Tree Pruning Season

Today, we are about one-third of the way through winter, and well into dormant period, which is the right time for winter pruning of trees.

Gardeners need always to be conscious of the change of seasons, because it affects the growth cycles of our plants. Let’s review.

Winter begins on the shortest day of the year, called the winter solstice. In 2014, that day was December 21st.

The days gradually grow longer until day and night lengths are equal, marking the first day of spring. That phenomenon, called the Vernal Equinox, will occur next in about ninety days, on March 15.

The cycle then continues for ninety days. The days grow longer and the nights grow shorter until we have the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, which marks the beginning of summer.

Ninety days later, the day and night lengths again become equal and we will have the Autumnal Equinox, marking the first day of fall.

It is comforting in this troubled world that something of importance occurs on a predictable schedule.

So, this is the time for gardeners for winter pruning of trees.

Atlas Cedar After Storm

Atlas Cedar After a Wind Storm

Tree pruning involve practices that may be unfamiliar to some gardeners, and encourage them to avoid the work. The reality is that pruning is really not difficult, but complicated enough to that books have been written on the subject The complexities arise when considering the growth patterns of different trees, and the stylistic preferences of pruning specialists.

Without getting into all the in and outs and ups and downs of tree pruning, consider the basics. First, winter pruning, which is done during dormancy, stimulates growth in the desired directions. Summer pruning, by contrast, which is done after spring growth is done, directs or slows growth.

A third category, corrective pruning, could be done at any time, and should be done before seasonal pruning. The Four D’s of Pruning guide the removal of the following branches:

Dead – If a branch looks dead, scratch the bark to look for a green layer. If it’s green, it’s still living. It it’s not green, remove it.

Diseased –A sick branch can have various symptoms, depending the disease or insect infestation. Between cuts, clean clippers with 10% bleach water.

Damaged – Remove branches wounded or broken by storms or any other cause. They are unattractive and can foster diseases and insects.

Deranged (the root meaning is “moved from orderly rows”) – Remove suckers, water sprouts, and branches which cross or rub other branches, or point in the wrong direction.

A busy gardener might be tempted to skip this seasonal maintenance task, but trees, like everything else in the garden, grow better and look better when they are cared for regularly. Skipping seasonal pruning simply postpones the task, but doesn’t eliminate the need. Meanwhile, the tree doesn’t look its best.

Reach for your clippers!

Bare Root Trees and Shrubs

One of the best bargains in gardening is planting bare root trees and shrubs. And now is the time to do just that.

Bare root trees are dormant, by definition, and not attractive in the usual way, but they are excellent candidates for addition to your garden.

Bare Root Tree

Click to Enlarge

I have often written of the advantages of buying mail order plants, to draw from a wider selection than local garden centers can offer. That’s still a good practice for many plants, although there are drawbacks, as well: mail order buyers need to confirm that the plant of interest is right for their garden, particularly in terms of winter temperatures. Some tropical plants will not survive even the moderate winters of the Monterey Bay area, and some require more winter chill than they will receive in our climate, and will not blossom or fruit well here.

Years ago, eager to start a small orchard of antique varieties of apple and pear trees, I ordered ten bare root plants from a mid-west nursery, only to watch them struggle and eventually fail for lack of winter chill. Purely by chance, one tree, a Cox’s Orange Pippin, managed to survive my garden’s USDA zone and is producing very tasty apples to this year. That tree stands to remind me to do my homework before ordering mail order plants.

The hazards of selection are less important during bare root season because local garden centers are able to stock very good inventories of bare root trees and shrubs that are right for the local climate.

Despite the best efforts of garden centers, the economics of stocking containerized plants limit inventories of plants in pots: they cost more to ship and require more space, and offered at twice the price of the same plant in bare root.

Conversely, mail order suppliers (which still might offer a greater range of choices) can ship wholesale orders of bare root plants efficiently to garden centers, but have to recover the greater costs of shipping small quantities of plants to retail purchasers. So, for individual gardeners, the mail order price could be higher than the garden center price.

Additional benefits of buying bare root plants include larger root mass, according to researchers, easier to move and plant without soil and container, and faster growth because they adapt easily to local soil as they come out of dormancy.

