Flat Fruit Trees

One of the oldest advanced techniques of gardening—and one of my favorites—is espaliering, which involves shaping woody plants into two-dimensional shapes. Now, in bare root season, it’s timely to consider this tree training technique.

Espaliering has been traced back to the walled gardens of Persia, as long ago as 4,000 B.C. It was practiced during the Roman Empire and developed further during the Middle Ages.

There are good reasons for training trees or shrubs into relatively flat shapes. The primary reason in many situations is to garden productively within a limited space. Adding one fruit tree might be possible in a smaller garden, but even trees growing on dwarf rootstock can require a ten by ten area, plus some walking-around space, for cultivation. A gardener could use this tree training technique to grow several different trees in the same 1oo square feet.

Espaliers - Les Quatre Vents

These espaliered apple trees were growing at Les Quatre Vents, a notable private garden near Quebec, Canada. I took this photo in August, 2013

Espaliering is especially useful in narrow spaces along a driveway or sidewalk, or between the house and the property boundary. With an appropriate training plan, the gardener can maintain a row of fruit trees at a height of three or four feet, in a low profile that is both accessible and attractive.

Espaliered Apple Tree

Reader Bob Lippe of Seaside photographed this apple tree near a chateau in the Loire Valley, in France. The tree was being maintained at a height of only two feet.

If you have a space for which you might like to grow an espalier, check first to determine whether sun exposure is sufficient for the plant(s) you would like to install in the space. The most popular plants for espaliers are fruit trees, particularly apples, apricots, cherries and pears. In addition to fruit trees, other plants also can be grown in flat panels, including berries and climbing plants.

All the popular fruit trees—and most fruiting or flowering bushes or vines—require six or more hours of direct sunlight each day. Specific fruit tree varieties will perform better than others in the Monterey Bay area, so it would be prudent to do a bit of research before buying a tree for this purpose, or any other garden use.

Local garden centers usually offer only varieties that are appropriate for the immediate area. One could also seek the advice o the local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers < http://www.crfg.org/>.

In addition to making good use of limited space, espaliering has at least two additional benefits. One is to increase a fruit tree’s productivity. Training a tree to a two-dimensional form emphasizes horizontal branching, which maximizes the development of fruiting spurs. In addition, the flat form exposes more of the branches to sunlight and air, which promotes fruiting.

The second additional benefit is the opportunity for creative expression. Over the years, gardeners have developed many patterns for shaping the branches of trees and shrubs: fans, candelabras, and multi-tiered shapes are simplest to manage and most popular.

A special form of espalier, the cordon, is a single-trunked tree that develops spur clusters along its length. In this approach, branching is avoided and the trunk is trained to forty=-five degrees to the horizontal. A variation, the step-over design, brings the trunk to the horizontal, forming a low border.

For advice on growing fruit trees, attend a fruit tree workshop, such as those offered by the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Farm & Garden: call (831) 459-3240, email casfs@ucsc.edu, or visit the Brown Paper Tickets website at http://tinyurl.com/workshops2015.

For specific information on espaliering, visit a bookstore, public library or Amazon.com for Allen Gilbert’s “Espalier: Beautiful Productive Garden Walls and Fences” (Hyland House, 2009). Any of several other more general books on pruning also would be helpful.

Visit your local garden center now for an early selection of bare root fruit trees.

Some Garden Thugs You Want Around

A weed is simply a plant growing in the wrong place, while a garden thug is a plant spreading without apparent limit, and overwhelming other plants it encounters. Garden thugs could well be landscape assets, given freedom to expand. Here are three examples from my South African succulent bed.

Thug #1: Aloe maculata (Soap Aloe)


Some 550 recognized species are included in the genus Aloe. One of them, the Soap Aloe (its sap makes a soapy lather in water) is among the most popular Aloe species in California gardens. The plant forms a rosette about a foot wide, made of pointed fleshy leaves about eight inches long. In the spring it sends up a two-foot long stalk topped by orange-red flowers in a flat-topped cluster called a raceme. So far, so good, but it also sends underground suckers that soon create a dense colony. I lifted ten plants for this month’s garden exchange, then put another eight in the green waste.

