How to Order Bare Root Fruit Trees

The trees we planted in 2011–all doing well now.

Ladies and gentleman, it’s time to get your bare root fruit tree orders in! The massive wave of common sense that’s swept over the world since the 2008 econopocolypse has got people thinking about planting trees that provide more than just shade. Last year many nurseries ran out of stock. And bare root trees are a great way to save money. The time to order, for delivery next year, is now. Some tips:

  • Choose carefully–talk to people in your area with fruit trees and see what grows well. Visit botanical gardens, community gardens or talk to farmers in your area.
  • Plant varieties you can’t buy at the supermarket.
  • Consider aesthetics. I planted a Red Baron peach in my mom’s yard and the tree not only produces delicious fruit, but it also puts on a spectacular display of flowers in the spring.
  • Pay attention to root stock and cross-pollination requirements.
  • Check out the Dave Wilson nursery’s Backyard Orchard Culture Guide for how to turn a small backyard into a mini-orchard.
  • Order online for the best selection. Bare root trees ship well. Our favorite online nursery is Bay Laurel.
  • Use the Dave Wilson fruit and nut harvest date chart to maximize the number of months you’ll have fruit. 
  • When selecting trees plan for warmer temperatures. The USDA’s new zone map, according to some, is already out of date. Many places will soon bump up another zone. Take this into account when calculating your chill hours.

Most importantly, get going! One of the big regrets with our property is that we didn’t start planting fruit trees until just a few years ago. Knowing what we know now, we’d get started right away. Fruit trees take a lot less time and care than vegetables. And there’s nothing like the taste of a fresh nectaplum!.

Feijoa Fever

Image from Wikipedia

If you’re lucky enough to live where you can grow it, pineapple guava (Acca sellowiana) is a beautiful tree. Evergreen, the leaves are dark green on top and silvery gray on the bottom. In the spring you get hundreds of pink and red, edible flowers (they actually taste like cotton candy). In the fall you get copious amounts of green fruit, high in pectin and sugar.  When I’ve seen pineapple guavas in our local supermarket they are priced at nearly $2 a piece. I planted one a few years ago in our front yard.

Image from Wikipedia

Last Thursday morning at the at the National Heirloom Exposition Mark Albert, a pineapple guava expert, gave a lecture on “Developments in Pineapple Guava.” Those developments are, interestingly, entirely in the hands of amateur growers like Albert. Pineapple guavas are not part of any government breeding program. And the tree has really only been domesticated in the last 100 years or so. There’s a confusing jumble of named varieties and considerable disagreement on how you even propagate them. During his lecture, Albert dropped a bunch of factoids of interest to pineapple guava obsessed fruit geeks such as me:

  • First, how to pronounce the Portuguese name for the fruit: feijoa – fay–ee–joe–ah
  • Don’t pick from the tree–wait for it to fall to the ground.
  • Pineapple guava is very drought tolerant but needs summer water if you want fruit.
  • Albert’s prefers to propagate from seed.
  • Pineapple guava’s origins are in Uruguay. The region it comes from sometimes does not receive any rain in three years. It’s also the climax species in this arid region.
  • The Spanish name for pineapple guava is Guayabo del país or wild guava. 
  • Albert, who lives in Mendocino County in Northern California (about as far north as you can grow this tree) propagates the seeds by soaking pulp in water for a few months and planting the seeds when it warms up in the springtime.   

If you live where it never gets below 15ºF, consider giving this gorgeous tree a place in your garden.

More info from the California Rare Fruit Growers on pineapple guava here

Bleach Alternatives for Disinfecting Pruning Shears

Apples with fire blight: one reason you should disinfect pruning sheers. Photo by Peggy Greb

Neighbor Anne tipped me off to an interesting fact sheet on disinfecting pruning sheers by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, a horticulture professor at Washington State University. I’ve been using bleach which, it turns out, is not the best choice.

Bleach is both toxic to humans and to plants as well. It also stains clothes and damages tools. Chalker-Scott’s preferred alternative? Lysol. It won’t corrode your tools and is safer to humans. She also discusses alcohol and Lysterine and a few other choices.

The fact sheet concludes with more important details:

• Be sure to clean tools of dirt, debris, etc. before disinfecting.
• After dipping your pruning tools, be sure to wipe away excess disinfectant to avoid injuring
the next plant.
• A longer soaking may be needed for pruning surfaces that are not smooth.
• Like pruners, increment borers should always be sterilized before and after use.
• Never use disinfectants on pruning wounds; they are phytotoxic and cause more harm than good.

(Why do you need to disinfect pruning tools? Because if you don’t, you can transmit disease such as fire blight and dutch elm disease from one tree to the next. It’s best to clean your tools between each tree or shrub as you work. We do this as a matter of course, whether we think a plant is diseased or not. It’s like practicing safe sex.)

