‘Lisbon’ lemon actually came first. It is still grown in orchards for lemon juice and other lemon products. The glossy evergreen foliage is a nice bright green. The late winter bloom is nicely fragrant. Mature trees can be kept about twelve feet tall, or allowed to get much taller. Besides the nasty thorns, the only other problem is that all the fruit ripens within a limited season.
‘Eureka’ lemon, Citrus limon ‘Eureka’, is a mutation of ‘Lisbon’ that is more casual about its schedule. It produces a good quantity of fruit in season through the end of winter, and also produces lesser quantities throughout the year. Because it is so productive, the lesser quantities should be more than sufficient whenever lemons are needed.
The ‘Variegated Pink’ lemon is a mutation of ‘Eureka’, so is a mutation of a mutation. The foliage is nicely variegated with white. The green fruit is striped with yellow until it ripens to yellow. The pulp and juice are pink of course. Like many variegated plants, the ‘Variegated Pink’ lemon stays much smaller than ‘Eureka’ lemon, and is more sensitive to frost.
Almost all of the fruit trees that I encounter are or were neglected to some degree.
Many were planted a long time ago by someone who was able to maintain them at the time, and perhaps for many years, but then relocated, passed away, or just got too elderly as the trees grew and required more work.
Many were planted by those who simply enjoy gardening around their homes, and wanted to grow some fresh fruit, but were not aware of how intensive the maintenance of most of the fruit trees is, or how to execute such maintenance properly.
Many were planted by so-called ‘gardeners’ or so-called ‘landscapers’ who had no intention of actually ‘maintaining’ them, or believed that they could ‘maintain’ them with motorized hedge shears and a blower . . . just like they ‘maintain’ everything else.
There is a young but nicely productive ‘Eureka’ lemon tree at work. I would not say that it is neglected. Someone has been maintaining it well since it was installed. However, I remind others at work to take some of the lemons because the tree gets overloaded with otherwise unappreciated and unused fruit.
The tree is strategically located right outside of one of the big cafeteria kitchens, so that those who work in the kitchen could use the fruit. The kitchen probably uses more lemons that the still young tree could produce, but does not seem to use any from the tree.
While dumping greenwaste from the kitchen onto the big compost piles, I noticed this labeled but unused lemon. I can not help but wonder why lemons from my tree aren’t good enough, and why this particular lemon wasn’t good enough either. How many of us nowadays would even recognize a lemon tree, or appreciate the fruit that it produces?
Springtime in the Santa Clara Valley was famously spectacular decades ago, when vast orchards occupied what is now only urban sprawl. Tourists came to see it like some still go to see foliar color of autumn in New England. Most of the orchards were for stone fruits. Only a few in cooler spots were for apples and pears. Only orchards of English walnuts did not bloom colorfully.
Cherry and almond trees typically bloomed first. Prune trees bloomed immediately afterward. Apricot trees were only a few days later. Of course, the schedule of bloom was variable. Prune trees often bloomed just after apricot trees. Various cultivars of cherry started to bloom at slightly different times, even though those that needed to pollinate each other managed to do so.
After the main bloom of all the stone fruits, and after the tourists were gone, the few apple and pear orchards in cooler spots and surrounding hillsides continued the process. Mulberry trees that grew sporadically on roadsides around the orchards bloomed no more colorfully than English walnuts, but somehow produced enough fruit to distract birds from developing stone fruits.
Feral plum trees are a group that was not easy to categorize even before the demise of the orchards. They were not intentionally grown in orchards, or even in home gardens. They just sort of grew wild along creeks or from the roots of grafted stone fruit trees that had been cut down. They were originally grown as understock cultivars, but had naturalized to become truly feral.
Because their fruit was not used for much, they did not get much consideration. We tend to forget that some types bloomed before any of the other stone fruits. To those who do not expect fruit, feral plum trees are as spectacular as productive stone fruit trees.
Deciduous fruit trees have no business in a low maintenance landscape. They need as much specialized pruning while dormant in winter as roses need, and on a much larger scale. Neglected trees get disfigured by the weight of their own fruit. Disease proliferates in their thicket growth that develops without pruning. Overgrown trees produce most of their fruit where no one can easily reach it. Fruit that can not be harvested attracts rodents.
Of course, deciduous fruit trees are certainly worth growing if they get the specialized pruning that they need. Pruning concentrates resources so fewer but better fruits develop. Fruit bearing stems are better structured to support the weight of their fruit, and lower so that the fruit is easier to reach. Pruning also promotes more vigorous growth, which is less susceptible to disease and insects.
