Friday, January 28, 2011

Growing Citrus in Containers

Welcome to "Lazy Video Friday" here at the Farmer Fred Rant! 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bare Root Fruit Tree Shopping? Buyer Beware!

Mid-winter is bare root fruit tree shopping time here. And who can't resist a bargain? This is the time of year to find truly inexpensive, fruit or nut-bearing trees.

And gardeners on a budget might start their shopping at the big box stores, where many bare root trees are priced under $20.

But beware. 

Unlike local, independent nurseries that tend to stock fruit and nut varieties that perform well in your locale, the box stores get in varieties that may be better off at their sister box the desert.

Case in point:
 Last Wednesday, I shopped the nursery section at a local big box store in Elk Grove (Sacramento County, CA) and a locally owned, independent nursery. The bare root fruit trees available at the box store took up about six pallets, approximately 20 trees per pallet, each with their root ball encased in a sealed plastic bag. 

If you read the blog post about choosing and planting bare root fruit trees, you know that examining the roots is an important selection criteria. You're looking for healthy roots! Kinda hard to do that when the roots are in plastic.
There were only 5 peach and nectarine varieties available at the box store: Florida Prince peach, Early Elberta peach, Earli Grande peach, Panamint nectarine and Gold Mine Nectarine.
To the casual shopper, the reaction might be: "Oh boy, peaches and nectarines!"
But to the Sacramento-area gardener who came armed with a copy of the Sunset Western Garden Book or the online catalog of wholesale fruit tree grower Dave Wilson Nursery, the reaction is probably: "These are all low chill varieties, better suited to the desert!"
Yep, it is not unusual for the sales staff at the headquarters for a large chain store to choose fruit tree varieties based on price and appropriateness for the majority of its customers (lots more people down in So Cal). Hence, their selections may include trees better suited for warmer winter areas. Or, someone at big box store headquarters thinks Sacramento is in the desert.

Fruit trees need a certain number of "chill hours" during the winter in order to induce dormancy to allow them to produce well the following spring and summer. A "chill hour" is any hour below 45 degrees, between November and February. 

Here in the Central Valley, 600-800 chill hours are normal. Right now, in late January, the total chill hours for parts of Sacramento County is nearly 900 hours. That total is plenty for most peach and nectarine varieties, including the tastiest ones. 

In Southern California, "chill hours" don't amount to much. Many parts of Los Angeles and Orange County right now have accumulated less than 200 chill hours. So, the only deciduous fruit trees that succeed there are the ones with low-chill requirements.
"Most low chill varieties don't have great taste," says Ed Laivo of wholesale grower Devil Mountain Nursery. "They give up flavor to be a low chill variety."

And sure enough, if you check out the Dave Wilson Nursery fruit taste test results, you won't find any of those big box store peach and nectarine varieties in the Top 10. Or the Top 20. 

The fruit taste tests have been conducted at Dave Wilson Nursery since 1993, with a panel of several dozen taste testers sampling up to 30 fruits at each setting. And they're not just the varieties sold by Dave Wilson Nursery. Over 1600 varieties of fruit have been taste tested over the years.

 The False Allure of Low Prices

The casual gardener shopping at the box store may also note the bare root fruit tree price tag, "$15.99", and be willing to give it a try at that comparatively low amount.
But how happy will that casual gardener be with those selections in a few years, if no one will be pleased with the taste or production?

Down the street at the local nursery, the price for a bare root peach or nectarine tree is approaching $25-30. But at that local nursery, the selection is much better. On the day I was shopping, the local nursery had 22 peach varieties and 16 nectarine varieties! Most, if not all, were trees that would thrive here locally, producing fruit that has scored high in fruit taste tests, including the top winners in Dave Wilson Nursery's overall scorecard: the Arctic Jay white nectarine, Indian Free white peach, Snow Queen white nectarine, O'Henry peach and the Arctic Supreme white peach.

Dave Wilson Nursery Fruit Tasting Results
At the local nursery, there was no plastic wrap guarding a root inspection of their bare root fruit and nut trees. As at many local nurseries, the roots of bare root fruit trees are plunged into a moist mix of sawdust and compost. A customer can easily pluck out a tree and examine the roots (you're looking for moist, plump, healthy roots).

