It is an abundant world of fruit and nuts out there, even in a treacherously cold climate. Here in my home in Northern Ontario, I’ve compiled a list of fruits and nuts that not only tolerate the cold here…They thrive in it. I’ve outlined key information about every species that describes the flavour and applications of their fruits/nuts, growing requirements, and how they are an important gift to wildlife. I also took photos of the many beautiful seeds of these fruit and nut bearing species to showcase my love for all seeds. Planting fruit and nut seeds is an important part of creating a resilient and biodiverse future.
1. BUTTERNUT; JUGLANS CINEREA (ZONE 4)
This tree is native to North America and has amazing buttery tasting walnut like nuts. It is closely related to Juglans nigra, the black Walnut. In Canada, they grow primarily in southern Ontario, southern Quebec, and New Brunswick. However, it is cold hardy to zone 4 enabling it to grow throughout much of central Ontario! It has a beautiful exotic vibrancy to it and is an incredible food source. On a mast year, these trees can produce nuts that cover the entire ground. If you plant these trees, the nuts they produce will become an abundant and reliable source of protein year after year.
Sadly, they have been disappearing from their forest homes, due to a deadly cankerous disease that arose in the 1960’s. There are estimated numbers that over 90% have died in the United States. They are considered endangered here in Canada now, too. Fortunately, these trees readily hybridize with Japanese Walnuts (Juglans ailantifolia) and produce a similar nut to Butternuts called Buartnuts. These trees show much more resistance to the canker. A little bit of Butternut can and will live on!
Many people like me are still actively planting them, and with the genetic diversity that is possible when planting seeds, who knows what kind of resistance could come about. I hope this encourages you to grow these amazing trees, and diversify possible delicious food sources in your life. Healthy trees have the best chance of surviving the canker.
2. ARONIA; ARONIA MELANOCARPA (ZONE 3)
Many people would look at a wetland and deem it unsuitable for growing food. Aronia defies these perceptions, as it loves to grow along the edges of swamps, ponds, and adapts to a range of soil types. These amazing shrubs are renowned for their incredible phytonutrient rich berries, giving them the reputation as a native super food. They are native to eastern North America, and are able to thrive in the really cold conditions that I call home.
They make an incredible mead, jam, and are lovely in smoothies. If you like planting things for wildlife, know that many birds eat these berries, and native bees love their flowers in the spring.
3. AMERICAN HAZELNUT; CORYLUS AMERICANA (ZONE 3)
American Hazelnut is a steadfast and sturdy shrub, able to withstand the weight of the highest winds and most regal cold. Hardy to zone 3, these shrubs are known to be able to survive in harsh mountainous conditions. One of my favourite authors Akiva Silver mentioned how you could literally run these shrubs over with a truck and they would bounce right back.
Their nuts are delicious and form in these really special looking perches that remind me of wings opening on a bird. They are full of nutrients, and are completely packed with everything you need out of a staple food.
Hazelnuts are pollinated by the wind. Male catkins and female flowers exist on the same tree. However, you need more than one shrub because this pollen is incompatible for the flowers on the same tree needed for reproduction to occur. Requires at least a couple of bushes for better cross pollination and nut yields.
4. SEA BUCKTHORN; Hippophae rhamnoides (ZONE 2)
Sea Buckthorn is native to Russia and Asia, able to withstand incredibly cold temperatures all the while producing beautiful exotic fruits. The flavour of a Seaberry is very uplifting. It tastes of citrus, tangerines, and beautiful berries all at once. I feel the sun in them. The pulp of the berries themselves contain high levels of unsaturated and saturated fatty acids. These high levels of fatty acids are very uncommon to find in any fruit, which is a testament to their unique nutritional content.
These massive shrubs are able to handle almost any kind of soil, no matter how rough the conditions. Desertification, high levels of salinity and drought. Sea berries are the solutions to growing amazing food in these harsh conditions. This shrub doesn’t just tolerate nutrient poor soils. It gifts the soil by fixing Nitrogen, one of the most important nutrients for plant growth. You will actually see the root nodules in the soil sometimes as big as golf balls. Take some time deciding where you would like to plant this species, it can be quite aggressive in shooting up runners wherever it is planted.
The seeds of this shrub are reliable and are relatively quick to germinate. Save some seed from your berries and cold stratify them in some moist sand in the fridge for 1-3 months and then plant out.
