Category Archives: fruit trees

Pruning, Thinning and other Early Summer Tasks

Last week the first real taste of summer weather arrived and it was a wake up call for me. Over the past couple of months I’ve planted several new plants that will be drought tolerant once established but for now their root system requires more frequent watering than my established plantings. I’ll have to wait for the cooler weather starting in late September to plant any major additions to my landscaping. But for now I love to be out in my garden and there are lots of other things I can do to enjoy my time outdoors.

Pruning is a good way to spend a couple of hours in your garden. I’m not talking about trimming plants into little balls but the kind of pruning that makes for a healthier and happier plant.

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Japanese maples

If you grow Japanese maples now is the time to remove dead branches and train your tree to look like one of those specimens you see in the magazines. Thinning cuts build your ideal tree limb structure. If yours is a young tree, though, don’t be tempted to head back long branches too soon. As these mature they give your tree that desirable horizontal branching.

This principle is important to keep in mind when you train any young ornamental tree. Lateral buds grow along the sides of a shoot and give rise to sideways growth that makes a plant bushy.

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Bing cherries

Summer pruning of fruit trees controls size by removing energy-wasting water sprouts. Summer is also a good time to remove leafy upper branches that excessively shade fruit on the lower branches. Winter pruning is meant to stimulate the tree. Summer pruning uses thinning cuts-where the branch is cut off at its point of attachment, instead of part way along the branch- and these cuts do not encourage new growth but control the size of your tree making fruit harvest easier.

Summer pruning also can control pests like coddling moths, mites or aphids. Just be sure to dispose of these trimmings and don’t compost them.

If you have apricots and cherries, summer pruning only is now advised as they are susceptible to a branch killing disease if pruned during rainy weather. Prune stone fruits like peaches and nectarines after harvest by 50%. They grow quite rapidly. Apricots and plums need to have only 20% of their new growth pruned away.

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Red Delicious apple

Be sure to thin the fruit on your trees. That’s another good reason to keep them smaller so you can more easily reach the branches. The best time to do this is when the fruit is still small. Thinning fruit discourages early fruit drop and improves the quality of the remaining fruit. It helps to avoid limb damage from a heavy fruit load. Also it stimulates next year’s crop and helps to avoid biennial bearing. Left to their own devices, a fruit tree may bear heavily one year and then light or not at all the next year. Some types of fruit trees like peaches and Golden Delicious apples are likely to bear biennially if the current year’s fruit crop isn’t thinned.

While I have the pruners out I’ll be shearing back early flowering perennials to encourage another round of blooms. And I’ll add some more mulch to areas that are a little thin. I’ll be checking the ties on my trees to make sure they aren’t too tight and remove the stake if the trunk is strong enough to support the tree on its own.

And I’ll be looking for any pest problems so I can do something about them before it gets out of hand. I’m OK with a few holes here and there but a heavy infestation should be trimmed off or sprayed with an organic insecticide. I inspect the tips of my fuchsias regularly for fuchsia mites and clip off any distorted growth. I hate to spray even organics on them due to the hummingbird activity.

Most importantly, enjoy your time outdoors. If a task is too big to do at one time, break it down into smaller sessions. As they say, take time to smell the roses.

A Little Slice of Heaven in the Santa Cruz Mountains

toolsOutside of the historical agriculture exhibit at the Santa Cruz County Fair I have never seen so many antique farm implements and tools. Vintage tractors and parts were tucked underneath massive black walnuts. The winding driveway was dotted with more equipment, tractor wheels and parts. A storage shed displayed a collection of vintage chain saws and other small tools. California poppies bloomed in small clusters. I was here to visit an old friend in the hills above south Felton near the Toll House resort to see if I could help with advice about his ailing plum trees.

Al HIley has lived in this idyllic location since Vista_from_house.2048he was a boy and that’s a long time as his 92nd birthday is this month. His father bought the 18 acres in 1906. The original house still stands shaded by a grape vine arbor that protects the door and windows in the heat of the day. He lives close by in another house where he enjoys a vista which includes Mt. Umunhum, the Summit and Boulder Creek. Al says he used to be able to see downtown Felton but the redwoods have grown since the late 1800’s when this area was logged.

I had to laugh that Al was asking me for advice. He’s been farming this land starting since WWII ended. His father pAl_Hiley_in orchard2.1600lanted the original walnut trees in the hopes of making a profit from his land but “he was no farmer”, according to Al. I glanced at the catalogs on the 12’ long redwood burl coffee table. You can tell a lot about a person from what they read. Strewn about were several tractor catalogs, Popular Mechanic magazines, Heartland cataantique_chainsaws.1600logs, miscellaneous tool catalogs and a book entitled ‘Chainsaws: A History” which touts to be the first book on the worldwide history of the chainsaw.

With his lab, Sonny, at his side, Al and I went out to the orchard to take a look at the fruit trees. Originally in the 1960’s he had about 95 fruit trees. He grafted different kinds of apples onto his father’s trees and planted peaches, and pears as well as plums and prunes. We passed the blueberry bushes which were starting to show some fall color. Nearby grew a fig with a gnarled trunk the likes I have never seen. Loaded with hundreds on hundreds of ripening figs he invited me back to pick some when they ripened.

Al couldn’t verify the exact variety of red apple that caught my eye. It also was  loaded with beautiful fruit. He red_apples.1600got me a bag to pick as many as I wanted to take home and they are crispy and juicy. He grows a yellow delicious apple also but after eating the red variety I didn’t think anything could rival them.

The plum trees weren’t doing as well. They all had some yellow leaves and golden colored sap oozing along the branches. This condition is called gummosis and occurs often in stone fruit trees like cherry, apricot, peach and plum. It can be caused by several very different things.

The tree may have gumming from a pathogen that invades and kills bark and cambial tissue through a wound such as a pruning cut, sun scald or hail. If you scrape the outer bark under the sap the dead phloem will appear cinnamon brown in color Prevention is the key to managing this problem. Keep trees healthy with optimal watering, mulching and nutrition.

gummosis_on_plum.1600Borers can also cause gumming. In a plum tree, weakened trees or places where wounds have occurred will be susceptible. Ooze is often clear. Management of these pests is difficult and may include bark sprays during the growing season.

If you are not sure that a pathogen is causing the gummosis, scrape the outer bark away. If the inner bark is still cream colored and healthy, the oozing is caused by non-living factors and there is nothing you should do. If the wood is tan to brown, it is dead, and was most likely killed by a pathogen.

For my friend, Al’s plum trees I determined that the gummosis was caused by excessive irrigation. Due to the drought, Al had tried to limit watering during the summer. When he saw the trees being stressed he deep watered several times in the past month or so. The apple trees loved it but not the plums. He is happily going to deep water much less often until the trees go dormant.

I left Al and Sonny with the promise that I’d be back when the figs ripened. I’m sure I’ll be needing a fresh supply of apples, too.

Favorite Fruit Varieties at the Farmer’s Market

fruit_from_Farmer's MktAt this time of year it’s easy to get the recommended 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. That’s the latest recommendation from the new dietary guidelines released by the Dept. of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The farmer’s market is brimming now with lots of locally grown produce. I find it nearly impossible not to overbuy, everything looks so yummy. At the beginning of the year I wrote about great varieties of fruit trees available to plant in your home orchard. From heirlooms to old favorites there’s nothing like picking fresh from the tree. Walking around the Felton Farmer’s Market the other day I thought I’d check out what the growers thought were the best kinds and why in their opinion.

