How to Plant a Fruit Tree

It’s bare root fruit tree planting season here in California and this video, from the Dave Wilson Nursery, shows you how to plant your trees once they arrive in the mail. One quibble–it’s been proven to be not a good idea to amend soil when you’re planting a tree. Other than that, this is how we’ve planted our trees and they’ve all grown well.

And I wish that I had done the radical pruning you see at the end of the video. Cutting the tree to knee height will give you a shorter, more manageable tree.

You can find more home orcharding videos on the Dave Wilson website.

Fruit Tree Maintenance Calendars

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 8.12.46 PM

Where we live, it’s the time of year to prune and deal with pest issues on fruit trees. The University of California has a very helpful page of fruit tree maintenance calendars for us backyard orchard enthusiasts.  The calendars cover everything from when to water, fertilize, paint the trunks and many other tasks. You can also find them in one big handy set of charts in UC’s book The Home Orchard.

The permaculturalist in me likes our low-maintenance pomegranate and prickly pear cactus. But I also like my apples, nectaplums and peaches–and those trees need the sorts of interventions described in UC’s calendars. Time to get to work . . .

Karp’s Sweet Quince Update

Karp's Sweet Quince

Several years ago I planted a variety of quince called Karp’s Sweet Quince, named after local pomologist and writer David Karp. This variety comes from Peru and is unusual in that it can be eaten fresh.

But my quince tree has struggled a bit. The soil it occupies is not the best and it’s been plagued with fungal issues. But I can report that you can, indeed, eat the fruit fresh. The texture was not the best, but the fruit I ate was damaged and immature so it was not exactly a fair sample.

Quince is not the only tree I’ve been having trouble with. Thrips took out our crop of nectaplums and damaged our nectarines. I’ve vowed this winter to pay more attention to the needs of our fruit trees. Towards that end I’m reading Michael Phillip’s book The Holistic Orchard. If you have an idea what the damage on my quince is caused by I’d appreciate a comment. David Karp thought it might be brown rot with some insect damage.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, Weiser Family Farms should be selling a small amount of Karp’s Sweet Quince at local farmer’s markets. But you’ll have to beat away the artisinal jam producers and celebrity chefs if you want to get your hands on some.

Hens in the Orchard for Pest Control

hensinorchard

Photo: hencam.com

Author Terry Golson, who blogs at HenCam.com, sent along a great pest control tip in response to our thrip post–chickens, of course!

Chickens and orchards go together like gin and tonic. The hens take care of pests, clean up rotten fruit, add nitrogen to the soil and the canopy of the orchard protects the hens from hawks and heat. Plus you get eggs and meat. Permaculture in action.

The 1920s era photo you see above comes from one of Terry’s posts, Chickens in Orchards.

How to Deal With Thrips on Stone Fruit

thrip damage on nectarine

Research hint: when you have a pest problem on an edible plant, Google the name of the plant and “UC Davis.” What comes up is UC Davis’ handy Integrated Pest Management info sheets, evidenced based information on all kinds of problems. This is how I figured out that a small insect called the western flower thrip (Frankliniella occidentalis), was noshing on our nectarines.

Thrips damage the fruit when it is small. The scars enlarge as the fruit matures.

How do you manage thrips? UC Davis notes:

Western flower thrips overwinter as adults in weeds, grasses, alfalfa, and other hosts, either in the orchard floor or nearby. In early spring, if overwintering sites are disturbed or dry up, thrips migrate to flowering trees and plants and deposit eggs in the tender portions of the host plant, e.g. shoots, buds, and flower parts.

Thrips are often attracted to weeds blooming on the orchard floor. To prevent driving thrips into the trees, do not disc the cover crop when trees are in bloom. Open, weedy land adjacent to orchards should be disced as early as possible to prevent thrips development and migration of adults into orchards.

It was an exceptionally dry year which may have contributed to our thrip problem.  And perhaps some mulch and weeding around the base of the tree is in order. UC Davis goes on to suggest monitoring methods as well as organic controls if that’s your cup of tea.

The scarred fruit gets rotten on the tree and is unappetizing. We did get some unblemished fruit, but there was enough of a thrip problem to warrant monitoring next year.