5. OAK; QUERCUS SP. (ZONE 3-9)
Although Oak won’t bear its nuts for around 15-20 years, it is a beautiful addition to any backyard. The acorns that Oaks produce have arguably been one of the most essential foods of ancestral peoples from all over the world. This nut has a long shelf life, is extremely nourishing, and provides the body with many complex nutrients and proteins. There is no tree more deserving of a place in your home landscape. Read more about this incredible species and how to process their acorns here.
Red Oak, Quercus Rubra thrives in extremely cold environments. These nuts require more processing as they have more tannins than other species of Oak, but are certainly worth the labour. Plus, the tannins aid in the shelf life of the acorns and can last for 10+ years! Many other species of Oak will thrive in zone 4 as well, like the native Bur Oak.
6. APPLE; MALUS SP (ZONE 1-8)
There may not be a more magnetic food source than the Apple tree. Apples are extremely nourishing, have a long shelf life, and their spring blossoms are a haven to pollinators. It is endless the beautiful things you can create with apples. Apple chips, sauce, pies, cider; it is amazing how many apples you can get out of a single tree. There are so many varieties out there that you can grow, even in a very cold climate! Check out the post I wrote on the importance of planting apple seeds, and plant at least two for cross pollination in full sun.
Some great varieties for Zone 3 are Goodland, Norkent, Sweet Sixteen, and Wolf River. Some rootstock that’s suitable for extremely cold weather is the variety called Antonovka, Bud 1-18, and Ranetka. Rootstock varieties will produce seed that is mostly true to type, meaning those seeds will be like their parents which is unlike most Apple seeds. Grow them out and then graft any variety that’s acclimatized to your local area onto them! In a small space? Graft many varieties onto a single tree for a cornucopia of fruit!
7. ELDERBERRY; SAMBUCUS CANADENSIS (ZONE 3)
This wetland shrub is a special plant that is so close to me. Multi faceted in nature, Elderberry has medicinal anti-viral compounds that make it one of my best remedies in cold and flu season. I can not count how many times it has helped me prevent a cold from settling in…At least 5 times this winter.
The berries are delicious when processed. They make great syrup, jelly, pie, and wine. The flowers are great in a summer cooling tea, and the berries are absolutely loved by birds. What’s even more exciting is that it actually doesn’t mind shade. A great variety I’ve planted is called Bob Gordon, and these shrubs are absolutely filled with berries. Wild ones are also great, too. Plant more than 1 shrub to increase cross pollination.
8. CORNELIAN CHERRY; CORNUS MAS (ZONE 4)
A member of the Dogwood family, this small shrub is famous in European countries for it’s cherry/plum/cranberry flavoured fruits. It’s just beginning to gain popularity among North American fruit enthusiasts. Wait until they turn a dark crimson red to harvest, and enjoy in many different culinary applications such as jams, jellies, syrups and of course fresh. After the shrubs first fruiting when it turns 4 years old, rejoice in knowing that it could remain productive for up to 150 years!
Cornelian Cherry yellow blooms are another gift to the world in early Spring. They open up even before Forsythia. They could require some protection if you are in a cold climate as I am, or if the shrub is in a northern location. They are somewhat self fertile, but plant more than two to increase possibilities of cross pollination.
9. SASKATOON BERRY; SERVICEBERRY; AMELANCHIER SP (ZONE 1)
This tree is a beautiful unique specimen, hardy to extremely cold areas of Eastern North America. It is able to thrive in almost all soils, except for the ones that are very poorly draining. Not very many people know about it this phenomenal native species, and I hope this article encourages you to explore this amazing tree further. It’s berries have been compared to blueberries, but they are in my opinion even better. And I love blueberries!
In addition to the delicious berries they produce, there is a tiny seed inside of them that is also edible and nutritious! It has a slight nutty almond flavour to it. In combination with the blueberry notes of the berry, these fruits have an exquisite taste. They can be eaten fresh, in pies, jams, and pretty much any application you would add blueberries to. If you’re interested in wildlife planting, birds also love them!
Able to take some shade, these trees are a beautiful addition to any landscape. Their very early spring flowers are a site to behold and sniff. The white petals reach out into the sun in full expansion and open up the senses to the growing season that is before us. Their bark is silvery and smooth, appearing so beautiful even in the winter season. The leaves have also been used historically in teas by First Nations.
