Prune

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Prune trees get planted bare root.

Does anyone remember when champagne produced in California was formally classified as ‘sparkling wine’? ‘Champagne’ is a technical classification for that which originates from the region of France for which it is named. That makes sense. The technical classifications of prune and plum formerly made sense also, even if not universally understood. Reclassification in 2001 ruined that.

Prune, Prunus domestica, is primarily a European freestone fruit. (The pits of freestone fruits separate from the ripening flesh.) They have firmer flesh than plum, so are more practical for canning and drying. They also have higher sugar content, so might be dried without sulfuring (which prevents molding). Darkly purple and rather oblong fresh prunes are less popular than dried prunes are.

Plum is primarily a Japanese cling fruit. (The pits of cling fruits remain firmly adhered to ripening flesh.) They are softer and juicier than prune, and contain less sugar, so are not as efficiently pitted and dried without sulfuring, or canned. Larger, rounder, more colorful and more richly flavored plums are instead best fresh. They might be bluish purple, purple, red, ruddy orange, yellow or green.

Nowadays, all prunes and plums are known collectively as plums. Dried prunes are just dried plums.

Horridculture – Half-Breed

70726thumbCher explained a long time ago that a half-breed is nothing to brag about. Some of us just don’t get it. A few clients still introduce me to their weirdly bred stone fruit trees as if they are both justification for great pride, as well as something that a professional horticulturist of the Santa Clara Valley has not already encountered a few thousand times. I at least try to act impressed.

The stone fruits that grew in the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley half a century ago were the best. That is why they were grown here. The climate and soil were ideal for their production. Traditional cultivars produced so abundantly and reliably that there was no need to breed new cultivars. The quality was exemplary. Consequently, only a few were actually developed here.

Half-breeds, or weird breeds of any unnatural ratio, started to be developed more than a century ago. A few happened incidentally where different species of the same genus of Prunus grew. They were enjoyed as novelties for home gardens, but were not sufficiently productive or reliable for orchard production. Their fruit was for fresh eating only, since it did not dry or can well.

Now that the orchards are gone, and the only stone fruits in the Santa Clara Valley are in home gardens, these weird half-breeds and others are becoming more popular. Nurseries will soon be stocking several along with their incoming bare root stock. There is certainly nothing wrong with them. However, they are not necessarily any better than their well bred ancestors either.

Apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum and prune, as well as almond, are the traditional stone fruits, of the genus Prunus. (Almonds are the seeds or ‘stones’ of a stone fruit that does not get eaten, but instead gets discarded as a hull.) There are many cultivars of each. Some can be canned. Prunes and some apricots can be dried. There is no need for more, or for ‘improvement’.

Pluot, plumcot, aprium, apriplum, nectaplum, peacotum, pluerry and others like them are the weird interspecific hybrids (which are hybrids of two or more species within the same genus, which for these examples is ‘Prunus‘). Some are half-breeds. Some are breeds of different ratios, such as a half-breed with a half-breed parent, or a half-breed grandparent. It is confusing!

It is also an unjustifiable fad. There are more disadvantages to these weirdly bred stone-fruits than there are advantages. They really don’t get the best of both parents, but might get half of each. Again, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. There are those who legitimately prefer such hybrids. The point is that fads are not necessarily good, and many are just plain weird.

Peach

70726thumbJust like roses and camellias, the innocent peach, Prunus persica, has been developed into too many distinct cultivars to write about in just a few brief paragraphs. It had been in cultivation for thousands of years before arriving in North America. Peach is a classic summer fruit, but trees should be planted while dormant, preferably as bare root stock, about now, in the middle of winter.

Peaches certainly do not grow everywhere in North America. They need just enough chill to be reminded that it is winter; but too much chill too late in the season will ruin bloom. Too much late rain will rot developing fruit. Peaches are therefore right at home in chaparral climates of California, where freestone cultivars are grown for fresh fruit, and clingstone cultivars are grown for canning.

Healthy peach trees can get up to second story eaves, but if properly pruned, should be only half as tall. They should not get too wide either, since the weight of fruit can break limbs. Aggressive winter pruning keeps trees vigorous and resistant to disease. Orchard trees last less than twenty years, although home garden trees are often kept longer. Nectarines are just fuzzless peaches.

Bare Root Season Is Now

80124thumbAutumn really is the season for planting. That is the general rule. One generalization about general rules is that they generally do not apply to all of the specifics. In other words, there are likely certain exceptions. In this case, there are some types of plants that should not be planted in autumn. The next best season for planting is probably winter, which happens to be ‘bare root season’.

Just before the last of the Christmas trees were being sold, and relinquishing their space in nurseries, bare root stock started moving in. Some bare root stock is prepackaged with its otherwise bare roots in bags of moist sawdust. Nurseries that provide large volumes are likely to heel in unpackaged bare root stock into bins of moist sand, from which it gets pulled and wrapped as sold.

As the term ‘bare root’ implies, bare root stock was dug as early as the onset of dormancy in late autumn, and deprived of the soil that it grew in. Because it is dormant, and the weather is cool and damp, it does not mind much, if it even knows at all. As it emerges from dormancy next spring, it resumes growth, and disperses roots into the new soil that it got planted into while dormant.

Bare root stock is significantly less expensive than canned (potted) stock because it lightweight and does not take up much space in the nursery. It is also more efficient, since it only stops briefly in retail nurseries, on its way from growers to its final home destinations. New plants start dispersing roots right away, instead taking time and effort to recover from earlier confinement of roots.

Deciduous fruit trees and roses are the most familiar of bare root stock. The bare root fruit trees include the stone fruits of the genus Prunus, such as apricot, cherry, plum, prune, peach, nectarine and almond, as well as pomme fruits, such as apple, pear and quince. Figs, pomegranates, persimmons, walnuts, mulberries, grapevines, currants, gooseberries, blueberries, cane berries, strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus and a miscellany of deciduous blooming but fruitless plants are also available.