Red Passion Flower Vine

Red is simpler but more colorful.

The mostly white and blue common passion flower likely remains the most popular. After all, it is the weirdest. Elaborate and disproportionate floral parts imply that it is of another planet. Red passion flower, Passiflora racemosa, although less peculiar, is perhaps a bit more colorful. Its brick red flowers bloom randomly for as long as weather remains warm. 

Flowers are about three or four inches wide. They develop in open racemes that seem to spread out somewhat evenly over the exterior of their foliage. Bloom is not profuse, but is somewhat continuous until autumn. Newer flowers replace older flowers within the same racemes. Leaves are as wide as their flowers, with three blunt lobes and axillary tendrils. 

The lushly evergreen foliage can get shabby through winter, or completely ruined by just mild frost. It regenerates vigorously though. Aggressive pruning as winter finishes delays bloom, but promotes vigorous growth. Vines can potentially reach more than twenty feet. Fruit is rare without manual pollination. Fruit flavor can be bland without tropical warmth.

Citrus Trees Are Dutifully Fruitful

Citrus are most abundant through winter.

Winter is the primary season for citrus fruits. Some ripen significantly earlier. Some ripen significantly later. Many citrus trees continue to produce a few fruits randomly throughout the year. Nonetheless, citrus fruits are collectively most abundant during winter. It seems odd that trees that are vulnerable to frost are so productive during the coolest of weather.

Citrus trees are fortunately only marginally susceptible to frost in only the cooler climates here. They mostly recover from minor damage where they get a bit too much chill. Those in coastal climates may never experience damaging frost. Some types of citrus are more resilient to frost than others. Vulnerable citrus trees may need frost protection when new.

Home garden citrus trees are different from orchard trees. Most orchard trees, particularly older trees, are ‘standard’ trees. They grow on standard rootstock that allows them to get larger, and therefore produce more fruit than ‘dwarf’ trees. Most home garden citrus trees are ‘dwarf’ trees. They grown on dwarfing rootstock that keeps them dense and compact. 

Furthermore, the many cultivars of citrus that are available for home gardening are more diverse than those that commonly grow in orchards. ‘Lisbon’ lemon is very profuse within season, so is preferable for orchards. ‘Eureka’ lemon, although a bit less productive, may be a preferable option for home gardens because it produces a few random fruit all year.

Now that citrus are in season, some last longer than others. Grapefruit can hang on their trees for months. They actually develop richer flavor with mellowing tartness as they age. Conversely, Mandarin orange and tangerine are the most perishable citrus. Because the rind is loose, their pulp within begins to oxidize after ripening. Lime eventually gets pithy. 

Although this is the time of year to enjoy fresh citrus fruits, it is not the season to do much else with citrus trees. Pruning and application of fertilizer will be more timely after winter. Premature pruning or use of fertilizer is likely to stimulate premature growth. Such growth either languishes through cool weather, or succumbs to mild frost.

Pitahaya

White pitaya looks almost otherworldly.

This weird tropical cactus gets mixed reviews. Pitahaya fruit, or dragon fruit, is abundant in favorable conditions, but develops potentially bland flavor. The green succulent stems may be vigorous, but develop distinctly pendulous form that resembles Sigmund the sea monster. Bloom lasts from summer to autumn, but individual flowers open for just a night. 

Selenicereus undatas is the most popular pitahaya. Its fruit weighs between half a pound and a pound, and has white flesh. Selenicereus costaricensis fruit is similar, but with red flesh, and perhaps slightly more flavor. Selenicereus megalanthus fruit is smaller, thorny and yellow, with white flesh and richer flavor. Home grown fruit is superior to market fruit.

Pitahaya grows very easily from cuttings or pruning scraps. Young stems climb with wiry aerial roots, so need substantial support. Fruiting stems hang downward from the tops of such support. Most modern cultivars need no pollinator. Some old cultivars need another of its same species for pollination. Pitahaya is vulnerable to frost where winters are cool.

Pomegranate

Pomegranates are autumn and winter fruit.

As for fig, date, avocado, grape and olive, the esteemed pomegranate, Punica granatum, has been in cultivation for a very long time. Several thousands of years of domestication have generated countless cultivars. They are now popular in many regions and cultures throughout the World. They produce very well here and in other Mediterranean climates.

Most locally popular pomegranate fruits are brownish red, and about three to four inches wide. Each fruit contains hundreds of seed, which are surrounded by juicy and delicately succulent flesh. They separate easily, like many tiny and tender berries. Most are garnet red. Some cultivars produce fruit with darker purplish, lighter pink or even colorless flesh. 

