17 Cold Hardy Fruit Trees for USDA Zone 3

Honeycrisp apple

USDA Zone 3 is characterized by cold winters with temperatures dropping as low as -40 to -30°F. The zone covers most of the upper Midwest states, including North Dakota, Wisconsin, The northern parts of Montana, Maine, and Minnesota.

There isn’t a long list of fruit trees and shrubs to plant here, but there certainly are cold-hardy fruit trees that thrive in USDA Zone 3. The types of fruit trees that grow in Zone 3 include:

  • Apple trees
  • Pear trees
  • Cherry trees
  • Plum trees
  • Peach trees
  • Apricot trees

However, not all apple or cherry trees will grow here. You want to select the specific varieties developed to survive frigid winters.

17 Fruit Trees for USDA Zone 3

Worth noting is the fact that most fruit trees that thrive in Zones 1 and 2 will also do well in Zone 3. You can check out my recommended fruit trees for Zone 2 here.

Here are 17 fruit trees that’ll thrive in Zone 3 climates:

1. Honeycrisp Apple Tree

For a prolonged mid-season harvest, the Honeycrisp apple variety is the ideal fruit tree for USDA Zone 3. It was developed by the University of Minnesota for improved taste and cold hardiness. 

Honeycrisp apple tree with fruit
Credits: Alex Worley

The apples on this tree are some of the tastiest of all apples, though that comes with the need to meet the high chill hours between 700 and 1000.

  • Botanical name: Malus ‘Honeycrisp
  • USDA zone: 3b – 8
  • Height: 15 feet
  • Spread: 12 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Honey-sweet and tart
  • Years to bear: 3-8
  • Soil: Well drained

The skin is thin and snappy while the fruit itself is abundantly juicy with a sweet and tart flavor.

Honeycrisp apples ripen in early September, and the harvest is long-lasting, though it does not store well. A pollinator will be required to grow the Honeycrisp apple tree.

2. KinderKrisp Apple Tree

The KinderKrisp apple is a cold-hardy, compact size apple tree that yields relatively small juicy apples with a sweet flavor. The texture of the fruit is crisp and delightful; children like it for its small size and crispiness.

  • Botanical name: Malus domestica ‘KinderKrisp’
  • USDA zone: 3 -7
  • Height: 25 feet
  • Spread:15 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Sweet
  • Time to bear: 3-7 years

The KinderKrisp apple originates from Fairhaven, Minnesota, and thrives well in all USDA zone 3 climates, provided it is planted in a spot with full sun and well-drained soil.

3. Carmine Jewel™ Bush Cherry Tree

A self-pollinating bush, the Carmine Jewel is a low-maintenance deciduous fruit plant growing to a mature height of approximately 7 feet.

Carmine Jewel Cherry
©Alex Worley

It is one of the few cherries that can tolerate the cold winters in Zone 3 and provide an early-season harvest.

  • Botanical name: Prunus fruticosa x cerasus
  • USDA zone: 3 -8
  • Height: 6-7 feet
  • Spread: 8 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Balanced sweet and tart
  • Soil: Well-drained sandy or loamy soil
  • Chill requirements: At least 700 chill hours

Should you choose to grow the Carmine Jewel, water adequately to help the tree establish and prune only when dormant.

At maturity (after 3-5 years), this cherry tree produces white flowers in the spring and fruit that ripens into a deep red color later in July.

4. Franklin Cider Apple Tree

Introduced by Bill Mayo[1], the Franklin Cider apple variety is highly resistant to various apple diseases including rust, scab, and fireblight.

It yields small-medium, heavily russeted fruit that is high in sugar, acidity, and tannins.

  • USDA zone: 3b – 6
  • Height: 12 – 15 feet
  • Spread: 12 – 15 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Sweet and sour
  • Harvest: October
  • Chill requirements: 800 – 1200 chill hours

Being cold hardy to -32ºF, the Franklin Cider apple tree can yield as much as 30 bushels of apples yearly, provided it is grown in full sun, well-drained soil, and near a pollinator.

I recommend spacing the tree 12-15 feet apart for the best yield. If you’re growing the dwarf cultivars, aim for 8 – 10 feet between trees.

5. Gravenstein Apple Tree

The Gravenstein Apple tree is not only cold-hardy to zone 3 but also prolific at yielding fruit in abundance. The tree is of Danish origin but was first introduced in North America in the 19th century.

Gravenstein Apple Tree
Credit: Alex Worley

Fruit is medium in size with green skin and red markings. Flavorfully tart fruits ripen in September following early to mid-season blooms.

