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Li Zai-Long*

* Professor, Department of Horticulture, Zhejiang Agricultural University, Hanzhou, Zhejiang 310029, The People’s Republic of China.

China is one of the earliest and most important centers of origin of cultivated plants in the world. Many deciduous fruits such as peach, Asian pear, apricot, plum, jujube, chestnut and filbert that are grown today are native to China. From the fossil remains of filbert and chestnut dug up from Banpo village, Xian, Shaanxi province and peach stones discovered in archeological investigations in Wu County in Jiansu province, it is evident that pomology is an agricultural science that started in China nearly 6000 years ago. Manuscripts mentioning 17 different fruits, mostly deciduous, can be found in Shi Jing, an ancient record of songs written about 1000 BC. Cultivar differences of winter peach and stoneless jujube were recognized by Chinese ancestors at least as early as the early part of second century B.C. Due to this long history of fruit cultivation, an abundance of fruit growing experience and production practices has been accumulated in cultivar selection, grafting, fruit thinning, pest control and storage technologies. A great number of valuable varieties were developed, some of which are recognized even today in fruit production programs.

After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the fruit industry passed through its recovery and stable development stage which led to a period of rapid development. In 1997, the total production of fruits in China was 50.89 million tons, out of which 17.22 million tons were apples and 6.42 million tons were pears. They accounted for 11.2, 31.8 and 44.4 percent of the world production respectively. Fruit production in total or individually for apple and pear assumed the first place in the world.

The fruit industry ranks third in the country after grains and vegetables and exceeds that of cotton, forestry, oil and sugarcane. Per capita availability of fruits per annum increased 6-fold from 6.8 kg in 1978 to 41.2 kg in 1997.

It has been the policy of the Government to encourage the development of the fruit industry in the mountains and hilly areas, leaving the fertile lowlands for the production of grains and cotton. Under this policy the loess plateau in the Northwest, highlands of the Southwest, other hilly regions and mountainous areas have become bases of commercial fruit production.

Development of fruit growing on the highlands has several advantages. Firstly, due to more exposure to sun light and greater variation in daily temperatures, fruit trees growing in the highlands are likely to produce quality fruit with good color and higher sugar content. Secondly, by growing fruits the farmers can obtain much higher returns than from field crops. An added benefit of cropping the highlands is the improvement of socio-economic conditions of undeveloped highland communities. Furthermore, as commercial fruit orchards got established in these areas, contour terraces, water conservation projects, roads and storage facilities were established. Other services related to fruit production were also improved. These, accelerated the economic development of the rural highland areas and the fruit industry was often referred to as a green revolution with fruit trees acting as environment cleaning agents.


Among deciduous fruit crops grown in China, apple is far ahead in acreage and production, while pears, peach and grapes are also leading crops. Apricot, plum, mume, jujube, persimmon, walnut, chestnut and kiwifruit are next in importance. Other deciduous fruits such as cherry, almond, pomegranate, fig, filbert and ginkgo are also cultivated but to a limited extent. Hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida Bgc), Roxburgh Rose (Rose roxburghii Tartt.) and Seabuckthorn (Hippophae spp.) are new fruit crops that have been recently domesticated. In China, a large portion of the deciduous fruits are produced in the North along the Yellow river valley. However, the Yangtze river basin areas are also important for the production of sand pear, honey peach and mume. Table 1 shows the development of major deciduous fruits in acreage and production. Table 2 shows the major rootstocks in use, and Table 3 indicates the most important pests and diseases.

Table 1. Development Statistics of Major Fruit Crops in China (1952-1997)


Total (Fruits)






























































