10. HAWTHORN; CRATAEGUS (ZONE 1)
Hawthorn is a beautiful native tree with sharp thorns and edible/medicinal berries. It’s berries have been long regarded as a heart tonic, and can be made into a variety of different things. This includes many beverages like herbal sodas, mead, and mixed drinks, as well as culinary applications such as jellies, jams, and syrup. It has a sweet and sour taste, and has been associated with alleviating issues such as high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems.
The thorns were used in the past as sewing needles, and as fish hooks. This shrub can take a bit of shade, and is a great specimen for a hedge-particularly in an area where you would want things to stay out of.
11. SHAGBARK HICKORY; CARYA OVATA (ZONE 4)
Hickory has some of the best tasting nuts in the world. It’s a native tree to Eastern North America that has unique shaggy bark that makes it stand out from the crowd. It certainly takes a while to produce nuts (10-20) but is an amazing investment to the future. It can live for 350 years! Once it does start to produce, the ground will be carpeted with nuts. Not quite as cold hardy, but still hardy to zone 4, this is an amazing species to plant. The food source coming almost every year is indispensably valuable.
The nuts can be roasted, added to deserts, and can be made into a rich tasting delicious nut milk in the Fall and winter time. You can even make syrup out of the bark. You simply clean the bark, and bake it in the oven. Then you boil it in water to make a tea. Then add cane sugar and a dash of vanilla and keep simmering while it reduces. There are many recipes online that can assist you in the process!
12. BITTERNUT HICKORY; CARYA CORDIFORMIS (ZONE 4)
Bitternut Hickory is renowned as the Hickory nut that tastes awful, hence the name. On almost every website that you will find with information about it, you will see the word “inedible nut”. But this tree has a hidden secret beneath it’s bitter exterior. Bitternuts are being explored by foraging expert Sam Thayer as an oil crop. The bitternuts produce an amazing amount of oil that has incredible flavour and great potential as a sustainable, regenerative oil source. I hope more people catch wind of this amazing underappreciated tree.
The wood is also prized for being remarkably strong and tough. Hickories prefer richer soil and need adequate moisture especially when they’re first being established. Enjoy this tree your entire life.
13. AMERICAN PLUM; PRUNUS AMERICANA (ZONE 3)
American Plum is a delicious tasting cold hardy Plum that you can grow in very cold climates. When I first heard that I could grow them I was extremely fascinated in the possibility of growing plums in the north. They produce a lot of fruit and form thickets that can be easily separated into dozens of trees. This tree is amazing for humans, wild life, and the white beautiful flowers attract an array of pollinators in the spring time.
When it comes to most plums there are so many pests and diseases to worry about. I remember being overwhelmed while studying horticulture, and felt it would be nothing but a headache to grow them. American Plums, however have virtually no issues with any of them. Even Black knot, a disease that affects the most wild of Cherry species does not affect this tough tree.
If you grow these plums from seeds you will experience quite the diversity in fruit. Anything from red to yellow plums can come about. The skin is tart but the inside is sweet and delicious. Far superior to any plum you can buy at the store. If you end up wanting to grow a bunch of different species of hardy plums, American Plum is a great species to graft them onto! They are somewhat self fertile, but planting two different species of Plum ensures better cross pollination. I am beyond excited about these trees.
14. SOUR CHERRY; PRUNUS Sp. (ZONE 2-10)
In the north you may not have access to sweet cherries, but there are still many amazing opportunities! If you have naturally well draining sandy soil like I do, many cold hardy sour Cherry species will absolutely love their life. You have many options here. Anything from wild species like Chokecherries, to Pin Cherries, to many bred varieties are available. There’s even such thing as Cherry Plum hybrids! Many of these varieties will produce after only 2-3 years.
Many sour cherry varieties are great fresh eating if you don’t mind a little tartness, but are even better in jams, pies, frozen in, and in many different beverages. I love making a drink mix called a shrub with sour cherries, which is essentially fruit juice mixed with apple cider vinegar and honey. It is delicious mixed with any liquor of your choice and sparkling water. The colour is also amazing.
Cherries are self fertile, but having more than one will better the cross pollination between trees.