  • Botanical name: Malus domestica ‘Gravenstein’
  • USDA zone: 2 – 9
  • Height: 15 feet
  • Spread: 12 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Tart

The Gravenstein apple takes 2-5 years to mature and yield fruit, but all this depends on the quality of care it receives.

Typically, loamy soil and a sunny spot are preferred for the best results.

Plant in the spring if you live in zones 2-6, spacing the trees 15 feet apart to accommodate the trees’ large size, spread, and bountiful yield.

6. Whitney Crabapple Tree

The ‘Whitney’ crabapple was first grown from seed by nurseryman A.R. Whitney at the Whitney Nursery in Franklin Grove, Illinois, around 1865. 

Whitney crabapple
Image credits: Chris Babcock, Getty.

Soon after, the tree became very popular and was even listed as one of the best apple trees to grow for its cold hardiness and production in Montana.

The fruit has a subacid flavor with cream-colored, juicy flesh covered in greenish-yellow skin. Some crabapples may appear mottled or striped, but the skin is always yellow across all fruits.[2]

  • Botanical name: Malus ‘Whitney’
  • USDA zone: 3 – 9
  • Height: 25 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Subacid, sweet
  • Harvest: Late August to mid-September
  • Chill hours: 800
  • Years to maturity: 2 – 5

I recommend planting the Whitney Crabapple tree in a spot with full sun, spacing the trees about 15 feet apart to allow for their drooping and spreading habit.

When well-cared for, the Whitney apple has great resistance to scab, cedar apple rust, and fire blight.

7. Arctic Beauty Kiwi Vine

Not really a tree but a vine, the Arctic Beauty kiwi plant is one of the most cold-hardy kiwi varieties out of the nearly 80 species available today.

It can tolerate cold winters down to -40 degrees F.

  • Botanical name: Actinidia kolomikta ‘Arctic Beauty’
  • USDA zone: 3-8
  • Height: 15 to 20 feet
  • Spread: 15 – 20 feet
  • Light: Full sun to partial shade

The fruit of the Arctic Beauty kiwi is slightly small compared to other varieties, but it does not fall short in taste.

Being a dioecious plant, I recommend growing both the male and the female plants for fertilization to occur.

You can identify male Arctic Beauty plants by their prominent leaf variegation.

8. Westcot Apricot 

Growing to a maximum height of about 15 feet and spreading over 12 feet, the Westcot Apricot bears large fruit of about 1.5 inches in diameter.

Westcot Apricot
Westcot Apricot. Credit: Getty.

Given a pollinator, the tree blossoms in early spring followed by sets of fruit ripe in later summer.

  • Botanical name: (Prunus mandshurica ‘Westcot’)
  • USDA zone: 3
  • Height: 15 feet
  • Spread: 12 feet
  • Light: Full sunlight
  • Taste: Sweet with a firm texture
  • Flowers: Pink flowers

Note that a second apricot tree will be required for cross-pollination. I recommend the Casino Apricot (Prunus mandshurica x ‘DurGarfield’) as it is also cold hardy and can tolerate zone 3 climate.

Plant the tree in a sheltered place to protect it from late spring frost, as the flowers of the Westcot Apricot can delay into late spring. Any such damage can affect the quality and quantity of the yield.

9. Scout Apricot

Hardy to zone 3a, the Scout apricot tree bears fruit in mid-summer, so if you’re looking for an early harvest, it is a great addition to your home orchard.

Scout Apricot

The fruits are round, medium-sized yellow drupes with golden hints.

  • Botanical name: (Prunus mandshurica ‘Scout’)
  • USDA zone: 3a
  • Height: 30 feet
  • Spread: 25 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Sweet

Scout apricots are usually ripe in mid to late summer, following clusters of showy, fragrant pink flowers that set in early spring.

The freestone fruit is flesh, sweet, juicy, and tender, making them ideal for drying, making desserts, and canning.[3]

10. Toka Plum Tree

The Toka plum is not only a cold-tolerant variety but also a super sweet fruit.

Contrary to what most gardeners believe, the Toka plum is a self-pollinating fruit tree with a ton of pollen. It’ll probably pollinate all other plum trees in your yard.[4]

Toka Bubblegum plum
Bubblegum plum. Credit: Alex Worley

Known for its bountiful harvest, the journey to bearing fruit begins with creamy white blossoms in the spring and culminates in reddish-bronze fruit that ripens in early September; sometimes in late August.