Related species in my garden include A. arborescens (Torch Aloe), also a vigorous grower; A. plicatilis (Fan Aloe), a slow-growing small tree; and A. ‘Christmas Carol’  (hybrid), a smaller plant with vibrant red colors in the leaves. In this group, Soap Aloe is the real thug.

Thug #2: Senecio mandraliscae (Blue Finger)

Senecio mandraliscae

Senecio is one of the largest genera of flowering plants, with about 1,250 species that present many amazing forms. Blue Finger, which might be a hybrid, grows twelve-to-eighteen inches tall, with numerous four-inch long blue-gray leaves shaped like fat bean pods. It produces uninteresting white flowers in summer but the foliage is the main attraction. The leaves will drop easily from the plant, and root to form new plants. The spreading stems also quickly establish roots.

A nice-looking succulent plant and a welcome addition to the garden, but one that needs regular whacking to keep it within bounds. My other Senecios are S. rowleyanus (String-of-Pearls) (showing the variability of this genus) and S. haworthii (Wooly Senecio). There could be other thugs in this large genus, but Blue Finger certainly qualifies.

Thug #3: Cotyledon orbiculata (Pig’s Ear, Paddle Plant)


This striking succulent has gray-green fleshy leaves with red margins, and coral red, bell-shaped flowers on stalks in early spring. The leaves grow on stout branches growing any way other than straight. This attractive plant spreads over time, and is considered invasive in some parts of the world. The plant has medicinal uses, but its leaves are said to be toxic to livestock, poultry and dogs. It works well in containers, which might well be the best place for this plant.

These vigorous plants will prove you have a green thumb, but they require control.

Garden Priorities for March

Despite our current, most welcome rains, we remain below the normal precipitation level for this time of the year and water conservation in the landscape continues to be important.

Conserving Water

For long-term conservation, plant California native plants or other drought-tolerant plants from the world’s Mediterranean climates. Succulent plants are increasingly popular for this reason, and for their varied forms, textures and colors, and low maintenance needs. (Desert conditions are not ideal for succulents: all need some water and quick drainage, and many enjoy partial shade.)

Shorter-term water conservation strategies include composting and mulching to retain water, using drip irrigation for efficiency, selecting vegetable varieties for low water requirements, eliminating seasonal weeds to reduce competition for scarce water, and irrigating only when plants need water. See “More” (below) for water conservation tips from Master Gardeners.


Garden priorities for March include fertilizing trees, shrubs and perennials when they begin to show new growth.

For roses, give each plant two cups of a balanced fertilizer, i.e., 10-10-10 or 12-12-12, plus a quarter-cup of Epsom salts, two cups of alfalfa, and a half-cup of rock phosphate or bone meal.

There are differing views for fertilizing some plants. With bearded irises, for example, some growers recommend just a generous handful of a balanced fertilizer for each plant; others advocate low-nitrogen fertilizer, e.g., 6-10-10, plus bone meal and superphosphate. (The thinking is that adding more nitrogen could encourage root problems.)


March is a good time for pruning still-dormant trees and shrubs, following recommendations for each plant. Here are examples from my garden:

Thin a large Wild Mock-orange (Philadelphus lewisii) by cutting about one-third of the larger branches to the base of the plant.

Shape a large Milkflower Cotoneaster (C. lacteus) by removing old, unproductive limbs and spindly branches, and generally lifting the canopy to provide more sunlight to the understory.

Renew Salvias by cutting old growth to the ground when the plants begin to show early spring growth. Another shrub that responds well to this treatment is the Tree Daisy (Montanoa grandiflora), from Mexico, which can grow up to ten feet high in one season. This annual treatment might seem drastic but the plants otherwise will become scraggly.

