Saturday, December 15, 2018

Pruning Tool Primer

This time of year, stroll down the tool aisle of any garden center and you'll find a vast array of cutting instruments, all designed with the backyard gardener in mind. Blade heads of short-handled pruners and long-handled loppers usually come in two different styles: bypass and anvil. 

Felco #2 Bypass Pruners
Bypass loppers or pruners have a stainless steel curved blade that uses a scissors action to pass next to, not on top of, the lower surface, sometimes called the hook, designed to catch and hold the branch while the cutting blade comes down. 

Corona Bypass Pruners

Bypass pruners offer a cleaner cut, as the blade slices all the way through the stem. 

The cutting blade of anvil-style pruners comes down onto the center of a soft metal or hard plastic lower surface, called the anvil or table. Anvil pruners tend to crush the soft tissue of the stem, stopping the flow of nutrients, prolonging the healing time for the cut surface.

         Despite the bypass pruner's benefits, garden centers still offer a nearly equal number of anvil-style pruners and loppers, a never-ending source of confusion for the gardener hunting for cutting tools. 

So, we asked area garden experts their pruning preference: bypass or anvil?

         The late Sacramento County Farm Advisor, Chuck Ingels, preferred bypass pruners. "I never use anvil pruners because you often can't cut close enough to the branch collar without leaving somewhat of a stub," said Ingels. "When they begin to wear, they often don't cut all the way through. Also, they crush the bark, which bypass pruners can do also, but you can turn the shears so the blade is closer to the collar and make a clean cut."

         "I don't use and usually do not recommend anvil pruners," says Luanne Leineke, formerly the Community Shade Coordinator for the Sacramento Tree Foundation. "I tend to see too many wounded branches, particularly when the bark is soft. I suggest using bypass pruners for up to three quarters of an inch-thick branches, loppers for up to one inch thickness and a hand saw for anything larger."

         Pete Strasser, former plant pathologist with Sacramento's Capital Nursery, has only one use for anvil pruners. "Anvils are for deadheading annuals, and that's about it."

         Loren Oki, Landscape Horticulture Specialist with UC Cooperative Extension in Davis, also has limited use for anvils: "I was taught that bypass pruners were used on live material, whereas the anvil types were better for dead wood. The bypass type cuts cleaner through the softer material without causing much damage."

         Steve Zien, owner of the Citrus Heights-based organic landscape consulting business, Living Resources, leaves no doubt to his preference: "I would never use anvil pruners! Never ever, unless something needed to be pruned right then and there, and it was the only tool I had beside my teeth."

Bottom line: Bypass pruners are much more versatile than anvil pruners. Every gardener should own a pair of bypass pruners. 
But a word of warning: don't force cut a branch with bypass pruners that were not meant to cut a larger branch. Using too much force to work the blade through the wood could damage the entire unit. If those bypass pruners are advertised as cutting through one-inch branches, don't exceed that limit. 
Move up to a larger cutting tool for those bigger branches, such as bypass loppers, a small branch saw (my favorite), a bow saw, or when you finally realize that "Life is too short to put up with a problem plant", a good quality chain saw.

Perhaps have a pair of small anvil pruners for the cut flower garden. And larger anvil ratchet loppers for removing dead wood.


Finally, whatever you purchase, buy quality. Look for pruning tools that have replaceable parts (blades, springs,etc) that can easily be disassembled for cleaning, sharpening, oiling, and maintenance.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Plant a Beautiful, Edible Fall Stunner: Persimmon Trees

California's Central Valley is ablaze with the other orange fruit tree currently: the brightly colored persimmon. And it's not just the fruit.

Persimmon tree leaves can turn a brilliant hue of red before the first big wind and rain storm of late November washes them off their branches. 

What's left behind is the unpicked fruit, dangling like holiday ornaments during December. That's a feast for our well as a banquet for hungry birds.

Persimmons have adapted well to our California climate: warm, dry summers and mild winters. At least 500 different Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) varieties were brought to California during a major planting spree from 1870 to 1920. In 1877 alone, more than 5,000 plants in 19 varieties were imported from Japan. As a result, 99% of the commercial persimmon crop is grown here in California.

Persimmons are quite nutritious, as well, loaded with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Fiber, and antioxidants such as Beta-Carotene and Lycopene. 

If you live in the Central Valley, Southern California, Bay Area or low foothills ... you can grow that! Bare root persimmon trees will be available at local nurseries during late December, January and February. 

360-degree mini-sprinkler from Dripworks

Give them full sun and a regular irrigation in the dry months for best production. Persimmon trees can tolerate partial shade.