  • Botanical name: Prunus Salicina ‘Toka’
  • Common names: Toka plum; Bubblegum plum
  • USDA zone: 3 to 8
  • Height: 15 – 20 feet
  • Spread: 15 – 20 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Sweet like candy

Plant the Toka plum in a sunny spot with well-drained soil and provide constant moisture to increase its chances of survival.

Gardeners note: I prefer pruning plum trees during their full growth, which would be mid-summer. Plum trees are highly prone to silver leaf disease and other fungal diseases. You want to prune in summer when there are few to no fungal spores in the atmosphere.

11. Nanking cherry tree

The Nanking is a cold-hardy sour cherry tree with beautiful fragrant white flowers emerging in the spring. It yields plenty of tasty bright red cherries, each translucent like a reddish jewel.

Most gardeners grow the Nanking cherry on their hedges for privacy or as a bird attractant.

Nanking Cherry
Credit: Alex Worley

We recommend planting other cherry trees nearby to facilitate cross-pollination, as the Nanking variety isn’t reliably self-fertile.

  • Botanical name: Prunus tomentosa
  • Common names: Mountain cherry; downy cherry, Manchu cherry; Mongolian cherry; Chinese bush cherry
  • USDA zone: 2 to 6
  • Height: 6-10 feet
  • Spread: 15 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Sharp, sweet-tart taste
  • Spacing:  6 – 8 feet apart

Apart from being cold-hardy to zone 3, the Nanking cherry shrub is also tolerant to periodic bouts of drought as well as most pests and diseases that plague cherry trees.

My former client from Minnesota noted on Reddit, “They are tough! We’ve now had a few growing without any help for a few years, even taking the worst winter can throw at them.”

Overall, this shrub is easy to care for and yields plentiful fruit that can be used for baking or eating fresh.

12. Northland Blueberry Bush

The Northland blueberry bush is an easy-to-grow, beginner-friendly, and cold-hardy fruit tree/bush.

Northland Blueberry
Credit: Alex Worley

It was developed at Michigan State University for improved production and winter hardiness.

  • Botanical name: (Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Northland’)
  • USDA zone: 3 to 7
  • Height: 4 – 7 feet
  • Spread: 3 – 5 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste: Very sweet

Native to northeastern parts of North America, gardeners refer to it as the hardiest variety of the highbush blueberry species.

At least 6 hours of direct sunlight will suffice, and this bush will produce medium-sized berries full of flavor. Plant in well-draining soil, preferably with a pH range of 4.5 – 4.8, for the best chances of survival.

The Northland blueberry is self-fertile, but I’d advise growing it next to another variety of blueberry bushes to improve its yield.

The sweet flavor profile makes this fruit great for baking applications.

13. Romeo Dwarf Cherry Tree

The Romeo dwarf cherry tree is an extremely cold-hardy fruit tree/bush that bears full-sized, crimson-colored fruits with amazing sugar content.

Romeo Cherry
Credits: Alex Worley

The flavor is sweet-tart, with a lot of flesh overwhelming the pits within the fruit.

  • Botanical name: (Prunus cerasus ‘Romeo’)
  • Common names: 
  • USDA zone: 2 – 7
  • Height: 6 – 8 feet
  • Spread: 5 – 7 feet
  • Light: Requires full sun
  • Taste: Sweet

Flowers emerge in mid-spring, developing fast for ripe fruit ready for picking in midsummer. If you live in northern states with zone 3 winters, expect fruit to ripen slightly later in the summer.

Plant the Romeo cherry tree in well-drained, slightly acidic sandy soil, preferably in a spot that receives direct sunlight to meet its growing needs. I recommend pruning at the onset of spring.

14. Beach Plum Tree

A noticeably dense shrub, the Beach plum is an easy-to-care-for fruit plant native to the East Coast. You can grow this tree in sandy soils, but slightly acidic loamy soils will also suffice.

Beach Plum

Avoid clay soils as this plant is susceptible to drainage problems.

  • Botanical name: (Prunus maritima)
  • USDA zone: 3 to 6
  • Height: 5 – 6 feet
  • Spread: 5 – 6 feet
  • Light: Full sun
  • Taste profile: Very sweet (ripe)
  • Years to bear: 3 – 5 years

The tree blossoms early to mid-May, with the flowers turning pinkish post-pollination. Bees are the main pollinators, so void spraying insecticides in your garden around this time.

Gardeners note: Beach plums are pretty sweet as soon as they turn purple. I noticed the skin can be a bit bitter early on after ripening, but that off-putting taste goes away when cooked.

15. York Elderberry

The York elderberry is commonly a plant of choice in orchards and edible privacy screens as it passes for a beautiful landscape shrub.