Now that it is February, and the weather has been unusually warm, deciduous fruit trees that have not yet been pruned will need to be pruned very soon. They will be sensitive to such major pruning once they start to bloom. The pruning is too specialized to explain here in just a few sentences. Fortunately, Sunset publishes an very detailed book about “Fruit Tree Pruning” that explains how to prune each of the different fruit trees. Pruning will be more extensive each year as trees grow, but also becomes more familiar.
Stone fruits like apricots, plums, prunes, nectarines and peaches (that have hard seeds known as stones), need the most severe pruning. Their fruit develops on stems that grew last year. These stems should get cut short enough to support the weight of the fruit expected to develop next year. The ‘four Ds’, which are dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems, should get pruned out as well. Cherries and almonds do not get pruned as much because their fruit is so lightweight; and out-of-reach almonds simply get shaken down anyway.
Apples and pears are pomme fruits that need similar pruning, but also produce on stunted ‘spur’ stems that should not be pruned away. Spurs may continue to be productive for many years. Figs, persimmons, pomegranates, mulberries and grapevines all need their own specialized styles of pruning.
Growing fruit takes a bit of effort. Trees that produce the fruit must be planted and maintained for all the many years that they produce. They might need to be irrigated through summer. Most need specialized pruning every winter.
Canning surplus fruit takes a bit of effort too. All the jars must be cleaned. All the fruit must be collected, processed and cooked. The jars must be packed and boiled and so on.
Drying fruit is less work than canning, but takes a bit of effort nonetheless.
Where I lived in town, I grew a peach tree closer to the apartment building to the north, and a fig tree closer to the apartment building to the south. I maintained both trees meticulously. Many of the neighbors appreciated the fresh fruit. At the end of their season, there was (almost) always surplus peaches for canning. Sometimes, there were surplus figs for drying.
I really would not have minded if there had not been surplus fruit. It would have been better to have it consumed by the neighbors while fresh, than after it had been canned. Besides, it would have been less work for me.
One summer, there was a major surplus of peaches. We wanted to can them as efficiently as possible because we know how perishable they are. We planned to do all the canning on a Saturday, so got all the jars from the attic and washed them on Friday afternoon. The canning pots and utensils were ready to go. We had purchased lids and several pounds of sugar.
Also on Friday afternoon, the so-called ‘gardeners’ came to the apartment building next door to the north.
The major surplus of peaches, every last peach, was completely gone when we went to collect early Saturday morning.
Now, really, I don’t mind sharing. That is what the tree is there for. I really don’t even mind if a few people want to take all the surplus fruit. I just want to be told about it before I make plans and prepare to do something else with it. What really angered me was the complete disregard for those of us who put the effort into growing all those excellent peaches.
The fig tree to the south produced an early crop of figs before the peaches, and a late crop of figs after the peaches. Each crop lasted a long time, so there were not often too many figs at any one time that needed to be dried. Most were eaten fresh.
I often noticed an annoying absence of figs each day after the so-called ‘gardeners’ came to the apartment building next door to the south. It was not as bothersome as the missing peaches, since I got quite a bit of figs in between. What angered me was that every fig that could be harvested at the appointed time was taken, leaving none for anyone else.
Ancestral species of modern pears grow wild from western Europe and northern Africa to eastern Asia. Long before they were domesticated and developed in China about three thousand years ago, their fruit was eaten by indigenous people. Farther west, dozens of cultivars were developed and popularized in ancient Roman societies. There are now more than three thousand cultivars.
Most pears that are popular in America are descendants of European pear, Pyrus communis. Asian pears, which are mostly descendants of Pyrus X bretschneideri and Pyrus pyrifolia, became a fad in the 1980s, and are still somewhat popular, particularly in California. Asian pears are generally rounder and firmer than the familiar ‘pear shaped’ European pears that soften as they ripen.
There are too many cultivars of pear for all to conform to similar characteristics. All that are grown for fruit are deciduous, and almost all have potential to exhibit remarkable foliar color in autumn. Abundant clusters of small white flowers bloom in spring. Floral fragrance of some cultivars might be unappealing. Semi-dwarf trees can get more than fifteen feet tall, so should be pruned lower.
Pears can be shades of yellow, green, red or brown, and might be blushed or russeted. They can be canned, dried, juiced, or eaten fresh.
For centuries, fruit trees have been bred to produce unnaturally abundant and unnaturally big fruit. That has worked out well for those who enjoy the resulting fruit. It is not such an advantage for the exploited trees that must produce it. Without specialized pruning, most of such trees are unable to sustain healthy development of all the fruit they could potentially produce, or support the weight.
