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Gardening With Libbey: Got Fruit?

Plant bare-root fruit trees now for a summer harvest.

A good way to include more fruit in your summer diet is to plant fruit trees in your backyard. Now is the time to find an abundance of choices of bare-root fruit trees at a local nursery.

Why plant a bare-root tree now? Because you will find the greatest selection, the best prices and it's easy to transport home.

It's easy to think there isn't enough room in a backyard for a bunch of fruit trees, but all that's needed is about 10 sq. feet in full sunlight for a regular dwarf tree. 

In that small area, there can be one semi-dwarf tree with one variety, or one tree with four different varieties of your favorite fruit by planting a multiple budding tree.

Budding is a horticultural technique used to join parts from two or more trees so they appear to grow as one. Apples can be budded with apples, cherries with cherries. pears with pears, however peaches can be budded with nectarines, apricots, plums and pluots. One benefit of a multiple budding tree is each budding can mature at a different time, so all the fruit is not ripe at once and you can grow more varieties in the space of one tree.

Budded trees need special care when being pruned as one variety can be more aggressive, grow faster and take over in which case you can lose the other varieties on the tree. It's important that each variety get adequate sunlight and not shade out its neighbor.

With just a little more space than a 10-by-10-foot area, another way to harvest multiple varieties is to plant two, three or four dwarf trees of different varieties in the same hole with the trunks about one-foot apart. Again, pears would go with pears and apples with apples. It doesn’t work to plant an apple and a peach together.

Why would you plant multiple trees in the same hole? Because, like the multiple budding tree, an early, mid and late harvest of your favorite fruit can be enjoyed in a relatively small space and the trees are stronger than the budded branches so they are more likely to thrive. The varities to be planted can be customly chosen. The harvest goes on for weeks instead of days. In the case of peaches, there can be an early peach, middle peach, late peach, nectarine, apricot or pluot in the same hole.

When I was studying to be a master gardener, a speaker came from Dave Wilson Nursery to educate us on fruit trees and described the system of planting more than one tree per hole. I got so excited I went out and purchased 11 bare root trees and then planted them all in a week, many of them two to one hole. I couldn’t fit all the trees in my yard so I added some to my mom’s and daughter’s yards. Now in my mom’s yard, I have a peach with a nectarine and two different apples together. They are doing so well I wish I had planted four to a hole.

There have been many videos, articles and papers written on choosing and planting bare-root trees. They all agree the hole should be dug twice as wide as the roots and the sides of the hole should be scored. These articles also said if the soil is heavy clay (like in Benicia) or compacted, the soil should be deeply loosened. They all agree the tree should be planted in the ground at the same level it grew before it was dug for sale. Also, the area of about three feet around the trunk should be kept free of weeds or grass and mulched (not allowing it to touch the trunk) to keep soil temperatures even and conserve moisture. Most say to add fertilizer after the tree starts to grow and not at the time of planting. One of the best papers I have seen on the subject is from UC Davis and the best videos are from the Dave Wilson Nursery. They even have taste-testing information.

There is one other important part of planting bare-root trees. They need to be pruned after they are planted. This is where I ran into trouble with my 11 trees. I pruned them all off at about knee-high as per instructions, and the ones which came from the nursery with low branches growing below the knee-high cut did fine. The ones which had no low branches did not fare well, and some of them didn’t make it. My advice is to choose trees with low branches whenever possible, plant in January, (not March as I did, the end of the bare-root planting season) and keep your receipts in case the nursery guarantees their plants.

The important thing for me is to try something new, experiment, enjoy the process and eat fresh fruit all summer long.

