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Through my garden gate

Backyard fruit tree growing and care #101

Roger Boddaert


Southern California has one of the world's best climates for growing and harvesting assorted fruits and veggies throughout the year.

With the global climate in a significant transition, we are heading into some new and creative times, and having your own source of food offers you an edge on what's to come.

Backyard orchards can be productive year-round and allow you to have clean, nutritious fruits and veggies right out your backdoor.

We have become dependent on and go to the grocery store, to gather an abundance of everything, prepare, eat, and survive. But the availability and higher cost will become factors in the future that might change that convenience.

The Central California Valley has been known as the “bread basket” for America but is experiencing a three-year extreme drought and farms are suffering from that. Water is the most precious component of farming; I call it the staff of life.

Understanding how fruit trees, vines, and herbaceous plants grow with their needs, likes, and dislikes can make you the hero farmer for your family.

The length of the fruiting season can be maximized by planting fruit varieties with different ripening times and more extended harvesting throughout the year, but you must plan carefully.

With limited space in new homes today with smaller lots, you must think outside the box about closer planting techniques. Perhaps planting 3-4 varieties of apples or peaches in one hole will give you space utilization. You can espalier fruit trees against a fence or wall and even plant a hedgerow of blueberries as alternative methods for growing plants in limited space.

Consider large pots or olive barrels if you live in an apartment. Note the Dwarf Meyer lemon can provide more than two dozen lemons ready to be harvested for the holidays.

If trees are to be kept small, it is possible to plant a significant number of trees in a given space, giving you more types of fruits and extending your fruit season. Most semi-dwarf rootstocks keep the trees smaller than large traditional orchard trees and require less water.

Most deciduous trees require winter pruning to stimulate new fruiting wood, removing damaged and diseased wood to allow good air circulation and sunlight into the tree's canopy.

Pruning is most important in the first three years of new fruit trees because this is when the shape and size of the trees are established. Light summer pruning will also keep the tree in shape with lower fruits to pick without needing tall ladders, which can be unsafe.

When pruning fruit trees, it is critical to have sharp pruners, loopers, saws and pole pruners. Disinfect all tools when moving from tree to tree so as not to infect other trees if a disease exists.

You can purchase either bare-root trees in January through February or more established plants in larger containers, which cost more.

• Know your site, and make sure there is good soil drainage.

• Blend in some organic fertilizers as you fill the hole.

• Plant the new trees high in the planting hole.

• Create an earthen berm around the hole to retain moisture.

• Staking might be required to secure the trees in the first few years.

• If you plant in a container, use potting soil with good drainage.

• Mulch is vital for newly planted trees, mulch beyond the soil berm

• Monitor your watering carefully, don't let the trees dry out.

• New bare-root trees might take 2-3 years before fruiting.

The following is a selection of fruit trees that can be grown to create your own edible food forest. It is a partial list of trees and vines that can grow in San Diego county's many plant weather zones.

Almond, apple, apricot, avocado, blackberry, boysenberry, cherry, currant, feijoa, dragon fruit, fig, grapefruit, grape, lemon, lime, loquat, nectarine, orange, kumquat, peach, pear, pecan, persimmon, plum, pomegranate, pomelo, prune, quince raspberry, strawberry guava, walnut. There are not too many locations worldwide with that broad spectrum, so say hallelujah for Southern California.

Do your homework, investigate your climate zone regarding the cold factor and the number of chilling hours needed to set the flowers and develop fruits on specific varieties of trees. These chill hours will vary, pending on the types, and remember, no pollinated spring flowers mean no summer fruits. Talk to a professional nursery person to get the right tree for the right place.

The chill hours are determined from 100 to 600 hours when you have a temperature of 45 degrees at night or below. This is key when selecting the proper tree types for your area.

I hope I have inspired you to grow healthy and nutritious fruit trees around your garden for organic and wholesome foods.

As your fruit trees mature with abundant yields, consider canning, making jams and preserves, and the art of dehydrating some of those crops. We need to get back into home cooking involving the kids, so they understand where foods come from.

An excellent little handbook is "How to Prune Fruit Trees and Roses" by Sanford Martin and expanded by Ken Andersen.

I used to sit on the board of directors for the Southern California Horticultural Society with Mr. Martin, and I learned so much when I shadowed him on pruning projects while living in the Los Angeles area many a moon ago.

Roger Boddaert, landscape designer, arborist, and plantsman, can help you with your food forest, at 760-728-4297.


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