Red, ripe strawberries first caught my eye. Jose, told me he grows Seascape Seascape_strawberriesstrawberries in La Selva Beach. His farm is on a well so the dry winter didn’t affect their plants but the recents showers did. The berries absorbed too much water at one time and are not as sweet this week as a result. Esther, a grower from Moss Landing, said she likes the variety Albion at this time of year because they are really sweet and hold up well. Her farm will start harvesting Seascapes later. She said her area didn’t get any showers recently but the March rains caused the berries to rot and the whole crop ready at the time had to be picked and thrown away.

The apricots next got my attention. I love apricots. These beautiful orange colored fruits are full of beta-carotene and fiber and are one of the first signs of summer. I found out from David from a farm in Sanger, California in Fresno County that apricot season only lasts for 7 weeks. His farm grows 6 different kinds including Red Ruby, Castlebright, Patterson, Queen Sweet, Royal Flame and Blenheim. He said his favorites are Royal Flame, Queen Sweet and Blenheim. After tasting some of the the delicious Royal Flame samples I am looking forward to his other favorites.

And then I was in peach and nectarine heaven as I sampled my way through the farmer’s market. David didn’t have to tempt me much with his aromatic samples of Saturn white peaches, which are his favorite. Another booth from a farm in Hickman featured White Lady peaches. Corona said his favorite, the O’Henry freestone, will be ripening soon. I was amazed to learn that this farm grows 100 different varieties of peach and nectarine. His favorite nectarine? Not surprisingly, it’s the Red Top, a yellow fleshed nectarine and the Arctic Rose, the white variety he just happened to have ready with samples available.

Pluots have always been one of my favorite fruits. They are second generation hybrids of plums and apricots although they closely resemble plums. According to UC Cooperative Extension in Sacramento County  pluots are one of the best choices for backyard trees. The flesh is unusually sweet and juicy with complex plum-apricot flavors and the skin in without the bitterness found in the skin of regular plums. I’ll be looking for Dapple Dandy and Flavor Grenade as the season professes.

After taste testing my way through the various booths I came away with way with probably too much fruit and vegetables to eat in one week but I’ll force myself with a huge smile on my face. When I look and smell all the luscious produce I bought maybe those 9 servings per day aren’t so much after all. Just so you know, nine servings translates to about 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day.

How to Design a Perennial Border

rhododendron_occidentale2.1600When I visit my best friend’s house I park next to the perennial border that lines her driveway. At any given time of year there is something blooming, flowers filling the air with fragrance and juicy apples hanging on the tree for picking later in the summertime. She has some California natives as well as traditional cottage garden plants all mixed in together. Originally from Illinois, she loves a garden filled with lush green and color but has designed the space with plants that can use less water than you would expect and still look spectacular.

What makes for a successful border? You see DIY articles in the gardening magazines showing lovely combinations with rules to follow but they always seem to be for a different climate or location. We often have borrowed scenery from the mixed woods and some of their ideas just don’t work well here. Here are some tips for planting a terrific perennial border in our neck of the woods.

Some of the key players in my friends perennial border are natives like Western azalea, kerria_japonica2hazelnut and flowering currant. These are large, woody shrubs that add height, texture and year round interest. They provide the backbone or structure to the border throughout the seasons and even in the winter. She also has a weeping bottlebrush which is evergreen and provides nectar for the hummingbirds as does the flowering currant. An apple tree and a persimmon tower over all the other plants creating a canopy for the shrubs, herbaceous perennials and groundcovers. You could also plant spirea, weigela, cornus and viburnums to provide structure to your border.

My friend’s border is planted so that there is something of interest every month during the growing season. The persimmon tree is the star of the late fall garden with bright orange fruit that hang like ornaments on the tree. In the spring I can’t take my eyes off the kerria japonica whose graceful shape is covered with double golden, pom pom shaped flowers. The vivid, new foliage of the Rose Glow barberry complements the stand of Pacific coast iris with similar cream and burgundy flowers blooming next to it.  Under the bottlebrush a sweep of billbergia nutans or Queen’s Tears is flowering with those exotic looking, drooping flower clusters. They make a great groundcover under the tree and also are long lasting in a vase.

ompholodes2.1600Mid-sized filler plants that thrive in this border include Hot Lips salvia, daylilies and polemonium to name just a few. Daffodils and tulips have naturalized throughout the space. Groundcovers grow thickly to shade the soil and prevent precious moisture evaporation.  Lamb’s ears like their spot under the flowering currant and the omphalodes have spread throughout the border. This little plant looks and blooms like the forget-me-not but the delicate deep blue flowers don’t produce those sticky seeds that plague both our socks and animal fur.

This border get morning sun and mid-afternoon sun until about 3pm. If you have a situation that calls for all sun lovers you could try asters, shasta daisy, grasses, coreopsis, achillea, echinacea, gaillardia, sedum, kniphofia, lavender, liatris and rudbeckia.  Perennials that work well to attract butterflies and hummingbirds include monarda and my personal favorite, cardinal flower.  Both have long, tubular flowers in bright colors such as red, orange and yellow. it’s easy to have the birds and butterflies coming all season when you plant perennials with overlapping bloom times.

Perhaps some of these plant combinations would look great in your garden, too. Just don’t worry too much about the “rules” of perennial borders. Mix it up. You don’t want the border to look like stadium seating. The idea is to have fun and create a border that makes you happy.

What to do in the Garden in February

flowering_plum.1024The unusually warm January weather has made the early flowering trees and shrubs bloom even earlier this year. Actually it’s not so unusual for us to have a warm streak around here in January. What is unusual is the prolonged dry and stable conditions we have encountered. The high pressure system that blocks our usual winter rains does not usually last more than 2-3 weeks even in the heart of the rainy season. The persistent ridge has not behaved in a typical manner. We can only hope the ridge breaks down in the next few months and brings us more than a smattering of rain here and there.  What should a gardener be doing in February?

Prune fruit trees. Smother overwintering eggs and insects by spraying with horticultural oil. quince_red.1280Combine your spray with lime-sulfur ( except on apricot trees ) or copper soap to kill fungal disease spores like the ones that cause peach-leaf curl. Spinosad has also been shown to supress fungal diseases. Do this when the buds swell but before they open. Do not spray 36 hours before rain in predicted. Be sure to spray the ground around each tree.

I recommend keeping winter pruning to a minimum and prune again in the summer time. Winter pruning is invigorating to fruit trees and there will be excessive vertical rebound growth, the witch’s broom-like riot of growth that emerges after a tree is given a haircut. Such growth is often dense and doesn’t bear much. A lot of the tree’s stored energy issued to produce all these unwanted branches, leaving much less for the production of fruit.

quince_red-closeup.1280Due to our unusual weather some low-chill fruit tree varieties like Fuji apples, many apricots, peaches, nectarines and pears such as Comice and Seckel, might break bud and flower earlier because of the winter freeze and then warm weather. Plants that flower prematurely risk losing those flowers if night temps plunge but the long-term health of the plant probably won’t be affected.

Strawberries are oblivious to the weather. Blackberries and some raspberries are another story. Like some fruit trees, their chilling requirements may have already been met, their buds are swelling and they’re ready to take off. A rapid chill could freeze the buds and the canes might begin to die from the top down. But even if the entire cane dies, healthy new canes will emerge in spring. The early summer berry crop could be lost but fall berries will be fine.