A good book on pruning is The American Horticultural Society’s huge “A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants” (Revised edition, 2004), which briefly describes thirteen pruning categories and indicates which to use for each of 15,000 plants.


A thorough presentation on conserving water in the garden: “Guidelines for Managing Drought in the Urban Landscape,” was developed by Sonoma County Master Gardeners Susan Foley, Phyllis Turrill and Jerilynn Jenderseck, with input from Mimi Enright, Sonoma County Master Gardener Program Coordinator and Paul Vossen, UCCE Sonoma/ Marin Farm Advisor. (February 2014)

The following paragraphs, also from the Sonoma County Master Gardeners, provide brief recommendations for water conservation in the garden.

1. Compost, compost, compost! Add organic matter to the soil. If soil is sandy, the addition of organic matter allows the soil to hold more water. Organic matter also helps open up soil allowing roots to go deeper and find more water at lower depths if there is any. Higher soil nutrition helps plants produce better yields with the same amount of water. Avoid adding excessive amounts of nitrogen as this encourages lush leafy growth that requires more water to sustain.

2. Mulch, mulch, mulch! Mulch keeps soil cool, conserves moisture and reduces weeds. Use three to four inches on top of the soil. The larger the material size, the deeper layer you need to provide. Choose from straw, fallen leaves, hulls, shredded bark, grass clippings and newspaper. It is not advisable to use plastic sheeting as mulch because it deprives the soil of much-needed oxygen. Keep mulch two inches away from the base of the plant to avoid the possibility of rot. When hand watering, pull back mulch so that water goes directly into the soil.

3. Use a drip system. Learn about individual plant moisture needs and group plants that have the same need together on the same valve. If using in-line emitters in one-fourth inch tubing that use one-half gallon per hour per emitter and there is a length of ten feet with emitters spaced every foot, five gallons of water an hour is used on that section of tubing. Add up all drip lines to determine total water used. Install a timer. Install shut-off valves at the beginning of drip lines in order to turn them off when an area is fallow. Irrigate only as long as it takes to moisten the active root zone. Water, preferably, in the morning or in the cool hours of the evening so that soil stays evenly moist. Don’t forget the drip system once it is set up. Monitor and adjust it, as needed.

4. Be selective. Consider the water available to support crops through harvest, and grow only the amount and types of vegetables the family will consume. For example, plant two beds of vegetables instead of six; plant four tomatoes instead of ten. To get the most out of the water you apply, grow high yielding vegetables like beans, chard, mustard, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, squash, quinoa and amaranth.

Do not grow crops that need consistent moisture. Examples include most brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cauliflower and radishes), lettuce and other greens, beets, carrots and other root crops, celeriac, celery, leeks and onions. Avoid these unless a particular variety has been bred to need less water. Generally, cool season crops are not drought resistant and growing them during the heat of the summer requires lots of extra water to keep them cool.

Consider the following observations on which crops need the most water and when:

  • Some beans and sweet corn need considerable water to produce a good crop. Beans need water most when they are blooming and setting fruit.
  • Corn needs water most during tasseling, silking and ear development. Yield is directly related to quantities of water, nitrogen and spacing.
  • Peas need water most during pod filling.
  • Other vegetables, such as cucumbers and squash, and fruits, such as melons, need water most during flowering and fruiting.
  • Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant need water most during flowering and fruiting. (Note that after tomatoes set, they can do very well with reduced water).

After deciding what to grow, choose varieties that tolerate dry conditions. Look for the terms “drought-resistant” or “drought-tolerant” in seed catalogs or on plant labels (note that “heat-tolerant” refers to above ground air temperature and is not the same as drought-resistant or drought-tolerant). Even these varieties require water. Some water is needed to start seeds or establish a seedling, and to periodically irrigate the plant through the growing season. Selecting varieties that are described as “widely-adapted” in addition to drought-resistant and drought-tolerant also may be helpful.

