Autumn Simply Will Not Wait

40917thumbReady or not, it will be autumn in just a few days. Formal hedges can be shorn one last time if they need it. They will not grow much until spring. Actually, photinia and the various pittosporums should not be shorn much later than now if they exhibit any dieback. Some of the diseases that cause dieback are more likely to infest freshly cut stems during rainy weather. Citrus and plants that can be sensitive to frost should not be pruned later, since pruning can stimulate new growth that will be more sensitive.

For the same reason, most plants should not need fertilizer as their growth naturally slows. Through winter, new growth is likely to be damaged by wind or discolored by nutrient deficiency. Even if the nutrients that keep foliage green prior to autumn are in the soil, some are less soluble at cooler temperatures. It is really best to allow plants to get some rest. Only plants that are active through winter, like cool season vegetables, cool season annuals, and some cool season turf, will benefit from fertilizer.

However, some plants that are generally dormant through cool winter weather will not be completely inactive. Many plants, particularly tough evergreen perennials like lily-of-the-Nile, African iris and many ferns, continue to disperse their roots to be ready to sustain new foliar growth next spring. This is one of the reasons why autumn is the best time to get such plants into the garden, even if they do not seem to do much until spring. Autumn is also a good time to seed lawns or install sod.

The other reason for planting in autumn is that, as the weather gets cooler and rainy, new plants that have not yet dispersed their roots will be less likely to dry out than they would be in spring or summer. Some bulbs that will soon be available in nurseries want to be in the garden before winter because a bit of cold weather promotes healthier bloom.

Advertisements

Citrus On The Sucker List

90501thumbA five pound kumquat is a problem! It means something went seriously wrong. Anyone who grew one would concur. They are huge, lumpy, and very insipid, with ridiculously thick pale yellow rind around a small handful of uselessly fibrous pulp. They are protected by dangerously sharp and rigid thorns that can get longer than three inches. Even their irregularly wavy foliage is unappealing.

In reality though, there is no such thing as a five pound kumquat. These huge but useless fruits, as well as the associated thorns and foliage, are those of ‘shaddock’, which is the most common ‘understock’ for almost all grafted dwarf citrus trees. It is what keeps such trees compact, so that they do not get as big as orchard trees. It was there all along, whether we were aware of it or not.

Most citrus trees are composed of two genetically different parts. The understock are the lower parts that develop roots that are unseen underground. The desirable upper parts that produce the familiar citrus fruits grow from ‘scions’ that are grafted onto the understock. Graft unions are just above grade, where the texture of the bark above is slightly different from that of the bark below.

‘Suckers’ are stems that grow from the understock below the graft unions. Because they are genetically identical to the understock rather than the scions, they produce the same fruit and exhibit the same physical characteristics as the understock would if it were growing wild. Suckers can overwhelm desirable scion growth, which is how kumquat trees can produce huge five pound fruits.

Other grafted trees and shrubs, particularly fruit trees, get suckers too. New suckers appear as new spring growth develops. They should be peeled off of the main trunks rather than pruned off. As brutal as this seems, it is more efficient than pruning. Soft young shoots should snap off quite readily. This technique removes more of the callus growth at the bases of the suckers, which could develop more suckers later. Big older suckers should be pruned off as closely and neatly as possible.

Lisbon Lemon

90417It may not be the mother of all lemons, but Lisbon lemon, Citrus limon ‘Lisbon’, is the original cultivar from which ‘Eureka’ lemon was derived; and ‘Variegated Pink’ lemon was later derived from ‘Eureka’ lemon. ‘Variegated Pink’ is still uncommon, and the pink juice is unusual, but because its variegated foliage is less efficient than greener foliage, it is more manageable in small spaces.

The only distinguishable difference between ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Eureka’ is the scheduling of the fruit. Both are the biggest of the dwarf citrus, and can get as tall as second story eaves. Both have nicely aromatic glossy green foliage. Both are somewhat thorny, and get big thorns on vigorous growth. Yet ‘Lisbon’ is now rare, while ‘Eureka’ is second in popularity only to the unrelated ‘Meyer’ lemon.

