» Archive for March, 2011

Mouthwatering Plums

Monday, March 14th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Fragrant daphne is an early-blooming shrub that will delight you with its strongly scented blooms each spring. Plant it in well-drained soil.
    • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and other cool season crops should be planted this month for delicious spring harvests.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • Plant sweet peas and larkspur for bouquets of delightful blooms.
    • Prune Hydrangeas now by removing old flower heads down to the first new leaves. Don’t prune stems which have no old flowers, and they will bloom first this summer.

The Diverse Family of Plums

Plums come to us from both Europe and Asia, bringing with them their characteristic traits and flavors.

Best known to us are the Japanese plums with their round, juicy fruits. Santa Rosa is the most popular plum in California with a purple skin and tangy, flavorful amber flesh. An interesting variation is Weeping Santa Rosa Plum which is a beautiful 8-10 ft. tree with long slender limbs that bow gracefully to the ground, covered with delicious fruit.

Laroda is a dark purple skinned plum with juicy, richly-flavored red and amber flesh. While Nubiana is a large, purplish-black plum with sweet flavor and very little tartness. Burbank is a well-known, red and yellow fruit that is sweet, juicy and uniquely flavored.

The European plums include the prunes. They are all very sweet and richly flavored. French Prune is California’s commercial prune, and Italian is larger and later ripening. They have purple-blue skin and amber flesh and can be eaten fresh or dried.

Green Gage Plum is a small to medium sized green plum with very sweet, richly-flavored flesh. It is a long-time favorite for dessert, cooking and canning. Emerald Beaut is a greenish-yellow plum that becomes exceptionally sweet as it ripens.

Plant breeder Luther Burbank was the first to cross plums and apricots, thought to be impossible at the time. His goal was to produce an apricot-like fruit which would bear consistently in our wet north coast climate where apricots fail to set fruit most years. Floyd Zaiger developed some new hybrids in the 1980s which he called Pluots and Apriums. Pluots, which are 75% plum parentage and 25% apricot, do well here while Apriums, which are 75% apricot and 25% plum are difficult to grow here. He went on to develop peach/plum hybrids and nectarine/plum hybrids.

Flavor King is a wonderful tasting pluot with a sweet, spicy flavor. It is very large and resembles a huge, heart-shaped Santa Rosa. One of the most highly flavored pluots ever developed, it is a reliable producer in this area. Flavor Queen is yellowish-green with a candy-sweet flavor. Flavor Supreme has a mottled skin with richly flavored, firm red flesh.

Spice Zee Nectaplum is a cross between a white-fleshed nectarine and a plum. The skin turns pale pink when ripe and it has outstanding nectarine/plum flavor. Tri-Lite Peach/Plum has a delicious flavor with both the sweet white peach flavor and a tangy plum aftertaste.

For a variety of delicious flavors, be sure you have a good selection of plums, prunes and pluots in your orchard. Fruit trees of all kinds are available to plant now, though the end of “bare- root season” will be here soon.

Clematis Pruning

Monday, March 14th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Asparagus will provide you with delicious, low-priced spears for years to come if you plant them now from dormant crowns.
    • Spring vegetable starts are now ready to be planted. Set out starts of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other greens for delicious home-grown vegetables.
    • Thin raspberry canes to 4-6 inches apart. Cut back remaining canes to 3 feet tall.
    • Lilacs and wisteria have beautiful spring flowers. They come in a variety of colors and can be planted now from bare-root plants.
    • Plant strawberries now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.

Clematis Pruning Made Simple

These beautiful vines have a reputation for being hard to understand when it comes to pruning. This probably comes from the fact that there are so many different kinds of clematis, and different kinds are pruned differently.

Actually, when it comes to pruning, there are only three kinds of clematis: spring flowering, summer flowering, and those that flower in spring and again in summer. The first group flowers on wood formed the previous season, the second blooms on new wood formed since spring growth started, and the third group flowers on year-old wood in spring and on new wood in summer.

All first-year clematis should be pruned in February or March. Leave two sets of buds on each stem between the soil level and where you make your cut. In later years, follow the rules below.

Spring bloomers should be pruned to remove weak or dead stems just after flowering in May or June. Pruning later will result in fewer blooms the following spring. They need only be pruned lightly if space is limited. These include small-flowered Clematis montana varieties and the fragrant, evergreen Clematis armandii.

