Category Archives: bare root plants

Take Advantage of Bare Root Season

Take advantage of those rare breaks in the weather to get basic chores in the garden done. Who thought last fall we’d be wishing for less precipitation or at least that it would be spread out over a longer time? Looking back at National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) winter season predictions from last November, their best guess was that our La Nina condition was weak and drought was expected to persist in California. Let’s hope our record rainfall makes its way down into the aquifer.

What should a gardener be doing between rain storms?

bare root fruit trees displayed at Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond

Shop for bare root plants. If you want to add fruit trees or other edibles to the garden and the weather has interfered with your plans don’t delay. Shop for your plants now while they are still dormant. Once leaves emerge or flower buds start to swell tree roots have already started growing. You want your tree to start developing permanent roots in their new 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.

Don’t plant in heavy saturated soil with a high clay content, however. If your soil drains poorly it’s best to place your bare root tree at an angle in a trench, cover with soil and water in. Wait to plant until the soil is crumbly and friable with plenty of pore space. Digging in waterlogged clay soil is one of the worst things you can do for your soil’s health.

What’s the correct way to plant a bare root tree? According to research amending the soil is no longer recommended.  Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond has a great web site with all the information you need to get your new fruit trees off to a good start including pruning, staking, mulching and care as they mature.

Red Delicious apples

What fruit tree varieties can you grow here in the mountains? Well, almost everything. Most of us get 700-1200 chilling hours where the temperature is 45 degrees or less during the dormant season. You can find out how many hours of chilling your area gets by going online to www.getchill.net and use the WunderMap from Weather Underground. You can give a fruit tree more chilling in the winter but not less. Those in coastal Santa Cruz, for instance, can grow Fuji apples as they require only 300 hours of chilling but not Red Delicious. We can grow both.

Ginger Gold apples

What if you don’t get full sun where you’d like to grow fruit trees? Apples, pluots and plums are good choices for an area that gets some sun- at least 5 hours- every day during the growing season. The ideal is full sun but these trees will still set and ripen some fruit in partially shaded conditions. With peaches, nectarines or apricots it’s a different story. These fruits need hot sun to develop sweet, tasty fruit. Too little sun and they will not deliver anything close to what you have in mind.

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

Bare Root Fruit Trees- What, When and Why?

Autumnalis flowering cherry blooming in JanuaryAutumnalis flowering cherry blooming in January

I have an Autumnalis flowering cherry tree that blooms year round. The last blooming cycle started in late November and it’s still blooming now despite heavy rains. This tree came into my life 20 years ago as a bare root tree. We’re old friends. Now is the time to add ornamentals and edibles like fruit, nuts, berries and vegetables while they’re available in bare root form. They are easy to plant, economical and establish quickly.

Every year there are more fruit tree varieties available in bare root 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.

Several years ago Orin Martin, the manager, master orchardist, horticulturalist and

Apple varietyApple variety

teacher extraordinaire at UCSC Alan Chadwick garden visited a group of fellow landscape designers bringing with him a bag of his favorite apples. As he cut slices of each for us to sample his highest praise went to Cox’s Orange Pippen, Golden Delicious, American Golden Russet, McIntosh and Mutsu apples. 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?

Bare Root Fruit Trees in bins with sawdustBare Root Fruit Trees in bins with sawdust

If it’s peaches you crave, Renee of Mountain Feed & Farm Supply shared with me some peach leaf curl resistant varieties they carry. Listed by UC Integrated Integrated Pest Management Program they include Frost and the Q-1-8 white peach. The Frost is a medium-sized, freestone yellow peach with a delicious flavor. It has showy pink flowers in the spring. They ripen in July and require 700 hours of winter chill. The Q-1-8 peach ripens in July also. This white-fleshed, semi-freestone peach is sweet and juicy like Babcock and has showy blossoms in late spring. Peaches are self-fruitful and don’t require another peach to pollinize them.

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 chilling in the winter and that’s 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.