Area in 10,000 ha

Production in 10,000 tons

Table 2. Major Rootstocks Used for Deciduous Fruits in China

Fruit Crop





M. baccata Brokn.

Northeast China

M. prunifolia Maxim

Northern China

M. micromalus Makino

Northern China

M. hepehensis Rehd

Many different types

M. sieversii Ldb.

Northwest China



P. betulaefolia Bge

Northern China

P. calleryana Dune

Southern China

P. xeropila Yu.

Northwest China



P. davidiana Franch

Northern China

P. persica Stoke

Southern China


P. mume

The same species



P. davidiana Franch

North China

P. persica Stoke.

South China

P. salicina

The same species



P. armeniaca L.

The same species

P. siberica L.

North China



P. serrulata Lindl.

Widely used

P. mahaleb L.

The same species



D. lotus L.

Widely used

D. kaki L.

The same species

Table 3. Important Pests and Diseases of Deciduous Fruits in China

Fruit Crop





Peach fruit borer

Apple tree canker

Lesser apple fruit borer

Brown spot of apple

Leaf roller



Apple ring rot

Apple aphids

Powdery mildew




Pear scab

White peach scale

Black rot of pear

San Jose scale

Black spot

Pear blight

Stone Fruits


Peach aphids

Brown rot

Peach fruit borer

Bacterial spot

Peach pyralid moth


Peach longicorn beetle

Peach canker

Leaf curl

The apple crop is grown on 32.66 percent of the total area under fruit cultivation and it contributes 33.8 percent to the total fruit production. This makes apple the most important fruit crop among deciduous fruits in China. There has been a 4.2-fold increase in acreage and 7.5-fold increase in production of this crop during the last two decades. The major fruit producing areas are along the Bohai Sea, the Yellow river lowlands, Northern foot of the Qing-ling mountains, the Loess plateau in the Northwest and the highlands of the Southwest. The major producing provinces are Shangdong, Lianing, Hebei, Henan, Shaanxii and Shanxi, while minor production is undertaken in Gansu Xijiang and Jiangsu. During the 1980’s more than 20 cultivars were under cultivation. Nearly 60 percent of the apples produced were of cultivars such as Ralls Janet, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Jonathan. At the present time, however, over 70 percent of plantings are of Red Fuji, Starkrimson, Jonagold, Golden Delicious and Gala apple cultivars.

The second major crop among deciduous fruits is pear, which covers an area of 924,000 ha with a production of 6,415 million tons a year. Its share in total deciduous fruit crop area is 10.6 percent and production is 12.6 percent. Cultivated pear in China is classified into four groups. White pear (Pyrus bretschneiderie) is mainly grown in Northern China, Hebei, Shandong, Liaoning provinces and accounts for 60 percent of pear production in the country. A great number of cultivars exist in this group; some of these cultivars, notably Ya-Li, Xue-hua-li, Lai-yang-ci-li and Dong-guo-li produce fruits of excellent quality with crispy, juicy and sweet flesh and relatively few stone cells. Sand Pears (P. pyrifolia) grow almost wild in the Yangtze river valley. They adapt well to wet and high summer temperatures and the popular cultivars Cang-xi-li and Bao-zhu-li are locally important cultivars. Huang-hai-li and Jin-shu 2 are newly developed cultivars and are extensively used in new plantings. The Japanese cultivars also belong to the sand pear category. Some Japanese cultivars such as New century, Kosui and Shin sui are also important cultivars in this area. Fruits of white pear and sand pear are juicy, crisp and sweet. They do not require a ripening after harvest and could be used as a dessert fruit immediately after picking. The Ussurian pear (P. ussuriensis) is the most hardy of all Pyrus species and is grown in the areas North of the Great Wall, especially in Northeast China. In general, fruit quality of the cultivars derived from this species are very much inferior to those of the white pear and sand pear. The fruits are usually smaller and require a period of post-harvest ripening to become edible. After proper ripening they become soft with a strong aroma and acceptable quality. Representative cultivars of this group are An-li, Da-xiang-shui-li, Nan-guo-li and Jing-bei-li. European pear is not commonly found in China and it is only grown to a limited extent in a few localities.

Peach is native to China. There are two major groups of cultivars and ecotypes. The Mitao cultivars are generally cultivated in North China. They tend to bear larger fruits with firmer flesh. The principal producing areas are located in Feicheng and Yidou in Shandong province, Shenzhou of Hebei province, Liquan and Fuping of Shaanxi province, Zhenging and Zhangye in Gansu province. Leading cultivars include Feicheng Tao, Shenzhou Mitao and Yidou Mitao. Shumitao peach, also known as Honey peach, is mostly grown in Southern parts of China and it is well adapted to wet and high summer temperatures in the Yangtze river basin. Fruit of this peach is tender-fleshed, melting and juicy with high sugar content. The important areas of peach production are close to the cities of Nanjing, Wuxi, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ninbo and Fenghuo. Fenghua yulu and Baihua shuimi are the best known cultivars in these production areas. Peach fruits grown for fresh markets in China are almost all characterized by white flesh, melting and juicy clingstone types, while non-melting and yellow-fleshed types are mainly used for canning. These canning types thrived best during the period between 1970 to 1980’s, but decreased in the 1990’s. On the other hand, early peach and nectarine cultivars and their area of production have increased recently.

Plum (Prunus salicina), apricot, mume, Chinese cherry (Prunus pseudocerasus), and persimmon are all native to China. They are grown almost all over the country, except mume which is restricted to the South China. Major producing areas are also located in Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. Oriental plums differ from the European plum and have two categories of cultivars, red colored and yellow skin types. The red types possess either yellow or red colored skins, but the yellow types have exclusively yellow flesh only. There are more than 800 cultivars under cultivation, but Zu-li in Zhejiang, Fu-rong-li and Mi-liin Fujiang are highly preferred by consumers.