Specialized pruning concentrates resources into less excessive fruit of superior quality. It improves structural integrity of limbs that support the weight of all the fruit too. Trees that produce smaller and lighter fruit, such as cherries, may only need to be trimmed occasionally to eliminate structurally deficient growth. Heavier fruit, such as peaches, necessitates much more aggressive pruning.
Almost all deciduous fruit trees should be pruned about now, before they bloom and foliate at the end of winter. Such pruning is too severe to be done while the trees are active in spring. Summer pruning to maximize production within less space is the only practical option to dormant pruning. Evergreen fruit trees, such as citrus and avocado, should not be pruned or groomed during winter.
The main group of deciduous fruit trees that require dormant pruning in winter are stone fruit, of the genus Prunus. This includes peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, prune, cherry, various hybrids and almond. The second main group are pomme fruit, such as apple, pear and quince. Fig, persimmon and grapevines, as well as roses, need specialized and perhaps very aggressive pruning too.
Dormant pruning of deciduous fruit trees, roses and grapevines is too complex to describe adequately here in just a few paragraphs. Nonetheless, those who grow such plants must be aware of how important it is, and ideally, know how to do it. Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to procure services of horticultural professionals who know or care how to execute such procedures properly.
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.
Knowing how colorfully bulbs will eventually bloom can initially make planting them disappointing, since there is nothing to see for all the effort. Planting bare root plants is not much more rewarding. The bare stems are a bit more proof of the effort, but will do nothing until they break dormancy in spring. Now that Christmas trees have vacated nurseries, bare root plants will be arriving, and will need to be planted before winter ends.
As the name implies, bare root plants have bare roots, without the soil they were grown in. Better equipped nurseries ‘heel in’ bare root plants in moist sand, which simply means that the roots get buried temporarily. When purchased, the plants get pulled from the sand and wrapped for the trip to their new home garden, where they get planted permanently into real soil.
Alternatively, bare root plants can be prepackaged in bags of moist sawdust. They only need to be removed from their packaging and sawdust before getting planted into the garden. Mail order plants, including plants purchased online, often get packaged even more simply, with a damp bag around the roots, maybe with a bit of gel or damp paper. The plants are safely dormant, so are not even aware of what is going on.
The main advantage of bare root plants is that they cost about a third of what typical nursery stock in heavier cans of media (soil) cost. Because they are so much less cumbersome, several bare root plants can be purchased at a time, and brought home in a small car without much effort. Since they lack the luxury of the soil they were grown in, they immediately disperse their roots directly into the surrounding soil.
Roots of bare root plants should be spread away from each other at planting. Soil amendment is nice, but should not be so copious that roots will not want to disperse outside of the amended soil. Even if rain is expected, newly planted bare root plants should initially get soaked so that soil settles around the roots. Grafted plants should be planted with the graft union above grade.
Fruit trees such as apricot, cherry, plum, prune, peach, nectarine, almond, apple and pear, as well as roses, are the most popular of bare root plants. Flowering crabapple, flowering cherry, poplar, willow, lilac, forsythia, wisteria and grape are also available.
Before all the Christmas trees were sold and relinquished their space, the smaller types of bare root stock started arriving in local nurseries. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, grapes, strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus, may have been available for a while. More substantial bare root stock, such as roses, fruit trees and ornamentals, may already be arriving.
Bare root stock is known as such simply because its roots are bare. It gets dug as dormancy begins in autumn, and separated from the soil it grew in. It remains dormant as it gets transported to nurseries, and then to home gardens where it ultimately gets planted. It is completely unaware of the otherwise unsurvivable processes until it wakes up to resume growth in a new home in spring.
The roots of some of the smaller bare root plants and roses, as well as some fruit trees, are bagged in damp sawdust. Most bare root fruit trees, as well as some of the smaller plants, are merely heeled-in to damp sand, and upon purchase, pulled from the sand and bagged without packing material. Roots can soak in water for a few days prior to planting, but will not survive dry exposure.
There are several advantages to bare root stock. It is significantly less expensive than canned (potted) stock. It is also easier to get from a nursery and into the home garden. Branch structure can develop directly in a garden, rather than adapt from how it developed earlier in a nursery. New roots disperse directly into the soil, so need not recover from former confinement within a can (pot).
The more popular bare root fruit trees that are now becoming available are stone fruits, pomme fruits, persimmons, figs, mulberries and walnuts. Stone fruits are those of the genus Prunus, which contain single large seeds known as stones. These include apricots, cherries, plums, prunes, peaches, nectarines, almonds and their weird hybrids. Apples, pears, and quinces are pomme fruits.
(Almonds are nuts that are actually stones of leathery fruits that dry and separate from the stones as hulls.)