Another reason to avoid low-chill requirement fruit trees, if you can: they tend to bloom too early. A fruit or nut tree that blooms too soon (January) in Northern California is asking for a whipping from the rest of the winter storms that come in February and March. The spread of rain-borne disease spores such as brown rot is increased when the blossoms are exposed.

So, when is a bare root fruit tree bargain not a bargain? When it's not the right tree for the right place. 

Whenever shopping for trees, shrubs, annuals or perennials, toting along a copy of the Sunset Western Garden book or calling up a good online reference on your smart phone is good plant insurance.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Loosen the Bare Root Plant Labels

Mid-winter is bare root planting time here in most of California (sorry Truckee). Roses, fruit trees, nut trees and berries are bare root bargains this time time of year.

 We've talked about how to plant bare root trees and berries in a previous post.


But, there's one more thing to do after you've planted, added mulch and installed the irrigation:

Loosen the plant label.


Bare root labels are printed on notched, thin strands of flexible plastic. And that flexibility is a temporary condition. By Year 2, if you try to pry loose that label because it's girdling the stem, it'll probably crack off. 

If you don't loosen it now, it may get swallowed up or snapped by the expanding trunk.

If you want to read that label in a few years, loosen it now, at planting time.

And, it's good insurance to write the varieties down in a garden diary (a daily calendar book does nicely; we've been filling the same one since 1990).

Trust me, you won't remember what it is if you don't; I've learned from experience.  I've got a yard of many mysteries.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Starting Tomato, Pepper Seeds Indoors

Every summer, I make the same promise to myself: "Next year, fewer tomato and pepper plants!" And every winter around this time, I try to start small. But somehow, things get out of control...

Late January and early February is the ideal time here in Northern California for starting tomato and pepper seeds indoors. And while you're at it, why not start a few others, such as more cool season leaf crops and summer annual flowers from seed. Those leaf crops (lettuce, spinach, chard) can be transplanted outdoors after about three weeks worth of growth indoors (take a few days to gradually introduce them to the outdoors, perhaps bringing them and their containers back in at night).

Those tomato and pepper plants, along with the summer flowers you started from seed? Keep them protected, indoors, until mid-April. Then, gradually acclimate them to the outdoors as well.

The main problem with outdoor planting of tomato and pepper plants this time of year? Soil temperature. Those summer vegetables do not start actively growing until soil temps reach the mid-60's, and don't really take off with food production until soil temperatures are above 70. Right now? Soil temperatures are hovering around 50 degrees here in the Sacramento area.

Another good reason to delay outdoor planting of those young vegetables until late April-early May: the wind. March is a very windy month in the Central Valley, with northerly winds hitting 20-30 miles per hour, for several days.

What you need to start your seeds:
• A sunny, indoor window or greenhouse.
• Small pots or flats with good drainage. Clean thoroughly.
• An easy draining, pathogen-free soil mix, preferably soilless.
• No greenhouse? Use good quality light fixtures.
• Air movement.
• Small amounts of fertilizer.
• Seed heating mat (optional).

If you are starting your seeds indoors, you would benefit from an extra lighting system, such as fluorescent bulbs hung a few inches above the plants. If the light source is too far away, the plants will get leggy.

I like to use 3"- 4" azalea pots for starting seeds of tomatoes and peppers. I will plant three or four seeds per pot. When they come up and put on two sets of leaves (about three weeks after germination), I'll transplant them to their own pot.

(NOTE: this is how a small number of plants becomes wayyyyy too many, in a hurry!).
Those old six packs and partitioned flats are ideal for starting green, leafy crops. Thin out the seedlings so that there is only one remaining in each cell.

The real key to seed starting success? The soil. More exactly, the soilless mix. Using soil from your garden to start seeds is filled with threats to seed survival: competition from weed seeds, soil-borne diseases, and too heavy a soil. Damping off, a common malady of new seedlings, is due to cool, wet, heavy soil, a perfect environment for pathogens, especially pythium.

Using a soilless mix to start seeds helps avoid introduction of those pathogens. You can purchase bags of "Seed Starting Mix" at your favorite nursery. 

Or, make your own. The recipe I use:

4 parts well aged compost
2 parts peat moss or coir (be sure to thoroughly moisten the peat moss first)
1 part perlite (aids drainage)

If you are worried that the mix you are using is too heavy, you can help your seeds get off to a good start with bottom heat, via a seed heating mat. These are especially useful for germinating pepper seeds, which need higher temperatures to germinate.