Apricots are found mostly in North China, mainly concentrated in the Yellow river valley. The many cultivars under production have different uses. Some are grown for the fresh market (the larger fruited types reaching up to 200 gm in size). Although the Yangtze river valley is not the main producing area for apricots, many important local cultivars exist. Some bear high quality fruits of large size and they are well adapted to humid weather prevalent in the area.

Both European cherry and Chinese cherry are grown in China. Chinese cherry (Prunus pseudocerasus) has been grown in China for over 2000 years, and bears more fruits than the European cherry. Chinese cherries also have a wider range of distribution. Taihe in Anhui, Zhuji in Zhejiang, Zhengzhou in Henan, Qingdao, Zaozhuang in Shandong and Lantian in Shaanxi province are the major producing areas. The European cherry cultivars were introduced to China in 1870. Their production is limited to Yantai in Shandong, Luda in Liaoning, and Beidaihe and Changli in Hebei province. Napoleon, Black Tartarian and Bing are major European cultivars grown in China.

About 860 cultivars of persimmon exist in China. They bear fruit varying greatly in shape, size, color and ripening period. Most of the cultivars are astringent in taste at harvest time. Persimmons originated in Southern China, but the largest production is confined to the Yellow river valley. Annual production of persimmon is around one million tons and Shaanxi, Shanxi, Hebei, Henan and Shandong provinces account for 70-80 percent of the production. Fuyu and Jiro are major cultivars of sweet persimmon from Japan.

Mume (Prunus mume Sieb et Zucc.) has been cultivated in China for over 3000 years. The wild forms can still be found in mountainous areas between Hubei and Sichuan provinces. Since they bloom in early spring and are sensitive to frost damage, the production areas are limited to Yangtze river valley and its Southern parts. Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Hunan provinces are the major producers of mume fruit.


Methods in training and pruning of trees vary depending on climatic and soil conditions, fruit species, cultivars, rootstock, spacing and management systems used in orchards. Two basic training systems are, however, commonly adopted in the deciduous orchards in China. They are the modified central leader system for apples and pears, and the open center system for peach trees. Pruning is mainly carried out in the dormant season, but summer pruning is also practiced, especially in peach orchards. Hand pruning is considered a special art and a skill very much needed in proper tree management. Despite the differences in tree forms or the time of pruning, much concerns are centered around the balance between vegetative and reproductive growth.

Fruit growers in China traditionally use a high amount of organic matter as basic source of nutrients for the trees in the dormant season. Animal manures are used extensively and sometimes oil-pressed cakes and chemical fertilizers are also added. These basic nutrient sources are considered to be important for quality fruit production since they not only provide nutrients for tree growth, but also improve soil structure which promotes better root development. Their application is usually recommended during the dormant season up to autumn, after fruit harvest but usually before leaf fall. This application coincides with the third peak of annual root growth. The fertilizers help trees to recover from the depletion caused by a heavy fruit load and also enhance development of quality fruit buds. Top dressing applications are usually chemical fertilizers which are applied two to four times before bud break, prior to or after blooming and at fruit enlargement stage depending on the requirements of each type of fruit tree.

Since most orchards in China are established in hilly areas, the soils may be low in nutrients and not deep enough for good root development. Therefore, in addition to reclamation work before orchard establishment, soil improvement after planting is also required. As most soils in such areas are around 50 cm in depth (usually with a hardpan), deep tillage is required. Sub-soil tillage is carried out either by enlarging the planting pit up to the tree canopy line or by constructing ditches between tree rows. After removing the sub-soil, pits and ditches are filled with a mixture of top soil and organic manures such as farmyard manure, straw, compost etc. If orchard soils are clayey, 1.5-2.25 tons of lime hydrate is recommended for incorporation during sub-soil tillage to help regulate soil pH. In young orchards, deep tillage can be carried out in spring, summer or autumn, while in older orchards this practice is carried out after harvesting the crop.

Since 1980’s, the use of straw or plastic film has become popular in orchards established in hilly areas. If straw mulch is used, the soil is initially tilled after incorporating farm manures and a 10-20 cm layer of straw is used for mulching every year. If clear plastic film is used to mulch under tree canopies, a 10 cm soil layer is used to cover the plastic mulch, especially when temperatures go up to 20-25 °C.

Although annual rainfall in Northern China is adequate to meet the requirements of fruit tree orchards, the distribution is erratic and most of the rain is received from July to September. Supplementary irrigation is therefore essential during the period from October to June. In Southern China, irrigation is also required during the hot and dry spells in July-August. Surface irrigation systems are mostly used in China, while drip systems are preferred in saline soils. Sprinkler irrigation is also being installed in several areas in recent times.