5. Consider days to maturity. A crop needing fewer days to mature requires fewer irrigations before harvest (e.g., 62-day ‘Stupice’ vs. 85-day ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato). Look for early-maturing or short-season varieties. Days to maturity will vary from one part of the country to another as well as from one microclimate to another.

6. Increase plant spacing. Spaced plants are not competing as much for water in the soil. Very deep, open soil or French intensive double dug beds allow vegetables to be planted closer together because the roots have more room to grow deeper and find water if it is present. Try increasing the spacing recommended in the SCMG “Vegetable Planting Summary,”iv by 50 percent or even doubling the spacing if you have room.

7. Eliminate weeds. Weeds compete for water. Be aggressive in removing them from growing areas.

8. Use light-weight row covers. Cover plants as a means to collect dew. Dew drops onto soil and keeps it moist. While using row covers can help prevent insect damage, look under the cover from time to time to monitor plant growth and check for unwanted insects trapped inside.

9. Use shade. Heat-sensitive vegetables can benefit from being planted where they receive some afternoon shade. Plant them underneath or behind taller plants or consider using shade cloth.

10. Use windbreaks. The moisture on leaf surfaces is dried by moving air, causing the plant to need more water. In coastal and other windy areas, windbreaks will help roots keep up with leaf demands.

11. Determine when it is time to water again. Use a soil moisture meter. Or squeeze the soil in your hand: if it sticks together, it is still moist; if it is crumbly and falls apart, it is time to water.

Inspiring Landscape Ideas

I’ve been pouring through the new edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book of Landscaping: The Complete Guide to Beautiful Paths, Patios, Plantings and More. This book is hot off the press, having been published in February of 2014. It complements the Sunset’s New Western Garden Book (9th edition, February 2012), which is about plants.

The book provides over 600 color photographs of gardens in the western states, with ideas for home gardeners and landscape professionals. It is organized under five headings: Gardens, Structures, Plants, Finishing Touches, and Planning. Each section visits numerous topics, illustrating each in one-to-eight pages of comments and captioned photographs. The text identifies almost all plants that are shown, and the excellent index lists them all as well.

Each topic could motivate the reader to seek detailed information in other sources.

Editor Kathleen Norris Brenzel notes that the book is primarily about inspiration, with an underlying theme of earth-friendly, sustainable design. In a brief introduction, landscape architect William R. Marken defines sustainability as basic to the “new golden age of landscape design,” which has grown out of Thomas Church’s four principles:

  • Unity of house and garden;
  • Function, serving household needs;
  • Simplicity, considering both costs and aesthetics;
  • Scale, relating the parts of the landscape.

Sustainability involves judicious uses of water, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as native plants, earth-friendly materials, and attention to the landscape’s climate, topography, soil and exposure to sun and wind. This book endorses sustainability, but avid gardeners will need other sources for practical advice.

The book’s greatest strength takes the form of striking photographic vignettes of exemplary landscapes. The photos show mostly nicely groomed small areas and even individual plants. Every garden has shortcomings from time to time but why would we want to see those?

The scenes shown in the book are consistently contemporary and relatively upscale, many with pools, lakesides and beachfronts Rather than presenting a documentary exploration of average landscapes, the book offers glimpses of inspirational settings that a reader could translate into his or her own environs.

Consider Church’s Scale principle when installing an assertively modern element in a traditional garden. (A friend recently persuaded me to install a huge surplus mirror in my garden. I like it, but I’m still reflecting on the aesthetics.)

This book is a great source of forward-looking ideas for your home’s landscape, and could encourage a fresh approach to your garden.


To pursue an interest in contemporary landscaping in the western United States, a good place to start is Thomas Dolliver Church’s seminal work, Gardens Are For People (San Francisco: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1983). This book is widely available in public libraries and in book stores that reserve shelf space for classics as well as today’s best sellers.

