Summer pruning for Fruit trees

Here’s some advice for those of you growing fruit trees. August is the best time to do summer pruning. If you haven’t already done so, thin out shoots and crossing branches. This allows more air and light into the tree, reduces disease and promotes earlier ripening of the fruit. Remove most water sprouts. These are the soft, fast growing shoots usually growing straight up. Cut them back to a main branch. If you need to fill in a spot in the tree and there’s a water sprout growing there, cut that one back to about 2" and it will promote a fruiting spur.

Pruning fruit trees this month controls the size of the tree and can also prevent rampant sprout growth next spring. That’s because pruning removes many of the little food factories ( leaves ) that supply energy to the plant  and store it,  to be used for growth in the spring.

Prune to maintain a vase shape. By promoting upright limbs high in the tree and pruning hardest in upper and outer portions, fruiting wood is maintained throughout the tree. Also eliminate limbs growing inward. Remember never to prune more that 1/4 of the total mass of your tree at any one time and no more than 1/3 per year. Better to space out corrective pruning over 4 years if your tree has gone too long since the last pruning.

One last thing, fertilize your trees one more time. Most established fruit trees need their first application when the tree begins to emerge from dormancy in the spring, another after fruit set and the third immediately after harvest. For young trees in the first, second or third growing season, apply at half the rate.

Feed your trees and they’ll feed you.

Plants for the Senses

With students going back to school, my thoughts turn to young people and how to peak their interest in the plant world.  Many schools have life lab gardens and families growing vegetables and fruit trees have a head start.  What better way to learn how plants grow? It’s a big horticultural world out there, filled with plants to taste, smell and touch. Kindle a child’s curiosity early and you create a gardener for life.

Pettable plants are a sure hit with kids. Usually we tell them, "Don’t touch", so to actually have someone encourage this is a rare treat. If your own garden doesn’t have plants that look and feel so soft that you can’t resist petting them, consider adding one of the following:
    ⁃    lamb’s ears
    ⁃    scotch moss
    ⁃    fiber optic grass
    ⁃    lotus Golden Flames
    ⁃    coleonema Sunset Gold
    ⁃    artemisia Powis Castle
    ⁃    red fountain grass

Fragrant flowers teach us to stop and savor our surroundings. I always love it when I can introduce a youngster to the different plant smells. They never forget the experience and will go back again and again to a fragrance they like. Some common plants I enjoy at this time of year are:
    ⁃    chocolate cosmos
    ⁃    sweet alyssum
    ⁃    heliotrope
    ⁃    chocolate mint
    ⁃    nemesia

Succulents for the Santa Cruz Mtns

Earlier this year I had so many deer browsing in my garden, I thought the term "deer resistant" was a cruel joke. Don’t they read those lists anymore? My succulents, however, were never victims. If you haven’t paid much attention to these old standbys for a while, it’s time for another look.

There are succulents that thrive i shade as well as sun. That’s because they originate from many different environments. Many come from the deserts of the world while others developed in the cold, windy alpine regions of Europe in poor, rocky soil. A surprising number os succulent plants are native to the Rocky Mountains and Peruvian Andes. Still others evolved on the shores of salt water lakes and oceans where they adapted to high salt concentrations. Almost any environment is suitable for growing some kind of succulent, it merely depends on choosing the right one.

Many of the gardens in this area are frosty in the winter. The common winter hardy succulent varieties most resistant to cold are sedum, sempervivum, echeveria, crassula, agave, dudleya and yucca.

To ensure success when growing succulents, make sure your soil is fast draining. Our winter rains can rot even the toughest plants when their feet sit in soggy soil. Add sand and gravel to your soil or plant on mounds to increase drainage.

Sempervivum and echeveria, both low growing ground covers, are also known as hens-and-chicks. They spread by producing identical offsets that surround the mother plant like chicks. Due to extensive breeding you can choose from more than 4,000 named varieties. Some are tightly clustered, others more open with smooth or velvety leaves in shades ranging from near black to pinks, purples, lavender, apricot and every shade of green. A metallic sheen glints off the leaves of some types, while others like Silver King and Red Ruben have leaves outlined in fuzzy, white hairs. The colors change through the seasons and in summer, starlike flowers bloom atop fat, tall stems.

While the distinct rosette forms of hens & chicks are easily recognizable, in their shape and colors. Low growing varieties include sedum makinoi Ogon, on my my favorites, for their tiny carpet-like golden foliage. Coppertone grows 12" tall with thick coppery colored leaves. Sedum tricolor makes a nice ground cover in sunny areas. Sedum Autumn Joy’s rosy pink flower clusters look beautiful in large swaths combined with pheasant tail grass and Santa Barbara daisy.

There are many other sedums to choose from that do well in our area. All are reliable perennials in our climate. They will not take foot traffic but are otherwise tough, low maintenance plants.

Succulents can be used in so many ways in the garden. Use them in pots or in the front of the border where they provide texture. They can be used to fill in between shrubs or clumps of perennials.

Every garden has a problem spot- one that is too hot, too dry, awkward or shallow for other plants. That’s where succulents come to the rescue.

Help Bees Help You

Bees are getting a lot of press lately, Most fruits and vegetables, except crops like corn, wheat, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans and beets, need bees to pollinate them. Of the 3 million hives in this country about 600,000 have disappeared. Our bees are at risk and research has not found the smoking gun for colony collapse disorder ( where bees leave the hive and mysteriously never return ). In the 1980’s a mite caused a huge die off but now researchers are looking to a virus from Israel that might causing a decline in the bee’s immune system, like AIDS for bees. Pesticide are also contributing to the decline. Maybe these interfere with the bees ability to find their way home. It may be that there are several reasons that are causing our bees to be at risk.

What can we do to help?  For one, we can attract native bees to the garden. Native bees are solitary, meaning they do not make a hive but make nests underground, one female per nesting hole, where she lays her eggs. Some of the things we do in our gardens, such as mulching, is good for the soil and deterring weeds but not helpful for ground nesting bees.  The key is to leave some unmulched sections near your flowering plants for them to burrow.

Native bees won’t sting you. It’s not that they don’t have a stinger, they just don’t use them on people. Also most of our 1,600 species of native bees are too small to be able to sting.  Native bees are solely responsible for keeping many native plants pollinated. To help bees and other pollinator insects—like butterflies—you should provide a range of plants that will offer a succession of flowers, and thus, through the whole growing season. Choose several colors and shapes of flowers, plant flowers in clumps and plant where bees will visit- in sunny spots sheltered from strong winds.

Native bees love Ray Hartman ceanothus and toyon, for instance. Also ribes, sambucus, penstemon, echinacea, sedum, salvia, Ca. poppy, buckwheat, willow, sunflowers, lavender, basil, agastache, marjorum, rosemary, erysimum, zinnia and aster.

All species of bees will benefit from these tips.  Let’s lend a helping hand to these vital pollinators.