What if you don’t get full sun where you’d like to grow fruit trees? Apples, pluots and plums are good choices for an area that gets some sun- at least 5 hours- every day during the growing season. The ideal is full sun but these trees will still set and ripen some fruit in partially shaded conditions. With peaches, nectarines or apricots it’s a different story. These fruits need hot sun to develop sweet, tasty fruit. Too little sun and they will not deliver anything close to what you have in mind.

Shop for your plants in January or February while they are still dormant. Once leaves emerge or flower buds start to swell tree roots have already started growing. You want your tree to start developing new permanent roots in their final home. Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches,

Bartlett pearBartlett pear

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.

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.

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 and much less expensive than the Farmer’s Market.

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.
 

Bare Root for the Santa Cruz mountains – part deux

There are few things in life that are as optimistic as planting a fruit tree. Knowing your new apple tree might survive for 80 years and a pear tree up to 40 years makes your job as steward take on more importance. So it's a good idea to do some planning on where and how you plant your new addition.

First of all, consider how your soil drains. Many fruit trees are forgiving as long as they're not sitting for days at a time in water logged soil. Moist is fine but if you dig your hole, fill it with water and it doesn't drain in a day or less then consider planting on mounds. Cherries especially need good drainage with apricots being close behind.

Choose fruit trees that ripen at different times. You don't want so much fruit in July that you're begging people to take it or leaving it on their doorstep and running like the zucchini people. Some fruit trees need a pollenizer to bear fruit so keep this in mind and ask  when you buy your tee. These are just a few suggestions. Let your taste buds be your guide.  
 
Take a look around your property for spots where there is  enough sun in the growing season to make  your new plant  or tree happy. Don't worry if you don't have much sun in the winter time,  the plants are dormant then anyway. It's the growing season, from approximately April to September, when your site should get 5-6 hours minimum of sun.

How much space do you need? Trees come in different mature sizes. Room is not so much a factor as you can find dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties if need be. Nut trees are the exception and do require more space. There are fruit trees available also that have already been espaliered to grow flat against a fence or wall. Plus a fruit tree can serve double duty as a focal point or shade tree if it is limbed up enough to walk under.  Semi-Dwarf trees are 2/3 the size of a regular tree (15-20ft typically although you can prune a little in the summer to keep them shorter) .  This is the most popular size as pruning and harvesting are within reach of medium size ladders. There are many dwarf varieties of peaches, nectarines, apples, almonds, cherries also available that range in size from 6 ft. – 12 ft.

Selecting a more mature bareroot tree will give you fruit  sooner than one that has a trunk of only 1/2 inch across.  
Trunk caliper of 5/8 inch is a good size. If you are planting a home orchard it may be more economical to buy smaller sizes but you'll have to be patient for your first harvest. Dreaming about that row of flowering cherries or plums bordering the sides of your driveway?  You'll realize that vision sooner by going with the larger trees.
 
So you've chosen your dream tree, it's wrapped in a plastic bag to transport home without drying the roots, you've dug a hole large enough to accommodate the roots, amended the soil if necessary and pruned off any damaged roots. Now what? Find the graft at the tree's base and make sure when you fill in the hole with soil that the graft is above grade. Make a watering ring around the tree and flood it with water settling in the roots and eliminating air pockets. Don't water again until the soil is dry an inch or two down.  Winter rains may take care of this for you for a long time. Cherries and apricots need excellent drainage and may need to plant them on a mound to ensure this. If you can't plant your new tree, shrub, berry  or rose right away be sure to cover the roots with moist soil.

Only stake your new tree if you live in a windy area. A trunk will attain a larger diameter if it's allowed to move slighly in the wind. Usually it's not necessary to prune a young tree much while it is trying to grow new roots. Trimming a long branch or leader by a third is OK if necessary. You can start limbing up after a couple of years if you wish.

Add both edibles and ornamentals to your garden. You'll be investing in the future.  Blueberries offer more than yummy berries to eat.  They make beautiful hedges with gorgeous fall color.  Include two types for better production like a Berkeley, Bluecrop or Blueray.   Other edibles that are available now are asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, grapes, blackberries, boysenberries and raspberries.  

Plant something new while it's available bare root.  You won't be disappointed.