Type your question here!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Starting a Small Backyard Orchard

Q. I'm looking to start a small backyard orchard of fruit trees next year here in Las Vegas. I was thinking of about 10 - 12 trees using the recommended varieties from your Xtremehorticulture blog.  I am still in the planning stages and would appreciate your recommendation on whether I should use bare root trees or container trees. 

Bareroot fruit tree. Notice
the "dogleg" on the trunk
where the fruit variety was
budded or "grafted" on to
an appropriate rootstock.
A. Bare root trees are only available during late winter or early spring before the leaves emerge from the tree. Bare root trees are typically small but establish very quickly if planted correctly. Directions for planting fruit trees can be found on my blog by searching “how to plant fruit trees” on the blog search engine.

            There is nothing wrong with planting container grown trees provided they have not outgrown the container. If trees are grown for too long in the container before planting, this can lead to future problems.

            Rows of the trees should run north and south so they don't shade each other. However if the trees are planted in a triangular pattern (trees in neighboring rows are offset by half of their planting distance) rather than a square pattern (trees are directly opposite each other in neighboring rows) it doesn't make much difference which direction the rows are running.

            The distance between trees in the rows depends on how big you let them get. If you elect to keep them small so that you eliminate ladders for pruning, spraying and picking then you can plant most of them as close as 10 feet apart. If you do elect to keep them smaller than this it will require more pruning effort on your part.

            Of course winter pruning will provide you with fruit wood that you can use for smoking or grilling or chip for surface wood mulch . No, this chipped wood will not cause more insects or diseases.

            On larger trees, like apples and pears, make sure you use some rootstocks that help keep them smaller. The rootstocks on my recommended list will do that for you. The distance between the rows should be no closer than 10 feet apart.

Semi or moderately intensive planting of apples on semi-dwarf rootstocks in the
former soviet union. The distance between trees is relatively close but because
they are using large scale tractors for spraying, cultivating and harvesting
the distance between the rows (the picture is between rows) is still relatively
large. This could be even more intensive (more $ per acre) if the
rows were closer together.
            If you want to get some small equipment down the rows then I would put the rows no closer than 12 feet apart and you might even consider 14 feet if you are using a small tractor or larger wagons for harvesting.

            Make sure you install your irrigation system and pre-dig your holes and amending the soil there before you begin planting. Plant directly into amended soil and thoroughly wet the soil with a hose several times after planting.

            Avoid container trees which have been in the nursery for a long period of time. Any of the nursery or garden centers will be a good place to purchase these plants if they have been recently delivered there.  

            Buy these trees just before you are ready to plant them. Don't buy and keep them at home for several days before planting. We all have good intentions but frequently these trees get neglected. When bringing them home, find a shady spot to put them until you are ready to plant. Do not keep them in the sun if temperatures are very warm or hot.

Soil in Container Growing Lemon Tree Should Be Replaced

Q. I have a small lemon tree, about 3 ft. high and 5 years old, growing on my patio in a whiskey barrel.  It currently has two lemons growing on it due to the fact that a critter ate all the others.  It has produced since the second year (up to 8 lemons) if the critter does not eat them.  However, the leaves on my little tree are very sparse.  Is this common or am I doing something wrong. I read your blog all the time.

A. Thanks for reading my blog and you will see this posting in it soon. When we grow things in containers or pots we have to be worried a bit about the soil “going bad” over time. So if you are not adding compost or trying to renew the soil in some way it will start to get depleted or it will lose its “vitality”.

            I assume you are adding some sort of fertilizer to the soil to help the tree but the addition of just a fertilizer will not be enough. Organic matter will be needed as well. It is probably best once every year or, at the most two, that you remove some of the soil from the container and add composted soil.

            It is okay if you damage some roots in the process. They will grow back. But my guess is that the soil is starting to become exhausted. If you could replace that soil with composted soil or a soil mix with a good compost in it I think you will see some improvement over time.

            Pick a spot in the container, take a garden trowel and dig two or three holes about halfway down and replace this soil. When you pick a compost, pick a good one. It will not be cheap. My guess a good one will run you about $20 or so for a couple cubic feet of compost.

            Kelloggs makes some lesser expensive composts that may be okay. Fox Farms makes good compost but it is expensive. Look for Happy Frog or others that are similar when you do this. Replace more soil the next year in the same way.

            When containers are used for vegetables or things like strawberries we normally replace the soil after a couple of plantings. Disease and insect problems accumulate and build after a few plantings. It will help if you can cover the soil in the container with a couple of inches of organic mulch that decomposes as well.  I hope this helps.

Sap Coming From Pine Tree Usually Not Borers

Readers pine tree
Q. Attached are two photos of a pine tree in my front yard.  On closer examination you will see two open wounds in the upper area of the pine tree.  Unbeknownst to me, these wounds appear to have been in existence for some time judging by the amount of pine sap around them.

            Staff at a local nursery thought the wounds might be related to little insects called borers.  However, rather than slather the wounds with tree dressing or tar, they suggested that I contact someone who was more knowledgeable than they such as the County Extension Service.  I saw your column in the paper and thought perhaps you might be able to help me.

            I did purchase Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed concentrate from the nursery as they recommended sprinkling this powder on the ground extending out to the tree line. Our pine tree is probably 20-25 feet tall and hope it isn't too late to apply some remedial/medical measures to help save it.

A. Borer damage to pines in the landscaped area of the valley is rare but worth checking out. I would pull any loose bark away from the damaged area first. If it is loose, I would want to see what is under it.

            If you the bark pulls away from the tree easily then the area under it is dead. Remove all of the loose bark and see how extensive the dead area, if any, might be. If it extends to a very large area around the circumference of the tree you would most likely see dead branches in the tree which it sounds like you don’t have.

            If there is just sap bubbling to the surface that usually indicates some damage to the wood and it exudes sap as part of the healing process. Leave it alone and let it heal just like we would any open wound we might get. Pines do appreciate an occasional deep watering unless you are doing that now.

            You can tell by looking at the canopy and how dense the canopy is. If the canopy is sparse and you can see through it easily then it is probably not getting enough water to stimulate enough good growth to keep it dense. These large trees require a lot of water, even pines. I hope this helps.