Drought and Orchard Trees

Saturday, February 8th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    • Witch hazels bloom in the middle of winter with their interesting and showy, fragrant yellow or red blooms. One might look good in your garden.
    • Strawberries can be planted any time now. Get them in early, and you’ll be picking strawberries this summer.
    • 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.

Drought and Orchard Trees

Fruit trees will do all they can to survive drought conditions. They will lessen water use by eliminating tree parts, so you may see wilted and scorched leaves or the shedding of leaves and fruit. Twigs and branches will die if necessary and fruit trees will go into semi-dormancy to cope with the lack of water. It is best to prevent fruit trees from needing to resort to such measures by providing them with all the water they need, but in extreme drought conditions you may have no choice. The following tips will help fruit trees to endure a water shortage.

Mulch with 3-4 inches of organic mulch (leaves, aged sawdust, wood chips, or straw) from the trunk to the drip line and beyond if possible. Don’t mulch more than 4 inches deep, and keep it 4-6 inches away from the tree’s trunk. Apply the mulch after the soil has been irrigated or after a good rain so that the soil is moist. Remove weeds and cover crops under the tree’s canopy before placing the mulch.

If water supplies are extremely limited use breathable landscape fabrics underneath the organic mulches to slow down water evaporation even more. Cardboard or biodegradable paper mulches can be used in place of synthetic landscape fabrics.

Fruit trees will naturally drop more fruit during droughts to minimize their water loss. Help them by removing all fruit on trees under three years old and most or all fruit on older trees. Do any thinning of fruit within 30 days of fruit set.

If the fruit trees lose their leaves then paint their exposed limbs and trunk with white latex paint diluted by 50% or spray with kaolinate clay found in a product called “Surround.”

Slow down transpiration of water by thinning out some of the leaves and shading the tree with shade cloth. Do not use anti-desiccants as they can do more harm than good.

Do not fertilize with nitrogen as it encourages growth, which requires more water use. Also, do not severely prune during a drought because it stresses the tree’s ability to cope with adverse conditions. Do not till or cultivate under fruit trees.

If you have more orchard trees than you can irrigate sufficiently, prioritize them: Newly planted or young trees under 4 years old must have water. They need far less water than older trees but it is essential for their future growth. Water favorite bearing trees over less favorite or poorly performing trees.

Give water to fruit trees with higher water needs first. Peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, pears, and apples on non-dwarf rootstocks need more water than jujubes, pomegranates, olives, persimmons, figs, mulberries, black walnuts, hazelnuts, grapes, almonds, apricots, and apples on standard or M-111 rootstocks.

The most important time to irrigate fruit trees is from their bloom period to their harvest. After harvest, watering can lessen or stop. Water in the evening or at night to minimize evaporation and water slowly so that there is no runoff.

The easiest way to apply water to a newly planted tree is to make a basin 2-3 feet wide with 4-6 inch berm around the tree and fill it with water following the suggested amounts below. Expand the basins as the trees grow to enable the tree’s spreading root system to receive water.

If older trees have not been given regular, supplemental watering, don’t begin now. They have established a root system that will cope with a drought. On the other hand, trees 5 years or older that have been dripped or flood irrigated regularly must be given sufficient water or they will be harmed by a drought. Provide them with the recommended amounts of water in the chart.

………………………Fruit Tree Water Recommendations
………………………..(Gallons of water per week)
Age of Tree…………………….New …….1-2 years …..3-4 years…..5 + years
From Bud Break to June………5…………10………………20……………..30
July to Oct. ………………………10…………15………………30……………..60
Nov. to Dec. ……………………….5…………10………………20……………..30

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.

Planning the Backyard Orchard

Friday, January 4th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Many fine varieties of flowering dogwoods, tulip magnolias, Japanese maples and other specimen plants are now available at nurseries for winter planting.
    • Prune fruit trees, grapes, berries, and ornamental trees this month. Take in a pruning class and sharpen your shears before you start.
    • Spring flowers and vegetables can be started from seeds now on your window sill. Try pansies and snapdragons, broccoli, cabbage and lettuces.
    • 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.

Planning the Backyard Orchard

Whether you have 20 acres or 1/4 of an acre, you can have fruit-bearing trees on your property that will give you mouthwatering, tree-ripened fruit as well as a sense of pride and accomplishment.

In choosing the location for fruit trees, a place with as much summer sun as possible is best. With a short season to ripen fruits here, we need as much sunlight as possible. Fruit trees should not be planted in the vegetable garden. Worse than root competition, the shade created by the trees diminishes the productivity of the garden.

There is some advantage to planting early blooming fruit trees, like apricots, plums and peaches, on a north slope or the north side of a building. The winter shade will delay the blooming of these trees and increase your chances of having a good harvest. 

Fruit trees should always have good drainage. This is especially true for stone fruits (cherries, peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines), which will not tolerate standing water around their trunks.

The question of whether to plant standard trees or dwarf trees is mostly determined by how large your orchard is. Standard apple and pear trees should be set 20 feet apart and semi-dwarf trees can be spaced 12 to 15 feet apart. In an area 100 feet by 100 feet you could plant 25 standard trees or 50 to 65 semi-dwarf trees at that spacing.

Dwarf trees can also be planted in hedgerows 4 feet apart where space is at a premium. They take a lot of care when planted so close together but will give you a bountiful harvest. Even standard sized trees can be kept much smaller with pruning. This requires summer pruning as well as winter “dormant” pruning, but it can be done where space is at a premium.

You will also want to consider which varieties to plant for a long harvesting season. Cherries are the first to ripen, around the first of June, followed by apricots, plums, peaches and pluots which ripen at different times through the summer depending on variety. The first apples and pears ripen in late August and other varieties ripen through the fall months. Persimmons ripen around Thanksgiving. With careful planning you can have fresh fruit over a six month period.

Not all fruit trees will bear every year. Spring weather conditions frequently damage the crops of apricots, peaches and plums and even apples and pears have good and bad years. Plant enough trees so that you will have more food than you need in the good years, and in the bad years you will still get enough.