15. KOREAN PINE; PINUS KORAIENSIS (ZONE 1-5)
The Pine family has such importance in my life. There is nothing that makes me feel more at home than Pine trees. The White Pine and Red Pine herald the landscape around me, but one I’ve started to grow is Korean Pine. Korean Pine produces “pine nuts” that are sold in grocery stores. These nuts are amazing in pestos and as a roasted snack.
Do you have harsh winters? Staying true to the nature of Pine, these trees can withstand Zone 1 temperatures! -40 C plus! It will take 10-20 years to start producing nuts, but it is well worth the wait. These trees will appreciate an acidic soil.
16. MANCHURIAN APRICOT; PRUNUS MANDSHURICA (ZONE 3)
This tree produces deep orangey yellow sweet and delicate fruits that you would never think you could grow in the north. The taste of the Manchurian apricot is more like a plum than an apricot, with a soft delicious taste. It is closely related to the native Plum after all, originating from the Manchuria region in Asia. This tree exhibits a rare synergy of exotic taste, beauty, toughness, and cold hardiness.
Unlike many fruit trees, this tree requires minimal maintenance and grows fast. It has beautiful pinkish white flowers in late spring that are marveled by insects. With more trees comes greater cross pollination…and fruit! In 2 to 5 years these small trees will produce an abundance of fruit in the heart of summer. Well drained soils are the best for these amazing trees.
17. CLOUDBERRY; RUBUS CHAMAEMORUS (ZONE 2-5)
I remember the first time I ever heard about Cloudberry was in Bev Greys amazing book the Boreal Herbal. It is such a beautiful fruit. This member of the Rubus family is able to thrive in very cold temperatures, making it’s home in the Yukon boreal forest. Hardy to zone 2, this plant loves to live in boggy swampy conditions. I love plants that produce an abundance of food in seemingly impossible conditions.
I am currently growing out seed to plant here in my very cold environment, and feel that it will take very well to some of the swampy nature of the landscape around me. The flavour is similar to Raspberries, but quite creamy in taste. The opposite of Raspberries, they start out quite red, ripening to a beautiful cream coloured orange. Enjoy Cloudberries in even the coldest of landscapes!
18. HIGH BUSH CRANBERRY; VIBURNUM TRILOBUM (ZONE 2-7)
Highbush Cranberry is a special native shrub to the northern parts of North America, and can be found in every province of Canada. It has striking white blossoms and an abundance of cranberry tasting fruit that sweetens with the frost. I rejoice when I find some in the winter months still on the tree that have that beautiful frost bitten sweetness alongside of its innate sour taste. Try making cranberry sauce with these fruits for a thanksgiving dinner twist.
If you’re interested in planting things for wildlife, Highbush Cranberries are a great choice. Although they are not loved by birds, they are relied upon by many animals as winter progresses and food is scarce. Many birds will feed on them in late winter such as Grouse, as well as many mammals like Moose and Beaver.
19. CRANBERRY; VACCINIUM MACROCARPON (ZONE 3-9)
Cranberries grow in wetland environments. However, it is certainly easy to create an environment where you live that would make them really happy. All you need is a mixture of sandy soil that’s been amended with peat moss and some well rotted organic matter like compost. Your cranberry plants will appreciate the acidity of the peat. Try to create a bottom layer of clay or organic matter in your cranberry garden bed to assist in some water retention.
This native fruit is extremely cold hardy, can be grown from seed, and is a wonderful treat alongside of savoury dinners over the holidays. To start out, extract the seeds from the cranberries you buy at the store and then cold stratify them in the fridge for 3 months. Plant the seeds out into some damp peat until germination occurs. Grow them in a pot for the first year until they establish a strong root system. Plant out the following spring! Mulch with sand every year to keep back weeds. If you already have bogs on your property that you didn’t think you could grow anything in, try planting some Cranberries!
20. RASPBERRIES; RUBUS SP (ZONE 2-10)
I have many fond memories picking raspberries at the side of the dirt road near my house. I have a special affinity for the wild ones, but the great thing is that there are all kinds of raspberry varieties out there, and if you plan it right you can be harvesting berries all summer. They all fruit at different times. There are golden raspberries, purple raspberries, and fall bearing raspberries. They are quite shade tolerant too, which is unlike many fruits.
