Pomes Produce Better Than Palms

Pear season continues late into October.

Dates, coconuts, acai berries and palm oil grow on palm trees. All are rare in local home gardens. The palms that are popular in much of California are almost exclusively ornamental. Very few of them produce useful fruits. Despite the similar pronunciation, such palms are not at all related to pomes. Some of the more familiar fruits happen to be pomes, which are also known as pommes.

Apples and pears are the most popular examples of pomes. Quinces, which were very popular decades ago, are now rare. Quinces are so closely related to pears that they work well as dwarfing understock for home garden pear trees. (Orchard pear trees use other understocks that are not dwarfing.) Actually, most quince trees grew secondarily from roots of dead or removed pear trees.

Saskatoons (serviceberries), chokeberries (aronias) and medlars are locally rare pome fruits that are slowly gaining popularity. Productively fruiting cultivars of loquat are now more available than those that were primarily ornamental. Some flowering quinces may produce a few small fruits. Mayhaws and mountain ashes (rowans) are berry-like pomes that are more familiar in other regions.

The earliest cultivars of apple might be in season by late July, before stone fruit season finishes. (Some peaches, the largest of the stone fruits, ripen in September!) The latest will be ready in late November, at least a month into citrus season. Pear season extends from August into October. So, this is the middle of apple and pear season. Most but not all other pomes are already finished.

Like stone fruit trees, the trees and shrubs that produce pomes need very specialized pruning while dormant through winter. Without annual pruning to enhance structural integrity and concentrate resources, apple and pear trees are unable to support all of their fruit. Shrubby quince trees become thickets without pruning for grooming and confinement, although they may not need it annually.

Jellin’ Like A Melon

This is one way to make the fruits of summer last.

Jelly and jam made from garden grown fruit affords more prestigious bragging rights than merely growing the fruit. Using unusual or disregarded fruit makes it even more interesting. It is not too much work, but involves a different kind of creativity. So many of us who are proficient in the garden are not so proficient in the kitchen.

Apricot, peach, plum, grape, blackberry and raspberry are the most familiar choices for jelly and jam. Nectarine can substitute for peach. Prune works like plum. Strawberry is rare only because not many gardens produce enough for a batch of jam. Sweet cherry is not as tasty as tart types, but is sometimes made into jam because it is relatively common.

Apple and pear are not often made into jelly because they have such mild flavor. However, they are sometimes mixed with other fruit to blend flavors, and because they can provide pectin. Quince has a richer flavor, and makes a traditional jam known as membrillo. Crabapple likewise makes a classic jelly. Apple can be made into apple butter.

Pectin is what puts the jell in jelly. Many fruits are naturally equipped with it. Apricot, peach and cane berries do not have enough. Plum, prune and grape initially have enough, but it breaks down as the fruit ripens, which is why jelly recipes without added pectin often designate that fruit must be firm or just ripening. Otherwise, pectin must be added to get jelly or jam to jell.

With added pectin, pomegranate, fig and rhubarb (which is actually a vegetable) can be made into jelly and jam. Orange and lemon marmalades do not need to be cooked as much with extra pectin. Sweet oranges (which is what almost all oranges are) lose flavor with cooking. (Sour oranges for marmalade are very rare here.)

Pectin also makes it possible to make jelly and jam from some rather unconventional fruit that may not be useful for much else. Elderberry, hawthorn, thimbleberry, rose hips (some varieties), Hottentot fig (the larger fruited type of freeway iceplant) and even coffeeberry and manzanita are all worth trying. Indian hawthorn and Catalina cherry have enough pectin to jell on their own.

Six on Saturday: Suburbia

The Santa Clara Valley is the best place in the entire Universe for horticulture. Yet, few of the nearly two million people who live there now appreciate it, or realize that some of the area was still occupied by orchards only half a century ago. These pictures are from the garden where I lived before graduating from high school, and subsequently planting the peach tree #5 in 1985. Apricots and cherries were finishes quite a while ago. Peaches will be ready soon. These are not orchard trees, but they are happy to be here.

