North Dakota might never challenge Georgia as the peach state, but Scott Mehlhoff has proven that the fruit trees can produce as far north as Minot.
Mehlhoff's collection of fruit trees in his southeast Minot yard includes two varieties of peach trees, one of which blessed him with three peaches this summer.
"This is the first year so they are not as big," Mehlhoff said of the small peaches still ripening on the tree. That the tree produced at all is "kind of amazing," he said.
Ronald Smith, horticulturist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Fargo, agrees. He's not aware of peach trees producing in the state, although some people who pot their trees and move them into a shelter during the harshest winter months have claimed to have gotten a peach or two. He found Mehlhoff's success in pushing the envelope to be exciting.
"That's great news, and I hope it spreads like wildfire. I would love to see peach orchards get established in North Dakota," he said. "There's nothing like a fresh peach off the tree. They are absolutely delicious."
Smith suggested Mehlhoff's peaches might be related to the mild winter in the Midwest this past year. Getting peach trees to produce in North Dakota just hasn't worked in the past because of the cold.
"Many have tried, including yours truly, and just given up in frustration," Smith said.
"There's one little trick to this," Mehlhoff said.
He explained that he covers his peach trees, which he planted four years ago, with a Styrofoam shelter filled with dried leaves to protect them over winter. His other peach tree, of the Reliance variety, froze one winter, although a portion has been re-growing.
The peach tree that produced was the Contender variety. Mehlhoff said the variety is rated for a climate zone 4, which gardeners know is borderline for North Dakota.
"I've always tried to push the boundary a little bit to see if I could do it," said Mehlhoff, who also raises apples, pears and apricots.
He also has a Redbud tree, a small, colorful tree that isn't meant for North Dakota's climate. It grows in states such as Kansas or Iowa. Still, Mehlhoff said, the tree produced its lavender blossoms for the first time this year.
Melhoff's decision to attempt a peach tree came after learning of another North Dakota gardener's success in getting a peach tree transplanted from Arizona to grow, although not produce.
"They always talk about global warming. I thought if I get lucky I can do this. I have always liked to try new things and different things," he said. "I didn't know if they would produce or not, but I thought I would take a chance."
Mehlhoff hopes to get his peach tree well established and strong enough to survive in North Dakota with minimal protection. Since the trees can grow to 10 to 12 feet, and his tree is well on its way to that now, covering it in its entirety over winter might not always be feasible.
He also is carefully watching his new peaches to ensure his family gets the ripened fruit before the squirrels, which love to harvest his pear crop.
"We are pretty excited about tasting them," he said.