Raspberries can tolerate many soil types, and don’t need to be planted in rich organic matter. They grow the best in well drained sandy loam and are self fertile meaning that both male and female reproductive parts are present on a single plant.
21. CURRANTS; RIBES sp. (ZONE 2-9)
Currants are such an easy and delicious perennial fruit to grow. There are many different colours and varieties to choose from. They are one of the unique ones that still produce fruit in shade, making them a great choice for planting beneath other trees and shaded areas.
Black, white, and red varieties are all delicious and full of antioxidants and vitamins. Currants are easily propagated by taking hard wood cuttings in the dormancy season and have an extremely high success rate with this method. They are also great in a wildlife planting, as birds love them!
22. GRAPES; VITIS Sp. (ZONE 2-10)
An incredible vine, this plant can grow a lot in one season! They have bred grape plants to thrive in up to zone 2! Wine, jelly, and snacks right off the vine…The possibilities are endless with Grapes. Build a trellis, or even grow them up a tree.
Every year when the Grapes are dormant, you can prune back your grape plant to increase vigour, and this will leave you with dozens of hardwood cuttings that you can root in early spring and turn into many plants. In no time you will have more plants and grapes that you know what to do with! A great variety of cold hardy grapes is Sommerset, which has lovely hints of strawberry flavour to the fruits.
23. HASKAPS; LONICERA CAERULA (ZONE 1; 10)
Haskaps are an extremely cold hardy plant that are able to withstand temperatures up to zone 1! This is the first producer of berries in my yard, and it is so exciting to see how much they produce even in their third year! Tastes somewhat similar to blueberries, is very antioxidant rich, simple to propagate, and an abundant grower.
Haskaps will grow in just about any soil, although they do prefer a certain degree of wetness. They are able to thrive in high windy mountainous regions, and exude a toughness and zest to grow that’s really special. Mulch the base with wood chips, add compost in the spring to the surface of the soil and these berry bushes will be happy as can be. Needs full sun, and two different varieties for cross pollination.
24. GOOSEBERRY; RIBES UVA-CRISPA (ZONE 3-9)
A member of the Ribes family that is related to Currants, Gooseberries are a lovely fruit that is very cold hardy, easy to propagate, and has delicious sweet-tart fruits. They are also shade tolerant like other Currants, and are delicious eaten fresh, in jams, jellies, and sauces.
They, like Currants, are tolerant to many different soil types and do not require special treatment and care. Simply plunk them into the ground, add compost on top, and finish with a layer of mulch, and water until established. They are happy as can be with minimal attention.
25. STRAWBERRIES; FRAGARIA sp (ZONE 3-10)
There are many different varieties of Strawberries that you can grow in a cold climate. Many of them will only produce fruit in June, like their wild counterparts, and others have been bred to produce fruit all season. June bearing strawberries have a much superior flavour in my opinion, and I love to grow them in a sunny location in the garden. However, it is really nice to get a continual crop of strawberries with ever-bearing varieties. Strawberries are like pizza…Even when they’re not the best quality they’re still delicious.
They are also easy to propagate through their runners. Simply take a runner and pin it down into a pot with some soil. Wait for a month or so while rooting, and then snip the runner from the original plant. You can create many plants this way!
26. BLUEBERRIES; VACCINIUM CORYMBOSUM (ZONE 2-9)
What is a cold climate without blueberries? Growing on rock in the wild, these acid loving plants are so abundant to our local areas. The wild ones have an amazing unbeatable flavour, and there are many cultivated varieties to choose from. Amend your soil with some peat for acidity and enjoy growing these amazing fruits. On a particularly rainy year, look out for this species to be more abundant than usual! Pies, smoothies, jams, oatmeal…Pies. Plant at least two different varieties to increase cross pollination and yield more fruits.
27. HARDY KIWI; ACTINIDIA ARGUTA (ZONE 3-7)
Yes…It is true! You can grow Kiwis in a northern climate! They can handle winters that go down to -34 C! These incredibly fast growing vines can be trellised, grown up a fence, or tree. They are smaller than the Kiwi fruit you buy in the store, but have a much smoother peel and sweeter taste. They are native to Japan, Russia, China and Korea.
Keep in mind that in order for fruit to occur, you will need both male and female plants for cross pollination. One male plant will allow 6 females to be pollinated. It is tolerant to partial shade, but fruit yield is optimized in full sun.