The range of options at a garden center could include ornamentals, fruit trees, roses and berries. Many other shrubs could be offered in bare root form, as well, with the same advantages, but I have seen little development of that market.

When selecting an ornamental or fruit tree, look for a straight trunk, evenly spaced branches (if any), good spread of healthy-looking roots that have been kept moist, and a complete lack of any wounds or disease.

Many garden centers also offer espaliered fruit trees that have been developed by grafting branches in the right places, rather than by the time- and labor-consuming process of training. Some espaliered dwarf apple trees include grafts of several apple varieties, to produce a healthy young tree that will both fit a tight space in the garden and produce a selection of applies that ripen at different times during the season.

It is important to plant bare root specimens before bud break, so there is a small window of opportunity for the lowest prices. Don’t delay!

Goals for the New Year

Resolutions too often involve stopping something we enjoy doing, and easily abandoned. Let us instead try positive goals for gardening in 2015.

Good goals for gardeners might involve contributing to the community, sustaining the environment and adopting best practices in our gardens. We might not want to take on all those lofty goals at once, so here is a short list of options.

Volunteer at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

The best opportunity to test the waters is to attend the Arboretum’s annual series of free Volunteer Orientation and Training classes, which are held on seven Tuesday mornings, beginning January 13th.

I confess to a personal interest in this suggestion, but the Arboretum stands on its own as a unique resource for the Monterey Bay area and California. The orientation offers a fascinating experience to move behind-the-scenes into the Arboretum’s operation, and, if you decide to volunteer, a rewarding place to help out—in many different ways—during your available hours.

During the orientation sessions, Arboretum staff and volunteers present slide shows and walking tours through the various gardens and collections. The classes also introduce participants to horticulture, gardening, plant conservation, propagation and basic botany.

For information, visit <arboretum.ucsc.edu/> and click on “Read more…”

Succeed with Fruit Trees

The Monterey Bay area is a fine place to grow a wide range of fruit trees, and you can enjoy Nature’s bounty IF you follow basic principles.

A good place to pick up those principles is the Free Fruit Tree Q&A Sessions conducted by Orin Martin, manager of UC Santa Cruz’s Alan Chadwick Garden, and Matthew Sutton, founder and owner of Orchard Keepers (www.orchardkeepers.com). Sessions will be held from 10:00 to 12:00 noon, January 10th at The Garden Company, 2218 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, and January 17th at the San Lorenzo Garden Center, 235 River Street, Santa Cruz.

These sessions will kick off the 2015 series of fruit tree workshops offered by the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Farm & Garden. For information and to register the workshops, call (831) 459-3240, email casfs@ucsc.edu, or see the Brown Paper Tickets site at http://tinyurl.com/workshops2015.

Graft a Fruit Tree

The Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers will host is annual free exchange of fruit tree scions from 12:00 to 3:00, Sunday, January 11th, at Cabrillo College’s Horticulture Building #5005, Aptos. Several hundred varieties of common, rare and experimental scions (cuttings) from all over the world will be available. There also will be grafting demonstrations, and experts and hobbyists to answer your questions.

Adding different varieties to your fruit trees is an interesting, productive, quick and very inexpensive way to learn about fruit trees and create new edibles in your garden.

For more information, send email to Monterey_bay@crfg.org, or call 831-332-4699.

There are many other creative and productive goals for gardeners. Use this occasion to target your gardening visions during the coming year.

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.

Watering Roses in Summer

Q. Dear Mr. Karwin: I can’t find any guidance in my various gardening books on how much water one should give roses after they have stopped blooming (most of mine have), especially between now the beginning of the rainy season. Any suggestions? Many thanks.

August 2013

A. Roses should be watered even after blooming to keep them healthy and growing. This is important during hot summer weather, when the plants could be heat-stressed. Be sure to let them dry out between watering sessions, particularly for roses in containers.

Here is independent advice (unfortunately I lost track of the source):

Summer Watering Tips

Roses like infrequent, deep watering as opposed to watering a little bit every day. They prefer a good deep soak and then like to be dried out before receiving another deep watering.

