Horridculture – Unpruned Fruit Trees

P90529They do not come with instructions for their maintenance. Deciduous fruit trees, particularly the stone fruit trees (such as cherry, plum, prune, apricot nectarine and peach) and pomme fruit trees (such as apple and pear), can be procured as easily as nasturtium seed or petunias. Whether bare-root in winter or canned (potted), they very often get planted into gardens where they are expected to produce their fruit as easily as daisies bloom.
Instructions for planting that come with bare root stock are useful for getting those particular trees started, but mention nothing about how even brand new trees need to be pruned after installation, and will need specialized pruning annually every winter thereafter. The same applies to rose, raspberry, blackberry (all varieties), grape, and to a lesser extent, fig, pomegranate, persimmon and several other fruit producing trees, vines and shrubs.
The problem with the stone fruit and pomme fruit trees is that they were bred to produce an unnatural abundance of unnaturally large fruits that are too overwhelming to sustain as they ripen, and too heavy to support. The others are in a similar situation, but are somehow able to continue to produce and generally support their own weight as they get overgrown and congested. Roses deteriorate and succumb to disease as they get congested.
This is why annual winter pruning is so important. Such pruning concentrates resources into fewer but superior fruits, rather than too many inferior fruits. It also limits and contains (closer to the main trunk and limbs) the weight of the fruit, so that limbs are not so likely to break as fruit develops.
These wimpy stems hanging vertically from the weight of the maturing apricots might be able to support the weight of the fruit, but the excessive fruit will be of inferior quality.P90529+

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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.

Wild Plum

60224Unlike all the fancy and popular Japanese plums and European prunes, wild plum, Prunus americana, is almost never planted intentionally. It is a common understock for the more desirable types, and usually grows as suckers from below graft unions. In fact, it often grows from the roots of plum or prune trees that died or were cut down earlier. They can eventually form thickets.

Well groomed trees can get more than fifteen feet tall and broad. Even diligent pruning can not remove all of the sharp short twigs that make the stems seem thorny. Collectively, the simple and small white flowers bloom very profusely. The thin leaves that emerge after bloom are about two or three inches long. The small and soft red plums are only about an inch wide, with big pits.

Wild plum trees are very resilient, and can can survive in abandoned gardens, but really prefers occasional watering. They will lean away from the shade of larger trees. New trees do not often grow from seed, but if they do, they might be distinctly different from the trees that produced the seed. Some might be hybrids with other plums. Some might produce amber yellow plums.

The fruit may not be as fat and sweet as popular garden varieties of plum, but happens to be excellent for traditional plum jelly, either red or amber.

Bloom Is Earlier If Forced

60224thumbProperly pruned deciduous fruit trees probably do not have too many extra stems to spare now. Neglected trees would have more to offer. Believe it or not, a few of us who prune deciduous fruit trees diligently and meticulously in winter sometimes leave a few unwanted stems to prune out and take into the home now that the flower buds are beginning to swell and are about to bloom.

Bloom accelerates once the bare twigs are inside where the nights are warmer than outside. If the buds are plump enough, they can bloom in a day or a few. (If not plump enough, the buds may desiccate before they bloom.) Twigs that are already blooming can be brought in as well, but do not last quite as long. Blossoms are a bit messy as they later drop petals, but are worth the bother.

The technique is simply known as ‘forcing’, which works something like forcing bulbs to bloom prematurely. Timing is critical. If a few blossoms are already blooming elsewhere on the tree, the fattest unblooming buds that are already showing color are ready to be cut and brought in. They only need to be put in a vase with water like any other cut flower, and can mix with other flowers.

Stone fruits (of the genus Prunus) like almond, apricot, plum, prune, peach, nectarine and cherry, start to bloom about now, although not in this order. Apple and pear bloom later. All their fruitless counterparts, known simply as flowering plum, flowering cherry, flowering crabapple and so on, are even more colorful, and some types bloom with ruffled double flowers. All bloom without foliage.

Flowering quince and forsythia have already bloomed, but would have been the most spectacular bare twigs to force into bloom. Pussywillow is probably the most familiar forced bloom twig. Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) blooms something like pear, but the aroma may be objectionable to some. More adventurous garden enthusiasts force witch hazel (winter), redbud and star magnolia.