Without dormant pruning, pomegranate trees can get taller than fifteen feet, and develop dense thicket growth. Fruit is easier to collect from well groomed shorter trees. Individual trees may develop a few trunks, and live for two centuries. Orangish red flowers bloom in spring. Leaves turn yellow prior to defoliation in autumn. Fruit ripens in autumn or winter.

Persimmon

Ripe persimmon is surprisingly sweet.

Most other deciduous fruit trees provide delightfully profuse spring bloom as well as fruit. Persimmon, Diospyros kaki, does not. It compensates though, with brilliant orange foliar color for autumn. Defoliation reveals comparably bright orange ripe fruit. The awkwardly bulky fruit may look silly on lanky limbs of otherwise bare trees, but they sure are yummy! 

Persimmon trees will not require a pollinator to generate an abundance of fruit. However, according to some experts, paired trees of different cultivars produce more abundant fruit of slightly better quality. Abundance is not necessarily an asset though. Unfortunately, all that very perishable fruit ripens at the same time. Fruit is inedible before completely ripe.

Mature persimmon trees can get big enough to become moderate shade trees. If they do, their abundant fruit will be too high to reach, and will generate a horrendous mess when it falls. Although they are handsome trees, they should probably stay relatively short and compact. New trees should be planted while dormant during winter, preferably bare root.

The Fruits Of Our Labor

Quince and other fruit used to be much more common in home gardens.

The vast orchards of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys are there for a reason. California is one of the best place in the world to grow fruit trees. However, whether they are in vast orchards or compact urban gardens, even the happiest and healthiest of fruit trees need considerable and specialized attention.

Most of the classic deciduous fruit trees have been bred and selected and bred some more over the past many centuries to produce unnaturally large and abundant fruit. Consequently, most are unable to support the weight of all the fruit that they are capable of producing. This is why it is so important for them to be pruned while dormant through winter.

Pruning improves the structural integrity of fruit trees, and limits the abundance and weight of the fruit produced during the following season. With a bit of planning, pruning can keep much of the fruit within reasonable reach so that those picking it do not need to go dangerously high on ladders. Annual winter pruning also promotes vigorous spring and summer growth that is more resistant to disease.

Apricots, plums, prunes, nectarines, peaches and cherries are all related ‘stone’ fruits (of the genus Prunus), so need various degrees of similar pruning. Peaches need more aggressive pruning because the fruit is so heavy. Cherries and almonds need less pruning because the fruit is lighter. (Almonds can grow beyond reach because the nuts get shaken or knocked from the trees instead of picked.) Regardless of the extent of pruning, the ‘four D’s’, which are ‘dead, dying, damaged and diseased’ stems, should be pruned from all deciduous fruit trees.

Vigorous stems that grew last year need to be thinned and cut back but not removed completely since they are the stems that will bloom and develop fruit next year. The stems that grow from them this year will get pruned next winter to produce the following year. Apples, pears and quinces require similar pruning of their vigorous upper growth, but produce much of their fruit on lower ‘spur’ stems that do not elongate much and may never need pruning.

Fig trees are probably the most tolerant of pruning mistakes, since they produce fruit twice each year. Overly aggressive pruning may compromise their first phase of fruiting, but promotes the second phase. Light pruning does the opposite, compromising the second phase by allowing excessive production of the first phase.

Winter pruning of deciduous fruit trees will undoubtedly seem harsh to a beginner. Trees will need more pruning each year as they grow. Fortunately, pruning becomes more familiar with experience, and as the results of pruning can be observed over time. It is among the most important of gardening tasks for those who grow fruit trees, so is really worth studying more thoroughly.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Healthy growth can overburden tree limbs.

It was probably the extra chill this last winter that made some deciduous fruit trees bloom more profusely early in spring than they typically do. Unusually busy bees in some regions improved pollination and subsequent fruit set, although some was dislodged by late rain. The sudden warmth this last spring not only improved the flavor of fruit, but also made some grow larger than typical.

More and better fruit is usually what those who grow fruit strive for. The problem with some trees now is excess. After pruning our fruit trees every winter for a few years, we get to know how much to prune them to maximize productions without overloading the trees. When the trees produce more than expected, they may not be able to support the weight of their own fruit.

Many plum and peach trees have already dropped limbs that were overburdened with the weight of fruit. Nectarine, apricot, pluot (and aprium, plumcot and all those weird hybrids), and prune trees can potentially drop limbs as well. Even without breaking, heavy limbs can get disfigured simply by sagging downward. Broken or sagging limbs expose inner bark to sun scald.