For more horticultral myths, see Chalker-Scott’s myth page.

Growing Greens Under Fruit Trees

In the photo above is Scott Kleinrock showing off a section of the edible garden he designed at the Huntington Gardens. At first glace it looks like a lot of weeds, but it’s a clever idea: growing greens in the understory of fruit trees.

In this picture, which was taken last weekend, you see a field of:

  • mallow
  • daikon radish
  • arugula
  • mustard 
  • vetch
  • calendula
  • cabbage

Except for the vetch, which helps build soil, all are edible and nutritious. It was grown with almost no supplemental water. Labor involved removing unwanted grasses in the first year and spreading seeds. And all of these plants readily reseed themselves.

Depending on your climate, the plants you use for this strategy could vary, but the idea is the same: select hardy, reseeding greens that take little or no care. Weed out the things you don’t want. Use space that would otherwise go to waste. Lastly, sit back and let nature do her thing.

Chill Hour Calculator for California

Please excuse another California-centric post, but if you’re in the Golden State and like to geek out on keeping track of your chill hours here’s a handy tool bought to you by UC Davis: Cumulative Chilling Hours. Each year this page keeps track of chill hours between November 1 through end of February. If you know of a similar resource for other states/countries leave a link in the comments.

As cool (so to speak) as this tool is, what constitutes a chill hour and what kinds of fruit will grow in a particular climate is a complex question. For more on this debate see a provocative article on the Dave Wilson Nursery website, “Chill Out“.

Dave Wilson’s Top 21 Fruit Trees for the Southwest US

A Necta-plum from our tree harvested in July 2010.

Do you live in a warm climate and have less than 500 chill hours? “Rock star orchardist” Tom Spellman, with the Dave Wilson Nursery, has some suggestions for low chill fruit tree varieties based on productivity and performance. His recommendations:

  • Dorsett golden apple
  • Fuji apple
  • Pink Lady apple
  • Cot-N-Candy Aprium
  • Flavor Delight Aprium
  • Minnie Royal cherry
  • Royal Lee cherry
  • Arctic Star nectarine
  • Double Delight nectarine
  • Snow Queen nectarine
  • Spice Zee Necta-Plum
  • August Pride peach
  • Donut peach
  • Eva’s Pride peach
  • Red Baron peach
  • Burgundy plum
  • Emerald Drop pluot
  • Flavor Grenade pluot
  • Flavor King pluot
  • Splash pluot

Of the trees on this list, we’ve got the Spice Zee Necta-Plum, a beautiful tree with pink blossoms and  red leaves in the spring that produces a super sweet fruit. It’s still too young to evaluate it’s performance but I’m happy to have it in our garden. We also have a Fuji apple that’s a few years old which is growing but has yet to produce fruit. Last year we also planted a Flavor Delight aprium (in a less than ideal location), and it’s also too early to evaluate its performance.

We sourced almost all of our trees by mail through the Bay Laurel Nursery, which carries Dave Wilson’s trees (Dave Wilson is wholesale only). Get your orders in now as Bay Laurel sells out of many varieties by the time they ship in February.

You can read the complete list of Tom Spellman’s low chill fruit suggestions with his  comments here.

If you have mature versions of any of these trees please leave a comment and let us know where you live and how your trees are doing.

Thanks to Ari Kletzky for suggesting this list.

Avocados

Green gold!

We’re very lucky that when we purchased our house 13 years ago it came with a mature, and delicious avocado tree. Wanting to know more about how to care for that tree I attended a remarkable lecture at the Huntington given by avocado experts Carl Stucky and Julie Frink. From the Huntington lecture I gleaned the following factoids:

  • Avocados varieties are divided into three “races”: Mexican, Guatemalan, and West Indian.
  • Avocados are extremely frost sensitive, more so than citrus.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch! Avocados like a thick layer (6 to 12 inches) of course mulch. Once you mulch you have to keep mulching because the shallow roots of avocado trees will often grow up into the mulch.
  • Avocados like a well drained soil and won’t tolerate wet feet. So if you dig a hole and fill it with water and that water sticks around for a day, plant something else.
  • Avocados use a lot of zinc and may need supplemental applications of zinc sulfate placed in shallow holes.
  • What few pests avocados have can be sprayed off with a hose. 
  • Occasional deep waterings flush out chlorides in the soil that can cause leaves to turn brown at the tips and poor fruit production. In fact if the first rain of the season is less than 3 inches, you should irrigate to flush out salts that build up during the dry season.
  • Avocados take a long time to ripen on the tree–12 months or more depending on variety.

For additional reading Stucky recommended the following internet resources:

Avocadosource.com
California Avocado Society
California Avocado Commission (The “growers” part of their website)

One thing that I discovered this year is that you can leave avocados on the tree for a very long period. We had at least a six month harvest window. There’s actually still a few on the tree.