How do you know if your roses need water in the first place? The leaves may droop and lack the suppleness they normally have.  (Don’t confuse this with the drooping that often occurs when temperatures exceed 90 degrees).

How will you know if you’ve watered too much? The foliage may feel spongy and may turn yellow. If watering from overhead, do so early enough in the day so the foliage has time to dry out before nightfall.  Spraying the leaves with water will often wash away any disease causing spores before they have an opportunity to take hold. So don’t hesitate to do this on a hot, dry day. Your roses will thank you for it!

Best wishes,

Planting Soil

Q. Can you tell me where I might order good soil to put in raised beds I recently created?  I want to be sure to have good quality and no weed seeds, etc.  I put down weed block cloth and wire to try to keep out gophers. If you have any suggestions not only about where to get it but whether it should be top soil or whether I should add compost or anything else, I’d appreciate it.   I’ll need it delivered.  And, do you know a good source for pea gravel?  Where I used to live, some places had trucks with separate compartments so they could deliver soil, rock and bark at the same time.

 Thanks for any help you can offer.  I really enjoy your column, especially about good plants to grow locally that attract birds and wildlife but don’t take much water.  I’m gradually replacing the lawn with plants that can live with no or very little added water once they are established.  If you have any particularly good sources of information about such plants, I’d love to know that also.

A. To have top soil and pea gravel delivered to your garden, you should contact a landscape supply yard  directly. If you go through a landscaping service or garden center, you will likely pay more for the same service.

I assume your garden is in Monterey County. I found just one such service in Monterey County. Here it is with two others that will deliver to Monterey County.

Tri-County Landscape Supply  Location: Elkhorn (Monterey County) No personal experience.

Aptos Landscape Supply  Location: Aptos.  A few months ago, I bought rock mulch from this place, and was pleased with the service, but a friend recently complained that they delivered top soil that was much inferior to what she had selected at the business location. Weed seeds were not a problem, but the delivery resembled fill soil. A good practice would be to examine closely any supplier’s delivery before it is unloaded.

Central Home Supply  Location: Santa Cruz. I have use this service for years and always found them fairly priced and reliable.

You might call for phone bids from each supplier. It’s also helpful to walk around a yard to see what they have to offer. These places are good sources of ideas!

Delivery charges will be based on distance, as you might expect. These services have methods to keep separate different materials in the same load. Each delivery costs, so its most efficient to include all you need now (or could store) in the same delivery.

Best wishes

Q. Thanks very much Tom.  I live in the city of Monterey.  I gather that since you didn’t mention nurseries that either they don’t sell in bulk or that they are more expensive than the places you indicated?  Would you recommend that I also get some sort of compost to add to the top soil?  I don’t have a very big yard, so don’t compost myself.

A. My comment about garden centers also applies to nurseries (which grow plants to sell to garden centers). Most nurseries are wholesale operations that leave retail sales to garden centers and places like Home Depot. The retailers all sell garden soil in bags.

Depending on how much soil you need, buying bagged soil might be less expensive than a delivery from a landscape supply yard. Landscape supply yards offer material by the cubic yard. One cubic yard equals 27 cubic feet. Garden centers offer the same materials in bags that are typically 2 cubic feet. It’s worth comparing bids.

You should ask about the content of the soil that’s available. Ideally, it would be 4-5% organic material, which is typical of good natural garden soil. If the product doesn’t include about that much organic material, it would be good to ad compost to your raised beds. Again, the best price between bagged and bulk compost will depend on the amount that you need.

Plant Selection – Hyacinths

Q. I just purchased pink Hyacinth Orientalis bulbs from (Seattle) Costco, and am wondering if they will do well in my Seaside home?  I’m headed to Monterey in December.

I’m on a hill about one mile inland.  Some Smith & Hawken paperwhites I’ve planted over the years are hanging in there, but the USDA map says I’m zone 10A and the sources I’ve found say hyacinths are best zones 3 – 9, but may need chilling over zone 7.

I want them to be perennials, because I’m not always there in bulb planting season.

Should I plant them (I love the fragrance!!) or take them back as a mis-purchase from  a childhood memory?