Persimmons are usually classified as either astringent or non-astringent. For fresh eating straight from the tree, choose a non-astringent, self-pollinating variety such as Fuyu, Giant Fuyu, Yemon or Izu. Astrigent varieties, which need to soften thoroughly before they sweeten, include Hachiya, Chocolate or Tamopan. Those varieties are self-fruitful, as well.
A partial harvest from one, 7-foot tall Yemon persimmon tree

Persimmon growing advice from the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG):

Location: Full sun with some air movement is recommended for persimmon trees in inland areas, although they will tolerate some partial shade. Persimmons grown in cooler areas should have full sun with protection from cooling breezes. As an attractive ornamental the tree fits well in the landscape. It does not compete well with eucalyptus.

Soil: Persimmons can withstand a wide rage of conditions as long as the soil is not overly salty, but does best in deep, well drained loam. A pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 is preferred. The tree has a strong tap root which may mean digging a deeper hole than usual when planting (when on D. kaki stock).

Irrigation: Persimmon trees will withstand short periods of drought, but the fruit will be larger and of higher quality with regular watering. Extreme drought will cause the leaves and fruit to drop prematurely. Any fruit left on the tree will probably sunburn. Some 36 to 48 inches of water are needed annually, applied gradually in spring and tapering off in the fall. Hot inland areas may require 2 or 3 applications weekly, while coastal areas may need watering only once every 6 weeks, depending on the soil. If a drip system is is used, the emitters should be moved away from the trunk as the tree matures.

Most trees do well with a minimum of fertilizing. Excess nitrogen can cause fruit drop. If mature leaves are not deep green and shoot growth is less than a foot per year, apply a balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 at a rate of 1 pound per inch of trunk diameter at ground level. Spread the fertilizer evenly under the canopy in late winter or early spring.

Pruning: Prune persimmon trees to develop a strong framework of main branches while the tree is young. Otherwise the fruit, which is borne at the tips of the branches, may be too heavy and cause breakage. A regular program of removal of some new growth and heading others each year will improve structure and reduce alternate bearing. An open vase system is probably best. Even though the trees grow well on their own, persimmons can be pruned heavily as a hedge, as a screen, or to control size. They even make a nice espalier. Cut young trees back to 1/2 high (or about 3 feet) at the time of planting.

Pests and Diseases: Persimmons are relatively problem-free, although mealybug and scale in association with ants can sometimes cause problems. Ant control will usually take care of these pests. Other occasional pests include white flies, thrips which can cause skin blemishes and a mite that is blamed for the "brown lace collar" near the calyx. Waterlogging can also cause root rot. Vertebrate pests such as squirrels, deer, coyotes, rats, opossums and birds are fond of the fruit and gophers will attack the roots. Other problems include blossom and young fruit shedding, especially on young trees. This is not usually a serious problem, but if the drop is excessive, it may be useful to try girdling a few branches. Over watering or over fertilization may also be responsible. Large quantities of small fruit on an otherwise healthy tree can be remedied by removing all but one or two fruit per twig in May or June.

Harvest: Harvest astringent varieties when they are hard but fully colored. They will soften on the tree and improve in quality, but you will probably lose many fruit to the birds. Astringent persimmons will ripen off the tree if stored at room temperature. Nonastringent persimmons are ready to harvest when they are fully colored, but for best flavor, allow them to soften slightly after harvest. Both kinds of persimmons should be cut from the tree with hand-held pruning shears, leaving the calyx intact Unless the fruit is to be used for drying whole, the stems should be cut as close to the fruit as possible. Even though the fruit is relatively hard when harvested, it will bruise easily, so handle with care.

Storage: Mature, hard astringent persimmons can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a month. They can also be frozen for 6 to 8 months. Nonastringent persimmons can be stored for a short period at room temperature. They will soften if kept with other fruit in the refrigerator. Persimmons also make an excellent dried fruit. They can either be peeled and dried whole or cut into slices (peeled or unpeeled) and dried that way. When firm astringent persimmons are peeled and dried whole they lose all their astringency and develop a sweet, datelike consistency. 

Yemon Persimmon

And we are in total agreement with the CRFG: persimmons make an excellent dried fruit, a great sweet snack or for use in cookies or breads!

According to our favorite book on dehydration techniques, "How to Dry Foods" by Deanna DeLong:

• Wash and remove the stem cap. Cut fruit in half and then into 3/8-1/2" slices.
• Place on a dehydrator sheet in single layers.
• Dry at 140 degrees for 1-2 hours, then reduce heat to 135 degrees for an additional 7 hours (approximate).
• When done, they should be tender and pliable, but not sticky.

At that point, you can either vacuum seal them in plastic bags for long term preservation, or store the dried persimmons in a canning jar for quick use.

Backyard gardeners who do a lot of drying are passionate about their choice of dehydrators. Some prefer the rectangular Excalibur dehydrator ; others (including our household) enjoy the circular Nesco American Harvest Dehydrator . Our largest complaint about the Excalibur: the fan blows from the back to the front, which can rearrange any lightweight herb leaves that you might be trying to dry. The Nesco American Harvest dehydrator's fan moves warm air from the bottom up, offering less disturbance to the drying crops. Still, the Excalibur is a good choice for most fruit and vegetable drying.