Avocado

60217Avocado trees, Persea americana, grown from seed need to be about five years old to produce fruit that can be considerably different from the fruit from which the seed was taken, although such fruit is almost always quite good. Some trees need to be twice as old to produce. Grafted trees from nurseries are specific varieties that can start to produce their specific fruit immediately.

Fruit production is notoriously variable. Some healthy trees may be unproductive for a few years, and then suddenly produce more fruit than the limbs can support. Trees that are very reliable and productive may sometimes be unproductive or significantly less productive for a season. It is nearly impossible to determine which environmental factors inhibited bloom and fruit development.

Mature trees can be more than forty feet tall, with awkward branch structure. The lush dark green leaves are about four to eight inches long. The tiny yellowish green flowers barely get noticed until they deteriorate and fall to the ground like corn meal. The dark green and pear shaped fruit is quite heavy. It develops on the tree, but then ripens after it falls or gets picked and brought inside.

Warm Weather Confuses Dormant Plants

60217thumbClimate is what makes gardening so excellent here. It is just warm enough in summer for plants that like a bit of heat, but not too unbearably hot for too long. It is just cool enough in winter for plants that like a chill, but not cold enough for hard frost or heavy snow. The climate is also comfortable for us while out in the garden! Yet, even local climate is neither perfect nor predictable.

El Nino is still out there, and likely to deliver an abundance of rain. The rain last month was great while it lasted. This presently dry and warm weather in between has been excellent, but is likely to cause serious consequences. Some deciduous plants that are normally bare through winter are being deprived of adequate dormancy. Some are blooming prematurely, and may foliate soon.

When the rain resumes, it will ruin some of the premature bloom. This is generally harmless for most fruitless flowering trees like the various acacias, flowering plums and saucer magnolias, but compromises their most alluring feature. It can be more dangerous to flowering pears (including evergreen pear) and flowering crabapples, because wet blossoms can be infected with fire blight.

The more serious problem is that rain ruins blossoms and juvenile fruit of various deciduous fruit trees. Stone fruits such as almonds, apricots, cherries, plums, prunes, peaches and nectarines bloom first, and do so with delicate blossoms. If the blossoms do not get knocked off by rain, the juvenile fruit will rot if it stays damp too long. Many fruit trees are likely to lose all fruit this year.

Apple and pear trees should be safer because they bloom later, and bloom with more substantial flowers. (However, like their fruitless relatives, their wet blossoms are very susceptible to fire blight.) Persimmons and pomegranates bloom even later, and with even tougher flowers, so should be safe. Figs are in a league of their own, and should be fine if summer is warm.

Fortunately, destruction of bloom and fruit, although disappointing to us, is harmless to the affected trees.

Almond

90206It is no more in season now than the other stone fruits like apricot, cherry, plum and such, but this is the time of year that almond, Prunus dulcis, needs work. Established trees get pruned while bare and dormant. New trees, preferably bare root, get planted. The most popular modern cultivars available are self pollinating, and labeled as such. Old traditional cultivars require pollinators.

Almond is the ‘other’ stone fruit. Because it is a nut, it does not resemble the rest of the juicy and fleshy stone fruits like nectarine and peach. However, the resemblance to the stones of the stone fruits is obvious. It is, after all, a big seed. The fruity parts form tough hulls that spit open to reveal the dry nuts within. Almonds do not get picked, but instead get shaken or knocked from the trees.

Because the nuts are lightweight, almond trees do not need to be pruned as aggressively as other stone fruit trees. Because the nuts are not hand picked, the trees can be pruned upward as deciduous shade trees with spectacularly white spring bloom. Some cultivars can get more than twenty feet tall. Squirrels and crows take most of the nuts, but do not bother to clean up the hulls.

Plant Bare Root Plants Properly

90206thumbCompared to canned (potted) nursery stock, bare root plants have a few advantages. They are less expensive, easier to handle, more conducive to pruning into a desired form, and they disperse roots and get established more efficiently. One more advantage that is not often considered is that they are easier to install into the garden. For some, it is as simple as poking a stick in the mud.