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Bruce Rockwell January 16, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Excellent article. Another advantage to Backyard Orchard Culture is that as a small grower who doesn't need a huge yield that ripens all at the same time to get picked in a day and packed and shipped long distances, you get to choose varieties for their culinary appeal and their direct usefulness in your kitchen. If you love apples, please don't limit yourself to the same-old same-old Gala, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and Fuji apples that you can have any day at the supermarket! At better nurseries (such as Navlet's in Pleasant Hill or Mid City in American Canyon) you can find heirloom varieties that have been passed along for centuries because they taste incredible. The benefit of successive ripening for the home orchard can't be overstated. And you certainly aren't limited to four varieties on one tree. I have two apple trees, each with six varieties, from a Strawberry Parfait and Pink Pearl (with stunning pink flesh) that ripen in July, all the way to Lady Williams that ripens in January! I have a peach tree with three different kinds of peaches, a new variety of white peach (Q-1-8), a classic yellow peach (Frost), and a blood peach (Indian Blood Free), all of which are naturally resistant to the leaf curl fungus. Anybody interested in growing fruit at home, discovering heirloom varieties, grafting, etc.,, should come to the California Rare Fruit Grower's scion exchange event this Saturday in Oakland: http://www.crfg.org/chapters/golden_gate/index.htm
"The Black Panther of Poetry" January 16, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Libbey Mckendry, one of the benefits or non-benefits of growing up in a family of twelve is appreciating all food. What I am saying is that I ride my bike around Benicia a lot and notice wonderful fruit just waiting to be picked and eaten. But to my dis-pleasure a lot of it just sit on the tree and go to waste. That really irks me to the point that I think it is a "sin". I mean, there are people all over this planet that would savour and cherish a peach, a pear, a apple. There are people that would literally take those lemons that some let just rot and go to waste; and make lemonade. But that's just me Libbey Mckendry and how I feel. HAPPY MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY!!
Bruce Rockwell January 16, 2012 at 08:06 PM
This is often what happens when people choose a full size tree that has fruit that can't be reached, one that bears far too much fruit for a family to use. It just gets wasted. Current Backyard Orchard Culture practices recommend dwarf and semi-dwarf trees for this reason. There are some non-profit groups and other organizations that will come into homes, care for the trees, pick the fruit and other garden produce, and get it to people who need it. We should encourage this kind of thing more. The local Benicia Girl Scouts will do this, you might suggest it to homeowners who have an abundance of fresh fruit that is not being eaten, a mature fruit tree really is a tragic wasted resource. http://beniciaherald.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/big-backyard-crop-call-the-girl-scouts/
Kristin January 16, 2012 at 09:55 PM
This is a great article but what about the concern of the leeching from the old IT waste site???? Is there no concern that the water/ soil might have high levels of heavy metals other toxic substances? More information about the IT site should be available!!!!
scottstewarts January 17, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Companies do give out samples. They are looking to put their products in potential consumers' hands. They wouldn't do it if it didn't work one of the place that always worked is "Get Official Samples" search online
Libbey McKendry January 17, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Hi Bruce, Thanks for writing in. I enjoyed the web site you posted, especially the list of fruits we can grow in the bay area and the links page. Thanks for the information on the scion exchange event. It is difficult for home gardeners to find good scion material. I hope I can attend and I hope it encourages more gardeners try their hand at grafting different varieties onto their exising trees.
Libbey McKendry January 17, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Thanks Scottstewarts for your comment. Speaking of samples, the Dave Wilson Nursery has taste testing for many fruits during the summer in the bay area and the Sacramento area. They usually set them up in conjunction with a Master Gardener event. I have no dates at this time but will post them when I see them.
Richard Swanson January 17, 2012 at 09:29 PM
What does planting fruit trees in your backyard have to do with the IT closed site? The IT site is regulated by the California Department of Substances Control and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and Solano County Department Resource Management. Quarterly, Semi-Annual, annual monitoring reports are submitted and are provided to these agencies plus the City of Benicia. The reports are public information. Please read them and get educated on the matter and stop spreading the unfounded fear and lack of knowledge. The site is fully controlled and monitored is not a concern for you or your backyard fruit.
Kristin January 17, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Mr. Swanson, This is a serious concern. Although the IT site may be closed, it is the remaining toxic material at both the IT site and the Arsenal that is concerning. A more recent article on the patch talked about the concerns regarding the toxicity levels at the the Arsenal and it's government regulation. Toxic materials can leech into the water and then soil unknowingly and could have serious environmental and community impacts. If toxic material has been leeched into soil surrounding fruit trees, the trees and fruit could be tainted and hazardous. The soil throughout Benicia isn't all consistent and vary in levels of heavy metals. I would argue that more information about both the IT site and Arsenal should be present. Government articles and stats are great but if you're only relying on one, possibly biased, source it could be inaccurate. Perhaps this would be a great investigative story for the patch. I just want to make sure this inst another Love Canal. Maybe you should google Love Canal and educate yourself as well.
Bruce Rockwell January 18, 2012 at 12:17 AM
It's one thing to argue that information about the old waste sites should be more accessible. That's a reasonable concern. But it's quite another to raise an alarm and make spooky Love Canal references without anything to substantiate the fears. If you know of some hard evidence to suggest that gardening or home orcharding is a toxic hazard in the residential areas of Benicia, then please be forthcoming with it. If you don't have any evidence to substantiate your fears other than vague hypotheticals, please refrain from bringing them up in a public forum like this until you've done your due diligence. The last thing we need is to scare people out of growing their own food because of hearsay and unsubstantiated fears.
Richard Swanson January 18, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Dear Kristin, You are right, toxics leaking into soil and groundwater is a concern for everyone including myself. However, there are specific hydrogeological factors that are required for toxics to migrate to your backyard and then to your fruit trees. The IT site cannot physicaly impact your backyard soil, groundwater, or fruit trees. If you are concerned about the quality your soil in your backyard, you should have samples of the fruit and soil collected and analyzed by a laboratory. We all want clean resources.

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