Prune woody shrubs  To stimulate lush new growth on plants like Mexican bush sage and artemisia cut them down to within a few inches of the ground. Don’t use this approach on lavender or ceanothus, though. Lightly prune them after blooming and don’t cut back to bare wood inside the plant.  Prune fuchsias back by a third and remove dead, crossing branches and interior twiggy growth. Container fuchsias can be cut back to the pot rim. You won’t be able to know for sure, until perhaps early summer, if the freeze killed plants like Coprosma, Echium, Tibouchina or lantana so be patient.

Cut back hydrangeas stems that bloomed last year if you haven’t already done so and apply a soil acidifier if you want the flowers blue. Coffee grounds, pine needles, peat moss and cottonseed meal are kind to your soil and the beneficial soil microorganisms.

Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs and trees like lilacs, flowering cherries, plums and crabapples,  rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, weigela or spirea until after they flower.  Cut some branches during flowering to bring in for bouquets.

Prune roses and rake up any debris beneath the plant to eliminate overwintering fungal spores. Remove any old leaves that still cling to the plant. Spray the stems and bare ground with a combination organic horticultural oil and a dormant spray.

Prune established perennials later in the month if you might get frost that could damage new foliage. Giving your maiden hair ferns a haircut now allows the new growth to come out fresh. Prune winter damaged fronds from your other ferns.

Divide perennials before new growth starts. Agapanthus, asters, coreopsis, daylilies, shasta daisy and liriope are plants that tend to become overcrowded and benefit from dividing.

Mother Nature knows how to adjust to changes in the weather- slowing down when it’s really cold and catching up when it’s mild.

Bare Root Fruit Trees – Part II

Easter_Buerre_pearGrowing fruit in your garden or home orchard may be even more important in the future than ever before. The lack of rainfall last year and this winter will probably raise the price of fruit at the market. If the water farmers rely on is rationed during this years growing season, fruit production will also suffer. You can start growing your own fruit by planting a bare root tree now and this is how to do it. It only takes a few years for a young tree to start producing. By using lots of mulch and perhaps installing a laundry to landscape gray water system, trees require a fraction of the water as other landscaping.  Just imagine eating fruit off your own trees.

One of the primary advantages of bare root plants is that they tend to have an extensive, well developed root system as a result of being allowed to develop normally in the ground. They are dug while dormant. When the trees are handled well the root system is left intact and the tree has a better chance of rooting well and surviving when planted.   Bare roots don’t have to adapt to any differences between container soil and the garden soil.  Bare root trees are also less expensive to ship because they have no soil on the roots making them much lighter and easier to handle.

Shop for your plants in January or February while they are still dormant.  Once leaves emerge Janice_Seedless_Kadota_figor flower buds start to swell tree roots have already started growing. You want your tree to start developing their new, permanent roots in their permanent home. Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums and cherries are going to start waking up first so they are best put in the ground soon. Fruit trees like pears and apples wake up later so you can wait a bit longer to plant those varieties.

With this in mind be wary of spring sale bare root stock.  Also trees in packages may have had their roots pruned to fit inside or the packaging material may have dried out or become soggy.  Better to see the roots for yourself before you bring your new addition home.

What is the proper way to plant a bare root tree? Select a spot with at least 6 hours or more of summer sun. To test for drainage if you have heavy soil, dig a hole about a foot deep. Keep the organic top soil from the top of the hole separate from the soil you dig out from the bottom of the hole. Fill the hole with water. If the water drains within 3-4 hours, fill the hole again. If it takes longer than 3-4 hours to drain on either filling you will either have to find another spot,  build a raised bed or berm or plant in containers.

If you are happy with your location, dig the planting hole 24″ wide x 24″ deep again keeping the organic matter separate from the sub soil. Ultimately, trees must grow in the surrounding soil. Don’t amend your soil unless it is very sandy. If you amend the slow draining native soil around the tree the hole will just fill with water killing the tree. Adding organic amendment to extremely sandy soils, however, can help retain moisture in the root zone.

Place your tree in the hole and start filling in around the roots with the sub soil first, then the organic top soil. Wiggle your tree as you fill in around it to settle the soil. Tamp down the soil lightly with your foot when the hole is half filled and then top off the hole with the organic top soil.  Stake the tree low and loose for the first couple of years. You want to keep the root zone stable in the wind while it is becoming established but allow the top of the trunk and branches to move with the wind. They will grow much thicker faster. Water in well and again the next day. You should not need to water again until the tree there is new growth of several inches.

Prune the central leader and branches of your new tree 1/3 to 1/2 to a plump bud facing the direction you would like the new growth to grow. Mulching is especially important to bring back the beneficial organisms in the soil. Bioactivity reduces fertilizer requirements. Mulching keeps the ground cooler in the summer and retains moisture. After your tree is established you can fertilize with an organic fertilizer. Keeping the nitrogen low but the phosphorus and potassium higher will help control the size of the tree making it easier to harvest that delicious fruit.

This year I have my eye on an heirloom French butter pear called Easter Beurre that ripens in December with tender, sweet, melting flesh. Also I want to try the Janice Seedless Kadota fig with it’s incredibly sweet flavor. It’s said to have better flavor than Black Mission. I think they should have named this fairly new fig after me spelling it Janis but it’s too late now.

Don’t miss the opportunity to add a fruit tree to your garden this winter.

Bare Root Fruit Trees – Part 1

bare_root_fruit_treesIt’s bare root season again. There’s something magical about a small leafless tree with bare roots that will produce mouth-watering fruit when it grows up. Even ornamental shade trees, flowering shrubs like lilacs and vines like wisteria start out looking like twigs. Buying a new addition for your garden or home orchard in bare root form is economical. They establish quickly and are easy to plant. Every year there are more types available including delicious time honored heirloom varieties as well as modern favorites. It’ll be hard for me to decide which ones I’ll recommend for edible gardens I design this year.

A visit to Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond has me inspired. They specialize in edible plants and trees as well as all things related to harvesting and preserving them.  Renee was eager to share with me her favorite fruit tree varieties.  Many of these delicious heirlooms are locally grown here in the Santa Cruz Mountains by Tierra Madre Farms who use organic farming practices to keep the trees and the soil healthy. I like the idea that this small farm is dedicated to promoting and preserving our world’s crop diversity.

When May rolls around I’ll be anxiously awaiting the first cherries, apricots and peaches. Then the early nectarines arrive, sweet and juicy followed by the plums that ripen next. Later in the summer apples, figs and pears make their debut as well as late ripening plums and peaches. With a little planning you can have fresh fruit 7 months of the year.

I’d never heard of some of the bare root heirloom varieties I saw buried in tubs of sawdust so I did a little research to find out what all the fuss was about. Why had they passed the test of time and then disappeared off our store shelves? By growing your own fruit you’re not at the mercy of mechanical harvesters and shipping practices. You can grow fruit and harvest it when the time is right. Homegrown fruit is a world apart from agribusiness.

Who doesn’t look forward to the first cherries of the season? Plant an Early Purple Guigne cherry and you’ll be the envy of the neighborhood. This heirloom has been grown in this country since the early 1800’s and figured in a court case in San Jose in 1884. Seems a Mr. Bassford  bought 300 of these bare root trees in December of 1897. When they fruited several years later he found that the cherries were quite different from the variety which he had paid for. Court records show that he claimed the cherries were inferior in size and appearance to the Early Purple Guigne that he had wanted and were nearly valueless to him on the market. He sued but lost his case after testimony revealed and Judge Spencer ruled that the name Early Purple Guigne applied to different types of cherries in different localities and the original bare root trees were not fraudulently sold.