The fruit industry in China has reached a new stage of development with a massive increase in growing area and production. At the same time, however, this rapid development has brought about many problems and the fruit industry is currently facing many challenges. Firstly, with such a rapid increase in production it has brought in its wake deficiencies in post-harvest handling, storage facilities, processing and marketing which are unable to cope with the volume of fruit produced. As a large quantity of fruits reached markets, disposal within a short period could not be achieved, resulting in depressed prices and considerable losses which even forced growers to abandon harvesting the crops. Secondly, due to the rapid expansion in production area, the use of low quality planting material was sometimes difficult to avoid and some of the cultivars grown by farmers are of very poor fruit quality. Another factor was the lack of training given to fruit growers, especially in the new fruit growing areas. Poor management has also resulted in lower yields per unit area in addition to the use of inferior germplasm. This situation will reach catastrophic proportions in the near future when about 40 percent of the young plantings reach bearing age.

It was found that about 66 percent of the total fruit production was contributed by apple, pear and citrus. Many of the cultivars of these fruits have a short harvest season which contributed to unmanageable surpluses. Quality was another factor since nearly 20 percent of fruit produced was of smaller size and unacceptable quality. Looking into these problems, it was also revealed that only about 30 percent of fruits produced were of good quality while the remaining 50 percent reached average quality standards. It was also found that only about 1 percent of the harvest received post-harvest treatments such as fruit cleaning, waxing, grading and packing. Currently available storage facilities can accommodate only 15 percent of production, leaving 85 percent of the harvest to be disposed within a short period. This has resulted in severe post-harvest losses and lowering of prices bringing about economic ruin to farmers. Lack of storage facilities has resulted in about 20-25 percent of the total fruit produced perishing after harvest.

Under these circumstances, new Government policies for the fruit industry are directed towards giving high priority to fruit quality, yield per unit area and better economic returns to fruit producers. Whilst total extent under fruits will remain at the same level, there will be changes in the combination of species and cultivars used. Regulations will be introduced to effect these changes. In order to maintain the proportion of the area under citrus, apple and pear in a ratio of 6:4 with other fruit crops, part of the hectarage of these crops that are grown under sub-optimal agro-ecological situations will be replaced by other fruit crops. It has also been planned to re-plant about 1.6 million ha of old orchards and about 3 million ha of plantings with low quality or low yield potential will be rejuvenated by topworking using newly developed superior cultivars. Cultivar regulation will also include the spreading of the harvest season. A proper mix of early, mid and late cultivars of all fruit crops will be promoted in a ratio of 10, 30 and 60 percent respectively. In apples, the cultivar Anna will be grown for early season harvest, Tsugaru, Gala, Starkrimson and Golden Delicious for mid-season and Red Fuji and Jonagold for late season production.

The current policies will also ensure fruit quality and better economic returns rather than increases in extents or volume of production as earlier encouraged in the 1980’s. One of the major goals of the new policies include the increase in the percentage of quality fruit from the present 30 percent to 40 percent by the year 2000, and a further increase up to 60 percent by the year 2005.


In conclusion, a few salient facts need to be highlighted with respect to deciduous fruit production in China. Firstly, in fruit crop production extents, the Northwest parts of China, including Xingjiang, Gansu, Ningxia and Shaanxi will be exploited for expansion of deciduous fruits, due to the favorable climatic conditions these regions possess. These are relatively dry areas with more sunshine hours and high light intensity, less precipitation and greater diurnal range of temperatures. Deciduous fruits grown in these regions produce fruits of larger size, better color, higher sugar contents and better storage life, and with lesser problems from diseases. However, the economic conditions in these areas are much inferior compared to the Southeast coast of China. The most important consideration in the development of these areas would be the establishment of supplementary irrigation systems if large-scale commercial production is to be attempted since water sources are very limited.

The sand or apple pear that originated in the Yangtze River basin and is a popular crop in this area should also be categorized under the deciduous fruit crop group. It has excellent adaptability under warm and humid conditions. Many of the improved cultivars of sand pear produce high quality fruits. They are crisp, juicy and sweet, especially suitable for eating during the hot summer months. Development of this fruit is of special importance as it reaches markets earlier than other deciduous fruits. The fruit is also very popular in Southeast Asia.

Lastly, considering the entire fruit industry in the country, it should be noted that China is the largest fruit producing country in the world. Despite this, judging by the standard of fruit quality, average yield per unit area and per capita incomes, the Chinese fruit industry is relatively underdeveloped when compared with those of the more advanced countries. Although the fruit industry in some parts of China has started to make changes towards modernization, there is still a long way to go, in terms of improvement of all aspects of the industry. Of the many improvements that are needed, post-harvest handling, storage and marketing are salient aspects that need immediate attention, since there is dynamism in the industry as new areas and cultivars are constantly being developed.

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