That is because, after primary winter production, ‘Eureka’ continues to produce sporadically throughout the year, which is what most of us want in our home garden. ‘Lisbon’ may seem to be more productive, but only because it produces all of its fruit within a limited season that is finishing up about now. The fruit that ripens now may linger for months, but no new fruit ripens until next season.

Citrus And Avocado From Seed

71227Is it possible to grow citrus from seed? The quick and simple answer to that question is, “Yes.” After all, many cultivars of citrus were originally bred from other cultivars, and then grown from seed. But of course, this an overly simplified answer to an unrealistically simple question about a surprisingly complicated process. Perhaps a better question is “Should citrus be grown from seed?”.

Almost all citrus are grafted for a variety of reasons. Those that are not grafted are grown from cuttings only because they do not need whatever advantages understock (or rootstock) provides for their counterparts. Either way, they are all cloned by some form of vegetative propagation. This ensures that they are all genetically identical to their parents, without potential for genetic variation.

Citrus have been bred and developed so extensively that most types are very genetically variable. Those that are the most variable tend to produce fewer seeds, and might even be classified as seedless. Those with more seeds are probably more genetically stable. Nonetheless, it is impossible to predict if seed grown citrus will resemble their parents, or be something totally different.

Furthermore, citrus are cloned from ‘adult’ growth that is ready to bloom and develop fruit. Those grown from seed start out with vegetative ‘juvenile’ growth that will not bloom. Juvenile growth is typically more vigorous and thornier than adult growth, and possibly wickedly thorny! Some types of citrus outgrow their juvenile phase quite readily, while others may take several years to do so.

Avocado trees grown from seed exhibit some of the same difficulties. Although they lack thorns, they do grow very vigorously and very tall for quite a few years before they bloom. By the time they develop fruit, the fruit could be too high to reach, and quite different from the original.

Just because citrus and avocados can be grown from seed does not mean that they should be. However, different is not necessarily bad. Many seed grown avocado trees get pruned into

Too Much Grapefruit

P80303KThere really is such a thing as too much grapefruit. I know; I have witnessed it more than once.

The most recent occasion was two years ago. We were pruning a few fruit trees for a client in San Jose. One of the trees was an old fashioned ‘Marsh’ grapefruit, which happens to be my all time favorite grapefruit.

As we were pruning, the client was dragging brush away to curbside recycling. Most of our clients prefer to do the ‘cleanup’ to save money. The client asked me if I would like some of the fruit. Of course, surplus fruit is one of the many benefits of our work; and of course, I told the client that I would be pleased to take some of the excellent grapefruit. I then went back to work on a nearby persimmon tree.

While busy with the persimmon tree, I was unaware of what the client was doing with the grapefruit. I knew that there was quite a bit of it. She and her sister bagged it and took it out front. From there, they loaded as much of it as they could into the little Blazer (Roy, the ‘Bravada’. It is a long story. I will explain later.). By the time I finished, the Blazer was FILLED with bagged grapefruit! I really should have gotten a picture.

There was no way I could eat or share all that grapefruit before most of it went bad. However, it would have been rude to leave the fruit there after they had so nicely loaded it into the car. Naturally, I ate a lot of grapefruit. It was excellent! The good news is that I really was able to share all that I could not eat or juice. None of it was wasted.

Year of the DOG!

P71019

Tet, Vietnamese New Year’s Day, is today! This is the first day of the Year of the Dog! Tet is celebrated for at least three days, and besides all the popularly known traditions that go along with it, a few horticulturally oriented traditions are also observed.

When I grew citrus back in the early 1990s, I can remember than we sold every kumquat and calamondin tree that had fruit on it prior to Tet. When those ran out, we sold every fruited mandarin orange and tangerine tree, and then every fruited orange and lemon tree. Eventually, just about every fruited tree we could supply was gone. Citrus trees with colorful ripe fruit are traditional decoration for Tet, and might even be a gift for someone lacking such a tree. Kumquat trees are the favorite, but others will do if necessary.

