- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
Right plant…. right place….. right time: As Master Gardeners, this is our mantra….from the annual flowers we add to our garden for color, to our hardy native plants and everything in between. The “right plant” that is placed in the “right place” at the “right time” will do so much better than a plant out of place. For deciduous fruit trees lets break that down:
1) “Right plant:” Choose a fruit tree that get's enough chill hours in your area. Chill hours are calculated as the number of hours between Nov 1st and Feb 15th below 45 degrees (and above 32 degrees, which is less of an issue for Inland Valley plantings, where we don't get to many hours below 32 degrees each year). Lack of adequate chill hours leads to poor fruit production, so finding a variety that fits the chill hours you get in your area is one of the most important decisions you must make when selecting your trees. To find out how many chill hours you get in your area, check out this chill hour calculator: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/Weather_Services/Chill_Calculators/
Don't get very many chill hours in your area? There's no need to worry! There are many varieties of fruit trees that have been bred to have low chill hour requirements, and there are many varieties that can be successful in sunny Southern California. A few varieties that need very few chill hours (only 100 to 200) are pomegranates, figs, and persimmons. Varieties that often need more chill hours (600 to 1,000 hours) are cherries, pears and some plums and apples, but there are varieties of those that have been developed to be “low chill” hour types, so look for those if you live in the valleys.
2) “Right place:” Chose a place in your yard that will give your tree space to grow or consider trimming your trees into “fruit bushes” if you are low on space. Want to learn more about fruit bushes? Join our upcoming class on fruit trees to learn more (details below). Do you have low chill hours in your neighborhood? You might want to look for a place in your yard that is away from structures that would radiate heat, and perhaps a low spot when cold air can collect and help you a little with chill hours (note: this might add dozens, not hundreds of chill hours though, so “right plant” is still really important!). Poor drainage can lead to lots of health problems for your trees (fruit and ornamental), so having good soil is important.
Planting tips: When planting all trees, it is best not to amend the hole where you are planting to prevent the roots from circling in the hole. Think about it like this: if you fill the hole with compost, and make it extra nice for the tree, the roots will prefer not to leave the comfort of the hole it was planted in and will circle around in that nice soft soil. This can lead to poor growth in the best case, and in the worst case can make a tree prone to falling and can cause damage or injury. Planting trees in native soil helps them adapt to their new home and will make sure their roots are not discouraged from venturing out into their new surroundings! If you are transplanting trees from containers, plant them at the same depth but dig the hole at least 2-1/2 times the width of the pot. Have heavy soil, or are not sure if your soil is good for fruit trees? Reach out to our helpline and we can help you figure out what is needed for success. What about bare root trees? Deciduous fruit trees can be planted ‘bare root' (dug in the field and refrigerated during their dormant phase with their soil removed at purchase) which is a great choice since you don't need to match two types of soil and they are less expensive. Planting deciduous fruit trees now has several benefits. Since the deciduous trees are dormant they experience less stress in the shipping, retail, and planting process. Then, once spring starts to warm up, they will break dormancy, send out new roots and leaves and be all ready to go in their new home.
Reminder: This is also the time of year to prune back your established fruit trees, while dormant (except for apricots and cherries, that do best when pruned in the Aug), and apply dormant oil sprays if needed.
3) “Right time:” Planting fruit trees at the “right time” can help your fruit trees get established before the heat of the summer and will get them growing with less stress to the tree. Citrus and avocados do best when planted in the spring in So Cal, when the soil and air are warming, but will also generally do ok when planted in the fall before cool temperatures set in. Planting them now can stress young plants when February, our generally coolest time of the year, comes around, so consider holding off on planting those trees until spring, which will be just around the corner!
Want to learn more about chill hours, fruit tree selection, planting, pruning and more? Attend our upcoming online Fruit Tree workshop on Jan 23rd and bring your questions too! In the meantime, the UC Backyard Orchard website has lots of great information for you to check out: http://homeorchard.ucanr.edu/. In my family we always plant fruit trees together (we even say a little blessing to our trees when planted…but that's a story for another day). I have trees that my mom and grandmother planted, trees that my grandmother and I have planted, and trees that I have planted with my children. I enjoy the fruits of my relative's forethought, relatives that my kiddos never got to meet….and one day my children and maybe their children will enjoy the fruits of my labor. Fruit trees give us something to look forward to each year: the first leaves to emerge; the blossoms; the delicious fruit and the winter when they rest and show us the beauty of the structure of their branches. Planting fruit trees gives us years of rewards and with the Master Gardeners' just a phone call or email away. We are here to help you with all of your questions and challenges!