Put the seed starting mix in each pot or flat, and then thoroughly soak it. Although it isn't necessary for starting seeds, you can add a diluted liquid fertilizer at this time. I tend to use fish emulsion (5-1-1 NPK) and a sea kelp product, which promotes root production. Generally, there is no need to fertilize until the seed has produced two sets of true leaves. 

"True Leaves" look like the finished product. The first two leaves that emerge from a seed are usually oval shaped cotyledons, which are embryonic leaves.

The seeds are planted just below the soil surface in each pot, no more than a half inch deep.

Once the seeds are up and growing, introduce some air movement into the room, such as a house fan. This helps the new plants avoid diseases. And, air movement can help strengthen tomato stems, according to Debbie Flower, professor of horticulture at American River College, where they use fans in their greenhouses, for up to 16 hours a day.

Coming in March: those containers of tomato and pepper starts will easily become many more containers of tomato and pepper plants, after separating out the three or four starts per container.

Yep, another year of too much.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Overfeed Your Plants, Warn the Garden Professors

One of my favorite blogs to follow is "The Garden Professors", a collaboration of horticulture experts from Washington State University, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota  and Virginia Tech. They could easily subtitle their blog, "Everything You Know is Wrong". 

In a recent posting, Linda Chalker-Scott , Horticulture Professor at WSU, compiled extensive research findings on the relationship between excessive fertilizers and plant susceptibility to pests and disease.


Her conclusion: like too much candy given to children, too much fertilizer will sicken your garden plants.

Her more surprising solution: just feed your landscape trees and shrubs mulch

"For routine landscape needs," she reports, "use woody mulches rather than fertilizers and nitrogen-rich composts. This 'slow food' approach not only benefits your plants, but provides ideal habitat for mycorrhizal species, which have been shown to help restrict root uptake of excessive nutrients, while assisting with uptake of less available ones."

And another little gem hidden in that quote: mycorrhizae actually help plants avoid overeating (where are they when I need them?).

What about annuals, especially garden vegetables? Another of the "garden professors", Jeff Gillman of the University of Minnesota, cautions against using "balanced fertilizers".  The problem? When using a product like a 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 or 16-16-16, you may be adding excessive amounts of phosphorus and potassium to the soil, which is then susceptible to runoff, polluting our waterways. "I like a ratio of about 5-1-2 or 5-1-3 for an N-P-K ratio in a general use fertilizer," says Gillman.

The only improvement I would like to see to that blog would be to change the way to search for previous entries. The right sidebar lists the blogs by month, with no dropdown menu of titles. Even though their categories of "recent posts" and "by interest" is helpful, a more detailed list of titles would help gardeners find some of the best researched information for their garden problems.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weedkiller Fun Facts!

It's a common site this time of year in Northern California: gardeners with sprayers in hand (or on their back), applying weedkiller to the unwanted greenery that has popped up around their desirable plants. 

Winter would seem to be a good time to do this: cool-season weeds are easier to control when they are small and actively growing; around valuable deciduous plants, there is less danger of the spray accidentally hitting the leaves (there aren't any); and, those new, green weeds are like a flashing freeway sign in a drab, brown landscape, screaming "Nyah, Nyah, Nyah!", taunting us into action.

Below are some tips you may not be aware of, when using the most popular post-emergent weed killer, Roundup, as well as it's generic counterparts that also use glyphosate as the active ingredient. (Hint: compare prices!)

The purpose of this posting is not to rail about the dangers to the environment after using glyphosate. Check out the Wikipedia entry  for a fairly balanced report on what the scientific community is studying and debating about glyphosate, including this tidbit:

"An in vitro study indicates that glyphosate formulations could harm earthworms and beneficial insects. However, the reported effect of glyphosate on earthworms has been criticized. The results conflict with results from field studies where no effects were noted for the number of nematodes, mites, or springtails after treatment with Roundup at 2 kilograms active ingredient per hectare. Glyphosate can negatively affect nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and increase the susceptibility of plants to disease. A 2005 study concluded that certain amphibians may be at risk from glyphosate use."
Sure, you've read the instructions on how to mix it and how much to apply. And you know not to spray it on desirable foliage. The point here is to make you aware of some of the instructions on the label that you may have overlooked. 