As for squirrels, Stucky’s advice involved extraordinary rendition and water boarding, but we’ll spare you the details.

Bare Root Fruit Tree Season is Here!

Yet another Internet “un-boxing.” This time fruit trees.

Our bare root fruit tree order just arrived from Bay Laurel Nursery. We ordered:

  • Tropic Snow Peach on Nemaguard rootstock
  • Panamint Nectarine on Citation rootstock
  • CoffeeCake (Nishimura Wase) Persimmon
  • Saijo Persimmon (pollinator for CoffeeCake)
  • Flavor Finale Pluot on Myrobalan 29C rootstock
  • Santa Rosa Plum on Citation rootstock (pollinator for the Flavor Finale Pluot)
  • Flavor Delight Aprium on Citation rootstock

The plan is to follow the Dave Wilson nursery’s backyard orchard culture guidelines which we blogged about in detail here. In short, you plant trees close together and prune the hell out of them to keep them small and manageable. We also used Dave Wilson’s handy fruit and nut harvest date chart to, as much as possible, assure that we have some kind of fruit ready to eat during most of the year. All of the varieties we chose have low chill hour requirements since we live in USDA zone 10.

Medlar: The Best Fruit You’ve Never Heard Of

This week we were luck enough to tag along with Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms on a jaunt to the hills near Tehachapi to help harvest an allusive fruit called the medlar.  Erik and I were just extra hands–the plan was hatched between Tara and Craig Ruggless of Winnetka Farms. See, Craig has a place up in those hills, and just happened to know his neighbors had a little grove of medlars, and these neighbors agreed to sell them to Craig and Tara, provided Craig and Tara picked them. For us, it was a great excuse for a trip to the mountains with a bunch of friends for some laughs, fresh air and gorgeous fall scenery. Also along for the medlar hunt were Joseph Shuldiner and Graham Keegan. As a group we gathered 100 lbs of medlars in a couple of hours of easy work, which are going to be sold to foodies, rare fruit enthusiasts and perhaps some enterprising chefs at this weekend’s Santa Monica Farmers Market. There’s an article about medlars and this particular expedition in todays’s LA Times.

What is a medlar, you ask? It‘s Mespilus germanica, a small deciduous tree and member of the rose family. In fact, to me, medlar fruit look exactly like giant rosehips. The fruit is smallish, ranging from about 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and ranging in color from rosy rust to dusty brown.

Medlars are native to Southwestern Asia and Southeatsern Europe. They were enjoyed by the Greeks and Romans, doted on by Victorians and mentioned by Shakespeare. I believe they are still popular in their native lands, such as Iran and Turkey. However, they’re almost unknown in the U.S. today, primarily, I suspect, for two reasons. Reason #1 is that they have to be eaten when almost rotten–a process properly called “bletting”–similarly to how you have to wait for Hachiya persimmons to soften before you can eat them. This leads to reason #2, because medlars have to be eaten when bletted, they either have to be eaten right off the tree, or they have to be picked early, then put aside for a few weeks to blet. Then, when they’re finally bletted, they’re have to be eaten immediately. There’s not a huge window of edibility. This level of persnickety-ness just doesn’t jive with our industrial food distribution system.

Beyond that, when they’re ready to eat, they look like they’re ready for the compost heap–brown, squishy, a little wrinkly. It takes some getting used to–well, it takes about as long for you to eat your first one before you figure out rotten=darn good.  I’d describe them as tasting like really good apple butter. People will describe them as holding delicate notes of cinnamon, vanilla, cider, wine, etc. I don’t know about that–I just tasted really, really good apple butter, delivered to me in a convenient skin instead of on toast. The flesh even looks like apple butter. Of course, like all persnickety fruits, they have a few big seeds that you have to work around as well–sort of suck clean and spit out later. It’s worth it, though.
 
We can’t grow medlars here in Los Angeles–it’s too warm. Otherwise I’d plant one right now. Medlars need hot summers and cold, frosty winters. If you live in a place like that, I’d highly recommend you plant a medlar. It’s a small, attractive tree, topping out at about 10 feet, and can be kept bush size. The ones we were harvesting were only 4-6 feet high. They are not widely available, but Raintree Nursery has a selection here.

After the jump is a little photo gallery from our trip:


Craig sorting medlars in the grand countyside

Is this bletted? Tara giving the medlar an evaluating eye
Medlars have beautiful fall foliage, and the fruit remains on the tree after the leaves fall, which is quite striking


There’s me. I’m shaking a branch. We picked up good looking ground fall, gathered what would fall when the branches were given a gentle shake, and picked any fully bletted fruits off the tree. The rest wait for a second harvest. 
Graham, looking more stylin’ than me as he works.


Here’s Joseph. He’s writing a cookbook. Notice how the trees are kept small for easy picking.
All sorted. Getcha medlars here!

medlars to market