28. BLACKBERRY; RUBUS sp (ZONE 3-9)
There are many different Blackberries available to grow, and like Raspberries you can stagger the cultivars and get harvests throughout the summer and Fall. They can handle a little shade, but do best in a location that has a lot of sun throughout the day. Well drained soil is great for Blackberries. Trellis them, or let them go wild in an area of your yard. There are many amazing cold hardy varieties out there.
29. LINGONBERRY; VACCINIUM VITIS-IDAEA (ZONE 2-6)
Native to the arctic tundra, this member of the heath family bears sour tasting berries in extremely cold climates. When mixed with honey, maple syrup or sugar, these berries create quite an amazing flavour. They were an extremely invaluable food source to Scandinavians, as they contained natural preservatives that allowed them to be stored in water for months on end. Because of their innate properties containing pectin and benzoic acid, these berries became pickled in the water solution.
Like their relatives Cranberry and Blueberry, Lingonberry appreciates an acidic soil medium to grow in. Whatever you soil may be, amend with peat moss in the spring or fall. They will send out runners similar to Cranberries, and can be propagated in the spring or fall.
30. NANNYBERRY; VIBURNUM LENTAGO (ZONE 2-8)
Nannyberry grows wild in the forest where I live. It is a really unique native shrub that is extremely cold hardy, and has these deep blue berries that taste just like raisins. They can be made into a delicious fruit leather or can be eaten raw just like that. Some people are not crazy about them, while others, like me, love them. The berries will first emerge green, then pink, and finally the deep blue colour. The white flowers are also stunning, forming dense clusters in summer that smell amazing.
They berries are also adored by birds if you are interested in planting things for wildlife. They seem to love inhabiting the edge of forests or trails, and can certainly take a little shade. I’ll often see them occupying spots that are quite wet, so don’t be afraid to plant them in an area of your yard that isn’t very well draining. I am also mesmerized by the tree bud of Nannyberry, as they looks like a medieval sword.
I am experimenting with different propagation methods this year for Nannyberry, and will update once I see what is successful. So far I am trying hardwood cuttings, but will also try seeds in the future.
32. BLACK WALNUT; JUGLANS CINEREA (ZONE 4-9)
Aside from being a tough nut to crack, Black Walnuts are an incredible source of food. They will survive in zone 3, but will only produce nuts in zone 4. The hull of Black Walnuts smells like aromatic limes and will stain your fingers for at least a few days so wear your gloves! The nuts are really earthy and tasty, and can be roasted and added to all kinds of deserts, dishes, and flours. The nuts also have a long shelf life and can be stored once they’re dry for many years.
Black Walnuts need full sun, and they also exude a chemical called juglones that can inhibit growth of other plants around it. There are some plants that will live beneath it, but many will not. Keep this in mind when planting. Black Walnut is self fertile, but having more than one different variety will ensure better cross pollination and yields. Black Walnut is also prized for it’s hardwood.
33. GOJI BERRY; LYCIUM BARBARUM (ZONE 3-10)
I still can’t believe that you can grow Goji berries in zone 3. They were always this exotic superfruit that you paid a fortune for in my eyes. But here I am in zone 3 growing them! They produce tasty fruits that are absolutely jam packed with antioxidants, anthocyanins, and phenolics. They are considered a fruit and medicine by many cultures.
The seeds are relatively easy to germinate 6 weeks before last frost in the spring, but ensure you give the seedlings good light for the first few months of their life. Leggy seedlings won’t have much of a chance when you transplant them out in the big bad world of mother Nature. Goji berries prefer a slightly more alkaline soil, and do not react well to manure or peat based potting mixes. Use simple top soil and well rotted compost as much as possible when growing these bushes. Once they’re established they are extremely drought tolerant.
Goji berry is self fertile so you only need one plant to produce fruit. However the more varieties you have, the better the cross pollination will be between plants which means…More fruit!
I hope that learning about all of these different sources of fruit and nuts that you can grow in a cold climate opens your eyes to what is possible. Places like Northern Ontario can be home to many amazing fruits and nuts that can gift you with the best tasting food year after year, as well as the remarkable wildlife that surrounds you. These trees and nuts not only produce amazing foods…They are a joy to experience and grow.