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 The USDA’s new zone map, according to some, is already out of date.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“.