Practical Self Reliance: 60+ Unique Fruits & Nuts for Cold Climates (Zones 3-5)

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance writes about 60+ Unique Fruits & Nuts for Cold Climates (Zones 3-5) More photos through the link at the original article. Where we live is a bit warmer than this around zone 6, but we have aronia, elderberry, chestnut, goji berry, blue/black/rasp-berry, currants, rhubarb, and silverberries at home. And, of course, several of these are grown commercially in the area. We’ve tried some cold hardy figs, but I think it’s just a little too cold for them. We’ve also got a couple of kiwi vines which do well as vines, but so far no fruit. We still hold out hope for them, though.

Cold climate gardening can seem limiting, and you just can’t grow many common supermarket fruits.  That just means you have to get creative because there are literally dozens of delicious cold hard fruits you’ve probably never tried.

Harvesting Honeyberries


One of the things I really love about permaculture is how the design manuals really think outside the box when it comes to perennial plant varieties.

Alongside apples, pears, and raspberries, you’ll find mention of Cornelian cherries, lingonberries, beach plums, and spicebush —all manner of food forest crops to keep things interesting in the kitchen year-round.

Our permaculture homestead is in a cold zone 4, with temps that occasionally dip as low as -27 F in the winter.  While we won’t be harvesting mangoes anytime soon, there are still plenty of options for temperature climate permaculture food forest plantings.

The plants listed below are well suited to grow in zone 3, 4, and 5, providing good yields with minimal effort for a well-planned diverse permaculture homestead.

Aronia Berries (Aronia melanocarpa)

Currently gaining popularity as a new age super food, Aronia berries are actually a wild edible native to much of the US.  They come in two main varieties, black Aronia and red (though there’s also a “purple” Aronia, thought to be a hybrid of the two).

They’re easy to grow and resistant to disease, preferring wet soils and tolerating partial shade.  Once established, bushes are highly productive and can grow 6 to 8 feet tall.

Hardy in zones 3 to 9.

Wild Berries of Black Chokeberry (Aronia)

Apples & Crabapples (Malus sp.)

The vast majority of apple varieties are hardy to zone 4, if not zone 3, and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from.

Don’t just go with the grocery store types you know, branch out and try some really unique varieties by reading through a few well-stocked nursery catalogs.  Make sure you plant a mix of summer apples, along with late fruiting good keepers for a solid supply of year-round fruit.

Don’t forget to add in a few crabapples, both for pollination and amazing fruit.  Dolgo crab, in particular, is a good choice, as it’s a profuse bloomer with delicious fruit.

Hardy zone 3 to 9, depending on the variety.

Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)

Many apricot trees are hardy to zone 3, but they’re still not common here in Central Vermont.  I asked a nurseryman why, and he told me they don’t do well here because of our wet summers.  Apricots are susceptible to fungal diseases, and they do better with less humidity and heavy rains.  Nonetheless, we’re trying a few out.

The past few years have been hit or miss for rains, and we had one summer with an epic drought and no rain for more than 6 weeks straight.  You never know what the weather will throw at you here in New England, and we might just get lucky.

Growing up in California’s high desert, we were often buried in apricots (literally), and we’d make ourselves sick gorging on them.  If you have dry summers, they’re a good option, even in cold climates.

Some varieties hardy zone 3 to 9.

Apricot, Manchurian Bush (Prunus mandshurica)

Native to colder regions in Asia, the Manchurian bush apricot is very hardy.  The trees naturally stay small, growing about 12 feet high and 12-18 feet across at the widest point.

Though the trees are hardy to zone 3, late frosts can damage the buds and prevent fruiting in the coldest regions. Plant in a micro-climate that melts out late or protects the trees during late frosts.

We planted three near our pond, which moderates temperatures and helps create a more stable micro-climate.  Everything I’ve read says they’ll bear fruit in 2-3 years.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Hardy zone 3 to 9.

Autumn Olives (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Another wild edible, autumn olives, are actually considered invasive in some parts of the country.  They’re profuse, easy to grow, and birds easily spread the small soft fruit.  I’ve seen two varieties, red and gold.

I’m particularly excited about these, but it’s hard to find a source of plants.  From what I’ve read, autumn olives grow readily from hardwood cuttings, so if you’d like to mail me a bundle of sticks in late winter or early spring, I’d really appreciate it.

I recently found some from a new wholesale nursery we’re trying out, and they have seedlings available for $4 each or $20+ for named varieties.

Hardy in zones 3-9.

Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) 

Once common in coastal regions from the mid-Atlantic states to Canada, Beach Plums have been wiped out by coastal development and population explosions. It is rare in many states.

In spring, Beach Plum trees are covered in white-petaled flowers that turn pink once pollinated. By late summer and early fall, blue-purple plums cover the plant. Wildlife loves these plums, but at one time, so did humans living near these trees.

While tart, Beach Plums are rich in antioxidants and can be turned into delicious jams. Some use these fruits in cordials and wines.

Hardy in zones 3-8. 

Beech Trees (Fagus grandifolia)

Though not often thought of as a food source these days, beechnuts were a historically significant source of calories.  The nuts are very high in protein and part of Native Americans and early settlers’ diet.

They’re abundant in our woods already and quite productive, though it’s hard to beat the squirrels to them.

Beech trees grow in zones 3 to 8.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Often overlooked because the nuts have a slightly more bitter taste than English walnuts, black walnuts can be delicious if appropriately handled. It’s important to get them out of the green outer husk quickly because that husk contributes to the bitter flavor.