A brief introduction to Church’s work as a landscape designer and academician is available the Wikipedia page for Thomas Church. His work included several private residences in Santa Cruz county (including his own home), and overseeing the master landscaping plan for the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Gardening Science

The Monterey Bay area has an exceptional environment for agriculture, commercial horticulture and residential gardening. The combination of moderate climate, fertile soil and —usually—adequate moisture supports successful growing and attracts expert horticulturists and botanical researchers.

Last week, the 34th annual Eco-Farm Conference drew some 1,200 farmers, scientists and policy makers to Pacific Grove’s Asilomar Conference Grounds to learn from each other and advance the organic food movement another step into the future. We can all appreciate the work of these visionaries to protect our shared environment and produce healthful foods for our dinner tables.

One of the Eco-farm speakers, Michael Phillips, spoke of the holistic cultivation of tree fruits and berries, with clear vision and practical experience. Later, at Cabrillo College, he conducted a 3.5-hour workshop on this subject, sponsored by the Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers. I will discuss his fascinating ideas in a future column.

Cabrillo College presents its own Horticulture Lecture Series in the fall. I will pass along information on the next series when it is announced.

Another local resource for gardeners is the UCSC Arboretum’s Ray Collett Rare & Extraordinary Plants Lecture Series. (Ray Collett was the Arboretum’s founding director.) The most recent talk was given by Tim Miller, PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, titled “A Brief History of Clarkia: What a Little Annual Flower Can Tell Us About Big Evolutionary Patterns.” Clarkia is a California native plant named for William Clark, who—with Meriwether Lewis—explored the western United States from 1804 to 1806.

One more science-oriented resource is the UCSC Arboretum’s California Naturalist Program. This program, now in its third year, introduces participants to the wonders of California’s unique ecology and engages them in the stewardship of our natural communities. This is an intensive program that combines a science curriculum, guest lecturers, field trips and project-based learning to immerse participants in the natural world of the central coast. Participants are certified as California Naturalists. This year’s program starts on Thursday, April 3rd. The last meeting is Saturday, June 7th. Lectures will be from 7:00- 9:30 pm every Thursday with most field trips on Saturday or Sunday.

Gardening is applied science, as well as aesthetic experience and healthful exercise.
A complete gardening experience includes occasional digs into the sciences.


The Ray Collett Rare & Extraordinary Pllants Lecture Series

Ray Collett Extraordinary Plants Feb-Apr 2014

Future talks (Arboretum Events Calendar)

California Naturalists

Dry-Weather Gardening

Local weather patterns have been quite unusual, recently.

The Monterey Bay area had a short spell of cold, relative to our familiar moderate temperatures, followed by very dry and warm days. Now, much of central California is officially in “extreme drought,” and likely to remain in that condition for the next several weeks.

The National Weather Service has blamed the recent weather on “a strong ridge of high pressure in control along the west coast,” and on January 21st reported “all signs point to the ridge off the coast rebuilding for next week…this will lead to more above normal temperatures (more records will likely be set) with all of the rain staying to the north. Long range is trending more pessimistic for rain chances out to February 7th…Unless there is a big shift in the pattern, this will go down as the driest January on record for almost all locations.”

The University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources specialists have recommended strategies for keeping edible and ornamental plants alive during this drought.

First, watch plants for signs of water-stress. The symptoms include

  • wilting or drooping leaves,
  • curled or yellowed leaves that fold or drop,
  • foliage that changes form green to grayish,
  • new leaves that are smaller than normal,
  • lawns that retain a footprint longer than usual.

Ornamental trees are generally in a dormant stage, at this time of the year, and will not require watering until they resume growth. One or two deep irrigations in the spring and summer will keep them healthy and resistant to diseases and insects.

Fruit and nut trees will require adequate moisture from bloom until harvest to produce a good crop. If that level of irrigation is not available, a few early-season irrigations will keep the trees alive, at least, although they might not produce much fruit.

Shrubs will need a thorough watering in the spring, and one or two more summer irrigations to be kept alive.

Most vegetables will need regular irrigation during flowering and fruit production. Squash, zucchini and other vines can be kept alive with irrigation once or twice weekly through the season.