Fruit baskets containing primarily citrus fruits are also very popular and traditional. Bananas, pineapple and any colorful fruit are fair game as well. Shaddock fruit is popular if available. Shaddock is the dwarfing understock for other dwarf citrus trees, but is not commonly grown for fruit production.

Blooming stems of apricot, peach and plum, as well as Saint John’s wort flowers, are the favorite traditional cut flowers for Tet. Each type of flower corresponds to the region of Vietnam from which the family displaying it originated. In the Santa Clara Valley years ago, there were plenty of fruit blossoms to go around. The stems were sometimes cut early and forced to bloom on time for Tet. Nowadays, such blooming stems can be purchased from florists, along with the other traditional flowers; chrysanthemums, narcissus, marigolds, pansies and cockscombs. Families who own a bonsai or more display them prominently for Tet.

Happy Tet and Year of the Dog!80131

Makrut Lime

80207Of all the weird citruses available, this is one of the strangest. Makrut lime, Citrus hystrix, is not grown for its ugly wrinkled fruit. The rind and the juice are only rarely used for culinary or medicinal purposes. The important part of makrut lime is the aromatic foliage, particularly the modified petiole ‘wings’ that look like leaves. Fresh or dried, they are popular in the cuisine of Southeast Asia.

Mature trees can eventually reach second story eaves, but are usually kept significantly lower. They are so shrubby that even large trees should have plenty of foliage within easy reach from the ground. Once a tree gets overgrown, it is not as easily pruned lower as some other citrus trees are. Pruning stimulates vigorously long and arching stems, rather than more desirable fluffy growth.

The winged petioles are almost as long and wide as the actual leaves are. In fact, they look just like the leaves, making them look like ‘double leaves’. Although the petiole wings separated from the petiole are supposedly the most aromatic parts, leaves are useful too. The hard fruits are about as big as golf balls, and are the same rich green as the foliage, until they ripen to a light yellow.

Kumquat

80131Tet, on February 16, will be the Vietnamese New Year’s Day for the Year of the Dog! Any year associated with the dog must be pretty excellent. Anyway, potted and fruited kumquat trees are very traditional decorations for Tet. Although less popular than orange and lemon trees, they are the most compact of the citrus trees, so are therefore the most adaptable to compact home gardens.

They grow slowly and may never reach first floor eaves. The evergreen leaves are a bit thicker, smaller and darker green than those of Mandarin orange. Stems are mostly thornless. The compact growth is quite symmetrical, so might only occasionally need to be trimmed for a stray stem here and there. Clusters of small white flowers bloom about the time the last of the fruit gets harvested.

Kumquat has the distinction of being the ‘other’ citrus. Although the genus is alternatively known as Citrus, experts know it as Fortunella. Those with round fruit are Fortunella japonica. Those with oval fruit are Fortunella marginata. The abundant fruits are not much bigger than big grapes, and are eaten whole, with the seeds spit out. The tart pulp with the sweet skin is a tangy combination.

When Life Gives You Lemons

80131thumbWhen life gives you lemons, it is likely this time of year. Although, the most popular garden varieties of lemon, like ‘Meyer’ and ‘Eureka’, continue to produce at least a few more fruits sporadically through the year. ‘Lisbon’ lemon that is still used in orchard production, and is the ancestor of the household ‘Eureka’ lemon, produces almost all of its fruit in winter, and blooms shortly afterward.

Ripe citrus in the middle of winter impresses those in climates where winter is too cold for much to happen in the garden. They could not grow a citrus tree if they wanted to. Even here, frost can damage some of the more sensitive citrus varieties, like ‘Mexican’ lime. Unlike the fruits of summer, citrus fruits ripen slowly and are not so perishable, so do not need to be harvested right away.

