Flowering Fruit Trees Without Fruit

Flowers are sometimes better than fruit.

All of the popular fruit trees produce flowers. Otherwise, they could not produce fruit. The stone fruits, such as almond, apricot, cherry, peach, plum and prune, bloom very impressively this time of year. (Stone fruits have single large seeds known as stones. Almonds are the large stones of small fruits that resemble peaches.) The pomme fruits, such as apple and pear, bloom about as prolifically shortly afterward, followed lastly by related but rare quince.

The difference between these trees and their counterparts known as ‘flowering’ trees is not so much the flowers, but the fruit. ‘Flowering’ is something of a euphemism for trees that might otherwise be known as ‘fruitless’, since they produce either uselessly small fruit, or no fruit at all.

This may seem silly to those who enjoy growing fresh fruit in the garden. However, fruit trees require so much pruning in winter, and can be so messy if the fruit does not get completely harvested. The flowering trees are happy to provide the profuse bloom without so much maintenance and potential mess. Because they were developed as ornamental trees, their flowers are more impressive, with many more shades of pink, as well as white. Many types bloom with big and fluffy double flowers.

Flowering cherry and plum are probably the most popular of the flowering stone fruit trees. Most flowering plums have purplish foliage, so are more commonly known as purple-leaf plum. Flowering almond, apricot, prune and peach are relatively somewhat rare. Most flowering stone fruit trees are completely fruitless, but some purple-leaf plum can produce messy and sour plums as they mature.

Flowering pear is probably not recognized as such because it is more often known as fruitless pear. Ironically, it can produce enough tiny pear fruit to be messier than other flowering fruit trees. Flowering pear blooms only white, and is not as florific as the other flowering trees, but grows large enough to be a mid-sized shade tree, and has the advantage of remarkable foliar color in autumn. Evergreen pear is an entirely different sort of tree that only blooms well if the weather is just so, and lacks fall color (because it is semi-evergreen).

Flowering apples are known as flowering crabapples. Unlike the other flowering trees, many flowering crabapples develop a sloppy branch structure if not pruned almost like trees that produce fruit. Yet, the weirdest of the flowering trees is the flowering quince, which is not even the same genus as fruiting quince. It develops into a thicket that blooms before everything else. Fruiting quince instead matures into a rampant tree, and blooms after the other fruit trees.

Blossoms Bloom Sooner If Forced

Stems of tiny blossoms really impress.

Pussywillow is an odd cut flower. It is neither fragrant nor very colorful. It just gets cut and brought into the home because the distinctively fuzzy catkins are so interesting. They are appealing alone or mixed with other late winter flowers. The otherwise bares stems can get cut just as soon as the fuzz is beginning to become visible within the swelling buds. Bloom accelerates once the cut stems are brought into a warm home.

There are actually several other plants that can provide bare twigs that can be ‘forced’ into bloom in the home. ‘Forcing’ is simply the acceleration of bloom of such twigs by cutting them and bringing them from cool winter weather into warm interior ‘weather’. Flowering quince, flowering cherry and flowering (purple leaf) plum have likely finished bloom; but forsythia, hawthorn, flowering crabapple and many of the various fruit trees that have colorful bloom will be ready to be forced any time. Some daring people even force redbud, dogwood, witch hazel, lilac and star and saucer magnolias.

When the deciduous fruit trees that bloom well need to be pruned in winter, some people intentionally leave a few spare branches to be cut and forced later, just before bloom. These include almond, cherry, apricot, plum, prune, nectarine, peach, pear, apple and a few others. When stems get cut for forcing, they should be pruned out from the trees according to proper dormant pruning techniques, and can be trimmed up accordingly when brought into the home. Flowering (non-fruiting) trees should likewise be treated with respect when stems for forcing get pruned out.

Twigs to be forced should be cut just as the flowers are about to bloom, and preferably, as a few flowers are already blooming. They should be put in water immediately, and if possible, cut again with the cut ends submerged. Buds that will be submerged when the stems are fitted into a vase should be removed.

Once in a warm home, the rate of bloom will be accelerated, although everything blooms at a particular rate. Apple and pear bloom later than most, and can bloom slow enough to justify cutting stems while already blooming. As forced stems bloom, they can be quite messy, but the mess is probably worth it.

Grapefruit

Grapefruit originated as an unlikely hybrid.

Citrus have been in cultivation for centuries. Most breeding and selection was intentional. Even the strange breeding of orange and lemon for the familiar ‘Meyer’ lemon was deliberate. Grapefruit, Citrus X paradisi, is a peculiar one though. Its parents were unknown when it mysteriously appeared in Barbados in about 1750. It is now known to be a hybrid of orange and pomelo, both exotic.

