Category Archives: fruit trees

Citrus & Avocado for the Santa Cruz mts

Late September and you can feel autumn in the air. While our days are still beautiful and warm, nights are getting cooler with less daylight hours. Perfect weather for transplanting or adding new plants to your garden.

Why is this a good time? Cooler air is kinder to plant foliage and soil temperatures are still warm, which creates an excellent environment for new root growth. In the fall many plants and trees ( even broadleaf evergreens ) are entering a period of dormancy. With no need to allocate resources into foliage, plants are transferring all their energy into roots and storing nutrients for the cool months ahead. By spring, the roots system should be well established.

So take advantage of fall planting weather. Decide what changes or additions you want to make in your garden.
Perhaps it’s time to remove lawn from banks or slopes where water runs off instead of soaking in. Replant with more drought tolerant ornamental grasses or perennials.  Picture hummingbirds feeding on beautiful variegated autumn sage, their creamy white and green leaves topped with brilliant red flowers from summer until frost.

If you have a small lawn on flat land and want to improve water absorption and reduce water waste, rake out the thatch that accumulates at the base. Then aerated your lawn in a hollow-tine aerator or power aerator from a rental yard.  This brings plugs of soil to the surface, then rake compost over the hoes and water well.

Now is a good time to plant citrus and avocado. They will fair better during the cold winter months if roots are established.  Remember to give older citrus a good soak every week or so or the fruit will be dry.

If you’ve always wanted an avocado tree there are several varieties that do well here.  The Bacon avocado is hardy to 24 degrees. You can harvest medium sized fruit from November-March. They even produce at a young age and grow to 30 feet tall. Fuerte avocado have excellent flavor. This tree is large and spreading, hardy to 28 degrees and the fruit ripens from November-June. Zutano is another good variety for this area. Mexicola varieties are also very good.
 
These avocados are self fertile for the home gardener. You can expect your tree to live for about which is a lot of guacamole.

If you receive frost of consecutive night during the winter you can easily protect a young avocado or citrus by erecting a simple frame of 1×1" stakes that extends above the height of your tree.  Then drape with a frost blanket or beach blanket on cold night. Don’t use plastic- the cold will go right through it.

Take advantage of this great fall planting weather. Bon appetit !

Summer pruning for Fruit trees

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

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

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

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

Feed your trees and they’ll feed you.

Fruit & Flowering trees from Bare Root

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how to get a bare root plant off to a good start in your garden.  Over the years I’ve planted Floribunda crabapple, Autumnalis flowering cherry, Eastern redbud, Purple Pony and Blireiana flowering plums and Jacquemonti birch all from bare root.  They’re soooo easy to plant this way.  If I had more roomand sun these are some of my favorite trees that I’d add to my own garden this year. 

If you want a tree that’s both highly ornamental and produces great tasting fruit as well, try Saturn flowering and fruiting peach.  The fruit is large, yellow, freestone and delicious.  As if mouth-watering flavor isn’t enough the tree produces masses of large, double, pink flowers making a spectacular show in the spring that rivals the most ornamental cherry tree.

I love flowering crabapples not only for their spring blossoms but for the small fruits that attract birds in the fall and winter and Prairifire is one of the best.   Red buds open to bright pinkish red single flowers that cover the 20 foot tall tree.  Purple foliage follows which turns bronze green by summer.  Fruit is deep red, only 1/4" in size, and hangs well into winter on the tree.  This crabapple has excellent disease resistance to scab, cedar-apple rust, mildew and fireblight which sometimes plagues some crabapples.  It would make an outstanding ornamental tree in your garden.

I eat a lot of almonds.  One handfull is only 160 calories and is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium and a good source of fiber and phosphorus as well as protein, potassium, calcium and iron.   I’d plant a compact Garden Prince almond if I had just a little more sun.  They grow to 10-12 feet and can be pruned easily to 8 feet.  Soft-shelled, good quality sweet kernels ripen in late September to early October on self-fertile trees that set large clusters at a young age.  Dense, attractive foliage follows showy pink blossoms. 

Looking for a tree to provide shade for the patio table?  How about a drought tolerant Golden honeylocust? Fast growing to 40 feet tall with a 35 foot spread this beautiful tree’s leaves emerge a bright, golden yellow at the tips contrasting with the deep green inner foliage making it look like a flowering tree bursting with bloom.  Seedless and thornless, this tree has spreading arching branches and casts filtered shade, allowing growth of lawn or other plants beneath the tree’s canopy.  It’s tolerant of acid or alkaline soils, drought, cold, heat, and wind.

Another good shade tree to consider is the Golden Rain tree.  Enormous panicles of golden yellow flowers drape from the branches in the summer when you spend more time outdoors.  Fat, papery fruit capsules resembling little Japanese lanterns last well into autumn. Growing about 30 feet tall,  open branching casts light shade underneath,  perfect for a hammock on the lawn but this tree would also be a good patio or street tree.  Very adaptable to different soils as long as drainage is good.

This last suggestion is just plain fun.  If you have the room and enjoy putting together flower arrangements, why not plant a ?  Long silvery catkins covered with pink caps are very showy in the winter when the plant is dormant.  The mature height is 15 feet tall with a 10-15 foot spread but can be kept to shrub size by cutting to the ground every few years.

Remember that while these trees and also the pussy willow need six hours or more of sun during the growing season they are dormant in winter and don’t mind being in shade for that part of the year.  So if you live where winter sun is scarce you can still grow edibles and ornamentals successfully.