Another early ripening cherry to try is the classic Governor Wood which produces beautiful sweet and juicy, golden-yellow fruit with a red blush. Introduced in 1842 this cherry is still prized for its abundant crop of delicious fruit. How about a sour cherry like Montmorency? This heirloom dates back to 300 B.C. but it was the French colonist who first planted cherry pits along the Saint Lawrence River in the 1600’s. Michigan produces over 90,000 tons of this bright red cherry with yellow flesh and clear juice.

Here’s a win-win growing tip for cherry trees.  Birds love cherries as much as we do but if you prune your tree when young so it branches low on the trunk, you can harvest the lower cherries for yourself and let the birds take the fruit from the upper branches.

Apricots also ripen early and heirloom varieties that I recommend are the classic Blenheim and one Oldmixon_Free_peachcalled Hemskirk which is considered one of the very best apricot varieties with bright orange, rich and juicy flesh. An excellent heirloom peach to consider is the Oldmixon Free. in 1807 cuttings of this peach were sent to Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. It’s stunningly beautiful while in bloom and the juice of Oldmixon Free peach is candy sweet.

What fruit tree varieties can you grow here in the mountains? Well, almost everything. Most of us get 700-900 chilling hours per winter.  What does that mean?  Well, many fruit trees, lilacs, and peonies need a  certain number of hours during dormancy where the temperature is 45 degrees or less.  You can give the plant more cold in the winter and it’ll like that just fine but not less.  Those in coastal Santa Cruz can grow Fuji apples as they require only 300 hours of chilling but not Red Delicious.  We can grow both.

Next week I’ll tell you about more luscious tasting plum, apple, fig and pear varieties you’ll want to grow. I’ll also give you tips on how and where to plant your new tree.

The Best Bareroot Varieties for your Garden

Imagine biting into that first apricot of the season. The juicy, sweet flesh the color of an orange sunset. Maybe a rich dark burgundy plum, sweet but slightly tart, makes you think of those summers when you picked them off the tree in your parents backyard. And then there are cherries, pears ,apples, peaches and nectarines to look forward to. Now is the perfect time to plant some of your favorite fruit trees while they are available in bare root.

plumsGrowing fruit trees in the backyard has come a long way in recent years. Even in season those organic peaches from the farmer's market are expensive when you load up a big bag 'cause you just have to have a couple of each variety after trying the samples. Starting a home orchard or adding to your own edibles during bare root season is the way to go.

With a little planning you can have a prolonged harvest of tree-ripe fruit from a small space. Maximize the length of harvest by choosing varieties with different ripening times. Then train those fruit trees to stay small by pruning them in summer (winter pruning tends to invigorate trees), plant them close together or you can even plant several in the same hole. Small trees yield crops of manageable size and are much easier to spray, thin, prune, net and harvest than large trees.

The hard part is choosing which will be your next fruit tree. I've talked to several experts about their favorites. Here's what they told me.

Orin Martin of UCSC Farm and Garden loves apples. His highest praise goes to Cox's Orange Pippin, Golden Delicious, American Golden Russet and Mutsu. Plant these varieties and you could be eating apples from August through October. Did you know that at one time in American history russet apples were the most desired and wages were actually paid in cider made from russet apples?

Sheila from ProBuild told me she has seen a lot of interest in new introductions such a Pluerry, a hybrid she described as plum meets cherry. Bella Gold Peacotum has also been very popular since being introduced last year by Dave Wilson Nursery. This peach x apricot x plum fruit has slightly fuzzy skin like an apricot but with a mildly sweet flavor all its own.

Flavor Delight aprium has become a favorite because of its resistance to brown rot. It's 3/4 apricot, 1/4 plum with the clean tang of an apricot boosted by the sweetness of a plum. This variety is also recommended by Orin Martin.

Spice Zee Nectaplum is another hybrid that is getting a lot of buzz. I've heard it described as being "just about the tastiest fruit… ever eaten- very sweet, with an indescribably rich taste and aroma".  Being a gorgeous tree with deep red leaves in the spring that gradually become a dark green by mid-summer makes it ornamental in the garden as well.

Chris and Dave from Mountain Feed like many of the heirloom fruit trees. If a variety is older than 50 years it is classified as an heirloom. Does that apply to people, too? In addition to apples, Chris told me about his favorite pear, Belle Lucrative, which he described as an amazing French butter pear. This classic variety of 19th century France has a juicy, syrupy melting texture.

Plums are also high on his list of favorites. Luther Burbank varieties such as Elephant plums_on_the_treeHeart, Beauty, Inca and the ever-popular Santa Rosa are easy to grow and need very little care once established.

Bare root trees need to be planted while they are still dormant. Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums and cherries are going to start waking up first so they are best put into the ground soon. You want your tree to start developing its new permanent roots in its permanent home. Fruit tree like pears and apples will be dormant for a while longer so you can wait a bit longer to plant them.

Take advantage of bare root season to add more edibles to your landscape. A smart design can make your garden look beautiful while feeding your family.
 

Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon

Hidden Garden in Bonny Doon
Enter the Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon with me as I preview several gardens that will be featured on the tour this coming weekend.  While some of our gardens have a few areas with a "wow factor" , the gardens I was privileged to visit have this element at every turn. I was amazed, impressed and truly honored to spend time in each of them.

First stop was a garden that took my breath away. Looking past the lush lawn, the view takes in all of Monterey Bay. It wasn't always this way, the owner explained. When she moved to the property in 1981, she didn't even know there was an ocean view. It was only after some judicious pruning that this stunning view was revealed.

We  ambled through the many paths that took us up close and personal with perennial beds overflowing with blooming iris, spirea, weigela, succulents, hardy geraniums, coprosma and coleonema to name just a few.

Rabbits are an ongoing problem in this garden. Seems they love her Angelina sedum, coprosma, and Rose Campion as much as she does. Little 12" tall fences surround several of the beds which looks comical but apparently works as the rabbits don't like to jump over them.

Stained urbanite has been stacked by the owner to make short retaining walls and the look is quite classy blending in the flagstone and gravel paths. She explained how easy it was to stain the broken concrete from the old driveway by slapping on some concrete stain. "Piece of cake", she told me.

Other flower beds she edged with Sonoma fieldstone, stacking them herself. At every turn you can see the personal touches that make a garden unique. An old rusty mailbox was tucked into one of the beds overflowing with blooming pansies and million bells calibrachoa.  I loved this garden.

A garden in Bonny Doon
Next stop was another garden 30 years in the making. You won't believe the "before" pictures when you see this garden now. I could barely see the potential in the old pictures but the owner could and started to build up the rock hard soil bed by bed. After many years she has created  an organic garden full of flowering rhododendron, roses, viburnum, herbs, vegetables, citrus, apples and a 5 year old  Staghorn fern that measures 4 ft across.

The owner explained that deer are not a problem because they won't jump the irregular picket fence. Seems the wide pickets confuse their eyesight. Unfortunately, the gophers have decided recently that after 14 years, her camellias are now on the menu and she has lost almost all of the original 40 in the past year. Instead of lamenting her loss, she sees it as an opportunity to add new plants. She has the optimism that all gardeners possess.

Chickadees nested in a box attached to the porch. Garter snakes and alligator lizards patrol the flower beds. A bathtub, sunk into the earth serves as "the poor man's hot tub". Old metal chairs are planted with flowers and ferns and other found garden art is sprinkled generously though out the garden. This is the garden of an artist whose studio is nestled back among the trees. At every turn you feel the peacefulness of this wonderful place. This is a garden to experience not just view.

Flagstone paths in Bonny Doon
The last garden I was lucky enough to preview, was an asphalt driveway just 6 short years ago. There are occasional unplanted spots that still show asphalt. What a transformation. With the help of lots of top soil and an auger this gardener has created a spectacular space.  "Everything grows like crazy here", she explained.

