Make Your Garden Fruitful....
From the Davis Enterprise, January 24,2002
January and February are bareroot season, the time when nurseries and hardware stores have the best selection of fruit trees, flowering and shade trees, vines, and roses. The term bareroot is apt: the plants are grown literally inches apart in the field, then machine-dug and pruned when they go dormant. That stick with roots that you're buying will be flowering and fruiting within 2 - 3 years; in the case of roses, you can expect flowers within weeks.
Keep them moist!
The key to success : keep those roots moist until you get the plant in the ground. It should kept in moist shavings or soil until you can plant it. Most failure with bareroot results from allowing the plant to dry out, either before it is planted or by failing to water it often enough as it leafs out a few weeks later. Plunge the plant in a trash can full of water overnight if you can't plant it right away. Water it immediately and thoroughly when you plant it, and check the watering every few days for the next few weeks. As weather warms in March it will likely need water every 3 - 5 days.
Once you have a healthy crop of leaves and some new shoots developing, you know the roots are growing and watering can be reduced to every 5 - 7 days. Each watering should be a good, thorough soaking--a few minutes with a hose, or an hour or so with a drip system. It's important that you wet the soil past where the roots are so they can continue to expand outward into moist soil--roots won't grow into dry soil.
Fruit trees in your landscape....
Some fruit trees are showy enough to be a focal point,
or tall enough to provide shade. While most peaches and nectarines have pretty flowers, a few are downright spectacular. 'Red Baron' peach has brilliant red flowers and very high quality fruit. 'Fantastic Elberta' and 'Double Jewel' are also peaches, and 'Double Delight' is a nectarine, all with large, double, bright pink flowers and excellent fruit as well. While most peaches and nectarines are pruned while dormant, you can wait until these have flowered to enjoy the blossoms, then prune them (the cut flower branches are great in flower arrangements).
Some fruit trees have nice growth habit or foliage. Apricots have reasonably pretty flowers and an especially graceful spreading growth habit--pretty enough to plant as an ornamental, with delicious fruit as a dividend. Fig trees have large, tropical-looking dark green leaves that contrast nicely against the white bark. The trees will get more than 30' tall if you let them, but they fruit on old wood in the spring as well as on new wood in the summer (and sometimes again in the fall), so you will get more figs than you can imagine regardless of how hard you prune them!
Cherry trees grow vigorously upright, getting very tall and narrow unless they are pruned for size control. Although this means you won't reach a lot of the fruit (the birds will appreciate it!), cherries allowed to grow to full height can provide quick shade on a west-facing window or wall, and there is a profusion of white flowers in the spring. The narrow growth habit means you can plant them just a few feet apart, providing the cross-pollination that some varieties require, and providing you with a longer harvest period.
Persimmons give two seasons of color and are very graceful trees. The new growth is a bright chartreuse-green color and is very stiking in the spring. The shiny leaves are lustrous and medium-green all summer, and the orange fruit is very pretty until the birds discover it. Astringent varieties such as 'Hachiya' keep their showy fruit later than non-astringent varieties (such as 'Fuyu') because the birds won't eat the astringent types until they are fully ripe. Pomegranates have bright red blossoms for several weeks in the early summer, pretty yellow fall color, and the glossy red fruit hangs on well into the winter, delighting the jays and mockingbirds. Both persimmons and pomegranates are very easy to grow. Note: bareroot availability of these is limited, but more wholesalers are growing them in containers so they are increasingly available in the spring and summer.
Backyard Orchard Culture
Think small! That's the motto of Backyard Orchard Culture--the relatively new concept of planting fruit trees close together, pruning hard, and squeezing more varieties into your yard. Peaches, nectarines, and plums have similar growth habits and can be planted as close as 3' apart! In our own family orchard, many of these are planted 6' apart and topped to keep them about 8' tall, making the effect of a large hedge with showy pink and white flowers. This way you can plant varieties that ripen at different times and have fresh stone fruits from as early as May to as late as September. Take a drive towards the UCD Primate Center when peaches are blooming and you'll see some innovative pruning techniques, including peaches that have been machine-pruned into a hedge. Since peaches and nectarines fruit on last year's wood, there is still more than enough fruit even with this severe pruning.
Miniature fruit trees (sometimes called "genetic dwarf" trees) have been around for years, especially peaches and nectarines. These have very tight internodes, which causes them to grow as shrubs. The fruit ranges from pretty good to very good, depending on variety, and they are small enough to be grown for years in an oak half-barrel.
Special training techniques
Of course, there's nothing new about shaping fruit trees in small yards. Training as an espalier (I've heard it pronounced ess-pol-yeer, ess-paw-leer, ess-pal-ee-yay, and ess-pal-yer--take your pick!) has been traditional in
Europe for centuries and in this country for decades. You simply plant your fruit tree against a wall, trellis, or fence and begin tying it two-dimensionally to that, pruning off any branch that doesn't cooperate. Apples and pears are traditional for this, mainly because they have limber limbs that bend easily, but I've seen it done to almost every type of fruit tree. Even more radical are the new Colonnade apples. These are broom handles with leaves and fruit--the tree produces only spurs (short fruiting branches) and no real branches! Small enough to grow in a tub or barrel, they can be a special addition to your Dr. Seuss garden!
Incorporating fruit trees into the landscape can be a simple as choosing a type with showy flowers or fruit, or with nice leaves or growth habit, and using it as a focal point where you'd ordinarily use a strictly ornamental tree. You can prune or train the tree to fit into the space you have available. Finally, you can look beyond the traditional spacing and training techniques of yesteryear to make your yard more productive year-'round. Growing healthy fruit in your own backyard--that's gardening that is truly good for you!
© 2008 Don Shor, Redwood Barn Nursery, Inc., 1607 Fifth Street, Davis, Ca 95616
Feel free to copy and distribute this article with attribution to this author.
Click here for Don's other Davis Enterprise articles