Much of this information is taken straight from the 13-page instruction book that comes with Roundup Pro.
Of course, rule number one always has been: READ AND FOLLOW ALL LABEL DIRECTIONS.

 I know, I started reading the first sentence, and by the time you got to the third line, it was all, "blah, blah, blah". But note a couple of items in that paragraph. It doesn't specify to avoid spraying desirable leaves; it says to avoid "desirable vegetation". And sure enough, there are enough thin-skinned trees and shrubs out there through which that wandering mist can attach itself on a windy day. 

One of the most susceptible in the winter time: your rose bushes. Sure, there are no leaves on them now (hopefully), but glyphosate can be absorbed through the thin bark of roses, creating problems in the spring and summer:

 This is what a rose looks like, months after the green stems were hit with errant glyphosate spray. At it isn't just a wintertime weed killer application that could hurt roses down the line. According to the UC Integrated Pest Management Program: "Glyphosate damage may appear at bud break the following spring after a summer or fall application that contacts leaves or stems; symptoms include a proliferation of small, whitish shoots and leaves."

And how many times have you seen gardeners in a hurry, rushing down a row of plants, sprayer close to the ground, attempting to decimate a line of weeds at full speed? That increases the chance for spray drift.

To it's credit, that product label repeats itself, in even clearer tones:
Here's one that surprised me: 
 How many times have you seen someone spraying weeds on a winter's foggy day? That's a temperature inversion! Don't spray on a foggy day, because, as the label says: "drift potential is high", due to the droplets remaining suspended in a concentrated cloud. 

Hmm, I guess you might be inhaling some of that on a foggy day...possibly?

How about all those winter days when you see someone spraying a post-emergent weed killer on a just-mowed area or on a dormant weed, such as bermudagrass? you're wasting your time and money, according to the label:

Many gardeners know about using glyphosate as a stump killer of an unwanted woody tree or shrub. Make the cut, then immediately apply the glyphosate at a high rate of concentration. But wait a minute...what's going on underground? Possible intermingling of the roots of different plants.

The good news here: plants of different genera (a eucalyptus and pistache, for example) tend not to graft their roots together. But if you are trying to get rid of one willow stump while saving another healthy, desirable willow nearby, well, you've been warned.

The US Dept of Agriculture also offers advice on paying attention to other meteorological conditions when applying glyphosate:
• Use when ambient air temperature is between 60 - 85 degrees F. (plants slow down their growth when it's too hot or too cold; glyphosate works best on actively growing plants).

• Do not use if rain is expected, or if foliage is wet.
• Do not water treated areas for at least 6 hours after treatment.
• Allow seven days for the plant to die. In cool, dark or dry climates the effects of treatment may take longer than a week because plant growth rates are slowed and the chemical requires more time to act and the plant to die.
 • Do not use in windy conditions or on water.

Again, your best defense against weeds is to read and follow all label directions when applying any weed killer.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

102 Roses for California

Rose Display at Amador Flower Farm

Here in California,  where we can garden year round throughout much of the state, January and early February is the best time to plant bare root roses, now available at nurseries.

Your success with roses depends on several factors, especially location: full sun, as well as decent soil with good drainage. Roses require regular fertilization and irrigation.

Tropicana (with cosmos)
In our garden, the top performing roses include the white-flowered floribunda/shrub rose, Iceberg; Summer Sunshine, a yellow hybrid tea; Tropicana, an orange-red hybrid tea; Olympiad (medium red hybrid tea), Rio Samba (yellow blend hybrid tea), Jeanne Lajoie (climbing miniature, med. pink) and Mlle Cecile Brunner (light pink polyantha).

 For a more thorough compilation, noted consulting rosarian Baldo Villegas has studied thousands of roses throughout California, and has put together this master list.

Although by no means a complete list, here are over 100 roses that do well in the local inland valleys, especially the southern Sacramento and northern San Joaquin valleys. Many of these roses will thrive in foothill regions and parts of the Bay Area as well. For a more complete guide, Baldo has a page that will link you to your area's rose society.

For gardeners in Sacramento and the surrounding area looking for fewer choices, here's a link to a previous post: The 10 Best Roses for Sacramento.

Thanks to rosarian Baldo Villegas for compiling the master list and pictures. Visit his website for more about roses, including rose pictures, planting tips, as well as pests and diseases of the rose garden. From his list of roses, here are choices for...