The front garden is open to deer and is planted with echium, leucospermum, arctotis, barberry, thyme, rosemary and New Zealand flax. One of her favorite plants is a huge variegated holly that buzzed so loudly with bees I thought the electrical line coming into the house was making all the racket.

In the back, a small orchard edged the fence. Blooming lilacs by the deck heavily scented the air. Succulents intermingle with peony, erysimum and gaura. This gardener explained she " she is one of those people who buys whatever she likes and then finds a place for it". Having had previous experience growing grapes and olives in Sonoma, she is a hands-on gardener who does it all herself. She's a self-described  "drip queen".

A ceramic artist, her sculptures are focal points though out the garden. There is a lot of other garden art in this garden, too.

Where do these gardeners find the garden art, water features and other items that give their gardens that personal touch? One explained, she is always on the lookout for estate sales as she drives around or sees advertised in the paper. "That's were you can really find the treasures", she explained. "Little old ladies have some great plants and other wonderful finds in the back of the garden".

The Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon Tour takes place Saturday and Sunday, May 19th and 20th. Don't miss it.
 

February To-Do’s for the Santa Cruz Mountains

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Seems to me that I'm still waiting for winter to start. I look hopefully each week at the weather forecast hoping to see a storm developing. The birds in my garden are already starting to pair up, however, and call to each other. They know  a new season has begun. So, as promised, at the beginning of each month, here's your to-do list of what you should be doing in the garden.

Each year the weather is a little different requiring some tasks to be done earlier in the month when it's been a warm winter while giving you a little extra time when it's been cold. This year we've experienced very cold nights since December so plants are still mostly dormant but spring is coming. Be prepared.

Cut back woody shrubs. To stimulate lush new growth on plants like Mexican bush sage, artemisia and butterfly bush cut back to within a few inches of the ground. Don't use this approach on lavender or ceanothus – only lightly prune them after blooming. Prune frost  damaged shrubs if you can tell how far down the die back goes otherwise wait until growth starts in the spring. Prune fuchsias back by a third and remove dead, crossing branches and interior twiggy growth. Container fuchsias can be cut back to the pot rim. Revitalize overgrown or leggy hedges by cutting back plants just before the flush of new spring growth.

Cut back ornamental grasses to within 3-6" of the ground. If  you get very heavy frost in your yard wait until the end of the month. Grass-like plants like Japanese forest grass should have all the old blades pruned off, too. You can divide them, if needed, after pruning to increase the number of plants you have.

Divide perennials before new growth starts. Agapanthus, asters, coreopsis, daylilies, shasta daisy and liriope are plants that tend to become overcrowded and benefit from dividing.

Prune established perennials later in the month if you get frost that may damage new foliage. Giving your maiden hair ferns a haircut now allows the new growth to come out fresh. Prune winter damaged fronds from your other ferns.

Begin sowing seeds of cool season vegetables outdoors. If it's been raining, allow the ground to dry out for several days before working the soil. Plant seeds of beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, peas, spinach, arugula, chives kale and parley directly in the ground. Later in the month start broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. You can also plant starts of many of these vegetables and that stir fry will be on your table even sooner. Indoors, start seeds of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant so they will be ready to transplant outdoors in 8 weeks when danger of frost is past and the soil has started to warm up.

Fertilize perennials, shrubs and trees their first dose of organic all-purpose fertilizer for the season. Wait to feed azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons until the last flower buds start to open. Roses will get a high nitrogen fertilizer to give foliage a boost and later next month, I'll feed with a high phosphorus fertilizer to encourage blooms.

Feed chelated iron to azaleas, citrus and gardenias to green up their leaves. Cool soil makes the leaves of these plants yellow this time of year.  

Apply the last application of dormant spray. Spray with horticultural oil, lime sulfur, liquid sulfur or copper dormant spray. Do not spray 36 hours before rain is predicted. Be sure to spray the ground around each tree.
 

Bare Root for the Santa Cruz Mountains

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   Every year about this time I get excited about what fruit trees I'm going to recommend for those who want to start a home orchard or add to the edible garden. Will this be the year you get a Cox's Orange Pippin apple or an American Golden Russet? Maybe a oldie but goodie like a Golden Delicious apple will become the treasure of your family but then again there's the Mutsu, that favorite of connoisseurs, that might get the nod.

Here's why these classic apple varieties are my favorites.

Cox's Orange Pippin is an old favorite desert apple: firm but juicy with a sweet, rich flavor that's not tart. This apple has a distinctive aroma that you won't forget. The skin is unusual being orange red to bright red over yellow. Ripening in mid-late August it's a good apple for baking or eating fresh. Cox's Orange Pippin apples are self fruitful.

American Golden Russet apple is one of the great family orchard apples of the 19th century. Crisp, aromatic, slightly acidic with creamy yellow flesh that has great flavor and a legendary sugary juice. Fruit ripens in early October but will hang on the tree until frost. Russets don't need refrigeration after harvest. If kept cool they will keep until March or April. You can also dehydrate them. This tree is vigorous and has good disease resistance. Originating in New York sometime in the 1700's it has remained a favorite ever since.

Everybody is familiar with the Golden Delicious apple. It's popularity is well earned as it's both a good cooking apple as well as a great eating apple. I like them both slightly green and fully ripened. It's a reliable producer and good pollenizer for other apple varieties that are not self fruitful.

Another favorite apple of mine is the Mutsu. Very large, crisp and flavorful they ripen in late September into October. Pick this apple when green or wait until it is partly yellow. This large vigorous tree resists powdery mildew. They require a pollenizer such as Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala or Red Delicious.

No matter what  kind of fruit  you favor, be it apricot, apple, pear, cherry, fig or anything else, now is the time to shop for bare root  fruit trees  while they are still dormant.  Once leaves emerge or flower buds start to swell your tree or shrub's roots have already started growing and they won't settle in as well.  

Bare root plants are carefully dug up at growing grounds with their roots bare, meaning that most of the dirt around the roots has been removed.   One of the largest growers harvests 2 million bare root plants in a 30 day period, usually in December.

One of the primary advantages of bare root plants is that they tend to have an extensive, well developed root system as a result of being allowed to develop normally.  When the trees are handled well, the root system is left intact, and the tree, shrub, vine or berry will have a better chance of rooting well and surviving when planted.   Bare roots don't have to adapt to any differences between container soil and your garden's.

What fruit tree varieties do well here in the mountains? Well, almost everything. We have well over 500 chilling hours per winter. Most of us get 700-900 hours. What does that mean? Many fruit trees, lilacs, and peonies need a certain number of hours during dormancy when the temperature is 45 degrees or less. You can give a plant more cold in the winter and it'll like that just fine.  But fewer hours will hurt your results. Those in Santa Cruz near the coast can grow Fuji apples, for instance, but not Red Delicious. In the mountains, we can grow both.

Next week I'll cover how to plant your new bare root tree, shrub or berry.
 

Happy New Year 2012

Another year has passed in the garden and this is what I've learned.

