» Archive for January, 2013

Mulberry Trees

Sunday, January 27th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, are available now for planting. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool season crops indoors for planting outside in March.
    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.
    • Pansies will brighten your flower beds with their happy faces. They will bloom all through the spring.
    • If you’re short on space in your orchard, you can plant 2 or 3 varieties of the same fruit in one large hole. This will allow cross-pollination among apples, pears, plums, cherries and Asian pears.

Marvelous Mulberry Trees

What a surprise it is to first discover a blackberry growing on a tree! Mulberries, these are, and what an interesting family.

The White Mulberry, (Morus alba), is native to China where the ancient silk culture developed using their leaves are the primary food source for silkworm larvae. It was transported to Turkey and then to Europe where it became naturalized centuries ago.

It was introduced into America for silkworm culture in early colonial times. First sold to farmers, it has spread unchecked throughout much of the country. It’s fruit varies from white to pink and is sweet but mild-flavored.

In California, a fruitless cultivar is widely grown as an ornamental tree. The familiar “Fruitless Mulberry” is a male hybrid that makes catkins but no fruit.

Teas Weeping Fruiting Mulberry (Morus alba ‘Pendula’) is a beautiful weeping tree. It mounds up slowly to 10’ – 12’, and produces large quantities of juicy fruit. Its slender, weeping branches cascade down to the ground, making the red fruit easy to pick and a favorite with children. Its leaves are also tasty to silkworms.

The red or American mulberry is native to eastern United States, from New England to the Gulf coast. Although native, it is a threatened species because it hybridizes readily with the invasive White Mulberry. It has dark purple fruit with very sweet flavor.

A century ago, every farmer in the U.S had mulberry trees planted at his farm garden. They grew rapidly and made excellent shade and, planted near the hog lot or over the chicken coop, they were an excellent food staple for the farm animals.

Persian Black Mulberry (Morus nigra) is native to southwestern Asia and has been grown in Europe since before Roman times for its flavorful, purplish-black fruit. The tree grows 20-30 feet tall and spreads about 20 feet wide. It is very long lived, and develops gnarled, picturesque branches with age.

Black mulberries are also available in bush form. This plant is popular in England where the nursery song originated: “Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush…”

Mulberries are greatly loved by birds. Plant one to feed the birds, and or to attract birds away from other fruit trees. The fruit can stain patio areas and decks, so it should be planted away from outdoor living areas. Plant one next to a chicken pen!

A good place for a Mulberry tree is in a lawn. This makes harvesting easy: just spread a sheet below the tree, shake the branches gently and the fruits drops onto the sheet for easy gathering. The fruits can be eaten fresh or used for making jam, jellies, pies, tarts, syrups or cordials. Dried fruits are used for snacks and in puddings, cookies, muffins and confections.

Mulberry trees have very attractive, dark green leaves. Although somewhat drought-resistant, they need to be watered in dry seasons, or the fruit is likely to drop before it has fully ripened. They are easy to grow and fun to eat.

Plant Protection

Friday, January 18th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Apples and pears are the easiest fruits to grow in our area. Choose early, mid-season and late varieties for a continuous harvest from late summer into winter.
    • Fill your winter garden with color from primroses and pansies.
    • Roses should be pruned in February near the end of the dormant season. You can clean them up now, however, by removing all the old leaves on and around the plants.
    • Start seeds of perennial flowers like columbine, coreopsis and echinacea.

Protecting Plants from Freezing Weather

Plants vary in the amount of cold that they can take in the winter time. Where zinnias are completely killed by a frost, pansies thrive in the cold and will even bloom underneath the snow. Some evergreen shrubs, like jasmine vines, fuchsias, citrus and fragrant rhododendrons, are damaged by severe winter cold, but there are measures you can take to protect these plants.

Keeping plants well-watered is very important in freezing weather. While we’ve had enough rainfall for plants in the ground, container plants are especially vulnerable to the desiccating (drying out) effects of freezing.

There are several ways you can provide winter protection including mulching, covering the plants, moving them, spraying them with an anti-transpirant, or taking advantage of a light snow covering.

Once the soil is moist, mulching is one of the best ways to protect plant roots. A two-inch mulch will keep the soil from freezing and allow the roots to continue to pull up water as needed. The combination of dry soil and cold temperatures can cause serious freeze damage to evergreen trees and shrubs.

