Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Get Ready To Fall For The Desert's Best Fruit Trees!

Fall is a great time to plant that fruit tree you've been dreaming of!
Planting fruit trees now gives you the longest period for the tree to become established and strong before the heat of summer.
Whether you're looking to plant just one tree so you can harvest your favorite fruit or you're wanting to plant a mini-orchard full of different fruit varieties, there's something for everyone!

Many people are surprised to learn that deciduous fruit trees do well here in the Desert. 
(Note that Citrus Trees are not addressed in this article. See Star Note #510 for Citrus.)

There are some factors to consider before planting:

 WINTER CHILL HOURS: Are expressed as “Low (400 or less), Moderate (400 to 700) and High (over 700) hours of winter temperatures below 45 ˚ F. The lower the winter chill requirement for a tree is, the better the chance for high production in our climate.

 Warmer winters will negatively affect high chill requirement trees more than those with a low-chill requirement. Temperatures in the range of 45 to 55 degrees also have considerable benefit toward fruiting. Conversely, temperatures above 70 degrees during the cooling period may be detrimental to fruit production. Production is also affected by proper watering and fertilizing as well as unusually hot or cold spells during the flowering period. Follow proper planting and care instructions described by StarNote 500, Fruit Tree Selection, Planting and Care and you will be successful. If you have specific questions about any fruit tree, discuss them with a friendly sales associate at any Star Nursery location. 

POLLINATOR TREES: Some fruit trees need pollinator trees in order to produce fruit. Any tree needing an additional pollinator tree usually needs a different variety of the same fruit. Some, but not all; are listed below. Peaches and nectarines can cross-pollinate within certain limits.

VARIETIES: The following fruits are most often available and commonly grown in our climate with varying degrees of success.

ALMONDS are among the easiest to grow of all fruits or nuts in the desert. Most varieties benefit from a pollinator. Almonds are drought resistant and produce better with deep, infrequent irrigation.

APPLES have been grown in our climate for some time. Harder, more tart apples seem to take summer heat well without turning mushy. All apples benefit from a pollinator tree. Yellow Delicious and Dorsett Golden pollinate most other varieties. Fruit is produced on short branches called spurs. These occur on wood at least two years old. Spurs may be productive for many years so restrict pruning on mature trees to the removal of weak or dead wood and crossing branches. Young trees may take 3-5 years after planting to develop fruiting spurs.

APRICOTS bloom early and generally grow best where late frosts seldom occur. They are dependable, heavy bearers in desert climates. All are self-fertile; chilling requirements are not a factor. Thin fruit in early spring, as necessary, to prevent overloading branches. Most container stock produces fruit the first year after planting. When the birds start pecking, it’s time to start picking!

CHERRIES will survive in hot climates but they do not thrive. All sweet and most sour varieties have High Winter Chill requirements which makes them better suited to cooler areas. On young trees, thin, tender bark is best protected with white latex paint which prevents sunburn, splitting bark and helps prevent invasion by borers. Prune to maintain good branch structure only. Fruiting spurs are long-lived and do not need to be renewed.

FIGS are among the easiest fruits to grow in desert and semi-desert climates. Though naturally large in size, some varieties reaching 40 feet or more, all can be kept small by pruning heavily. In cooler areas they may freeze back in severe winters, keeping them in large shrub form. Prune out dead wood or runaway shoots annually and avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. Figs make excellent container plants. All varieties grown here are self-fertile.

GRAPES are easily grown in our climate. They tend to be a little smaller, but much sweeter than those grown elsewhere. Pruning for maximum fruit production is a complicated affair, but remember that next year’s fruit is produced from this year’s wood. In most cases, plenty of grapes will be produced on vines used to cover an arbor. When planted in southern or western exposures, they can provide valuable shade as well. The grape-leaf skeletonizer is a native pest that can destroy leaves. Control with Spinosad® or Bacillus Thuringensis (BT) products.

NECTARINES tend to be shorter lived in our climate but produce excellent fruit; well worth your efforts. Trees are not well suited for lawns and need regular fertilizing and pruning for best production. Keep tops of trees pruned to control size if desired. Dwarf varieties give full-sized fruit on 5 to 6-foot trees and are well-adapted to container gardening. Plant different varieties for early, mid or late season fruit. Thin fruit in early spring to avoid branch breakage.

PEACHES also have a relatively shorter lifespan (about 8 years) but produce heavily and are easy to grow, especially if planted out of lawns. All benefit from regular fertilization and pruning. Dwarf varieties give full-sized fruit on 5 to 6-foot trees and make great choices for container gardening. Plant different varieties for early, mid or late season fruit. Thin fruit in early spring, as necessary, to prevent overloading branches. Stone fruits ripen from the inside out and may smell ripe while still hard. If birds start pecking the fruit, it’s a pretty good indication that harvest time is at hand. Pick when colorful and full-sized and they will soften nicely indoors in 2 to 3 days while retaining all their flavor.

PEARS grow remarkably well in our climate; not grown as much as they should be. Most varieties take lawn conditions better than many other fruit trees and have a greater tolerance for wet, heavy soils. Fruit is best if harvested before ripe and allowed to ripen indoors.

PECANS grow easily in the southwest, contrary to popular belief. However, container stock is sometimes difficult to find. They make excellent shade trees in large yards. Excellent soil drainage is required. Be sure to plant western varieties which are suited to hotter climates and alkaline soils. Most bear without a pollinator but all benefit from one. Mahan and Mohawk may be best since both are smaller and bear young. Popular varieties. Cheyenne, Choctaw, Mahan, Mohawk, Navajo, Pawnee, Sioux, Tejas, Western Schley.

PERSIMMONS are highly ornamental and Asian varieties do quite well here. They will perform better with afternoon shade and amended well-draining soil. The popular varieties most often sold are Fuyu and Hachiya.

PLUMS occur in Japanese and European varieties. Japanese strains typically have larger, juicer fruit and are used primarily for fresh eating. European plums include prunes which have higher sugar content and are good fresh or dried. Most varieties are well adapted to our climate and are self-fertile except as noted. Prepare your soil well, make sure the drainage is good and give an iron supplement like Ironworker each year to control chlorosis.

PISTACHIOS grow very well here in the desert. If you enjoy eating them, you will need to plant a male (Peters) and a female (Kernan) in order to get fruit. The male will not fruit, but its pollen is vital.

POMEGRANATES are among the prettiest, strongest and most productive fruits for dry climates. They tolerate heavy, alkaline soils, are extremely drought tolerant when established and make nice ornamental trees as well. Fruit is produced on new wood so prune to shape as desired. As the fruit matures, watch for leaf-footed bugs that can sour the fruit. Treat with Sevin® as needed. Dwarf flowering varieties produce no edible fruit but make a colorful, ever blooming accent to any dry landscape. Varieties. Utah Sweet – reddish-pink flowers spring through fall followed by lots of tasty, pink-fleshed fruit on a short, bushy tree. Wonderful – bright, orange-red flowers followed by sweet, reddish purple fruit on a fountain shaped tree to 10 feet or more.

For more information on Fruit Trees in the Desert Climate, see Star Note #505.