The green husk is made into a black walnut tincture (and powder) for use against intestinal parasites and an iodine supplement.

Black walnut trees are also one of the dozens of species that can be tapped for syrup, and they make a unique dark-colored sweet syrup.

Black Walnuts are hardy from zones 4 to 9; some say even to zone 3.

Black Walnuts in Hulls

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus)

Blackberries aren’t as popular as blueberries or raspberries, but they’re an easy berry bush to add to your backyard. I grew up with fresh blackberries from my grandmother’s backyard. She would give me a bowl of blackberries with milk and a sprinkle of sugar – such a good snack.

Once planted, blackberries are easy to grow and do exceedingly well in these USDA zones; they’re native to the area. You don’t need to plant more than one bush because they’re self-fertile, but a few bushes will give you a large yield.

Hardy to zones 4-9.

Blueberries (Cyanococcus)

Everyone has heard of blueberries, and they’re some of the easiest berry bushes to grow. Blueberries take time to grow; it can take up to 10 years for a blueberry bush to reach a mature size, but that means they have a long lifespan.

After planting, expect it to take 2-3 years before you receive any sizable harvest, but they’re worth the wait. While waiting, blueberry bushes are attractive, with leaves turning several shades in the fall.

After establishing, blueberry bushes need simple care, including watering, fertilization, and yearly pruning. Aside from that, you don’t need to worry too much; they handle themselves well.

Their hardiness depends on the variety selected. You can find varieties hardy from zone 3-9. 

Buffalo Berries (Shepherdia argentea)

Sometimes called rabbit berries, Buffalo berries are a hardy shrub that reaches between six and 20 feet tall. They’re commonly found along streams throughout the Great Plains in North America.

Fruit appears on the shrubs between August and September in abundance. Buffalo berries are scarlet-red or golden-yellow and have a tart flavor that tastes great when used in relishes or jelly. Besides fruit production, adding buffalo berries to your property gives you a winter hardy and drought tolerant plant that can also fix your soil’s nitrogen issues.

Buffalo berries prefer to grow in zones 3-9, but with adequate protection, they might grow in zone 2 as well. 

Butternut Trees (Juglans cinerea)

When I first heard of butternuts, I immediately thought of the butternut squashes I grow in my garden, but these are a type of tree that belongs to the walnut family. Butternut trees are native to the eastern United States and Canada, growing wild in some regions.

Sometimes referred to as white walnuts, butternut trees produce their harvest in late October, developing buttery-flavor nuts. These nuts are popular for baking, fresh eating, and confections due to their unique butter flavor.

Growing butternut trees require well-draining soil and full sunlight, but they adapt well to most conditions. They reach up to 60 feet wide, so space everything else around your trees appropriately.

Hardy in zones 3-7.

My two year old son holding a few wild foraged butternuts (husked, cured and dried)

My two year old son holding a few wild foraged butternuts (husked, cured and dried)

Canadian Buffalo Berry (Shepherdia canadensis)

Cousin to the above-listed buffalo berries, Canadian buffalo berries grow in colder climates. These shrubs are typically found in Newfoundland, Alaska, Oregon, and parts of the Rocky Mountains.

These fruits are edible, but some say that the flavor isn’t as desirable as the original buffalo berries. The yellow flowers that cover the shrub eventually produce red berries.

This variety produces dry sites and handles the occasional drought, but they don’t like excessive heat. Production dramatically declines when the temperatures rise too high.

Canadian buffalo berries grow in zones 2-6. 

Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus)

These are rarely a common plant you’ll find in your landscape, but Carolina Allspice is a fragrant plant with maroon to brown flowers. The foliage is also fragrant when crushed. These bushes grow well in most soils and climates.

After the flowers, Carolina Allspice shrubs grow fruit that looks like a brown seed pod.

You can let these dry out or use the oven at a low temperature if you don’t want to wait. Once dried, smash and dry them and use them just like cinnamon.

Hardy from zone 4-10. 

Carpathian English Walnut (Juglans regia var. carpathian)

Carpathian walnuts belong to the English walnut family, but these trees handle cold temperatures and weather better. They grow further north than other cultivars and produce a steadier harvest in areas with variable winter.

When growing Carpathian walnut trees, give them plenty of space to grow. They grow up to 60 feet tall and 60 feet wide. Expect fast growth; the trees can grow more than two feet per year, especially in ideal conditions, growing best in full sunlight with at least six hours of sunlight.

The nuts are thin-shelled and easy to open, maturing 1-4 weeks before the hull opens. Expect yields of nuts starting in the middle of fall. The nuts are oval and measure up to two inches in diameter. It takes between 4-8 years for the tree to produce any nuts.

Carpathian English walnuts grow in zones 4-7. 

Cherry Trees (Prunus avium)

Homegrown cherry trees give you delicious fruit without too much work. Cherries are broken down into two categories: sweet cherries and sour cherries.

Sweet cherries are what you see in the supermarket for fresh eating. It takes between 4-7 years to bear fruit.

Sour cherries are used for cooking, in particular, pies and preserves. Some people call these tart cherries because their flavor isn’t as sweet. These trees take 3-5 years to bear fruit, depending on the variety.

Sweet cherries are hardy in zones 5-7, and sour cherries are hardy in zones 4-6. 

Cherry Plums (Prunus cerasifera) 

Cherry plums are a particular group of Asian plum trees, and some are a hybrid between plums and cherries. Prunus cerasifera is a native tree typically grown as a small, ornamental tree that produces fruit if there is another pollinator nearby…(continues)