Frozen Cascade Falls, South Tahoe
  • Have a plan for how you want to use your garden. This is as important as selecting the right plants for each garden room. Allowing some empty places for new plants, transplants or garden art, makes your garden your own. Add whatever  makes you happy and your heart to soar when you're in your garden.
  • Pay attention to the size that a plant will attain. This will save lots of headaches later.
  • Pruning is free therapy. What better way is there to feel good than to improve the life of a plant?
  • Your garden journal chronicles your life as well as what happens in the garden. Making frequent entries, no matter how short, will make you smile when you read it again at the end of the year. Journal your successes and failures, making notes of plants that performed well and ideas to try next year.
  • Enjoy a beverage of some kind often in your garden. That clean up or transplanting will be there tomorrow.
  • Weed regularly. The 20 minutes you spend every week or so pulling or hoeing will save hours of back bending work later.
  • You, fellow gardeners, are unique. I can't imagine any group of people more diverse and feisty and independent than gardeners. Yet we have such a connection. We love and are fascinated with nature. We find our deepest satisfaction in coaxing plants from the earth, in nurturing their growth. We are enduring pragmatists.
  • Edible gardening offers more than just vegetables and fruit trees that feed the body. They are better than a whole medicine cabinet of pills.
  • Accept a few holes in a plant: Unless it is being devoured, share a little with other creatures.

Happy New Year 2012 from The Mountain Gardener

 

August to-do’s

In case you haven’t been keeping track, summer is winding down. True we will be enjoying great weather for months to come but nature uses daylight hours to mark its calendar. And even though I’m busy visiting reader’s gardens, camping, hiking and painting there are some tasks I need to in my own garden.

Around this time of year, annual and perennials in containers and hanging baskets can become leggy with flowers only at the end of long branches. At the same time, overly rambunctious growers can overwhelm neighboring plants, crowding or even suffocating them for lack of light and air.

Renew them by cutting back about half of the stems 2/3rds of the way to the base. When those stems grow back and begin to bloom in about two weeks, cut back the remaining stems the same way. While you’re at it, cut back aggressive growers as far as necessary to give surrounding plants space for healthy growth. Fertilize with a soluble plant food to keep them blooming through October.

Deadhead flowering annuals and perennials in the ground as often as you possibly can. Annuals like zinnias and cosmos will stop blooming if you allow them to go to seed. The same is true of repeat blooming perennials like dahlia, scabiosa, marguerites and lantana.

These plants know they’re on this earth to reproduce. If they get a chance to set seed, the show’s over- they’ve raised their family. Try to remove fading flowers regularly and you’ll be amply rewarded.

Fertilize shrubs lightly one last time in August or September if you haven’t already done so this month. All shrubs, especially broad-leaved evergreens such as rhododendron, pieris, camellia, hebe, need to calm down, stop growing and harden off to get ready for the winter cold. Some plants have already set next year’s buds.

Roses especially appreciate a bit of fertilizer now, encouraging them to bloom another round in September and October. To keep them blooming make a habit of pinching and pruning off old flowers. Always cut back to an outward facing branchlet with five leaves. There are hormones there that will cause a new rose to grow much sooner than if you cut to one with only three leaves.

Here are more to-do’s for late August for this area:

Prune fruit trees that have already finished fruiting. Wait to prune others until after harvest, although many see summer pruning as a way to thin an overabundant crop.  Summer pruning opens the tree to light, producing bigger, healthier fruit. Overall summer pruning will slow the growth of a tree by removing energy wasting water sprouts, helping keep dwarf trees a manageable size.

Sow root veggies such as beets, carrots. leeks, onions and parsnips directly in the ground and start germinating cool-season veggies- broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, and spinach -so they are ready to plant in mid-September.

Now that you’ve taken care of your chores reward yourself by adding perennials to your garden for color in late summer through fall. Good choices include aster, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, gaillardia, gaura, Japanese anemone, echinacea, rudbeckia, Russian sage, scabiosa, Mexican marigold, verbena ad yarrow.
 
Blooming shrubs  that will flower well into fall are abutilon, blue hibiscus, butterfly bus, cape fuchsia, plumbago, lavatera, princess flower and salvia.

A Private Arboretum in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Recently I had the honor to tour a remarkable garden in Scotts Valley. This horticulturalist calls himself a hillbilly gardener but he is no such thing. Some of his plants come from as far away as Oklahoma, Texas and Hawaii. What a thrill to see spring growth emerge from the new leaves of his unusual trees, flowering shrubs and perennials.

Our first stop was to admire his large collection of echium candicans or Pride of Madeira. These stately shrubs reach 5-6 ft tall and 6-10 ft wide so they make quite a show when the huge flower clusters are in full bloom. Being deer resistant and drought tolerant they are perfect for our mountain environment. The color of the spikes varied from pink to lilac, sapphire blue and purple. This gardener is resourceful. He got many of his seedlings along Hwy 17 where they had reseeded after being used as brush to stabilize the slopes after the ’89 earthquake. The bees were really happy visiting the hundreds of blossoms on the beautiful spring day that I was there.

Tucked under wild cherry trees collected in Texas, are second generation iris of dark purple and pure yellow. Originally from his grandmother’s garden in Virginia, these iris are descendants from a light blue variety and a pale yellowish-beige douglas iris.

This extraordinary gardener also has a huge wild rose from Missouri covered now with fragrant white flowers, a wild olive from Texas and a sand plum from Oklahoma.  There is a yucca about 4 ft tall that he and his brother started as cuttings when they were teenagers in Port Arthur, Texas. He is also the proud father of a couple of bald cypress complete with "knees". This tree of southern swamps and other low nutrient areas grows woody projections above the ground or water level to act as a structural support and stabilizer allowing them to resist very strong winds. Even hurricanes rarely overturn them.

A beautiful Canary Island palm, planted from a seedling in 1996 that he had nurtured in a gallon can, is now over 9 ft tall.  Akebia vines grow up oak trees, passiflora and white wisteria vines up redwoods, a yellow banksia rose rambles up into a madrone and madevillea laxa is happy growing up an oak, too. A willow-leafed hakea salicifolia, indigenous to New South Wales and Queensland, graces his entry with its tiny, white fragrant flowers.

Other trees this gardener loves include Causarina, native also to Australia, sugar pine, incense cedar, Western red cedar, deodar cedar, staghorn sumac and a maytens tree.  His mother in Pennsylvania taught him to plant his first garden at age 4 and he cherishes his Eastern white pines, pinus stroblis, and giant sequoias, three of which he grew from seed.

And I can’t forget his collection of salvias. The red flowers spike of salvia confertiflora bloom year round. The beautiful salvia mexicana will soon to be covered with rich, blue flowers. He also grows salvia chiapensis and a salvia-like plant native to Hawaii called salvia lepechinia. This deliciously scented plant will be covered soon with reddish lavender lipstick-like flowers adored by hummingbirds like all the salvias.

A new greenhouse where he has a small collection of orchids will soon house new seedlings that are sprouting in a germination station under lights. Of the many Hawaiian seeds he has collected are maile, a flowering plant that is probably the oldest and most popular material used in leis by early Hawaiians, milo- a chocolate and malt powder popular in many parts of the world, gossypium tomentosum, coral vines, hibiscus and the koa tree.

There were hundreds more cool plants I learned about and got to admire that day. I’ll be visiting this garden again and again for the next round of wonders. it’s a marvel.

 

Warm Spells during the Winter

Everyone’s talking about the wonderful weather we’ve been enjoying the past few weeks. Spring is in the air. Or is it? Whether you like to putter in the garden or be out hiking, the warblers are calling to you. But is it unusual to have warm weather around here in January? Not at all. Just last year before the rains started we had several weeks of Caribbean-like weather. Back in 2009 during the first two weeks of January temps were in the 70’s and low 80’s. Don’t worry. Mother Nature knows how to adjust to changes in the weather- slowing down when it’s really cold and catching up when it’s mild.

