Selecting Fruit Trees

Our weather continues to be cool, so February is still a good time to plant bare root roses and trees—especially fruit trees, for their productivity. Garden centers have good inventories of both kinds of garden treasures.

When considering the options, the gardener must ask, “Which would be a good choice?”

In both cases, clear and reliable advice is available from Orin Martin, of the Farm & Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Martin has recently summarized his knowledge of trees for the home orchard in the Monterey Bay area. He reports what grows well: Apples, European and Asian Pears, Quinces, Plums, Prune Plums, Pluots (more Plum than Apricot), Persimmons, and Walnuts.

Fruit trees that he says grow “passably well” include Figs, Peaches and Nectarines, Apricots/Apriums (more Apricot than Plum), Cherries. Some varieties of Figs and Cherries are more reliable than others.

Finally, those that grow poorly here include Almonds and most other nut species, most Cherries, most Pomegranates, and Green Gage Plums.

Martin provides a helpful discussion of chill hour requirements for fruit trees. This refers to the cumulative hours between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit that a fruit variety needs to break dormancy and grow well. This measure reflects the northern temperate zones of Europe, Asia and North America where most fruit trees originated.

Martin notes that weather conditions vary considerably with distance from the coast and elevation, and typically range from 500 to 800 hours of chill per year. Some varieties require many more chill hours (up to 2,500). The gardener is well advised to choose varieties with chill requirements that can be met in his or her garden.

Finally, Martin lists the chill requirements for several fruit varieties that are reliable in this area. He refers specifically to Santa Cruz County, which he knows best, but his advice is valid for Monterey County as well.

Here are average chill hours for locations within Monterey County, as reported by the University of California, Davis.

  • Arroyo Seco                         837
  • Carmel                                 822
  • Castroville                           743
  • King City–Oasis Road         857
  • Pajaro                                  635
  • Salinas North                      734
  • Salinas South                      752

Gardeners who plan to plant a fruit tree or two will find value in Martin’s article, which is online and free. Here’s how to find it. Browse to the website, casfs.ucsc.edu/publications; click on “News and Notes,” and then click on “Winter 2012 Issue.”

Also, from the Publications page, click on “For the Gardener” for several brief articles on organic gardening.

Next week: the selection of bare root roses for this area.

Enjoy your garden!

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