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Playing the cross game

May 27, 2010
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere

What does it take to get a new fruit variety from the U of M experiment stations? The breeding program has been around nearly 100 years and we have had 102 releases from the program. As we have seen with many programs in the past, funding has been cut to this program as well and the focus is now on apples, grapes and blueberries. Apples, in particular, may take up to 30 years to develop and work with one single variety, so this is why even though we have had several new varieties developed recently, the program is still in place over strawberries and raspberries where we have not seen many new varieties developed lately.

Strawberries are still worked with but there isn't any new crosses being started. They undergo field trials in Morris, Grand Rapids and Victoria. Field trials may take up to 10 years to complete. If you have ever wondered why your strawberry bed doesn't produce strawberries from seeds, it is because the seeds are so tiny and so fragile plus they do not germinate well.

Strawberries are more often reproduced through clonal reproduction.

Blueberries are something that many of us in southwestern Minnesota would love to grow but they can be very difficult for many of us to grow. Minnesota releases are called half-highs because they are a cross between high bush blueberries and native low bush varieties.

Raspberries are a group of unique plants in that very often the breeding program eliminates its own previous varieties by improving on them or crosses of them. The best that they have come out with is Autumn bliss which is a red fall bearing berry while Fallgold is the best for yellow fall bearing berries.

Gooseberries and currants are something that where I grew up, they grew in massive wild areas, just ready for the picking. Red Lake, Rovada, White Imperial, Primus and Blanka get the credit for being some of the best of the white varieties. Consort, Titiania, Crusader and Ben Sarek are the best for black currants and Hinomaki Red and Pixwell are great for gooseberries.

Peaches is next on the list. We all would love to have peaches right off of the tree without going through a lot of hassle of course! They are working on finding something to cross with the peaches that they can handle our extreme cold temperatures. The standards are high which makes finding a new peach variety more difficult. The researchers want a peach that can not only withstand our cold temperatures but will need to be eaten over the kitchen sink because it will be so juicy.

Plums are also something that we like to have in our home orchards. I did not have a plum tree until recently when apparently one was planted by the birds. Minnesota plums need a cross pollinizer. If you purchase a plum tree and also have wild plum trees growing around or near by, wild plums will also act as a pollinizer for the cultivated varieties.

Cherries are another favorite. However, there isn't any fully sweet cherries that are able to withstand our climates. You can purchase and reliably grow tart cherry trees such as North Star, Meteor and Mesabi.

Pears such as Comice are a favorite of many pear growers. Bosc and Summercrisp need to be eaten while they are just a bit crisp in texture. Comice and Bosc may not be reliably hardy here while Summercrisp, Golden Spice, Gourmet, Luscious, Ure, Parker and Patten are hardy.

So here are a few ideas of what kind of research is on going into fruits for our gardens. If you would like to learn more or are a amateur fruit grower, check out the North American Fruit Explorers website at

For more information about your garden, you can reach me at



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