Fresh tree ripe peaches are best.

Of all the stone fruit trees like apricot, plum and cherry, none need more aggressive and specialized pruning while dormant in winter than peach, Prunus persica. The distinctively fuzzy fruit is so big and heavy that the weight of too much fruit tears limbs down. Pruning not only limits fruit production, but improves structural integrity, fruit weight distribution, fruit quality, and tree health. Mature trees should be kept less than ten feet tall, but often get twice as tall with much of the fruit out of reach.

Flowering Apricot

Flowering apricot blooms before flowering cherry.

Even when weather is more typical for the local climate, many types of flowering apricot, Prunus mume, bloom during winter. Flowers seem to be a bit more resilient to wind, rain and frost than those of flowering cherry that bloom a month or so later. Nonetheless, they are delicate and share their white or pastel pink color with wintry landscapes only briefly. 

Although many garden varieties of flowering apricot are fruitless, some, particularly feral trees, produce fruit. Some of such fruit is desirable to those who utilize it. However, most is unpalatable without specialized processing. Flowering apricot works as understock for a few related trees, so occasionally grows from the roots of such trees after their removal. 

Flowering apricot is quite rare locally, which is why it seems to be so unseasonable as it blooms so early. Like flowering cherry and plum, it blooms on otherwise bare stems prior to generating new foliage for spring. Copious bloom of garden varieties is nicely fragrant. Flowers are nearly an inch wide. Mature trees are about ten to more than twenty feet tall, and almost as broad.


Apricot trees get planted in winter.

Apricot has major history in California. For a very long time, it was the main agricultural commodity is several regions, particularly the Santa Clara Valley. It remains a significant commodity within portions of the San Joaquin Valley. Urban sprawl replaced orchards in other regions. However, apricot trees now inhabit some urban gardens. The climate here is as ideal for them as it ever was.

Garden variety apricot trees are not quite like orchard trees. Dwarfing rootstock keeps them somewhat more compact. They might otherwise grow taller that twenty feet. Production is best during the first three decades or so, before they begin to slowly deteriorate. Orchard trees are already due for replacement by then. Many more cultivars are practical for home gardens than for orchards.

Apricot trees, which are mostly of the species Prunus armeniaca, are certainly not ‘low maintenance’. They require specialized pruning annually, while dormant for winter. Otherwise, they produce more fruit than they can support. New trees are unlikely to produce any fruit during their first season. The deciduous foliage falls neatly in autumn. White or slightly blushed spring bloom is striking.

Enjoy The Fruits Of Summer

70726thumbIs a prune really just a dried plum? No! A plum is really a prune. In fact, all ‘stone fruit’ are of the same prune genus known as Prunus. This means that apricot, cherry, peach, nectarine, prune, plum and even almond are all related. So are all their weird and trendy hybrids, such as aprium, pluots, plumcots and so on. (Almonds are the pits or ‘stones’ of dry leathery fruits that fall away as hulls.)

The main difference between prunes and plums is that prunes contain enough sugar to inhibit mold while they dry, . . . if they dry efficiently enough. Plums are juicier and contain less sugar, so are more likely to mold before they dry. If dried in a dehydrator, plums get squishy, and are likely to develop an odd flavor. Most prunes are European. Most popular plums are of Japanese descent.

The wrinkly and leathery fruit that most of us know as prunes are actually ‘dried’ prunes. Fresh prunes can be eaten just like plums, but are firmer, and have milder flavor. They are better for juicing, canning (whole, while firm) and cooking, although plums make better jam. Plums have richer flavor for eating fresh. Because they are so soft, they do not juice as well, but make nice plum nectar.

Apricots are not quite as easy to dry as prunes are. They must either be dried quickly in a dehydrator of some sort, or sulfured; and sulfuring is probably too much work for most of us. Most of the apriums, pluots, plumcots and other weird apricot hybrids that have become so trendy in the past many years are too soft for drying or canning. Like plums, peaches and nectarines, fresh is best.

Fruit that ripens evenly throughout the tree is best for canning, freezing, drying or any technique that takes large volumes of fruit at once. Uneven ripening is better for fruit eaten fresh. It allows later fruit to continue ripening while the earliest fruit is being consumed. The problem is that the best stone fruits ripen very evenly, all at the same time. If not shared with neighbors, some is sure to rot.

If some of the fruit ripens later than the rest, it will be inside the shadiest part of the canopy. The most exposed fruit on the exterior of the canopy ripens first, and for most types of fruit, has the best flavor. After all fruit is harvested from a tree, any remaining bad fruit should be removed from the tree, and from the ground around the tree. Diseases proliferate, and later overwinter in rotting fruit.

What’s In A Name? Sometimes, Not Much.

P71209Newer developments are often named after what was destroyed to procure space for them. Writers and historians have been making that observation for decades.

There are obviously no remnants of a ranch in the McCarthy Ranch Marketplace in Milpitas. Heck, there are no little cornfields left in Milpitas, which is what ‘Milpitas’ means. Cherry Orchard Shopping Center in Sunnyvale? Give me a break! The Pruneyard Shopping Center in Campbell is no better.

I just happen to find the Pruneyard to be less objectionable than the others because it was built about the time I was born. It has been there as long as I can remember. My parents can remember when it was a drying yard for the prunes harvested in the surrounding orchards. I remember the last remnants of prune orchards, but by my time, there were not enough of them to justify the less lucrative use of real estate for drying, which could be done elsewhere.

The Pruneyard Towers are an office complex just to the west of the shopping center. The original Pruneyard Tower might still be the tallest building between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I know it was only a few decades ago. (Downtown San Jose has a ceiling on the heights of their skyscrapers because of the flightpath of the Mineta San Jose Airport.) I can remember as a kid, seeing the big black tower standing proudly off in the distance, beyond the blooming apricot orchards. When our parents were shopping there, and we got close to the Pruneyard Tower, we felt a bit more cosmopolitan, as if we lived in a big world class city. Back then, we had no idea that nearby San Jose was well on the way to becoming exactly that!

The shorter tower was added about 1976. The third and lowest of the three bigger towers was added in the 1990s. The late 1960s architecture of the shopping center is still prominent, but several original buildings have been rebuilt with modern architecture, and a few new buildings were added.

As much as I miss the orchards and the horticultural past of the Santa Clara Valley, I can not totally dislike the Pruneyard Shopping Center and the associated big towers. To my generation, they are also part of our history. They have been here as long as we have.

The one thing that I dislike about the Pruneyard Shopping Center is the name. It is a constant reminder that something that was such an important part of our local culture and history was destroyed so that it could be built. Nothing about the site is associated with the orchards, or drying yards or prunes, or anything of the sort.