This means that if it is raining, cold or just to wintery to go outside, citrus fruits can be left on the tree until the weather improves. Most of us prefer to pick them in small batches anyway. Ideally, fruit should get picked as it is consumed. Lemons and limes typically get picked individually as needed, until there are so many that some need to be bagged and shared with friends and neighbors.

Mandarin oranges are the most perishable of the citrus. Because their skins are so loosely attached to the pulp, the pulp can oxidize, lose flavor and eventually get dry and pithy. Incidentally, a ‘tangerine’ is merely a Mandarin orange that was developed in North or South America. A surprisingly sour (unknown) Mandarin orange might really be a ‘Rangpur lime’, which is not a lime at all.

Unlike most fruit that continues to ripen after harvest, or pears that actually delay ripening until after harvest, citrus fruits stop developing flavor once picked. It is best to taste them for confirmation of ripe flavor prior to harvest. Some Mandarin oranges may have slightly greenish blotches on them even when completely ripe. The best ‘Valencia’ oranges can look rather yellowish. Grapefruits might mellow if left in their trees past ripeness, but can also inhibit bloom.

Merry Christmas!

P71225Does anyone else think that it is odd that Baby Jesus got only some frankincense, myrrh and gold for His first Christmas? I mean, it was the first Christmas ever, and that was the best that anyone could do? Well, maybe those gifts were something important back then. Maybe it was a good heap of gold. It just seems to me that three ‘wise’ men could have procured better gifts. More than two thousand years later, some of us are disappointed if we do not get a new Lexus on Jesus’ birthday, after He got only frankincense, myrrh and gold. (Get your own birthday!)

Although I do not remember my first Christmas, I know that my parents and others got excellent Christmas gifts for us kids when we were young. Our stocking that hung over the fireplace were filled with a mix of nuts, mandarin oranges, cellophane wrapped hard candies and small wooden toys. This is a tradition that dates back to a time when citrus fruits and certain nuts were something fancy that needed to be imported to Northern Europe from Mediterranean regions.

Of course, citrus grows quite well in our region, and almonds and walnuts still grew in the last remnants of local orchards. Our great grandparents had two mature English walnut trees in their gardens. Only pecans and hazelnuts were exotic. I happened to like pecans because they are from Oklahoma. (I did not know where or what Oklahoma was back then, but I knew it was an excellent place.) Hazelnuts were from Vermont, which is twice as far away as Oklahoma is, if you can believe that!

The gifts under the Christmas trees were even more excellent! One year, I got packets of seed for a warm season vegetable garden the following spring. There were seed for pole beans, corn, pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchini. (The cabbage incident that I will write about later happened in the cool season garden the following autumn.) Under the Christmas tree at my grandparents house, I got all the gardening tools that I would need in my garden, including a small shovel, garden rake, leaf rake and hoe. But wait, there’s more! Under the Christmas tree at my great grandparent’s house, I got flower seed for bachelor button, alyssum and a few others, as well as bare root rhubarb plants (from my great grandfather’s rhubarb that he had been growing longer than anyone can remember). I had already learned about seed from my first nasturtiums (https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/dago-pansies/), so I could not have been more pleased with my cache of gifts.

For later Christmases, and also birthdays, I got all sort of other things that were much more excellent than frankincense, myrrh and gold, including an incense cedar (how appropriate) that my grandparents brought back from the summer house near Pioneer, and a young ‘Meyer’ lemon tree. My Radio Flyer wagon was the biggest and most excellent in the neighborhood, and was more than sufficient to haul all my gear around the garden with. My big watering can was a bit too big, and was too heavy for me to move when it was full of water.

I would not say that these gifts were extravagant. They were just . . . okay, so they were extravagant. It was a long time ago. Unfortunately, my parents figured out that their gifts were somewhat excessive just prior to buying me the Buick I wanted. The wagon is still around. My mother uses it to bring in firewood. She also uses the little shovel to clean ash from the stove.

(The gardening article that is regularly scheduled for Mondays is scheduled for tomorrow. The featured species that is regularly scheduled for Tuesdays is scheduled for Wednesday.)P71225+