Ground covers should be watered about monthly from April through September, with amounts related to local heat and dryness.

Lawns should be provided at least half the usual amount of water. Without adequate moisture lawns will go dormant eventually, but often can be revised with subsequent watering. Warm-season lawns (e.g., Bermudagrass, buffalo grass) are more drought-tolerant than cool-season lawns (e.g., tall fescue, ryegrass).

For now we can only wish for the overdue rain and water our plants at least minimally.


For the most up-to-date, authoritative information on local weather, click here to visit the website of the Western Region Headquarters of the National Weather Service. Click on “San Francisco Bay Area” for information that is closest to the Monterey Bay Area.


Selecting Roses

Local garden centers offer bare root roses for sale at this time of the year. Roses sold as “bare root,” i.e., without soil, are dormant, so they have less weight for shipping, take less space for storage, and need minimal care and feeding. As a result, they are less expensive than roses in nursery containers.

Larger garden centers will stock scores of roses, so list your buying goals. For example, you might want a yellow rose that is highly resistant to diseases. Those factors, color and disease resistance, would help to focus on a short list. Then you could compare the details on the labels of the two roses to learn how they differ.

One difference could be the class of the rose, i.e., Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora, Floribunda, Climber, etc. Roses vary greatly in size across classes, and even within classes, so your new rose should be the right size for its intended location. Definitions of the standard classes are available from Weeks Roses. Browse to www.weeksroses.com, click on “Plants” and then on “Roses by Class.”

An important factor not on the label is the plant’s suitability for growing conditions at the specific spot you have selected in your garden for this rose. Roses typically require ample nutrients, very good drainage and a minimum of six hours of sunlight every day. In addition, some roses will grow better in the particular climate of the Monterey Bay area.

Local garden centers should stock only plants that will grow well in the area around their location, so one approach is simply to trust the center’s buyer.

If you happen to be buying roses while away from your home ground, or looking for a rose you remember enjoying in a different climate, confirm that it is suitable for your garden.

The Monterey Bay Rose Society has recommended roses for local gardens: browse to www.montereybayrosesociety.org and click on “Easy Roses.”

Weeks Roses has recommended roses for the Pacific Northwest Climate, which is north of the Monterey Bay area, but more appropriate than the other climates listed. (The climate of Portland, Oregon, the “City of Roses,” is like that of the Monterey Bay area, but with more rain.) Browse to www.weeksroses.com, click on “Rose Info” and then on “Climate Info.”

If you intend to buy several roses, you might want the American Rose Society’s “2014 Handbook for Selecting Roses.” Browse to www.ars.org, click on “Shop” then on “Books & Merchandise.”

After you have selected one or more roses for your garden, look to the American Rose Society for reliable advice on planting and caring for roses. Brose to www.ars.org., click on “Resources” and then on “Articles on Roses.”

Enjoy your roses!

Uprooting Plants

Recently, as I was digging up four boxwood shrubs, and cutting down a twelve-foot elderberry, I recalled that some gardeners dislike toppling mature plants or discarding healthy ones.

This is not about relocating plants. Certainly, there are situations in which a plant has outgrown its spot, or has failed to thrive because of a lack of sun or moisture or nutrition, or simply doesn’t look right where it is, aesthetically.

In such situations, assuming the plant is not too big to move, go ahead and transplant to a better location within your garden, or gift it to a friend. You and the plant and perhaps your friend will be happier.

We might ask, “When is it a good idea to decommission a plant?”

One justification would be that the plant is both unwanted (for any of several reasons) and too big to move without significant effort or expense.

Another justification arises when an unwanted plant is not too big to move, but no alternative location is available in your garden or in the garden of any friend.

The option that remains is to lift the plant with care and bring it to a garden exchange. These events are constructive and popular when someone steps up to the task of organization.

One should link to the local gardening network to learn when and where a garden exchange will happen. Join a club!