Clematis that bloom only in summer should be pruned in late February or March. Cut back all of last year’s growth to just above a good pair of buds about 10-12 inches from the ground. Over the years, a stump will form at that point from which new stems will grow. This will give you a plant with blooms that start near ground level and continue to the top of the plant. Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ is in this group, as are many hybrids such as ‘Ernest Markham’, ‘Gypsy Queen’, and ‘Hagley Hybrid’.

Those that bloom in both spring and summer should be pruned in late February or March. Remove any dead or weak stems, leaving an open, evenly spaced framework of strong growth. Cut back all other stems to a pair of healthy buds 1 to 4 feet above the ground. This group covers the rest of the large-flowered varieties and includes ‘Nelly Moser’, ‘General Sikorski’, ‘The President’, and ‘Henryi’.

If you don’t know which type you have, watch it for a year to see when it blooms and then prune accordingly. Always prune just above a joint where there are two healthy buds. If a plant has been neglected for many years, it can be rejuvenated by severely cutting back most of the old growth.

Remember that dormant vines often look dead, so trace the stem up to see if it supports new growth before cutting it off. The object in pruning clematis is to produce the greatest number of flowers on the shapeliest plant.

You can train clematis in many ways: on a trellis, on a fence or wall as a handsome tracery, twining up a tree, around a post or on an open framework for twining. Enjoy the “Queen of the Vines” in your garden.

Grapes for the Home Vineyard

Monday, March 14th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant seeds of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other spring vegetables now.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available.
    • Roses should be pruned if you haven’t done so already. Remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray with a combination of lime-sulfur and dormant oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper sulfate wettable powder for the best results.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.

Grapes for the Home Vineyard

An age-old fruit, grapes have been cultivated for over 6000 years and continue to grow in popularity today. Grown for fresh eating, juice, jelly or wine, grapes are widely recognized for their health benefits as well as for the production of fine wines.

Wine grape varieties represent only a small portion of the more than 600 kinds of grapes, and only about 60 varieties are suited to produce fine quality wine. The rest are considered table grapes, which are seeing a surge in popularity with today’s home gardeners.

Seedless table grapes are the most popular and Thompson Seedless and Flame Seedless make up the majority of table grapes sold in California. But both of these varieties require a considerable amount of heat to reach their finest quality. The Willits area just doesn’t get the amount of heat that the Central Valley does where these varieties grow to perfection. But there are many delicious grapes that are well suited to our climate.

There are two basic types of grapes, American and European. Our familiar table grapes and most wine grapes are derived from a single European species, Vitis vinifera. They have relatively thin skins that adhere closely to their flesh, and seeds that can be slipped out of the pulp quite easily.

American varieties, Vitis labrusca, are sometimes called slip-skin grapes, as their skins separate readily from the flesh; their seeds are tightly embedded in the pulp. The most familiar American variety is the Concord grape. Our area is suited to American grapes and to selected European varieties with lower heat requirements.

For delicious green grapes, try Interlaken Seedless, one of the finest American grapes. Its pale green berries are sweet and crisp and it is one of the first to ripen here. The clusters are medium sized and compact. The berries are good for eating fresh and excellent for raisins.

Himrod Seedless has golden yellow fruit that is sweet, juicy and delicious. It makes excellent raisins. Of the European grapes, Perlette is the first to ripen. Its pale green berries are very tender and juicy with a sweet to slightly tart flavor. Golden Muscat grapes produce huge clusters of golden delicious fruit. The oval berries are a beautiful golden color and are sweet, juicy, and flavorful. They ripen in the fall.

Suffolk Red is a seedless grape with round, firm, pink to red berries and a pleasing, spicy-sweet flavor. It makes a really delicious table grape.

The best known blue grapes are Concord and Concord Seedless, with blue-black grapes of a distinctive “foxy” flavor. They are used widely for grape juice and jelly. Black Monukka grapes have a deep, purplish-black skin and are very sweet with a rich flavor. They are crisp and delicious for fresh use and raisins, and do not need the high heat that Thompson does to get sweet.

Autumn Royal is crisp and sweet and makes a delicious snack for fall. With a purple-black skin and translucent yellow-green flesh, it has a pleasant, distinctive flavor. Give it a very hot location and the fruit will ripen toward the end of the season.

Grapes are so abundant and easy to grow, that no family orchard should be without them. Plant several varieties to enjoy their distinct flavors and a long harvest.