The original grapefruits were ‘white’ grapefruits, with tart and pale yellowish flesh. ‘Pink’ grapefruits, with milder flavor, and blushed flesh, appeared a century and a half later, in about 1906. Those with rich pink flesh are known as ‘red’ grapefruits. Some mildly flavored modern white grapefruits are hybrids of grapefruit and pomelo. Such breeding makes them 75% pomelo and 25% orange.

Both modern and traditional white grapefruit trees are more vigorous than pink and red grapefruit trees. Dwarf white grapefruit trees grow slowly, but might eventually get more than fifteen feet tall. Standard trees can get as big as shade trees. They are too productive for home gardens. Pink and red grapefruit trees rarely get taller than eight feet. Grapefruit foliage is evergreen and lustrous.

Apricot

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.

Bare Root Stock Makes Sense

Snowball bush is available bare root.

Winter has potential to be a slow season for gardening. Simple gardens may not require much dormant pruning. Established gardens may not require much planting. Where winters are cold and perhaps snowy, no one wants to go outside anyway. Those who go out may not be able to accomplish much. Nonetheless, winter is the season for planting bare root stock, which is now available.

Bare root stock starts to move into nurseries before the last Christmas trees move out. Growers start to dig and package it as it goes dormant for winter. They separate it completely from the soil it grew in, leaving the roots bare. Some bare root stock is available with bags of damp sawdust protecting its roots. Most goes into bins of damp sand to protect the roots while at retail nurseries.

Unlike canned (potted) nursery stock, bare root stock must get into the garden as soon as possible. It will not survive long if it gets warm enough to start growing prior to planting. Nor will it survive if roots desiccate. Unbagged bare root stock can soak in water for a limited time. For planting, roots should flare outwardly. Soil amendment should be limited. Graft unions must be above grade.

Bare root stock is lightweight, compact, and easy to handle in bulk. Therefore, it is less expensive than canned stock. It is also easier to get home and plant. Because so many individual plants fit into limited space, many more cultivars are available from nurseries. Even more are available by mail order. Bare root stock disperses roots and gets growing more efficiently than canned stock.

Deciduous fruit trees might be the most popular bare root stock. This includes apple, pear, persimmon, fig, mulberry, walnut, pomegranate and the stone fruits. (Apricot, cherry, peach, plum, prune and nectarine are stone fruits.) Grape, currant, gooseberry, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry bare root stock are also available. So are perennial rhubarb, asparagus, artichoke and strawberry.

Ornamental bare root stock includes rose, snowball bush, forsythia, wisteria, flowering crabapple, poplar and many more.

Plum

Plums are better fresh than dried.

Only recently, and only to be more marketable, dried prunes attained the status of dried plums. Prunes and plums are actually two different types of fruit. Prunes are European fruits that dry nicely, but are not popular as fresh fruits. Plums are Japanese fruits that are best while fresh, but do not dry well at all. Because plums have less of a sugar content, they are likely to mold before they dry.

Plum is of the genus Prunus, just like prune and the other stone fruits. Stone fruits all contain large seeds, which are known as stones. Plums are ‘clingstone’, because the flesh of the fruit clings to the stones within. Prunes are ‘freestone’. Their stones separate easily from the flesh. The most popular plums are purplish or burgundy red. Others are blueish purple, red, orange, yellow or green.

Plum trees grow fast while young, and require aggressive pruning while dormant through winter. Otherwise, they get overwhelmed with fruit, and too tall to facilitate harvest. Even semi-dwarf trees can get almost twenty feet tall. They are spectacular in prolific white bloom. Small bare root trees that are now becoming available adapt to a new garden more efficiently than larger canned trees.

Deciduous Fruit Trees Need Pruning

Prune now for better peaches later.

Many plants should get most of the pruning they need while they are dormant in winter. Such pruning is less stressful because it happens while plants are naturally sedated. Some plants that need aggressive pruning during their winter dormancy may need no other pruning until the following winter. Most deciduous fruit trees conform to this category. Their pruning is rigorous and specialized.

The innately aggressive pruning that deciduous fruit trees require may seem to be brutally unnatural, but is very justifiable. It is necessary to compensate for unnatural production. After centuries of selective breeding, most deciduous fruit trees produce more fruit than they can support. Their fruit is unnaturally abundant, unnaturally bulky, or both. Such improvement has distinct consequences.

Unlike their wild ancestry, many modern deciduous fruit trees would not thrive for long without intervention. The weight of their fruit eventually breaks and disfigures limbs. Such breakage exposes sensitive bark to sun scald, and leaves wounds open to decay. Insect and disease pathogens proliferate in deteriorating growth. Furthermore, messy excess and unreachable fruit attracts vermin.