1. Garden Annie apricot – is, as the name implies, a garden variety rather than an orchard variety. With surprisingly minimal pruning, it stays compact and proportionate to a home garden.P00801-1

2. Stella cherry – is likewise a garden variety. It was selected because it is self fruitful, so does not need a pollinator. It also has stayed relatively compact and proportionate to limited space.P00801-2

3. Anjou pear – is also known as D’Anjou or Beurre D’Anjou pear. Pears and apples were not common in the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley, but were grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains.P00801-3

4. Golden Delicious apple – is more commonly and more appropriately known as Yellow Delicious apple. It was selected as an all purpose ‘only child’ apple for baking, cooking or eating fresh.P00801-4

5. seed grown peach – came here from a compost pile in Santa Clara in about December of 1985. The fruit is excellent. However, after all these years, I have never been able to propagate it.P00801-5

6. Rhody – performs pre-emergent weed abatement by collecting large quantities of burclover seed. He does not enjoy getting them removed from his finely textured fur afterward though.P00801-6

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


Bad Date

No one likes a bad date.

Date orchards that were displaced by the expansion of urban sprawl around Las Vegas in the 1990s were the source of the many recycled mature date palms that briefly became popular for large scale landscapes at the time. Most of the trees within the orchards were female, with only a few male pollinators. (Pollinators can live remotely, where they provide pollen for dusting.)

Male trees were undesirable anyway, at least in conjunction with female trees. They are taller and lankier, with less pendulous foliage, so are less visually appealing. More importantly, they pollinate female flowers so that they make fruit. Of course, in orchards, fruit is very important. In landscapes, it is just a mess. Without male pollinators, female trees produce no messy fruit.

Consequently, most male trees were not recycled. Some were installed singly, or in exclusively male colonies, in landscapes that were reasonably isolated from female trees. After decades of dutiful service, this is how they were retired, . . . or not.

During the brief date palm fad, a colony of exclusively female date palms at a mall near here produced a minor crop of dates during its second year after installation. It was not a major mess, but it was perplexing. Eventually, someone realized that a single relatively small male date palm lived just outside of the landscaped areas. It likely grew there from seed as a curb mongrel.

Even though the male tree was too remote to pollinate the female trees sufficiently for a major mess, it was removed. It was not much bigger than the short and clumping date palm pictured above. This tree seems to be a curb mongrel as well, since it was not likely planted there purposely. Furthermore, it will also likely need to be removed. It is too close to the building behind.

Dago Wisteria

All this bloom will eventually be fruit.

My colleague down south and I have completely different gardening style. He is a renowned landscape designer, so his home garden is as elaborate as the landscapes he designs for his clients. I am primarily a farmer of horticultural commodities, so my home garden is very strictly utilitarian, with few items that are grown just because they are pretty.

My colleague’s garden is outfitted with a very well built pergola over the patio at the rear of the home. Six common Chinese wisteria were installed to climb the six supporting post and sprawl above. Their cascading spring bloom is both spectacular and alluringly fragrant.

Of course, when I saw that pergola while the wisteria were still young, I thought that it would be ideal for Dago wisteria, which most of us know simply as grapes. They climb like Chinese wisteria. They bloom with somewhat pendulous floral trusses that . . . sort of resemble wisteria bloom. Although they lack color and fragrance, they provide an abundance of fruit.

Now I get to work with some real Dago wisteria. It was planted years ago by someone who did not stay to maintain it. It got rather overgrown and gnarly before I pruned it into submission. Without a pergola, I extended vines from the rail fence that the main vines climb, over to a banister on the upper floor of an adjacent building. It works something like a pergola.

Because I do not know what cultivar of grape the vine is, I do not know what pruning technique it prefers. I happened to leave long canes last winter, just because they reached the banister on the opposite side so well. Now, the bloom is so profuse that I am concerned about the weight of the subsequent fruit pulling the rail fence over!

Mild Weather Is Still Problematic

Minimal frost delayed certain spring blooms.

