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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Butterflies Pollinating Plum Trees?

Butterflies pollinating readers plum tree
Q. Attached you will find a picture of small butterflies on our plum tree. There are hundreds of them. Are they pollinating our trees? The bees were here, but these have taken over.

A. I have seen this before a few years back in our orchard as well and they can do a lot of pollinating when it happens. It normally does not last very long. There is usually a burst of butterflies for a couple of weeks and then it is over.

            The development of the adult butterfly must correspond to the opening of flowers that require insect pollination. In some years, like now, butterfly development is perfectly coordinated with certain varieties of fruit trees.

            Pollinating insects can include bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies and other insects. By far the most consistent pollinators are our bees and specifically the domesticated honeybee.

Fruit Tree Not Producing? Get Rid of It!

Q. I live in the Mesquite area and have two non-producing nectarines. One is a 7 year old LeGrand and the other a 4 year old Gold Mine nectarine. Both get plenty of flowers but no fruit. They are intermingled with plums, peaches, and apricots; all producers. Any idea what could be wrong?

A. First of all, thank you for keeping track of the variety of fruit trees you have. I cannot tell you how many times I have talked with people and they have no idea what variety of fruit tree they planted. Selecting the right variety makes a world of difference in the quality of the fruit you produce.

            I will tell you right now I have tried both of those varieties of nectarine and do not give them very high marks for flavor in our climate. I would get rid of them now and put in something better. I know Le Grand is an old time favorite in other parts of the country but there are better varieties out there.

            I also had one nectarine tree, unlike yours, that just would not flower for us. Lots of healthy growth, but no flowers. It wasn’t the variety because we had five of this tree and the other four did produce. I gave it a five year chance and then replaced it. It should have gotten just three years but I felt generous. Generally speaking, if your fruit tree does not produce after three years of flowering, or you get three years in a row of bad tasting fruit, REPLACE IT.

            If you want to stick with nectarines (this may turn into a regular spray program for thrips control down the road) then I would look very closely at Arctic Star, a white-fleshed nectarine or, for yellow-fleshed types, Desert Dawn, Desert Delight or Double Delight. We have given all of these very high marks in fruit quality and they are excellent producers.

Don't Throw Out Your Thinned Peach and Nectarine Fruit

Baby peach fruit for pickling
Green almond ready for pickling or eating fresh
If you have peaches and nectarines, now is the time to start removing fruit so that the remaining fruit gets larger. Remove fruit that are gumdrop sized so that the fruit remaining on the limb is at least four inches apart. If the tree is not terribly healthy then remove more fruit than this.

If you thin your peaches or nectarines you will end up with "baby peaches" Pick early so they are no larger than a large olive, try pickling them and packing them in oil for home use just as you would olives. They do this in the Mediterranean and Middle East where some people do not let any fruit go to waste.
Baby donut peaches
You can also do this with green almonds. Harvest the almonds when they are no longer than about one inch. The seed inside should still be translucent with a white coat. If you want a recipe to try with babby

If you want a recipe to start with, I found this one on the internet in the Ligurian style.

Las Vegas Banana Update

Harrison's bananas forming
Harrison's banana male flower (actually
located under the purple bract)

Ann's Cavendish banana in Las Vegas

Ann's Banana another view

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Make Your Peaches Larger by Thinning Enough

Readers nectarine tree
Q. My 23 year old nectarine is always loaded with fruit. I sent you a picture. I usually "thin" out the fruit when they're quite small but I can't seem to thin out enough so they get bigger. Should I remove the flowers now before the fruit forms or wait until the fruit is formed and then attempt to thin out? I know the tree in the picture is ugly but the fruit it bears is delicious.

A. I am not concerned with the looks of the tree but I am concerned that it has enough canopy to shade the branches which helps prevent sunburn on the limbs and fruit. Sunburn damage on limbs in turn attracts boring insects and increases the decline of the tree.

            Since the leaves are responsible for collecting solar energy and converting this solar energy into chemical energy in the form of sugars, the number of leaves compared to the number of fruit is a pretty critical relationship if you want larger fruit. You want anywhere around 50 to 70 healthy leaves for every good-sized fruit.
Peach before thinning

            I know you won't go around counting the leaves to determine the number of fruit to remove but it gives you an idea that if you don't have a good canopy of leaves, then you will have to remove a lot of fruit.

