Iowa's fertile prairie soil produces far more than endless cereal crops. While the Hawkeye State's sometimes bitter winter temperatures can be hard on some cultivated fruit trees, they don't phase the natives. Carefully chosen for hardiness and given adequate protection from spring frosts, even fruit tree cultivars will reward Iowa's home gardeners with abundant flowers and fruit. The Iowa county extension services can offer advice on the best fruit cultivars for the local growing conditions.
The growing conditions in Iowa, according to the Iowa State University Extension, suit a number of apple cultivars. The most successful is Jonamac, grown throughout the state. An early bloomer, it produces juicy late-August eating and sauce apples. Their shelf life lasts between four and six weeks. Gala, which grows in central and southern Iowa, follows Jonamac in early September with sweet fruit suited for eating and cooking. McIntosh, another early September producer in northern and central Iowa, has dessert-quality apples but may drop its fruit before harvest. LuraRed, grown across the state, blooms in mid-spring. Its large apples, suitable for eating fresh or for cooking, ripen in early September.
Sour cherries, according to ISU Extension program specialist Linda Naeve, are the least troublesome fruit trees for Iowa's home gardeners. She recommends the North Star cultivar (Prunus North Star), a dwarf variety reaching only 9 feet high and 10 feet wide, for easy pruning and harvesting. North Star is a self-pollinator (only one tree is required for fruit production, unlike cross-pollinating varieties). Its attractive fragrant white blooms appear in April. Harvest the large, dark red pie-quality cherries after they ripen in June. You may have to protect the ripening fruit with bird netting. This tree, says the Missouri Botanical Garden, likes full sun and average, moist well-drained soil. It won't, however, tolerate wet roots. Put it in a sheltered area where the periodic chemical spraying it needs doesn't threaten the rest of your garden.
The ISU Extension also recommends the European plum tree Stanley (Prunus domestica Stanley) for the state's home gardeners. Another self-pollinator, Stanley reaches 8 to 10 feet high with a similar spread. It thrives through central and southern parts of the state. This prune-plum cultivar has white April blooms. The standard-sized, oblong bluish purple fruit with sweet yellow-green flesh ripens in September.
Plant 'Stanley' in full sun and well-drained soil of average moisture. Like "North Star' cherry, this tree needs periodic spraying for pests. Locate it accordingly. ( Reference 1, p. 14; Ref 2 "Species and varieties" subheading; Ref 4)