Most plants will acclimate to a gradual return to more normal cooler late winter temperatures. We’re lucky here that we don’t get snow ’cause that’s when nature can really deliver a wallop to tender new growth and buds. If winter remains mild plants may bloom a little earlier. Lilacs, apples and grapes, for example,may flower a week earlier. Weeds can really become aggressive and pests and diseases that were held in check by the cold may become more of a problem. Lifestyles of beneficial insects may get out of sinc with the pests they help control.

Plants make the most of warmer weather. Lawns and other groundcovers, for instance, benefit from warm temperatures in winter. Root growth is encouraged in existing areas and young seedlings  planted last fall become established quicker. If temperatures return to winter norms, grasses will "harden off" and be fine in spring.

Fruit trees usually have no problems with a warm streak. A prolonged warm spell could cause low-chill varieties of peaches, plums and cherries to break bud and flower but these conditions are rare.

It’s a similar story for ornamental trees and shrubs. "Most woody plants have evolved to deal with a brief spell of unseasonably warm weather," says Nina Bassuk, woody plant specialist and director of the Urban Horticulture Institute. Buds won’t open during the first warm spell and then get killed by a return to cold temperatures because buds require a period of cold temperatures to break dormancy. Only some may begin to flower prematurely and risk losing those flowers but the long-term health of most plants probably won’t be affected.

Strawberries are oblivious to the weather. Blackberries and some raspberries are another story. Like some fruit trees, their chilling requirements may have already been met, their buds are swelling and they’re ready to take off. A rapid chill could freeze the buds and canes begin to die from the top down. But even if the entire cane dies, healthy new canes will emerge in spring. The early summer berry crop could be lost but fall berries will be fine.

Most bulbs and perennial flowers should come through a warm spell just fine. The buds of these plants are at or below ground level and often protected further by mulch or leaves. Even if temps return for below freezing, late winter cleanup of old stems will get rid of any winter dieback.

Enjoy this hint of spring. It won’t last for long.
 

Healthy Edibles to Grow from Bare Root

Make this the year you take advantage of planting blueberries, grapes, strawberries,  peaches, cherries and apples from bare-root stock. These crops are .

Because of all the rains that fell in December, the growers are late getting into their fields to dig up the 2 million bare-root plants they harvest and deliver to your local nursery. The Santa Cruz Mountains stay cooler for a longer period in the winter, allowing dormant trees, shrubs and vines to be available to the home gardener in bare root form throughout February, too. The early bird gets the worm as far as best selection goes so take a look around your property and decide which yummy fruit and berry you’ll be adding to your garden.

I love blueberries. They are low in calories and so good for you. They contain the highest concentration of antioxidants of all fresh fruit. They have lots of vitamins and help boost your immune system. The list or benefits goes on and on. On top of all that, they make beautiful hedges with stunning fall color.

One variety I’m dying to try is a hybrid from Australia called Brigitta.  This Northern highbush variety is sweet yet slightly tart. The grower says they possess an amazing shelf. They’ve stored this blueberry for over a month in the refrigerator and they were still crisp with a great taste. The berry is medium to large and ripens late in the season. The bush is a fast grower to 4-6 feet with deep green foliage and bronze tinted new growth. It is semi-self fertile but produces more  planted alongside Bluecrop. Try planting them each in their own wine barrel where you can control the soil, watering and sun exposure.

Apples-you know the saying "one a day keeps the doctor away". There are lots of apple varieties to choose from.  Honeycrisp is a large, scarlet over yellow apple with a well-balanced sweet tart flavor. The texture is similar to a crisp watermelon or Asian pear and is very juicy. They ripen in late September.

Another crisp apple to grow is the Braeburn apple. The skin is green overlaid with orange-red while the flesh is firm, crisp and juicy. It is mildly sweet tart with an excellent flavor, is a heavy producer and stores well. It ripens October to early November.

Love biting into a juicy peach in the summertime? Try growing Santa Barbara, considered the best tasting peach for homeowners. Flesh is yellow, freestone and red near the pit. It has a melting texture, delightfully sweet, combined with the delicious peach flavor. Peaches are self-fertile. This variety requires only 300 hour of chill below 45 degrees so is good for warmer winter areas as well as the mountains.

Your favorite fruit are cherries but you don’t have much room for a big tree? Then the Compact Stella cherry is the tree for you. The fruit is firm, sweet and dark red with good flavor and texture. It’s excellent for eating, canning and preserves while being self fertile and a good pollinizer for all sweet cherries.

There are other edibles available now, too, like figs, pomegranate, persimmon, apricot, pears, plums, asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, grapes and blackberries. They all sounds delicious.
 

Time to Prune Roses, Fruit trees and Flowering Shrubs

I’ll be the first to admit it’s hard to bundle yourself up to go out and work in the garden on a cold winter day. Bright sunshine sure helps but still it’s not t-shirt weather yet. It helps to think how good that fresh air will feel, not to mention that working in the garden relieves stress. And think about all that great exercise you get without getting on the boring treadmill.

Depending on your weight and how vigorous you work, one hour of gardening can burn up about 272 calories. Transplant a shrub, and the number of calories burned could jump to an incredible 340 calories per hour. Just think of that extra helping of potatoes-au-gratin you had over the holidays.

There’s plenty to do this time of year. Neaten things up by removing rotting perennials and sweep the leaves and debris off the driveway and your roof. 

It’s time to prune fruit trees and smother overwintering eggs and insects by spraying with horticultural oil. Combine your spray with lime-sulfur ( except on apricot trees ) to kill fungal disease spores like the ones that cause peach-leaf curl.  has also been shown to supress fungal diseases.You’ll want to do this again when the buds swell but before they open ( about Valentine’s Day )

Control large vines like overgrown honeysuckle, pink jasmine,  morning glory, passion vine, potato vine and trumpet creeper by radically thinning or even cutting back low to the ground if they are a big, tangled mess. Wait until after flowering to heavily prune spring-blooming vines such as wisteria.

Pruning Roses
When buds along rose canes begin to swell, prune repeat flowering roses by removing spindly or diseased shoots and dead wood. Do this before they start leafing out which wastes plant energy. Cut back the remaining stems by about a third, cutting canes at a 45-degree angle just above an outward facing bud. Don’t worry whether your pruning job is perfect. Roses are super forgiving and you can trim them up again later. You want to produce lots of roses not just a few of exhibition size. Aim for a vase-shaped  bush with an open center.

Prune old garden roses that bloom once in the spring after flowering.
Climbing roses require little pruning. Cut out extra stems if there are too many and also cut back long established canes to about the place where they are slightly thicker than a pencil. Then cut each side stem down to several inches. This will cause the cane to flower along its complete length for a beautiful spring display.

If any old leaves still cling to the plant, remove them. Rake up any debris beneath the plant and discard to eliminate overwintering fungus spores. It’s a good idea to spray both the bare plant and the surrounding soil with a combination organic horticultural oil to smother overwintering insect eggs and a dormant spray like lime-sulfur to kill fungus spores. If you usually have a problem only with black spot you can use a mixture of 1 teaspoon baking soda with a few drops of light oil in 1 quart water and spraying every 7 to 10 days.  Thoroughly coat the trunk, branches and twigs.

Other tasks to do in the garden in January:

Cut back hydrangeas if you haven’t already done so. Apply soil sulfur, aluminum sulfate or other acidifier if you want to encourage blue flowers.

Cut back summer flowering deciduous shrubs and vines.  Don’t prune spring flowering varieties like lilac, flowering cherry, plum and crabapple, rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, weigela and spirea until after flowering or you can cut some during flowering to bring in cuttings for bouquets.
 