(Rose variety / color / year of introduction / ARS Score, if any, on a scale of 1-10)

Hybrid Teas; Grandifloras (20)

Andrea Stelzer, light pink, 1992
Black Magic, dark red, 2000
Elizabeth Taylor, deep pink, 1985, 8.8
Fragrant Cloud, orange-red, 1967, 8.1

Gemini, pink blend, 2000, 8.1
Gold Medal, medium yellow, 1982, 8.5
Honor, white, 1980, 7.6
Ingrid Bergman, dark red, 1984, 7.2
Marilyn Monroe, apricot blend, 2000, n/a
Moonstone, white, 1998, 8.2
New Zealand, light pink, 1989, 7.6
Olympiad, medium red, 1982, 8.9
Saint Patrick, yellow blend, 1996, 8.0
Secret, pink blend, 1992, 7.7
Signature, deep pink, 1996, 7.7
Stainless Steel, mauve, 1991, 7.5
Touch of Class, orange pink, 1984, 9.2
Tournament of Roses, medium pink, 1988, 8.0
Veterans' Honor, medium red, 1999, 8.0

Floribunda Roses (15)

Betty Boop,  Betty Boop spray, red blend, 1999, 8.0
Bill Warriner, orange-pink, 1998, 8.0
Blueberry Hill, mauve, 1999, 8.0
Dicky, orange-pink, 1984, 8.7
Fabulous!, white, 2000
Glad Tidings, dark red, 1988, 8.1
Lady of the Dawn, light pink, 1984, 8.2
Lavaglut, dark red, 1978, 8.8
Margaret Merril, white, 1977, 8.4
Pasadena Star, white, 2002
Playboy, red blend, 1976, 8.2
Priscilla Burton, red blend 1978, 8.6
Sexy Rexy, medium pink, 1984, 8.9
Showbiz, medium red, 1983, 8.5
Sunsprite, deep yellow, 1977, 8.7

Polyantha Roses (10)

China Doll, medium pink 1942, 8.2
La Marne, pink blend, 1915, 8.8
Lovely Fairy, deep pink, 1990
Lullaby, white, 1953, 8.7

Margo Koster, orange blend, 1931, 7.5
Marie Pavie, white, 1888, 8.8
Mrs. R. M. Finch, medium pink, 1923, 8.9
Orange Morsdag, orange blend, 1956, 9.4
The Fairy, light pink, 1932, 8.7
Verdun, medium red, 1918, 8.7

Climbing Roses (12)
Altissimo, LCl, medium red, 1966, 8.5
America, LCl, orange-pink, 1976, 8.4
Candy Cane, Cl Min, pink blend, 1958, 8.2
Dublin Bay, LCl, medium red, 1975, 8.5

Fourth of July, LCl, red blend (striped), 1999, 8.2
Handel, LCl, red blend, 1965, 8.1
Jeanne Lajoie, Cl Min, medium pink, 1975, 9.3
New Dawn, LCl, light pink, 1930, 8.5
Pearly Gates, LCl, medium pink, 1999, 7.8
Pierre de Ronsard (Eden Climber), LCl, pink blend, 1987, 8.2
Rainbow's End, Cl Min, yellow blend, 1999, 7.9
Soaring Spirits, LCl, pink blend, 2005

Shrub Roses (13)

Abraham Darby, orange-pink, 1990, 7.5

Cocktail, red blend, single, 1961, 8.3
Gartendirektor Otto Linne, deep pink, 1934, 8.8
Golden Celebration, deep yellow, 1993, 7.8
Prospero, dark red, 1983, 8.6

Raven, dark red, 1992, 7.5
Robusta, medium red, single, 1979, 9.5

Rockin' Robin, red blend, 1997, 7.5
Sally Holmes, white, single, 1976, 8.9
Sharon's Delight, white, single, 1996, 7.7
Sunny June, deep yellow, single, 1952, 7.7
Tamora, apricot blend, 1992, n/a

Old Garden Roses (12)

Baronne Prevost, Hybrid Perpetual, medium pink, 1842, 8.7
Crested Moss, Moss, medium pink, 1827, 8.6
Green Rose, Hybrid China, green, before 1854, 7.4
Henri Martin, Moss, medium red, 1862, 8.7
Marchesa Boccella, Hybrid Perpetual, medium pink, 1842, 8.9
Mons. Tillier, Tea, orange-pink, 1891, 8.1

