Skip to main content

What are stone fruits and should you add them to your garden?

cherries on a wooden rail

What are stone fruits?

A stone fruit is a fruit with a large stone, or pit, inside. The pit is sometimes mistakenly called a seed, but it’s actually a hard protective covering that envelops the seed. Sometimes the stone is called a shell. The term “stone fruit” traditionally refers to members of the botanical genus Prunus. This group includes familiar foods such as almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, and plums.

Two terms that are often used to describe different varieties of stone fruits are “freestone” and “clingstone.” In the fruits from a freestone cultivar, the pits easily detach from the flesh, unlike the pits of clingstone types, which are strongly attached. Freestone fruits are more convenient for cooking, drying, and other applications that require manual removal of the pit. Clingstone varieties, however, have a strong reputation for superior flavor, tenderness, and juiciness.

The other stone fruits

Tradition doesn’t account for other familiar fruits that share similar features with Prunus fruits. More expansively speaking, most of the fruits that are botanically defined as “drupes” could be classified as stone fruits.

Botanists define a drupe as any fruit that has an outer fleshy part surrounding a shell that houses a seed. And, to make it more interesting, drupes and berries are different classifications with blurred lines separating them. Some of these “other stone fruits” include blackberries, coconuts, dates, lychees, mangoes, mulberries, olives, and raspberries. (Blackberries, mulberries, and raspberries are further defined as “aggregate fruits” because they’re cluster fruits formed from several carpels on individual flowers.)

girl in a blue dress with hands full of peaches
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Should you grow stone fruits in your garden?

The traditional stone fruits, those in the Prunus classification, are made up of small trees and large shrubs that thrive in mild temperate climates. If you live somewhere between USDA hardiness zones 4 and 9, there’s probably a stone fruit for you. Each of these crops, and indeed each variety of each crop, has unique growing nuances that can make the difference between simply surviving and absolutely thriving. Below are some of the general growing requirements they all share.

Climate

The listed hardiness zones indicate the minimum cold tolerance for each type, which is just a starting point. Not listed is the required number of chill hours, or total hours below 40 degrees, these trees need during the dormant season to stimulate flower and fruit production. Required chill hours vary significantly among the different varieties within each fruit type. Heat is also an important factor. Some of these crops grow better than others in areas with long, hot summers. Consult your state’s Cooperative Extension Service for help in choosing varieties for your area.

  • Apricot, zones 5 to 9
  • Almond, zones 7 to 9
  • Sweet cherry, zones 4 to 7
  • Sour cherry, zones 4 to 6
  • Nectarine, zones 5 to 9
  • Peach, zones 5 to 8
  • Plums, zones 4 to 9

Soil and growing requirements

Generally, stone fruits require a location with at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight and excellent air circulation. Pay special attention to the projected mature size of your fruit trees and space them accordingly. Well-drained soil with a pH between six and seven is critical for optimum nutrient uptake and for protection against certain root diseases.

Pruning

Annual pruning, typically in winter, is necessary to promote a strong branch structure and to remove diseased, dying, and dead branches. Pruning also helps to improve air circulation and sunlight penetration for better disease resistance.

ripe almond ready for harvest
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Diseases and insects

It’s hard to beat the juicy sweetness of a garden fresh peach, plum, or nectarine, and cherry pies taste all the better from fruit you grew yourself. But these crops are not known for their simplicity and carefree nature. To grow them successfully, you must be prepared to protect them from a variety of diseases and insects.

Stone fruits are susceptible to a variety of diseases and insects that weaken the tree or spoil the fruit. Most homeowners use either separate insecticide and fungicide applications, or a single “fruit tree spray” that prevents both kinds of pests, on a predetermined schedule throughout the year. Treatments are timed according to the tree’s growth cycle, particularly keying in on flowering stages in the spring. It’s important to prevent problems without harming pollinators and other beneficial creatures.

If you have the garden space and time to cultivate them, stone fruits can be some of the most rewarding trees in the garden. From their gorgeous flowers in the late winter and early spring, to the potentially massive crops of amazingly delicious fruit, they have a lot to offer the dedicated gardener.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Wolfe
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Mark Wolfe is a freelance writer who specializes in garden, landscaping, and home improvement. After two decades in the…
What should you do if you find a snake in your garden?
If you run into a slithering intruder while gardening, here’s what to do
Brown and black snake near some purple flowers

Outdoor gardens are bound to have outdoor creatures in them from time to time, but not all creatures are popular. While you might be delighted to see a bird or bunny in your garden (or feel distraught, if they’re eating your plants), many gardeners would be less excited to see a spider or snake. Snakes have an important role in our ecosystem, and they can even benefit your garden, but you might still wonder what exactly you should do if you see one. We’ll answer all your questions, so you’ll know what to do if you see a slithering intruder in your garden.
What to do if you see a snake

If you see a snake in your garden (or anywhere else), do not approach it. It’s easy to misidentify snakes, especially if they're moving quickly or partially hidden by plants, and even non-venomous snakes will bite if they feel threatened. Keep pets or children away from the area as well. In most cases, you can simply wait for the snake to leave with no further action.

Read more
7 gorgeous types of roses every gardener should know
Roses to add to your garden
Cluster of Sophy's Rose roses, dark pink blossoms

Roses are among the most iconic flowers. No matter the form, size, or color they take, roses are easily recognizable and beautiful. Whether they’re in a bouquet or growing in your garden, roses are a standout flower. However, roses come in more forms than you might think.

From the classic rose bush to the tiny miniature roses or elegant climbing roses, this guide to types of roses will cover seven roses you should know about. Adding one or more of these roses to your home or garden is sure to be an instant hit.
Cabbage roses

Read more
6 incredible types of ivy to spruce up your garden
Ivy that will add character to your outdoor space
An English ivy in a hanging basket

 

Ivy can look incredibly elegant climbing up a wall or winding around a fence. You can even grow ivy indoors if you’re careful to keep it under control. Ivy makes a lovely addition to vertical gardens, but it can also grow in containers, be left to climb over fences, or be used to decorate outdoor structures. If you’ve decided that your home or garden could use a touch of ivy, then you’ll need to choose the right ivy for your garden. This guide to the different types of ivy will introduce you to six wonderful versions that will look great in your garden.
English ivy

Read more