An important mindset when removing a plant is to avoid any sense of loss, and instead to recognize the opportunity to bring in a new and more interesting plant. Therefore, one should have (1) a replacement plant already in mind, (2) the confidence and knowledge to grow the replacement plant, and (3) the patience to let the plant to reach full maturity.

The four boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) I dug up had been intended to frame a rose bed, but these common plants had grown large enough to block the view of the roses. I will replace them with miniature roses, to be selected.

The elderberry was an unknown species, a gift that I planted before I realized how big it would get, and before I decided to devote that section of the garden to California native plants. A Pacific Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) might have stayed, but this shrub’s berries were not red, but black.

I will replace this shrub with a Silverleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylus silvicola), a beautiful very gray, and very endangered shrub that is endemic to the nearby Zayante Sandhills. It is also called the Santa Cruz Manzanita. I found a specimen at the Yerba Buena Nursery in Half Moon Bay.  It’s in a one-gallon nursery pot, so it will need time to reach its mature height of eight feet.

Uprooting plants can release space for new botanical treasures.


Here’s a picture of the Silverleaf Manzanita, from the website of Las Pilitas Nurseries, a treasure trove of information on California native plants, as well as a great source of those plants. There are two locations: Santa Margarita (about 18 miles north of San Luis Obispo) and Escondido.

Arctostaphylos silvicola, Ghostly Manzanita with a beefly. This manzanita is native north of Santa Cruz.


Pruning Apple Trees

Recently, I joined about forty home gardeners for a presentation on fruit tree care. The question & answer session was conducted by Oren Martin, manager of the Alan Chadwick Garden at UC Santa Cruz (www.alan-chadwick.org) and Matthew Sutton, owner of Orchard Keepers, in Santa Cruz (www.orchardkeepers.com).

The event was hosted by the Santa Cruz’s Probuild Garden Center, which has an impressive collection of bare-root fruit trees, so some questioners were interested in selecting, planting and first-year care of these trees. Others—including myself—wanted to know about pruning their existing trees.

Martin and Sutton emphasized the goals of pruning: to control tree height, allow sunlight and air to reach the center of the canopy, remove poorly place branches, and renew older branches. They described and demonstrated two basic kinds of pruning cuts.

Thinning cuts remove a branch completely, with no regrowth. These cuts open the tree to more sunlight, and create and maintain fruit buds. Thinning cuts should not be made flush, but should retain the branch’s collar, which is the tree’s defense against the invasion of microorganisms.

Heading cuts stimulate the branch’s growth, shape the tree’s structure, thicken branches, or induce lateral branching. These cuts remove the branch’s terminal bud, which produces a hormone (“auxin”) that inhibits the growth of lateral buds. This phenomenon is called “apical dominance.” Removal of the terminal bud stimulates regrowth at the bud below the cut.

Heading cuts vary with the amount removed from the branch. A heavy cut removes 50% of the previous season’s growth, while a light cut (leader tipping) removes less than 25% of that growth.

This session was helpful, but left much to be learned. UCSC experts will offer three workshops of value for home orchardists.

Fruit Trees 101: Basic Fruit Tree Care will be offered twice. The first will be on January 18, 2014 at the Sierra Azul Nursery and Gardens, in Watsonville. The second will be on January 25th, at the UCSC Farm. Each two-hour workshop will cost $40 for general public. For details, browse to the website of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, or call 831-459-3240

Basic Pome Fruit Pruning, with a Focus on Apples and Pears, will be offered from 10:00 to 12:00 on Saturday, February 1st, at the UCSC Farm. Orin Martin and Matthew Sutton will advise on pruning your fruit trees to maximize health and production. The cost is $40 for general public, $30 for Friends of the Farm & Garden members. To register, visit http://pruningpome.bpt.me/, call 831-459-3240, or email casfs.ucsc.edu.


An excellent information source for home orchard gardeners is the University of California’s website, The California Backyard Orchard. The section on Pruning & Training complements this column; several other sections provide expert advice for other aspects of the care of home orchards.