birds off of our cherries!
Difficulty level: 7.5
Everything we wrote about cherries (see above) applies to growing plums in the southeast. We’ve had some success, but we’re still early in the process.
Another possibility for many areas of the southeast is to grow our native wild plum (Prunus americana). These plants are commonly seen growing along highways or other disturbed areas, and are easiest to identify by their white flowers in late winter/early spring.
American wild plums are small shrubby plants that create dense clonal colonies via runners. They’re basically indestructible and produce loads of small sweet-tart plums in late spring-early summer. (These plums were top on my foraging list as a child.)
Another native, chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia), may present similar opportunities. Our chickasaw plum trees are still too young to produce fruit.
Difficulty level: 8
Our self-fertile ‘Tomcot’ apricot tree blooms early and inevitably has a freeze burn off the flowers or young fruit. This year, when no freezes took the fruit, I used Surround/kaolin clay to keep the pest insects at bay. The fruit was about a month from being ripe when a storm took it down.
By all accounts, apricots — like nearly all Prunus species — are notoriously difficult to grow organically in the southeast, even when storms cooperate.
Difficulty level: 9.5
Prunus persica. Yep, dang near impossible to grow peaches organically in the southeast since there are different pests and diseases that attack all parts of the plant from bloom to first frost.
Nevertheless, our two 10 year old peach trees are loaded with organic peaches this year. Quite a few of the fruits have insect damage and likely won’t make it, despite me doing a pretty good job keeping up with kaolin clay applications. However, due to fruit tree borers and fungal diseases, we doubt our peach trees will last much longer. We’ll likely replace them sooner with fruit trees higher up on this list.
There are a few commercial farms in the southeast that grow organic peaches, but the degree of knowledge and inputs required to do so is probably beyond what a backyard gardener would want to reasonably invest.
When we have more land, I have a dream of trying to grow a row of true dwarf peach trees under row cover (after fruit set).
35. Apples, Pears, and Nectarines
Difficulty level: 10
More prunus fruit… When we first started our small food forest years back, we planted two apple trees and two pear trees. They both got fireblight and rust, and were removed within a few years.
A couple years ago when I was at the Clemson University Musser Fruit Farm, I asked one of the researchers if anyone has figured out how to grow apples organically in South Carolina. “It’s not even worth trying,” he replied.
Clemson’s Dr. Guido Schnabell recently told me the same thing about trying to grow nectarines organically: “don’t even try.”
Since it’s relatively easy (and thus less expensive) to grow apples, pears, and nectarines in other regions of the country, these are fruit we buy at the store (certified organic) rather than try to grow here.
- Apples – My mom has somehow managed to keep an apple tree with five varieties grafted to it growing and producing for about a decade at her lakehouse in Summerton, SC. I think magic may be involved.
- Pears – Growing up in South Carolina, I remember eating ripe pears off of giant trees in the neighborhood that seemed to be thriving without any human care. It’s entirely possible there are cultivars of pears that perform well here that we don’t know about. If you see a pear tree performing well here, consider grafting a branch on to Bradford pear rootstock. (But don’t you dare grow a Bradford pear in your yard!)
If you made it to the bottom of this list, we hope you found the information helpful! Hopefully, you can narrow down the list of what fruit you should and shouldn’t try growing in your southeastern US garden or homestead.
If there’s a fruit variety you think we got wrong or a species we did not cover, please let us know in the comments! Not included, but we do have young mayhaw trees that are too young to fruit; we’ll add them to this list in time…
Other fruity articles you’ll love:
- How to use American beautyberries as food and insect repellent
- How to grow fruit year round in your garden
- 16 incredible edible wild flowers
- 50+ fruits, herbs, and veggies that grow in shade
- How to select and use edible roses in your garden