Friday, August 21, 2009

Is All Gardening Local? Ask the Snarky Farmer!

     Just as some people would prefer not to live in Atlantic City, New Jersey, there are plants that would prefer not to live in many parts of California. How can that be? Ask the Snarky Farmer!

     Roberta of Carmichael (Sacramento County) is trying to emulate Johnny Appleseed:
      "I have two Maiden Blush apple trees in my yard. They ripen in August (which isn't very good). Is there anything I can do to make them ripen later in the year? I grew these trees from seeds from apples off a tree that was on my family's homestead in Nebraska. They are about 15 years old. This year, they seem to have gotten worm holes and not matured as well. Are they prone to any pests or diseases? What about watering? They seemed to have done OK so far, but i want to keep them healthy and alive!"

Depending on your location, the Maiden Blush apple can ripen as early as mid-August or as late as mid- September. The Maiden Blush was introduced into commerce in New Jersey, in the early 1800's. It's a popular dessert apple in the Appalachian mountain regions.

According to Ed Laivo at Dave Wilson Nursery, a wholesale grower of fruit and nut trees, that tree may be producing fruit early because it is stressed due to our summer weather: hot and dry, which is quite different from the tree's original production grounds in New Jersey (humid and rainy in the summer, with a pronounced winter chill). "We nicknamed Maiden Blush 'Maiden Mush' ", says   Kevin Hauser , the owner of Kuffel Creek Apple Nursery  in Riverside, CA.

And a stressed tree is an invitation to pests and diseases. Sort of like the slowest antelope in a pack, being chased by a predator. Or a catcher trying to steal second base.

The right plant in the right place. Sacramento may not be the right place for that Maiden Blush apple tree: 100 degree days, 15% humidity, and winter chill hours that are far below what is required for many eastern apple varieties. Winter chill hours are the total number of hours at 45 degrees or less between November and February. The Central Valley of California normally gets between 800 and 1200 chilling hours per year. Coastal California gets far less, ranging from near 0 (41 at La Jolla last winter) to about 400. There are plenty of apples that do well here in the Central Valley: Fuji, Granny Smith, Spitzenburg, Pink Lady, Gala, Ashmead's Kernel and many more. Their common trait: a winter chill requirement of 800 hours or less. Of those listed, several are taste test winners with winter chill needs that are far less than 800: Pink Lady (300-400 hours), Gala (400-500) and our personal favorite, Granny Smith (400 hours).

This is usually a question I get from Bay Area or Southern California transplants to the Sacramento area or the foothills. They wonder why their bougainvillea dies in the winter here or why they can't get their Hass avocado tree to produce in the valley.  All gardening is local, especially in California, which according to the Sunset Western Garden Book, has 24 gardening climates. 

Having said that, let me repeat: All Gardening is Local. Which also means: you just might have the right microclimate in your backyard to grow plants that other gardeners struggle with in your neighborhood: Bananas in Lodi. Jacaranda trees in east Sacramento. And yes, bougainvillea that live year round...if you have the right conditions, and a lot of luck. 

A good reference book with lots of tips and tricks for growing plants in the Golden State: California Home Landscaping, by Lance Walheim. Lance will be on Get Growing with me this Sunday, Aug. 23, 10-11 a.m. on KSTE-Sacramento to answer your questions about landscaping, citrus and roses. Tune in to 650 AM in Northern and Central California, or listen online at

Sleeping in on Sunday? You can also download the podcast at the Get Growing podcast page
End of shamless plug. Now, a little ditty that every gardener should know by heart:


  1. Greeeeeat. Now I'm going to be singing that in my head all day. "Can't go swimmin' in a baseball pool..." Thanks, thanks a lot. ;oP

  2. Now I can't get that Ernest Tubb tune out of my head...
    "Thanks, thanks a lot. I got a broken heart, that's all I've got.
    You made me cry, now I cried a lot. I lost your love baby, thanks a lot."

  3. Ha! I do what I can. Lemme about "King of the Road" for the lunch hour?