Although shrub berries such as black currants and thimbleberries represent the best choices for fruit growing in deep shade, a few fruiting trees do well in part or full shade conditions. Check with your nursery or mail order source to ensure you choose the cultivar best suited for shade, as well as for your growing region. In general, most of these trees produce best in full sun, but many will give adequate fruit production in partial or even deep shade.
A member of the hawthorn family, Crataegus azarolus produces tart fruits useful for fresh eating as well as in pies and jams. It grows in light woodland and regular to wet soils. Cultivars include ‘Julieta’ and ‘Fruto Blanco.’ The trees, also known as carmine crabapples, grow about 15 to 20 feet tall and do best from zones 4 to 8. Plant at least two for cross-pollination.
Prunus angustifolia, popular with southern growers, produces small yellow plums useful for jelly making or eating fresh. The 25 foot tree, which features thorny branches, flowers earlier than most trees. It produces fruit in partial shade and grows best between zones 6 and 9.
Also known as Kousa Dogwood or Japanese Dogwood, Cornus kousa is a small tree which produces fruits that look a bit like raspberries on steroids. The trees grow no taller than 20 feet and make unusual trees in the landscape. They do well in full sun or partial shade in zones 5 to 8. The one-inch fruits are fleshy, round or oval and red. Eat them fresh or in desserts and jellies.
The Chinese Date, or Chinese Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) produces one-inch black fruits with an intensely sweet taste, whether eaten fresh or dried. Best grown in southern climates, from zones 6 to 9, the Chinese Date does well in partial shade or full sun. Depending on the cultivar, it grows between 15 to 35 feet tall. They tolerate most soils except swampy or clay soils.
A classic understory tree, in the wild the pawpaw (Asimina spp.) grows near riverbanks under taller trees. Fans often compare the flesh of the large fruits to custard and bananas. Because they damage easily in transit, pawpaws aren’t currently found in grocery stores, making them a great choice for the home gardener or farmers’ market producer. Grow them on higher elevations to prevent frost damage.
Grow Diospyros virginiana, the American or common persimmon, for best fruit production in the shade. The tree does well in most of the United States except for the extreme north. Buy both male and female trees for proper pollination. Wait until the fruits turn orange with a red tinge before harvesting them; they’ll taste almost unbearable tart until they reach this ripe stage. They grow well in most soils unless they are waterlogged. The fruits are smaller than the Chinese persimmons usually available at the supermarket.
Variously classified as shrubs or trees by various garden experts, serviceberries reach up to 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide and provide spectacular fall foliage. Known variously as June Serviceberry, Downy Serviceberry and Shadblow, Amelanchier canadensis grows from zones 4 to 8. The fruits are small, juicy and red or purple, and make unique jams, jellies and pies. The trees tolerate a wide variety of soil and light conditions, including bog-like areas. Give them room to spread, as their roots sucker freely and are somewhat hard to contain.