» Archive for January, 2017

Pruning Fruit Trees

Friday, January 27th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • It’s bare root season, which means you can save money on fruit trees and shade trees by planting them now. A wide selection is now available.
    • Onion plants can be set out now for early summer harvest. Choose your favorite varieties.
    • Blueberries are a delicious fruit that can be planted now from young plants. Give them a rich, acid bed prepared with lots of peat moss.
    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray after you prune them. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.
    • FREE Fruit Tree Pruning Class this Sunday, January 29, from 10 AM to 3 PM. Meet at Mendocino County Museum, 400 E Commercial St, Willits, and look for the signs. Call 459-9009 for more information.

Pruning Fruit Trees

The main purpose of pruning a fruit tree is to create a tree with delicious high quality fruit at a height where you can pick it safely.

When fruit trees are young, 1-4 years old, the main object of pruning is to establish a well-formed framework of branches that will be capable of holding and bearing the fruit. This framework can take many forms from the traditional open-vase or central-leader systems to the newer spindle-bush system.

The traditional open-vase is an excellent form for most fruit trees and it is the easiest to do. Remember that as the tree grows, a given branch will always be the same distance from the ground: it does not grow up with the tree.

For a fruit tree to fruit properly, it needs 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Proper pruning will allow sunlight to penetrate throughout the tree so that all the flowers, fruit spurs, and fruit get all the sun’s energy they need in order to grow properly and produce fruit.

In order to maintain a balance between fruiting wood on the tree and vegetative growth, which will become new fruiting wood in time, trees must be pruned moderately, avoiding large swings of growth brought about by heavy pruning. This will also help the trees bear regular crops every year, especially on trees that tend to bear heavily one year and lightly the next.

Proper pruning also distributes the fruit evenly throughout the tree. And it creates better air circulation, which helps prevent certain diseases.

The two basic pruning cuts are a heading cut, which removes part of a branch, and a thinning cut, which removes a branch all the way back to where it meets another branch. We use these two types of pruning cuts at different times to achieve our pruning goals. Height control on fruit trees is best done with summer pruning, while winter pruning causes lush regrowth, especially in the top of your tree.

Sometimes a large, old, neglected fruit tree must be pruned in order to bring its height down to a more manageable level and to improve its fruit quality. This takes careful work over 2-3 years.

Pruning should always include the removal of dead, diseased and broken branches, cutting out unwanted growth like water sprouts, suckers, and crossing or rubbing branches, and improving the structure of the tree by removing narrow or weak branch attachments.

Learn where the fruit is produced on your trees so that you can prune your trees properly and not prune off the fruiting wood.

Proper pruning will make for a strong, healthy tree that will give you bushels of fruit for years to come. There is a lot to know about pruning, so take a pruning class, read books and observe carefully the results of your own pruning on your trees. Have fun and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Fruit Tree Pollination

Saturday, January 21st, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root fruit trees are now available. Choose one tree or a whole orchard and get them planted while the weather is good for digging.
    • Strawberries can be planted any time now. Get them in early, and you’ll be picking strawberries this summer.
    • Primroses will give you the most color during this cold weather. Choose some pretty ones now for your boxes and beds.
    • Prune fruit trees, grapes, berries, and ornamental trees this month. Take in a pruning class and sharpen your shears before you start.
    • Delicious raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and blueberries are all available now for early planting.

Pollination Is Essential In the Home Orchard

The job of a fruit tree is to make seeds which will make more trees. The fruit is merely part of the package, from the tree’s perspective. But seed development requires pollination which can be done either by wind or insects. The pollination required by most fruit trees is performed by bees, wasps and hover flies.

For a successful home orchard, it is important to be aware of the pollination requirements of the trees you plant. Some trees are called self-fruitful. This means that their blossoms can be fertilized by pollen from another flower on the same tree. They will produce fruit even if they are far from any other tree of their kind. Most peaches, apricots, sour cherries and some apples, pears and plums are self-fruitful.

Partially self-fruitful trees will produce a crop on their own, but they will produce a larger crop, up to twice as many fruit, if cross-pollinated. Many apples and pears are partially self-fruitful.

Some fruit trees only set fruit when they receive pollen from another variety. Their own pollen is defective or sterile. Most sweet cherries, some apples and plums and a few peaches fall into this group. For example, if you plant a Bing Cherry, you must also plant a Van or a Black Tartarian or another pollinating cherry tree nearby.