It is amazing that so many orchards are so productive in California, and that so many similar orchards had formerly been productive in the urban areas in which so many of us now live. Nowadays, it takes so much work to care for just a few fruit trees in home gardens. Horticulture is not what it used to be.

Diseases and pests get transmitted all over the world at a rate unlike at any other time in history. It is just too easy to buy and sell infected plants online, and get them delivered without adequate inspection. Many varieties of plants that are so easily imported may not perform as reliably as the more traditional varieties.

Modern landscaping does not make fruit production any easier. Most deciduous fruit trees do not get pruned adequately or properly. Many get too much water. Almost all must live in crowded landscape conditions where diseases and pest proliferate. Sanitation (removal of infected plant parts) is rarely as efficient as it should be.

Then there is all this crazy weather! First, the winter does not get as cool as it should. Then, it does not get warm enough in spring. It is all so difficult to keep track of. Many plants do not know how to respond. Those that stay dormant through cool weather got an early start. Those that like warmth in spring started late.

The unfortunate deciduous fruit trees that need both a good chill through winter and nice warm spring weather are really confused. Early blooms were ruined by brief late frosts or brief rain showers. Some delayed blooms were not synchronized with pollinators. Some of the minimal fruit is developing slowly.

Even the fruitless or ‘flowering’ relatives of the deciduous fruit trees are annoyed by the weather. Many flowering cherry trees that should have bloomed profusely prior to foliation delayed bloom until lower foliage started to appear. However, both bloom and foliation are so slow and sporadic that upper stems stayed bare quite late.

Flowering crabapple trees, which generally bloom after flowering cherries, actually bloomed more reliably, and were not delayed as much. Hopefully, fruiting apple and pear trees, although late, will be more productive than so many of the cherry, apricot, plum, peach and nectarine trees will be this year.

Natal Plum

Lush foliage hides oddly branched thorns.

The very glossy and richly deep green foliage seem to be so soft and luxuriant. Simple bright white flowers enhance the appeal. However, closer examination of Natal plum, Carissa macrocarpa, reveals impressively nasty thorn structures that are doubly branched into pairs of paired rigid and sharp thorns. That is four thorns each!

To make matters worse, all parts of Natal plum that are not fruit are toxic. But hey, they all work together to be visually appealing, even if really unfriendly. The one or two inch long evergreen leaves are quite round and stiff. The star shaped flowers that bloom as long as the weather is warm are somewhat fragrant in the evening.

Some varieties of Natal plum can reach the eaves, but most stay lower. They do not need much water, and can tolerate a bit of shade. The rosy red fruit would be delightfully colorful if it were not so rare. Manual pollination, preferably with a different pollinator, produces more of the two inch long berries that are something like mildly flavored cranberries.

Six on Saturday: TWIGS!


The Belmont Rooster posted pictures of red mulberry that really got my attention back on February 15. The trees are native on his farm, but not here. I only remember them as decoy trees that provided berries to distract birds from other fruit as it ripened in the orchards. Of course, those that I remember were planted. I neglected to get seed or cuttings from them while in Oklahoma. I have been craving them since.

1. $8.85! The Belmont Rooster spent some major funds to get this package to me. It must be important. I already know it is very important to me! I have been wanting this for seven years. P00411-1

2. TWIGS! I got two bundles of twigs! These are not just any twigs though. They are from red mulberry, Morus rubra. One bundle is from a female tree. The other is from a male pollinator.P00411-2

3. Cuttings were processed from the twigs. There are a dozen female cuttings, and sixteen male cuttings. These are male. I was informed earlier that the female twigs were starting to foliate.P00411-3

4. Plugged cuttings are not much to look at. Rooting hormone was applied, but is not visible on the bottom ends. Only a few popping buds are barely visible in the female cuttings to the right.P00411-4

5. White mulberry was the only mulberry that I was growing here. I got the cuttings for it from a client’s tree. I do not know what cultivar it is. I have not been very impressed with it so far.P00411-5

6. The Belmont Rooster sent these cuttings from Missouri, just to the left of the center of this picture. All of Missouri is within the native range of red mulberry, which is designated by green.P00411-6

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