Planting Fruit Trees in the fall

 We all know fruit is good for us and it tastes so yummy, too.  I love it when a plan comes together !  I’m still enjoying juicy, late nectarines, plums and pluots in addition to newly ripening apples and pears.  Can persimmons and pomegranates be far behind?

Trees are an essential part of every garden so why not have some that produce something good to eat, too?  A large apple or plum can serve as a shade tree if you prune the lower branches so you can walk under it.  A dwarf fruit tree would make a good focal point in a garden bed.  Consider adding a fruit tree now to your garden.  The trees available now are now more mature that those sold bare root in January.  Many are already producing fruit.  

If you have fruit trees in your garden already, look to add late ripening varieties that can extend your season.   Goldmine nectarines ripen in late summer where most other varieties mature earlier in June and July.  Their juicy, sweet white flesh has excellent flavor.  Needing only 400 hours of chilling in the winter – this refers to the # of hours below 45 degrees during the dormant season – they are good for mild winter areas like Pasatiempo.  A great late peach ripening in August is Late Elberta.  You’ll love its large, delicious yellow fruit.

And many apples, like my favorite, the Fuji, ripen in the fall.  With firm, crunchy white flesh Fuji apples can’t be beat for eating right off the tree.  They also keep well and bear in mild winter areas.

So what should you be doing to keep your trees healthy?

  • Water:  A trees network of roots generally extend to the drip line, which is as far as the branches spread from the trunk, so set your sprinkler or soaker hose to cover the entire area.
  • Fertilize one last time for the season to replace the potassium and magnesium that have been leached out of the root zone.
  • Weed:  Young trees especially will benefit from careful weeding around their trunk which can be a hiding place for rodents in the winter. Girdling can be fatal for a tree if the bark is chewed away. 
  • Cleanup:  Practice good sanitation by cleaning up fallen fruit , especially if it has signs of pests and diseases that can come back to haunt you next spring.

It’s too late for light summer pruning and too early for dormant pruning.  However, there are a couple of things you can do now before leaves drop.  Assess the tree.  A main pruning goal is to allow light into the central part of the tree so the lower branches aren’t shaded by those above.  Also look for weaker branches, those with fewer leaves or less fruit.  You might even put a piece of yarn on those branches to mark them for later pruning. 

If you have a fruit tree that is just too large for your space, despite pruning, consider replacing it with a smaller variety.  Many types of fruit trees are available in dwarf varieties as well as semi-dwarf.  It depends on the root stock.  Remember: right tree, right spot.
 

Harvesting and fertilizing apples, pears and plums

Time to take a break from heavy gardening tasks and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Check vegetable gardens daily for ripe produce to be sure you are harvesting them at their peak.  Keep faded flowers picked regularly to prolong bloom.  Inspect fruit trees for luscious ripening fruit to be picked at just the right time.

How do you know when fruit or nuts are ready to harvest?  It’s not as easy as picking zucchini or tomatoes.  Take apples, for instance.  Apples approaching maturity may be broken off easily from the spur.  Do not pull an apple downward or you may damage the spur.  Twist it upward with a rotating motion.  When a few non-wormy apples fall to the ground, this is a sign that fruit is nearly ripe.  Check inside.  Apples are ripe when their seeds turn dark brown to black.  If you prefer tart apples, harvest them a little earlier.

 What about that plum tree loaded with fruit?  For best quality, plums should remain on the tree until firm-ripe.  This stage is often very difficult to determine.  The best guide to ripening is to watch for softening fruit that is fully colored.  When they are ripe, the plum stem will easily separate from the spur or branch when the fruit is gently lifted.  Early maturing  varieties like Santa Rosa should be picked 2-3 times per season taking the ripest at each harvest.  Late maturing varieties like Golden Nectar can be picked all at one time or at two pickings spaced about a week or ten days apart.  Burgundy plums have the best of both worlds.  Ripening in early July, the fruit holds well on the tree until mid-August and can be picked over a long period before it drops to the ground and is lost.

 
    Pears are unlike most other fruit.  They are best when ripened off the tree.  Pick fruit when they have reached mature size and are just starting to lose their green color.  Don’t let them soften or turn entirely yellow before harvesting.  Bartlett pears are usually harvested sometime in August.    This variety ripens on its own without cold storage.  Buerre d’Anjou , Bosc,  Comice,  Monterrey and other varieties are usually harvested in September or October, placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated for at least 2 weeks, then brought out to ripen at room temperature.  To harvest pears, lift up fruit until the stem separates from the spur; do not pull or twist.  If the stem does not break easily from the spur, allow fruit to ripen for a few more days.
 
    Each fruit and nut has an optimum harvesting time.  If you are unsure about your tree, email me and I can tell you about yours.  
    
    After harvesting, fertilize your trees one last time with an organic fertilizer formulated specifically for fruit trees.  All that fruit takes energy to produce.  Plants make their own food by photosynthesis, recombining carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms from water and air with energy from sunlight.  They also need small amounts of other elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, just as we need certain vitamins and minerals in addition to protein and carbohydrates.  Feed your soil with compost and organics like blood meal, feather meal, bone meal, chicken manure, bat guano, alfalfa meal and kelp meal.  Organic fertilizers have soil microbes to help insure that more nutrients are available to your trees.  They contain mycorrhizal fungi– beneficial organisms which colonize the roots of most plant and become a natural extension of the root system.  These organisms serve to enhance the absorption of many nutrients as well as promoting drought resistance.  Organic fertilizers also contain humic acid that provides carbon for the microbes in order to help them propagate and do their work.

    Apple trees live for 60 years, plum trees can live for 40 years and pears for 75 years.  Take care of your trees and they’ll take care of you.