York Elderberry
Credits: Alex Worley

We like it for its winter-hardiness to USDA zone 3 all the way to 9.

  • Botanical name: (Sambucus canadensis ‘York’)
  • USDA zone: 3 – 9
  • Height: 10 – 12 feet
  • Spread: 8 – 12 feet
  • Light: Full sun or partial shade
  • Taste profile: Sweet-tart flavor
  • Harvest: Late summer, early fall

As a fast-growing shrub, the York elderberry requires full sun or partial shade to yield a riot of white flowers in clusters that soon yield purple to black berries ready for harvest in late summer.

Fruits have a sweet-tart flavor. Avoid eating too many of them before cooking.

Elderberries can attract so many birds, including magpies. As they ripe, a feeding frenzy ensues, and you’ll be left without any harvest. 

DIY tip: To deter these birds and protect the fruits, tie old CDs to the branches of the elderberry, allowing them to dangle in the wind. The movement and reflection of light will bother the birds and deter them from your berries.

16. Tundra Honeyberry Plant

  • Botanical name: (Lonicera caerulea var. kamchatica ‘Tundra’)
  • USDA zone: 2 – 7
  • Height: 4 – 5 feet
  • Spread: 4 – 5 feet
  • Light: Partial sun to full sun
  • Taste: sweet blueberry flavor
Tundra Honeyberry

Also known as the Honeysuckle Tundra or Sweetberry Honeysuckle, the Tundra honeyberry was first introduced by the University of Saskatchewan.

The shrub blossoms in early spring, producing fragrant, white flowers followed by dark blue berries that ripen for harvesting in early summer.

The tree is winter hardy to USDA zones 2, 3, and all the way to zone 7 but will require at least partial sun to thrive. Full sun exposure is preferred.

17. Prairie Gem Ussurian Pear

A fast-growing fruit tree with dark green foliage and showy flowers appearing in the spring, the Prairie Gem is one of the best pear trees bred to tolerate the frigid winter temperatures in zone 3 regions.

Fruit quality falls short, so we mostly recommend the prairie gem as a landscaping fruit tree.

Ussurian pear

Even so, the fruit tends to be messy in early fall, dropping on lawns and walkways, causing great messes.

  • Botanical name: Pyrus ussuriensis ‘MorDak’
  • USDA zone: 3a
  • Height: 25 feet
  • Spread: 20 feet
  • Light: Full sun

Despite fruits not being viable and edible, this Ussurian pear is still ideal for accenting landscapes. Some gardeners grow it for shade and decoration owing to its dense growth habit and showy flowers.

How to plant fruit trees in USDA Zone 3

In the world of growing fruits, rootstocks are the most popular option. While you can start your plants from seed, it is not the ideal method to get to your harvest quickly. In colder climates, we highly recommend starting with a seedling already established in a local nursery.

Here are a few tips for growing fruit trees successfully in Zone 3:

  • Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil: Starting with a healthy rootstock is key, but planting in a sunny spot is vital for survival. As noted above, most trees and shrubs prefer full sun for healthy development.
  • Plant the tree in the spring or fall: Fruit trees are best planted in the spring or fall in zones with extreme cold because the ground is not frozen and the weather is not too hot. Planting in the spring allows the tree to establish itself before the hot summer weather arrives while planting in the fall allows the tree to go dormant before the cold winter weather arrives.
  • Water the tree regularly, especially during the first year: Keeping the soil moist will ensure the tree develops strong roots in the first year – a precursor for healthy growth.
  • Fertilize the tree in the spring: Spring is the time most plants experience active growth, so it makes sense to push them harder. I find fertilizing my fruit trees during this time helps them grow faster and yield better when their chill requirements are met.
  • Prune fruit trees in late winter or early spring when the tree is dormant to shape, control growth, remove dead or diseased branches, and encourage new growth and fruit production. The best time varies by climate and type of tree.

 In a nutshell, full sunlight, good soil drainage, proper nutrition, adequate water, mulching, and wind protection are very important for success when growing trees in these USDA Zones with extreme cold.

Conclusion

Zone 3 requires winter hardy fruit trees and shrubs that can frost and winter temperatures as low as -40 degrees F. Recommended fruit trees USDA zone 3 include the Whitney crabapple, Toka plum, Nanking cherry, Westcot apricot, Northland blueberry, and the Arctic Beauty kiwi vine.

For a bountiful harvest, provide each of these plants with their preferred growing conditions. The right soil type and pH, sunlight, and amount of water are important for the growth and development of these trees in the harsh zone 3 climates.

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