A. The hyacinths should do fine in Monterey!

Hyacinths are spreading in my garden with no special care. I try to dig them up after the leaves wither and replant the bulbs for better distribution. They should be planted six inches deep, in a bed that receives at least six hours of sun daily.

Some cultivars might need chilling, but most do not. According to White Flower Farm, “most bulbs will root properly if the temperature does not stray too far above or below 40 degrees F during the rooting time.”

Q. Thank you for that information!

Nice to know you are available and so very quickly responsive!

Shrub Selection

Q. I love your column and appreciate that you invite questions.  I want to grow a thick but attractive shrub on the shady side of my house.  It receives very little sun there and is somewhat damp.  Do you have any suggestions?

I live between Fremont and Del Monte off of Montecito in Monterey, if that gives you an idea of the weather.

I like tea trees and they do well in my front yard, but there’s more sun there.  A friend recommended Dodonea, which I’m not thrilled with, but it would be okay.  I don’t know about Abutalon, it might need more sun.

If you could suggest something, I would be most grateful.

A. The Dodonaea is an interesting option, but it’s a tropical plant that appreciates more sun than you seem to have in this spot. Here’s a link to a description of the Purple-leafed Hop-Bush, from San Marcos Growers:

The Abutilon also prefers full sun. It’s attractive but may be more open in structure than you are looking for.

I prefer to recommend California native plants, as you might already know. A very good California native shrub is the Ceanothus (California Lilac), which would do well in your garden. I have a list of over twenty Ceanothus species that are shade tolerant. I could narrow down that list to a few options for your situation, based on the mature size that you would want for a plant in this location.

Let me know what height and width you have in mind for this plant.

Q. Wow!  You’re wonderful!  Thank you so much!  I agree that natives are the best, but I forget that.  Not quite there yet.  The ideal height would be around 7 feet tall.  It would be along a fence, so the width of the area I want to cover would be about 30 feet.

In my rush, I had forgotten to check what the Ceanothus looked like.  Of course, having grown up on the Peninsula, I am very familiar with it.  It’s flower is soapy, as I recall from having smashed them as a child.  This is a beautiful plant, full of color!  I love it!   With the dimensions that I gave you, do you think it would work, where would you recommend I buy it, and do you ever recommend gardeners?  Thank you!

A.

I reviewed the lists of such shrubs in a couple reference books, and searched through the inventories of some likely sources: San Marcos Growers, Suncrest Nursery, Las Pilitas Nursery and Yerba Buena Nursery. They all list several Ceanothus plants, but most are sun-loving, and the shade tolerant varieties tend to be low-growing. The remaining candidates might or might not be in stock at present.

So, on a recent visit to Native Revival Nursery, I found two varieties of Ceanothus thrysiflorus that might meet your needs. Both are listed as being shade-tolerant and capable of growing to 10 feet. When grown in partial shade, I would expect that they would not reach their maximum height, but would top out closer to the seven feet you have targeted.

These plants are in stock  at Native Revival Nursery (2600 Mar Vista Drive, Aptos).

They have both varieties in 5-gallon size for $24.99 each. The Snow Flurry is also available in 1-gallon size, for $9.99.

Blue Blossom grows to six feet wide, so for a 30-foot screen you would need five plants.

Snow Flurry grows to 8-12 feet wide (perhaps 8-9 feet wide in the partial shade), so you would need four plants.

You could mix the blossom colors, too!

Best wishes. I hope this helps.

Q. What a wonderful resource you are!  Thank you for these ideas and attachments.  I have written to the nursery and let them know that I’d like to buy three Blue Blossom and two Snow Flurry.  Thank you so much for your help!

Tree Identification (Pineapple Guava)

Q.  Could you please give me the name of this tree.

Ri%20thumb%20fruit Rick%20tree

You have helped me in the past.

A. Your plant is a Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana), a cousin of the Chilean plants, Luma and Ugni. Michael Kusiak, president of the local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers, identified it quickly when I asked. He said, “Once you train your eye to them, you will see them all over Santa Cruz County.”

Here’s a link to a short YouTube video about the Pineapple Guava.