Mutabilis, Hybrid China, yellow blend, 8.7
Paul Neyron, Hybrid Perpetual, medium pink, 1859, 8.1

Rose de Rescht, Portland, deep pink, 8.9
Sombreuil, Cl Tea, white, 1850, 8.8

Souvenir de la Malmaison, B, light pink, 1843, 8.7
Yolande d'Aragon, Portland, mauve, 1843, 8.3

Miniatures and Minifloras (20)

Baby Ballerina, pink blend, 1997, 8.1
Baby Love, deep yellow, single, 1992
Black Jade, deep red, 1985, 8.2
Butter Cream, Miniflora, light yellow, 2002
Child's Play, pink blend, 1991, 8.0
Dr. John Dickman, mave, 2004
Elfinglo, mauve, 1977, 7.5
Giggles, medium pink, 1987, 9.1

Glowing Amber, red blend, 1996, 8.0
Gourmet Popcorn, white, 1986, 8.7
Hot Tamale, yellow blend, 1993, 8.2
Irresistible, white, 1989, 9.3
Jean Kenneally, apricot blend, 1984, 9.4
Loving Touch, apricot blend, 1983, 8.4
Luis Desamero, light yellow, 1989, 7.7
Marriotta, red blend, 1998, 8.2
Minnie Pearl, pink blend, 1982, 9.4
Peggy "T", red bend, single, 1988, 8.5
Pierrine, orange-pink, 1988, 9.2
Rainbow's End, yellow blend, 1984, 8.9
Ruby Pendant, mauve, 1979, 8.6
Soroptimist International, pink blend, 1995
Will-o-the-Wisp, Miniflora, pink blend, 1998

Want the above list as a one sheet document? Click Here.

And, my personal favorites:
Lyda Rose
Lyda Rose
Pink Peace
Summer Sunshine

Rio Samba

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Plants To Attract The Pollinators

Hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are important to the success of your fruit and vegetable garden. Many crops such as squash, cucumber, tomato and eggplant won’t produce fruit or seeds without their help. 

These beneficial critters transfer pollen from the male part of a flower to the female part of a flower, resulting in the formation of fruits and vegetables. 

Bees are the most important pollinators because they spend their life collecting pollen. According to the California Master Gardener Handbook, bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. In addition, attracting pollinators also helps encourage other beneficial insects that can help control pests in your garden. 

So, as you plan your spring and summer vegetable garden, leave room for some of the plants mentioned here. The Sacramento County Master Gardeners offer these pollinator-attracting planting suggestions:

• Install a wide variety of plants that bloom at different times of the year with several species blooming at once. Pollinators are active at different times of year. In our yard, the bees gather at the blooming rosemary plants during the winter, when little else is flowering.

• Plant in clumps. Bunches of flowers are more attractive to pollinators than single flowers.

• Include flowers of different shapes and colors. Bees are particularly attracted to flowers that are violet, blue, purple, white or yellow. Butterflies prefer bright red or purple.

• Choose natives. Many California pollinators prefer native plants. 

• Janet Gerland of Northern California wholesale grower Devil Mountain Nursery recommends planting sages (Salvia) that bloom at different times of the year to attract pollinators and beneficial insects. Her choices include include Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) , California Blue Sage (Salvia clevelandii), Autumn sage (Salvia greggi), Salvia microphylla and (California White Sage (Salvia apiana).

• Plant non-hybrid flowers. Many hybrids have had their pollen, nectar or fragrance bred out of them, making them less attractive to pollinators.

• Eliminate or limit pesticides whenever possible. Pesticides can be harmful to pollinators. When a pesticide is needed, use the least toxic one.

• Provide nesting sites and food sources, such as nectar for hummingbird feeders and salt licks for butterflies.

California native plants that attract pollinators include California poppy, California Redbud, Lupine, Rosemary, Sunflower, Toyon, Western dogwood, Wild rose, Wild lilac (ceanothus) and White leaf manzanita. Other plants that pollinators enjoy: Agastache, Basil, Borage, Cosmos, Dicleptera, Hyssop, Lavender, Marjoram, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), Mint and Pincushion flower (Scabiosa).