New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

Last year I was brave and published my New Year’s resolutions– at least those that pertain to the garden. It’s now the day of reckoning. Let’s see how I did and which ones I’ll  keep for 2011.   In the garden, as in life, simple changes can make a big difference over a long time. I’m adding a couple new ones that are important, too.

Learn something new every day. Whether it’s something new in the garden or elsewhere, keep learning. I’m starting to learn about local mushrooms. They come up in the most beautiful places. I’m looking forward to the Fungus Fair in January.
Enjoy the simple things. Laugh often. Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.  Everyday is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.


Of the 16 gardener’s resolutions I made last year I can honestly say I achieved half of them.

I did pay more attention to the size that plants grow and believed the tag when it said "spreading habit". But I also found that pruning shears are life savers  when you just have to have that new foliage plant that just came out.

I started making garden journal entries in February instead of January as I resolved. But then I tried to make up for it in March, May, June, October, November and December.  I missed 5 out of 12 months. I get a "C-".

I added more pollen-producing flowering plants to attract beneficial insects which kept the good guys around longer to eat the bad bugs. And I learned what quite a few of the good guys look like.  ( That counts as two resolutions )

I sat in my garden and enjoyed it, not jumping up to rearrange containers. (This one was easy)

I applied to get my little garden certified as a wildlife habitat  with the National Wildlife Federation by making sure I provided food sources, water, cover, places to raise young and used sustainable gardening techniques.

I fertilized my perennials a couple of times this year with organic compost and fertilizer instead of just once and boy were they happy. The trees and larger shrubs really only need a light dose once a year so I was good there.

I wore sunscreen everyday. (My doctor wants a hat, too. Maybe this year I’ll wear one.)

The other half of last year’s resolutions are being recycled as they’re still good ones:

I will not buy a new flower, shrub or tree until I have a plan for it in the garden.

I will sharpen and clean my garden tools so they look spiffy and work better.

I will start a worm bin with my kitchen scraps and a compost pile for leaves and plant debris. (I have so many raccoons it’s like a party out there at night but I’m going to come up with a critter-proof solution.)

I will weed regularly- not waiting until they’re so tall they swallow up my gardening tools when I lay them down.

I will accept a few holes in my plants but tour the garden regularly to identify if a problem is getting out of control and I need to break out an organic pesticide.

I will prune my maples, transplant my overgrown containers and divide my perennials when I’m supposed to.

I will plant more things to eat. Edibles anywhere in the garden feed the body and the soul. (This summer was so cold I didn’t have much luck in my partial shade.)

I will stop rationalizing my plant habit is better than gambling, clothes shopping or smoking.

I will do better to practice what I preach in this column.

Happy New Year in 2011 from The Mountain Gardener

Happy Holidays in the Santa Cruz Mountains

If my plants could talk they’d have a long list of requests for Christmas. A lot of people tell me they talk to their plants but I don’t. Hopefully we are in sync without any words spoken by either of us.  I  do know they have some needs and wants so here are few of what made it to their .

From the fruit trees:  All I want for Christmas are my two prunings per year, my two prunings per year, my two prunings per year. Gee, if I could have one each summer and winter, I’d produce lots of fruit each year. And Santa, I’d also like some nitrogen from composted manure or an organic fertilizer in March, then after I’ve set fruit in June and again after harvest. Also don’t forget to water me regularly and deeply during the dry months.

From the California native plants:  All I want for Christmas is a place in the landscape. Here in California we are blessed with thousands of plant species, many found nowhere else on Earth, that have evolved with our unique climates, soils and fauna. Renew and rediscover the value we provide to conservation and habitats. Plant some of us to connect you to the land. And remember we need water and pruning, too, just on our own schedule.

From the houseplants:  All I want for Christmas is a little light in the winter, not much fertilizer, if any and to dry out a bit between waterings. Also who likes cold drafts from the front door? Dust my leaves occasionally and don’t repot me during the winter and in return I’ll keep your indoor air cleaner and healthier.

From the birds in the garden: Please Santa, send me some berries to eat.  I like redtwig dogwood fruits and also elderberries, toyon, wax myrtle, mahonia and coffeeberries. My hummingbird friends would like some flowering currants, manzanita blossoms and any salvias you happen to have in the workshop.

From the perennials: All I want for Christmas is the right growing conditions for me. If I’m a sun lover don’t try to grow me under the trees and if I like it cool and moist put me where I’ll be happy winter and summer. I’ll thrive and bloom and be happy and healthy and you won’t waste valuable time and money. If I could talk I’d also ask for some fresh compost in the spring and a light haircut would be nice, too.

From the spiders among the plants: We’re in all healthy gardens and we’re good for them.  As important predators of pests we reduce insect damage on plants.  We eat more insects and other invertebrates annually than the weight of all humans combined. All we want for Christmas is a pesticide-free garden so we can do our work.

From me to you: All I want for Christmas is for everyone to have a Happy Holiday.

 

Progating Heirloom Veggies, Fruit Trees & Christmas trees

‘Tis the season. No, not that season but the time to propagate and increase the number or your plants. Maybe you want to save seed from your heirloom vegetables or start more shrubs inexpensively. How about getting more fruit trees or even trying your hand at starting your own Christmas tree?

Let’s start with saving seed. When your vegetables start to produce this summer, you may want to save some of the seed of plants that produced the best-tasting, earliest ripening fruits. These will be strains that are particularly adapted to our climate.

You can only save seed from open-pollinated varieties– those vegetables that are bee or wind pollinated. All . You cannot save seed from F1 hybrids as their unique traits, such as specific disease resistance and early maturity, are uniform only in the first generation of seed. Seed saved from hybrids they will not come true when replanted.

Hybrids have their place in the garden especially if you have a very short or cool season, not many hours of sunlight as you’d like or a serious nematode problem.

If you enjoy saving seed, it’s fun to identify your best plants to save and use every season. Become a backyard breeder and develop your own unique cultivars for your garden.

Propagating fruit trees involves more than saving seed because 99% of all seedling trees bear fruit inferior to that produced by the parent. It may be the same species but it is unlike that of the parent in flavor, color and date of ripening. To obtain a true-to-type fruit tree that is a clone of the parent tree, it is necessary to graft or bud on a desired rootstock. The graft wood, called a scion, should be collected in January so you have lots of time to ask the neighbor for a small, pencil-thin branch of their peach tree to add to yours or to get a branch grafted onto your tree that would pollinate your cherry, apple or whatever you might need. You can even graft different trees together if they are compatible such as an apricot on plum rootstock or almond on peach.

Mid-July to early September is the best time to propagate broadleaf evergreen shrubs. The growth flush is complete, the wood is firm and the leaves have matured. Using cuttings 3-6" long and rooting hormone they will root in 4-6 weeks. Ceanothus, manzanita and camellia are just a few of the shrubs that can be rooted this way.

And what about those visions of starting your own Christmas tree? It’s difficult to start a tree from a cuttings unless it’s a very fresh cut tree and the cutting is taken from currents seasons growth near the base of the plant. Most evergreen trees used for cut Christmas trees start their lives from seeds. These seedlings grow 1-2 ft in a year or two. After transplanting, they become 6 footers in 5-8 years. So if you are patient you can grow your own from one of those started seedlings. Doug fir, Scotch pine and Noble fir are popular varieties.

There are so many types of plants and methods to increase your collection. Perennials, houseplants, berries and grapes all lend themselves to propagation. I f you have a favorite plant or just want to increase your plants inexpensively there’s a way to do it.