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.



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.

Six on Saturday: Wrath Of Grapes


Racial profiling was not likely the reason I was asked to prune a big overgrown grapevine at work. I just happen to be more proficient with dormant pruning of dago wisteria than my colleagues are. My proficiency is more cultural than racial. I am from the Santa Clara Valley, and sadly, they are not.

1. Before pruning, the grapevine was a tangled mess on a split rain fence, which is not even visible in this picture. Incidentally, the forsythia that was featured in ‘Six on Saturday’ two seeks ago is located just beyond the upper left margin of the picture.p90126

2. After pruning, the top rail of the fence is visible, extending away from where the picture was taken. Some of the debris is still piled to the left in the background. Green wires to the right are there for new vines to climb on. The few remaining unpruned vines are layers (stems that lay on the ground long enough to develop roots of their own) that will be dug and removed. I wanted to prune to just spurs, but there were no new canes on the main trunk. Instead, I left stubs of canes from the previous season, with a few extra buds.p90126+

3. This lineup of what seems to be the usual suspects is really seven well rooted layers (the stems that lay on the ground long enough to develop roots of their own that I mentioned earlier) The smallest one on the left is easy to miss.p90126++

4. Most of the layers are very well rooted. We really do not know what to do with the original grapevine. We certainly do not need seven more! Friends and neighbors will likely find good homes for them.p90126+++

5. The weather was so nice for this project, that the ceanothus nearby started to bloom. There are so many other dormant plants to prune before winter ends!p90126++++

6. Just prior to such nice spring weather, we got eight inches of rain from a series of a few storms. This would have been two thirds of the average annual rainfall of twelve inches in my former neighborhood in town! This bucket of rainwater is nine inches deep because it is flared toward the top, and narrower at the bottom.p90126+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:



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.


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.

Prune Now For Fruit Later

70726thumbModern fruit trees have been so extensively bred to produce abundant and unnaturally large fruit, that most types are unable to support the weight of the fruit that they can produce each season. Without specialized dormant (winter) pruning to limit production, the weight of excessive fruit breaks and disfigures the limbs of the trees that produce it. Fruit becomes too much of a good thing.

Pruning not only limits the weight of the fruit; but it also improves the structural integrity of the limbs that must support it, and ideally, keeps fruit more reachable. Concentrating resources produces fewer but better fruits, instead of wasting resources on excessive fruits of inferior quality. Fewer stems that grow in spring are more vigorous and resistant to disease than more stems would be.

‘Stone’ fruits (of the genus Prunus) generally get similar pruning. However, peaches and nectarines produce such heavy fruit that they get pruned more severely than apricots, plums and prunes. Cherries and almonds are so lightweight that they may not need to be pruned at all. Cherries may be pruned for height. Since almonds get shaken from their trees, height is not so important.

Stems that grew last summer should produce fruit next summer. They should therefore be pruned short enough to support the weight of the fruit that they can produce (or what stems produced in previous years). For peaches, stems may need to be pruned to only a few inches long, even if the new stems are several feet long. Upper stems that get too high can be pruned out completely.

Apples and pears benefit from the same sort of pruning, but can be cut back even more aggressively, since their new stems tend to be more productive at the base. Crowded clusters of vigorous new stems can be thinned to eliminate the largest and most dominant stems. Stunted ‘spur’ stems that do not elongate more than two inches or so each year many not need to be pruned at all.

The ‘four Ds’, which are ‘Dead, Dying, Diseased and Damaged’ stems, are the first to get pruned out, even if they happen to be in the right places. There is just too much potential for problems later. Young trees that do not need much pruning now should be pruned for structure. Dormant fruit tree pruning is so important and specialized, that it is worth studying in more thorough detail.


P81215KJust last Saturday, in the first of my two ‘Six on Saturday’ posts, I mentioned that I had never before seen the berries of barberry. https://tonytomeo.com/2018/12/08/six-on-saturday-too-much-autumn-color-iii-cherries-berries-plums-apples-ginkgo/ Well, just a few days afterward, which was also a few days ago, while getting pictures for the English hawthorn that will be featured on Tuesday, in the same mostly brutalized landscape that I happened to mention in a post last Wednesday, https://tonytomeo.com/2018/12/12/horridculture-disdain-for-bloom/ , I noticed that the barberry shrubs were adorned with these odd red berries. They were quite tiny, not much bigger than grains of white rice. Nonetheless, they were the berries that I had never before seen. Now I know that barberry really does produce berries.

I had heard that such berries had medicinal and culinary application, but because I had never seen the berries before, I believed that the fruit was obtained from other specie. Perhaps the barberries that I am familiar with in landscape situations produce less fruit or no fruit at all because they are sterile interspecific hybrids. Perhaps they rely on specific pollinators who are not endemic here. I never bothered to investigate the lack of berries.

Now that I found a source for the berries, I sort of want to try them. However, they are tiny, and suspended among those wiry and famously thorny stems. Those in this picture are probably all gone by now anyway. Little birds have no problem with the thorns. Besides, even if I got a few, I would not know what to do with them. They can supposedly be used as a flavoring, and taste something like tart citrus. Well, at least I know where to find them if I want to try next year, if the so-called ‘gardeners’ who just ruined the flowering crabapples do not destroy them first.

Colorful Berries Linger Through Winter

51125thumbJust as many flowers attract pollinators with color, some types of fruit employ color to get the attention of birds and other animals. Just as many flowers reward their pollinators with nectar, fruit is its own reward to the animals that eat it. The only catch is that those who want the fruit must disperse the seed within. For both the hungry animals and the fruiting plants that lack mobility, it is a rather equitable arrangement.

Much of the fruit that uses this technique ripens in autumn, and linger through winter, when there is not much other fruit. It is available to migratory birds and animals that want to fatten up for winter. Unlike nuts and large seeds that get buried locally by squirrels, the tiny seeds of winter berries typically get eaten and ‘dispersed’ more remotely. Some actually need to be scarified by digestion before they will germinate.

Because they put as much effort into attracting vectors to disperse their seed as flowers put into attracting pollinators, fruit and berries can add significant color to the home garden. Oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruits and other citrus are quite colorful, even though they do not expect to be taken away by birds, To attract crows, persimmon fruits get as colorful for winter as their foliage was through autumn.

Firethorn (pyracantha) is probably the most colorful and profuse of the ornamental berries. Various specie and cultivars of cotoneaster produce similar berries, but not quite so prolifically. They are popular for their resiliency. Toyon, which is the native ‘California holly’ that Hollywood is named for, is a bit too finicky for irrigated and refined gardens, but can be quite colorful with berries in wild or casual landscapes.

Firethorn, cotoneaster and toyon, as well as English hawthorn, all produce similar ‘pomme’ fruits, which are actually more like tiny apples than real berries. They are so popular with the birds that they are not very messy; although the birds may be if they loiter. English hawthorn is a small deciduous tree, so yellows and defoliates as the bright red fruit ripens.