And a final hint: some garden references may advise you to cut off flower heads to enhance the beauty of the foliage plant (such as for lamb's ears). If your goal is to attract garden good guys, let those flower heads stay.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bare Root Fruit Trees: Choosing and Planting

What is a bare root fruit tree? A young fruit or nut-bearing deciduous tree, offered for sale in the winter. “A stick with roots”. Fruits include apples, apricots, apriums, cherries, figs, mulberries, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, pluots, nectarines and pomegranates. Nut varieties are also available bare root in the winter, including walnuts, almonds, pistachios, filberts, chestnuts and pecans. Vine and bush fruits are also for sale in the winter, including blueberries, grapes and kiwi. Citrus is an evergreen plant, available year round.
Why grow your own fruit? For better health and better taste. Nothing beats the taste of home grown fruit! What follows are some tips for

turning this...

 Into this!                                                                                                Or this!

Shop local.
Your local nurseryperson knows your soil and growing conditions, and will carry fruit tree varieties that will do well in your area. Of those, choose fruit trees that you enjoy! Wondering which ones taste the best? Master fruit tasters have their favorites listed online, at, a wholesale grower of fruit and nut trees. Consider getting several trees that will ripen at different times.

Before You Buy, Plan Ahead.
Fruit trees do best in a sunny location with good drainage. They need eight or more hours of sun. Six hours of sun is pushing your luck. Wet soils are a major cause of fruit tree failure. 

If that hole you dug doesn’t drain within 24 hours, build a raised bed, at least 4’ x 4’x 12-16” high. Cherries and apricots need the best drainage for success. The fruit trees most tolerant of slow-draining soils are apples and pears.

Don’t be too concerned about a crooked top. After you plant a three to five foot tall bare root fruit tree, you can cut it off at knee-height. That way, the fruit-bearing branches will be lower, within easy reach. If you don’t let the tree get taller than seven feet, that fruit will ALWAYS be easy to reach.

Pay attention to the bud union. This is the spot where the tree variety is attached to the rootstock. It should be straight, not bent.

Look at the roots. They should not be brittle, damaged or cracked.

Walk away from bare root trees that:

• Have tunneling around the bud union (they might be borers).
• Oozing, dark colored bark (might be bacterial canker).
• Have been at the nursery for more than two years, if they are in containers. If in doubt, ask the nurseryperson.

When you get the tree home:
Treat it nice, immediately. Don’t let the roots dry out. If you are going to plant later that day or the next day, place the tree in a bucket of water or cover with a wet blanket. If it is going to be several days before you plant, bury the roots into soil (“heeling in”). This can be in your garden soil, compost, potting soil, or even a pile of wet leaves.

Dig a $50 Hole for that $20 Tree.

The hole should be wide, not deep. About four feet wide and as deep as the rootstock portion of the tree. Loosen the six feet of surrounding soil outside the hole to that depth. Feeder roots travel outward, not downward.

Plant the Tree Correctly.
Set the tree on a slight mound in the middle of the hole, and gently coax the roots to face outward. Look for  a color change on the tree below the bud union; the tree should be planted no deeper than that. Ideally, plant the tree with that mark about an inch above the existing soil line to allow for settling. Set your shovel handle across the hole to determine that point. Use only the soil that came with the hole.

Top With Mulch. After planting, surround the tree with three or four inches of organic mulch; the mulch should extend out several feet. Mulch feeds the soil, suppresses weeds, cools the soil in the summer and helps maintain even moisture, too. Don’t let mulch touch the trunk, though. That can lead to rot problems.

Wait until the tree is actively growing, choosing a fertilizer that lists fruit trees on the label. Whichever fertilizer you use, read and follow label directions.

Add Water. Carefully.
The primary cause of fruit tree failure is poor irrigation: either too much or too little water. Use a moisture meter or a soil auger to determine how wet or dry the soil is at root level. Or, grab a handful of the soil at a depth of 8 to 10 inches to determine how wet the soil is. Start doing this when that new fruit tree begins to flower. And, do it before you water.

Give the tree some sunburn protection. Paint that bare stick with a 50-50 mix of interior white latex paint and water; or, purchase tree whitewash at a nursery. That new tree is very susceptible to sunburn, which can lead to a cracked trunk…an entry point for insect and disease problems. 

In a few years, with a little bit of care, your kitchen counter will be overflowing with homegrown, healthy fruit.