Covering plants will protect them from frost damage by trapping the heat that is rising up from the ground. Covering with a plastic tent or ‘Harvest-Guard’ (a lightweight fabric) can make a big difference. If plastic touches the leaves, each point of contact will freeze, so it’s better to make a light frame and staple the plastic to it. ‘Harvest-Guard’ is light enough that you can simply drape it over the plant, but it will need to be secured against winds.

You can also move tender plants to a sheltered location on a porch or underneath an eave or patio cover. It is also less cold underneath trees, so that is a good spot for more tender plants. Be sure to keep these plants watered if they will not receive rain water.

You can also spray tender plants with an anti-transpirant spray, such as ‘Cloud Cover’, which is made from an acrylic polymer. When sprayed on a plant, it forms a clear, colorless, flexible, glossy film that doesn’t interfere with the plant’s growth. This protective coating stops water from escaping from the foliage and stems, substantially reducing water loss due to drying winds and frozen ground. It is best to spray when the temperature is above 40 degrees. The spray will gradually break down in about four months under cold weather conditions.

Mother Nature actually provides the best blanket of protection in the form of a light snow. Up to two or three inches of snow not only insulates the ground around your plants it also provides a blanket of protection over the leaves. On the other hand, a heavy, wet snow can cause considerable damage as it tends to place too much weight on the leaves and branches, often causing them to break. So if the snowfall is wet and heavy, you should make it a point to shake-off the excess snow before any damage occurs. Try to do this carefully so some snow remains as a winter protection.

Each measure gives a few degrees of protection, so try them all on tender plants that you value.

Backyard Orchard Culture

Friday, January 18th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root season is here. Choose and plant your favorite fruit trees and roses now.
    • Fruit trees can be pruned this month. If you’re not sure how, take advantage of one of the fine classes being offered this month.
    • Primroses will give you the most color during this cold weather. Choose some pretty ones now for your boxes and beds.
    • Strawberries can be planted any time now. Get them in early, and you’ll be picking strawberries this summer.
    • FREE Fruit Tree Pruning Classes on Saturday and Sunday, January 19-20 from 10 AM to 3 PM. Call Sanhedrin Nursery, 459-9009, for details.

Backyard Orchard Culture

For years, most of the information about growing fruit trees came from commercial orchard culture. These methods promote maximum size for maximum yield but require 12-foot ladders for pruning, thinning and picking, and 400 to 600 square feet of land per tree to allow for tractors.

But the needs and priorities of the backyard orchardist are quite different. Most homeowners want to maximize the amount of fruit production in a limited area and be able to harvest fruit over a long season. This includes planting a variety of fruit trees with different ripening times.

If you have limited space for your orchard, there are several techniques you can use to maximize the yield in that area. Two, three or four trees in one hole, espalier, and hedgerow are the most common of these techniques.

By planting two or more trees in one hole, you restrict the vigor of the trees, effectively dwarfing them. It is important that they are on rootstocks of similar vigor. For example, using a four-in-one-hole planting, four trees on Citation rootstock would be easier to maintain than a combination of one tree on Lovell, one on Mazzard, one on Citation, and one on M-27.

Planting more varieties can also mean better cross-pollination of pears, apples, plums and cherries, which means more consistent production.

Espalier is the practice of controlling plant growth so that it grows relatively flat against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis. To develop an espalier, fan, or other two-dimensional form, plant the tree 6-12 inches from the structure and remove everything that doesn’t grow flat. Selectively thin and train what’s left to space the fruiting wood.

Many fruit trees are well suited for planting in hedgerows. When planted tightly together they form a lovely screen that works well in an edible landscape on a boundary line or to block an unsightly view. The trees should be spaced 4 to 5 feet apart and again be on similar rootstocks.

Smaller trees are easier to spray, prune, thin, net to protect from birds and harvest. With small trees, it’s possible to have more varieties that ripen at different times and give you lots of delicious flavors. Pruning is the only way to keep most fruit trees small. You will need to prune in both winter and summer. Summer pruning is the easiest way to keep trees small. Take in a pruning class or two so you know what to do and develop some confidence in pruning.

There is a special pleasure in growing your own fruit, growing new varieties of fruit, producing fruit that is unusually sweet and tasty, having fruit over a long season, and in sharing tree-ripe fruit with others. These are the rewards of learning and experimenting with new cultural practices and techniques as you become an accomplished backyard fruit grower.