Good Timing for Good Gardening

If you have an oak tree or an apple tree, this column is for you. If you have neither, read on nevertheless for seasonal ideas that generalize to other gardening processes.

The first concept of value is that timing is an essential strategy for successful gardening. Our plants operate on a natural cycle that waits for no gardener.

Apple Trees

Right now (the end of June) is the year’s last opportunity to maximize the yield of your apple trees. This time-sensitive task involves thinning your apples to allow each of the remaining apples to develop its greatest size and sweetness.

You can begin thinning apples a short time after the blossom drop when small apples appear, up to when the apples are no larger than table tennis balls. Once they grow beyond that size, thinning is not as effective.

Apple trees will thin themselves: the “June drop” is Nature’s way to produce larger fruits and avoid broken branches.

Commercial growers use chemicals for thinning, but hand thinning is practical for small home orchards. The largest young apples are the “king apples,” from the earliest blossoms. Use pruners or small clippers to remove the smaller fruits to so that the remaining fruits are about six inches apart. Let them drop then rake them for disposal. This might seem brutal but the harvest will be gratifying.

Oak Trees

During the July–November period, California Oakworms (Phryganidia californica) attack our Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia). The infestations vary in severity, but in a bad year the caterpillar-like larva of the Oakworm can defoliate a tree severely and provide a nasty display for the homeowner as well.

Some experts say Oakworm attacks are natural occurrences that rarely cause permanent damage to otherwise healthy oak trees. During last Saturday’s Garden Faire, however, I spoke with James Neve of Tree Solutions, who says homeowners need not suffer the presence of these insects and their droppings (frass), and their trees need not suffer defoliation. He recommends watching for the presence of oakworms in mid-July by placing a white paper plate under the tree’s branches and checking for frass. If the pests show up, consider whether spraying or injecting a biological control would be indicated.

Tree Solutions sprays with “Bt.” (Bacillus thuringiensis) or Pyrethrum (derived from Chrysanthemum flowers) or injects with Abamectin (derived from a soil bacterium). The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management program recommends these sprays and also a commercial product, Spinosad. A regular reader of this column reports good results with Spinosad. Most garden centers have these controls and spray equipment for do-it-yourselfers.

Other timely tasks: deadhead your roses, propagate your favorite woody plants from softwood cuttings, and above all, hydrate your plants during these hot and dry days.


For good, reliable information about the California Oakworm, visit the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources website by clicking here.

For the commercial website of Tree Solutions (serving the Monterey Bay area), click here. (This is a free plug for a good business.)

Enjoy your garden.

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