For trees to cross-pollinate, they must bloom at the same time. Blooming time does not necessarily correspond to fruiting time. A late apple can bloom early, so check to be sure you are planting the correct varieties together.

A fruit tree that needs a pollenizer needs it close by. Trees should be planted within 50 feet of each other. This is because the bees that carry the pollen must visit both trees on the same trip. To protect those bees, do not spray pesticides while trees are in bloom.

To ensure good pollination, either plant the trees fairly close together, or plant a combination tree with several varieties grafted onto the same tree. You can also graft a branch of a variety with fertile pollen onto a tree that needs pollination. Crabapple trees often make excellent pollenizers for regular apple trees.

Even if you have compatible trees in place, other factors can interfere with pollination. One of the most frustrating foes of pollination is the weather. Flower buds can be injured by spring frosts or heavy rains. The more developed the bud, the more sensitive it is to injury. Fortunately, not every flower bud on the tree needs to survive to have a good crop. But each incident of frost further decreases the fruiting potential.

When you plan your orchard or decide to add a new tree to it, be sure to check on pollination requirements so you’ll be able to enjoy fruit and not just blossoms a few years from now.

Enticing Interspecifics

Friday, January 13th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root season is here. Choose and plant your favorite fruit and shade trees now.
    • Spring flowers and vegetables can be started from seeds now on your window sill. Try pansies and snapdragons, broccoli, cabbage and lettuces.
    • Lilacs and wisteria have beautiful spring flowers. They come in a variety of colors and can be planted now from bare-root plants.
    • Tree collards are delicious winter vegetables. Set out plants now.

Enticing Interspecifics

Many of the most outstanding new fruit varieties that we carry have been developed by Zaiger’s Inc. Genetics of Modesto, California – “A Family Organized to Improve Fruit Worldwide”. For over 40 years, Floyd and Betty Zaiger have spearheaded a breeding program that has produced outstanding fruit varieties and intriguing crosses.

Some of these crosses, like Pluots® and Apriums®, have been around for decades and the fruit can be found in grocery stores each summer. But the Zaigers have continued developing new kinds of hybrids such as NectaPlum® (nectarine-plum), Peacotum® (peach/apricot/plum), and Pluerry™ (plum-cherry). These hybrids are known as interspecifics, meaning that they are crosses between two or more different species, like plum and apricot.

There is no genetic engineering involved in these hybrids. In fact, a century ago, Luther Burbank hybridized plums and apricots to create plumcots, although they never became commercially successful. Stone fruits – apricots, peaches, plums, and cherries – are in the same genus, Prunus, and are closely enough related that many combinations of species are possible, though they are not easy to create.

In the late 1980s, Zaiger crossed plumcots with plums and created Pluots. Almost half of the plum-like fruits grown in California now are interspecifics, like Pluots. He also crossed plumcots with apricots and came up with Apriums.

The first NectaPlum introduced was called Spice Zee. It is a white-fleshed, nectarine-peach-plum hybrid. Skin is dark maroon at fruit set, and turns pale pink when ripe. Fully ripe the fruit has a delicious flavor, and both nectarine and plum traits are easily detectable. It is a taste-test favorite for its meaty texture, wonderful spicy-sweet flavor and plummy aftertaste.

The next major breakthrough in interspecifics brought us the first peach-apricot-plum for home orchidists: Bella Gold Peacotum™, a beautiful, delicious and unique fruit. The tart, slightly-fuzzy skin gives way to mildly sweet amber flesh for a delightful eating experience. It is an early bloomer and does well where apricots grow.

Two years later, the first plum-cherry interspecific, Sweet Treat™ Pluerry, was introduced to the home market. Much larger than a cherry, Sweet Treat™ delivers its sweetness with a zing and it hangs well on the tree.

Candy Heart Pluerry™ has dark speckled-red skin and the amber-red flesh that is slightly tart and very sweet, with a wonderfully unique flavor. Until recently cherry-plums were just a name for small plums. Now we have true crosses that incorporate cherry flavor into what looks like a plum.

The newest Pluerry™, Sugar Twist, has red skin and yellow flesh, with the sugar-sweet taste of a ripe cherry and a twist of plum.

For a delicious new taste treat, choose one of the new interspecifics for your orchard.