Perhaps the only disadvantage of bare root plants is that they must be planted immediately, so that they get their roots soaked and settled into the ground into which they will disperse new roots. If planting must be delayed, roots can soak in a bucket of water for only a few days. Unless they are to live in big pots, potting for a season only delays and interferes with efficient root dispersion.

Only bare root trees that need root barriers (to divert roots from pavement) or mesh gopher baskets (to divert gophers from roots) will need planting holes that are as big as those for canned nursery stock. Otherwise, planting holes need be only as wide as the bare roots, and should be no deeper. If soil is loosened too deeply below, new plants will sink as loose soil settles. Graft unions must remain above grade.

Well flared roots can be spread over a cone of soil formed at the bottom of the planting hole. Conversely, cane berries, after their roots get loosened, can simply be dropped into slots formed by sticking a shovel into the ground and prying it back.

Soil amendments that are useful for providing a transition zone between potting media of canned nursery stock the surrounding soil are not so important with bare root stock. Bare root plants only want a bit of soil amendment if the soil is too sandy or too dense with clay. Otherwise, too much amendment can actually inhibit root dispersion by tempting roots to stay where the richest soil is.

Once planted, trees can be pruned as desired. Most come with superfluous stems to provide more options for pruning, and some stems will be damaged in transport. Fertilizer need not be applied until growth resumes in spring.

Apple

90130Some of us who enjoy gardening may not like to admit how useful the internet can be. There is a lot of bad information out there. There is also some degree of good information. It is impossible to fit much information about apples into just a few brief paragraphs. Therefore, the internet is likely the best source of information about the countless cultivars and specie within the genus of Malus.

The most popular apple trees produce the familiar crisp and sweet fruit that ripens anytime between late summer and late autumn, depending on cultivar. The fruit is quite variable. Some cultivars are best for eating fresh. Others are best for cooking or juicing. Some are very sweet, while other are quite tart. Each fruit is about the size of a baseball, but can be much bigger or much smaller. Crabapples are very small. Flowering crabapples make only tiny fruits that are eaten by birds.

The trees are quite variable too. Semi-dwarf trees can be pruned to stay low enough so that all of the fruit is within reach from the ground. Standard trees that grow in orchards can get as big as shade trees. All fruiting apple trees need specialized pruning each winter so that they do not become overgrown and disfigured, and to control disease. All apples bloom sometime in early spring.

Winter Pruning Of Fruit Trees

90130thumbThe vast orchards of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys might make the impression that production of fruit is easy. The trees naturally bloom in spring, and develop fruit over summer, as if they do most of the work prior to harvest. In reality, those trees have been so extensively bred to maximize production that they need, among other maintenance, very specialized pruning in winter.

Without pruning, deciduous fruit trees produce more fruit than they can support. The weight of the fruit breaks and disfigures limbs. Excessive fruit production exhausts resources so that, although more fruit is produced, it is of inferior quality. Diseases and insects proliferate in crowded stem growth that lacks vigor. Unharvested fruit that is beyond reach in upper growth may attract rodents.

Well pruned deciduous fruit tree produce fruit of much better quality, and are able to support it on well structured limbs that are reasonably within reach. They are less susceptible to diseases and insects. Such pruning seems severe to those who are unfamiliar with it, but it is necessary, and the trees appreciate it. Because it is so severe, it is done while trees are dormant through winter.

Different types of fruit trees need distinct types of pruning. Furthermore, different cultivars of each type may need different degrees of the same type of pruning. All should get the ‘four Ds’, which are ‘dead, dying, damaged and diseased’ growth, pruned out of them. Because figs produce early and late crops, they can be pruned less for more early figs, or more severely for more late figs.

Most of the deciduous fruit trees are either stone fruits or pomme fruits. The stone fruits include apricot, plum, prune, nectarine, peach and cherry, which are all of the genus of Prunus. Pomme fruits are apple, pear and quince. Because the winter pruning of deciduous fruit trees is so specialized and so intensive, it is worth studying, preferably before planting the fruit trees that require it.