Did you have thrip problems this season?

How to Keep Squirrels and Birds From Eating Your Fruit

Photo by Noel Ramos.

Got a tip from Noel Ramos a.k.a. Florida Green Man on how to deal with those pesky squirrels and birds in your fruit orchard. Noel says:

I use those clear plastic fruit containers that are used for packing strawberries and grapes. I personally don’t buy fruit in these containers but I asked some neighbors and friends to save them for me and in a short time amassed a large collection. They snap shut over most fruit like these mangos and this helps to control fruit damage. Since they have vent holes, they don’t collect water inside. They can be washed and stored and are durable enough to last several seasons. After they serve their duty, they can be put in the recycling bin.

Noel is the person who sent the picture of all the winter fruit he grows in Florida that we put on the blog on Sunday. Judging from that picture he’s got a handle on critters issues. Thanks Noel!

Picture Sunday: A Winter Harvest in Florida

Root Simple reader Noel Ramos sent the picture above of some local fruit grown in Florida to remind us that winter gardening is big there too. Noel grows over 500lbs of fruit and veggies every year on a quarter acre city lot. In the picture:

Canistel, Rollinia, red navels, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Carambola, pineapple, sapodilla, sugar apple, dwarf Cavendish bananas, ambarella, jaboticaba, jackfruit flowers, papaya, lemon and red palm fruits (inedible).

Amazing.

If you’ve got a picture to share, send it along to us at [email protected].

Why You Should Avoid Staking Trees

The correct way to stake a tree. Image from the Vacaville Tree Foundation

To answer the question of why tree staking should be avoided, one can turn to the latest Extension Service advice or to the nearly 2000 year old words of Seneca:

No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. It is, therefore, to the advantage even if good men, to the end that they may be unafraid, to live constantly amidst alarms and to bear with patience the happenings which are ills to him only who ill supports them.

Moving from practical philosophical advice to practical horticultural advice, let’s say you have a tree from the nursery that is too weak to stand on it’s own. Or you need to stake a tree planted in a public place to keep people from pulling on it. What do you do? Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist at Washington State University has some advice:

•    If trees must be staked, place stakes as low as possible but no higher than 2/3 the height of the tree.
•    Materials used to tie the tree to the stake should be flexible and allow for movement all the way down to the ground so that trunk taper develops correctly.
•    Remove all staking material after roots have established. This can be as early as a few months, but should be no longer than one growing season

Now, back to the philosophical: Seneca’s tree analogy is a good example of a system that benefits from chaos and shock. This idea is the subject of Nassim Taleb’s new book on what he calls “anti-fragility“.

By contrast, natural or organic systems are antifragile: They need some dose of disorder in order to develop. Deprive your bones of stress and they become brittle. This denial of the antifragility of living or complex systems is the costliest mistake that we have made in modern times. Stifling natural fluctuations masks real problems, causing the explosions to be both delayed and more intense when they do take place. As with the flammable material accumulating on the forest floor in the absence of forest fires, problems hide in the absence of stressors, and the resulting cumulative harm can take on tragic proportions.

For more advice on tree staking see:

North Carolina State University’s Staking Recent Transplants

University of Minnesota’s guide to Staking and Guying Trees

Linda Chalker-Scott’s pdf on The Myth of Staking

Update: Please note an exception to these tree staking rules regarding certain kinds of dwarf fruit trees. See the comments for the details. Thanks C.

Pomegranate Factoids

Our pomegranate tree this morning.

Since we’ve had a few pomegrante questions coming in in the past week (it’s the tail end of harvest time) I thought I’d provide a link to more information on growing pomegranates than you’ll ever need to know courtesy of UC Davis.

If you live in a hot, dry climate that doesn’t freeze much you should get yourself a pomegranate tree. They’ll grow in more humid climates but may not produce much fruit. Ours took five years, from planting as a bare root tree, to get the  modest crop you see in the picture.

It’s one of my favorite trees–delicious fruit, a red flowers in the spring and a gorgeous display of yellow leaves in the fall–what more could you ask for?

If you’ve been successful growing pomegranates outside of California (and worldwide) leave a comment letting us know where you live. I’m curious about the range of this tree.