Broken limbs obviously can not be salvaged, so can only be removed. They should be cut cleanly away without leaving stubs. Sagging limbs can be propped with notched stakes tucked under side branches that will keep them from sliding upward. The notches keep such stakes from sliding off to either side. Much of the excessive fruit can be removed from severely sagging limbs. However, if the fruit is so ripe that it will not be getting any heavier, there is no advantage to removal.

Formerly shaded bark that suddenly becomes exposed to direct sunlight should be shaded. If partly shaded though much of the day, it should be safe. If expected to be shaded next year by new growth, bark can be protected temporarily with duct tape or stapled cardboard, or even foliated bits of the limb that broke, tied over the bark. Light colored paint is unsightly, but can be applied to reflect sunlight from bark that is expected to remain exposed permanently.

Excessive weight is not only a problem for fruit trees. Some sweetgum, fruitless mulberry and old fashioned Chinese elm trees can produce so much healthy foliage that limbs hang lower than they should. Some shade trees can even drop limbs ‘very’ unexpectedly, when the weather is warm and humid, but without wind.

Cold Winters Have Certain Advantages

Winter frost can improve spring bloom.

Even in May, damage from the frosts of last winter is still evident among some of the more sensitive plants. Lemon trees and bougainvilleas that have not yet been pruned may still display bare stems protruding above fresher new growth. Some bougainvilleas did not survive. Those that are recovering will bloom later because replacement of foliage is their priority for now.

However, peonies, although rare, are blooming better than they have since 1991, right after one of the worst frosts in recorded history. Earlier, some lilacs, forsythias and wisterias likewise bloomed unusually well. While so many plants were succumbing to cold weather, many others were enjoying it.

The reason that peonies typically do not seem as happy locally as they are in severe climates is that they really prefer more cold weather while they are dormant through winter. Without it, they may not go completely dormant, or may not stay dormant long enough to get the rest that they need; and then wake up tired in spring. Cold winter weather promotes more adequate dormancy, which stimulates healthier growth and bloom this time of year. It all makes sense considering that peonies are naturally endemic to colder climates.

A preference for cooler winter weather is also why so many varieties of apples and pears that are grown in other regions do not perform well here. The good news is that as the fruit of local apple and pear trees matures through spring and summer, it may be of better quality that it has been for many years. Trees that typically produce sparsely may produce more abundantly this year. The weather that damaged tropical and subtropical plants was an advantage to others.

Nothing can restore cherries, apricots, peaches and any other early blooming fruit that was dislodged by late rain, but any fruit that survived may be just as unusually good as apples and pears. Not only is the best place for gardening, but minor weather problems can have certain advantages.

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.

Citrus Fruits Ripen Through Winter

Mandarin oranges are at their best.

Winter seems like an odd time for fruit to ripen. Winter weather is cool enough to inhibit vascular activity in plants. That is why most plants are dormant to some extent through winter. Most familiar fruit trees are deciduous, so defoliate in winter chill. Stone fruits ripened through early summer. Pome fruits ripened through late summer and autumn. Nonetheless, citrus fruits are now in season.

The various citrus fruits and their cultivars ripen at various times through their season. Like stone fruits and pome fruits, they are on distinct schedules. Furthermore, climate affects ripening. Citrus fruits that ripen earlier than other cultivars in a particular climate may ripen after the same other cultivars in another climate. A few cultivars produce sporadically, or notably later than citrus season.

Such cultivars are justifiably popular. For example, ‘Eureka’ lemon is a mutant of ‘Lisbon’ lemon. ‘Lisbon’ lemon works well for orchards because all the fruit ripens within a limited season. ‘Eureka’ is more practical for home gardens because it instead produces sporadically throughout the year. A few fresh lemons are always available. The winter crop is abundant, but not too overwhelming.

Mandarin oranges are the first citrus fruits to harvest, even if they are not the first to completely ripen. Because their rinds fit so loosely, they are the most perishable of citrus fruits. They will oxidize and dehydrate before they rot. Tangerines are the same, since they are merely American descendants of Mandarin oranges. ‘Rangpur’ lime is not a lime at all, but a sour Mandarin orange hybrid.

Oranges, lemons and grapefruits, although ripening now, can remain on their trees for quite a while. The tartness of grapefruits mellows with age, and might be preferable after a few months. The same applies to the acidity of lemons. However, too many lingering citrus fruits can inhibit bloom. Some limes are supposedly best before totally ripe. All citrus fruits stop ripening when harvested. Juice of the various citrus fruits can be frozen for storage if necessary.