Pruning improves the structural integrity of deciduous fruit trees so that they can support their fruit. It also concentrates resources into fewer fruits of superior quality, rather than allowing production of inferior surplus. Invigorated vegetative growth is more resilient to pathogens. Proper pruning removes dead, dying, damaged and diseased growth, the ‘four Ds’, as well as unreachable growth.

The main categories of deciduous fruit trees are stone fruits and pomme fruits. Stone fruits are of the genus Prunus. They include peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, prune, cherry, their hybrids, and almond. (Almonds are the ‘stones’ of their fruits.) Pomme fruits are apple, pear and quince. Peaches need more aggressive pruning than cherries, simply because their fruits are so much bigger.

Pomegranate, persimmon and fig also need specialized pruning while dormant through winter.

Prune Fruit Trees While Dormant

Dormant fruit trees should be pruned aggressively.

After centuries of breeding for abundant production of unnaturally large fruit, deciduous fruit trees have become dependent on specialized pruning while they are dormant through winter. Without pruning, most eventually become overgrown and overwhelmed by their own fruit. The weight of excessive fruit disfigures and breaks limbs. Pathogens proliferate within distressed foliage, crowded fruit and surplus fruit that falls to the ground.

Pruning not only improves the structural integrity of the limbs, but also limits the production and weight of the fruit that will be produced. Limiting production concentrates resources, so that there are fewer, but considerably better fruits, instead of too many inferior fruits. Concentrating the growth of the fewer new stems that develop in spring promotes vigorous growth that is more resistant to pathogens. Ideally, pruning also limits the height of fruit trees, so that much of the fruit develops closer to the ground.

Peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, prunes, and cherries are all relates ‘stone’ fruits (of the genus Prunus), so require various degrees of similar pruning. Peach trees produce the heaviest fruit, so need the most aggressive pruning. Cherries trees produce significantly lighter and smaller fruit, so get pruned relatively minimally. Almonds (which are actually the ‘pits’ of a similar type of stone fruit) get shaken from their trees, so there is no advantage to keeping production close to the ground.

The ‘four Ds,’ which are ‘Dead, Dying, Diseased and Damaged’ stems should be pruned out first. Then the vigorous stems that grew last year should be thinned and cut back, but not removed completely. They are the stems that will bloom and develop fruit the following year. Pomme fruits, such as apples, pears and quinces, develop on similar newer stems that should likewise be pruned down, but many also develop on lower ‘spur’ stems that elongate so slowly that many spurs may never need to be pruned.

Most young deciduous fruit trees will need more pruning each year as they grow. Fortunately, pruning becomes more familiar with experience. Because pruning fruit trees is so specialized and important, it is worth studying more thoroughly.

Holy Guacamole!

This old article does not conform to the ‘Horridculture’ meme for Wednesday like ‘Anti-Community Garden’ would have; but I already reblogged that article, so can not do so again. (It can be found at https://tonytomeo.com/2017/12/09/hate-destroys/ .) At least this article is more amusing.

Tony Tomeo

P71202.jpgHorticulturists have a way of making all those long Latin names sound easy to pronounce. Lyanothamnus floribundus ‘Asplenifolius’ – Syzigium paniculatum – Metasequoia glyptostroboides. I do not know why proper pronunciation of their names is so important. They have no ears. They can not hear if we simply call them ‘Earl’. Even if they could hear, they would not respond.

Communication with other people is probably more important. Yet, we are so often unable to spell something as seemingly simple as the sound of a palm frond falling to the ground. Does it sound like “whoosh”, or “splat”, or some combination of both? What do the Santa Anna Winds sound like as they blow through a grove of Aleppo pines? What does a red flowering gum full of bees sound like?

Heck, Brent could not even tell me what an incident that he heard in his own backyard sounded like…

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Quince

Quince fresh from coastal Santa Cruz!

The function of this formerly popular fruit tree has changed significantly to adapt to modern horticulture. The big but hard fruit of quince, Cydonia oblonga, is less perishable than the firmest pears or apples. Without canning or freezing, it lasts through winter in cool cellars. It also provides pectin for jellies of fruits that lack it. However, quince fruit is too hard to eat fresh, so should be cooked.

As food storage became less important, quince became less popular than more flavorful apples and pears, which are edible while fresh. Pectin is obtainable from apple cores and skins, or from supermarkets. However, quince are not completely absent from home gardens. They are now the unseen but common dwarfing understocks that limit the size of pear trees for suburban gardens.

The big lemony yellow fruits that are ripening now may look like very lumpy pears or apples. The largest sorts get as big as small cantaloupes. Developing fruit and new foliage are distinctly fuzzy. Fuzz can be polished off of alluringly aromatic mature fruit. Delightfully pale pink flowers are mostly obscured by new foliage in spring. The deciduous rounded leaves are two or three inches long.

The biggest of quince trees, which are very different from ornamental flowering quince, might get as high and wide as twenty feet.