            This is why it is important for your tree to have good canopy development from proper pruning. This allows sunlight to penetrate on to leaves inside the canopy. Leaves growing in shade produce fewer sugars and may actually rob sugars from developing fruit.

Peach after thinning
            This is why we tell people to leave fruit spaced an average of about 4 to 6 inches apart on the fruit-bearing limbs. Start removing fruit when they are the size of your thumbnail.

            I would not remove flowers as an alternative to thinning the fruit. You don't know which flowers are going to set fruit and which ones will not. You might leave flowers that don't set any fruit.

            Harvest your fruit when they are still firm but have developed their full-color. It is acceptable that there is just a little bit of green left on the fruit at the time of harvest. Depends on the variety.

            This helps avoid a lot of bird damage to the fruit. The birds like to get them when the sugar content is starting to climb. Following Murphy’s Law, this is nearly always the day before you decide to pick them. Pick soft fruit at the first sign of bird damage and let undamaged fruit ripen on the kitchen counter for a couple of days. After they ripen, put them in the refrigerator to help preserve their freshness.

Baby Fruit Trees: Pull Off or Leave the Fruit On?

Q. Help! I planted my bareroot Pink Lady last February 4th and now it's flowering! I'm happy to see the blossoms; they're pretty and smell good. This is the first time I planted an apple tree, now I don't know what to do next. Should I just let it blossom and fruit?

Pink Lady apple from the North Las Vegas Orchard
A. Just be calm and take a deep breath. It is okay for your tree to flower. If you go back to some of the old textbooks on fruit trees it may tell you that some trees take six to eight years to bear fruit. Well there is some truth to that but with newer varieties bred for precociousness (early production) and budded on to dwarfing rootstocks it is not unusual to have fruit trees begin to bear fruit after only a year or two in the ground. The question then becomes is it wise to leave the fruit on the tree or remove it?

            Some very good gardeners are of the opinion that all fruit should be removed so that the energy of the tree goes into tree growth rather than split between tree growth and fruit production. Others say to let the tree go ahead and produce some fruit but remove most of it for the same reason.

            I am of the latter. If you have some fruit being produced then enjoy a few the first year, a few more the second until you maximize its production for its size. As it increases in size it can be allowed to carry more fruit.

            Remember to whitewash the tree to help prevent sunburn. Cover all the branches and the trunk with diluted white latex paint. This is a mixture, 1/1, with water and make sure you cover the west and south sides of the trunk and tops of the branches.

            Let it flower. Thin the fruit to one apple per cluster as soon as the fruit forms. Keep mulch at least 6 inches away from the trunk the first few years. Remove the stake this fall. That’s about it. I hope you get a couple of fruit this year.

Terry Mikel Joins Xtremehorticulture Blog

Hello, my name is Terry Mikel and I had a position similar to Robert Morris' for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County (Phoenix is the main city).  Over the years Robert and I have developed a relationship both professionally and personally.  He kindly asked me if I might help a bit while he's off on another one of his fascinating adventures, this time in Afghanistan.

In our conversations I would like to help with some with queries from the lower desert regions and maybe banter a bit with him on some of the issues that might arise.  We don't necessarily agree on everything or how to do everything.  That might add some spice and will keep both of us honest.

Additionally he thought some explanation about my 'facename' would be in order.  It's pretty simple, like almost every gardener, plant person or human I have certain unexplainable favorite plants and for me the Genus Puya is one.  It goes back years to when Dr. Bill Feldman, Director of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum (we were graduate students together) called me to come out and see him.  He did not say why and when I got there we took a walk through the cactus area and off the trail to behind a rock formation.  Coming around the rock there it was, a Puya berteroniana in full bloom.  It was the first time it had bloomed and until then they weren't sure which Puya it was.  It was spectacular and my passing knowledge of the Genus changed to a real passion for it.  They are in a terrestrial growing sub-family of the Bromeliad Family growing in the Andes Mountains from the foothill up to about 9,000'.  A cousin grows in the Chihuahaun Desert called Hectia.  One reason I like them is the one reason for most of my favorite plants, they don't look like much and the bloom comes as a surprise with little regard for weather,  conditions or our inputs in general.  That's what cool about Puyas for me.

Check them out and see the strange and wondrous diversity of the Genus Puya and you folks in the higher desert will have a much easier time growing them if the want strikes you.

Any way I am honored Robert asked me to join you all and I look forward to interacting back and forth.