The planting season is fast upon us and all looking to grow fruit are busy researching what to plant. For my money, one of the first choices for Apples should be the Empire Apple.
Starting with the McIntosh Apple and Red Delicious Apple first crossed by Lester C. Anderson at Cornell University in the early 1940’s which resulted in thousands of seedlings that were planted in 1945 to be grown and tested by the New York Agricultural Experiment Station of Cornell University in Geneva NY. Over the next 20 years, the Cornell team tested and eliminated thousands of seedlings - finally resulting in the introduction of one: the Empire Apple in 1966.
Today, as reported by the US Apple Association, the Empire is one of the top 15 most popular apple varieties planted in the United States.
But unless you happen to visit Orchards that grow it or Farmers Markets where it is available, many home gardeners may not be familiar with this tremendous home garden selection, due in part to the popularity of other apples such as Fuji, Gala and Honeycrisp that so often consume the limited space on the Supermarket shelves and make up for 90% of all apples sold.
The strong appeal of this fruit is the wonderful McIntosh Flavor in a variety that can be grown almost anywhere.
The flesh of the Empire apple is firmer than the Mac in warmer climates such as California, where it dependability produces year after year in zones 8-10. Though the versatility of the Empire makes it a first choice for the colder zones 4-7.
In the Central Valley of California, I have enjoyed The Empire in Zone 9b for many years and on a recent trip to Vermont, I enjoyed the Empire in Zone 4b.
For first-time fruit growers or people looking for a variety that is easy to grow, Empire is again the top choice. Mostly disease free in all climates or at the very least much less susceptible to common Apple problems like Mildew, Fireblight, Cedar Apple Rust, and Scab. This keeps the need for excessive use of chemicals to a minimum.
The Empire is partially self-fruitful so in most cases will not require a pollinator, although the addition of another mid-season blooming variety or adding the Empire to an already existing group of Apples will only improve the set. It is a surprisingly early ripening variety in the warmer climates, whereas in the cold regions it is a late ripening variety.
With all the attributes of the McIntosh, bright white flesh, snap to the skin and dessert quality flavor, it is a wonderful variety for fresh eating, cooking and baking. Also great for Cider, and for a real treat try dehydrating or drying the Empire - wow, good!
It’s only natural for us plant nerds to like to try growing things that may or may not be perfectly hardy in our yards. Or, maybe you have some rose bushes or other plants that might benefit from having some additional winter protection.
For those of you who live in the colder regions where you get snow throughout the winter… keep this in mind when you are out moving that snow out of the way of your sidewalks and driveways.
Snow makes the perfect insulation for your plants. Roses for instance will love having the snow piled up and covering as much of the stems as you can beneath the snow! Just be careful not to pile heavy snow on top of plants that might get crushed.
The rose bushes in this picture welcome the addition of piled up snow protecting the cold and wind off the canes closest to the ground. The parts that stick out an are exposed will be trimmed down anyway allowing the new growth to grow from the protected parts under the snow.
The snow is a great insulator for groundcovers and perennials too. Give it a whirl!
With the onset of winter comes the cold. Depending on where you live you may have begun watching the weather reports to get ahead of a cold snap that could damage your Citrus or Avocado plants.
Depending on the variety, a rule of thumb is Citrus and hardier Mexican varieties of Avocados will tolerate to 30 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 hours without damage. Some noted exceptions would be the Mexican Lime and any citrus or Avocado tree that has been recently planted.
Selecting the best location to plant is your best advantage against the cold. Choose locations that have good air movement but not exposed to high winds and avoid low locations where cold collects during the fall and Winter. In marginal citrus locations (zone 7) selecting a wall of the house or a south facing wall that radiates heat to add protect to your plants. Avocados are not recommended for planting in the ground in Zone 7.
Protection for you citrus should begin in the late summer. A good feeding with and organic fertilizer in September will help add to the protection against winter frost. The current rule is a well fed and well-watered citrus will improve the plants tolerance to cold. Also with Zone 7 Citrus, colder weather may call for wrapping the trunk into the lower canopy with burlap or old blankets and then mulching the base of the tree to 4 inches out past the canopy adds to the overall protection
In all zones prone to freezes a frost blanket to cover the tree is essential. Adding 100 watt conventional bulb or a string or 2 of C9 Christmas lights hung through the trees under the Cover will add to the degrees of captured heat. I have found that during the cold periods leaving the covers on for a few weeks will not bother the tree. Be sure to turn the lights on early in the evening to allow the heat to collect under the cover. There is some evidence that pulling back the mulch during the warm part if the day allows the ground to heat up to be released into the canopy later that evening.
The real trick to successful Citrus and Avocado Protection is keeping the trees below 10 feet during the growing season. I recommend below 8 feet to make covering and adding protection like lights a breeze. When size control is a part of your Citrus and Avocado growing adding a simple structure around your tree is easy and makes applying a frost blanket simple.
Applications of any of the Anti-transparent products are not recommended. Any damage that might occur on the trees as a result of winter cold should be left until the temperatures begin to stabilize in the spring to be pruned off.
Finally, selection of varieties can mean the difference between success and failure. Very few avocados that are not of the Mexican type will survive in a winter cold climate such as Zone 8 or 9b or lower.
Varieties like the Mexicola, Fuerte, Stewart, Jim Bacon, and Zutano are good to try. The all popular commercial Hass should be reserved for Zone 9a and greater.
For the hardest of the citrus, the varieties that are able to tolerate to 28 degrees for short periods are the Meyer Lemon the hardiest of the lemons, Kumquats with Nagami being the most well-known and the Fukushu a newer very sweet large fruited tree gaining in popularity. Calamondins are a very cold hardy kumquat like fruit used mostly in cooking. Owari Satsurma mandarin is a noted cold hardy variety and are very dependable. The jury is still out on newer varieties like Gold Nugget and Pixie. The Yuzu a fruit used primarily for Asian cooking is thought to be the hardiest of all the citrus. Sweet Oranges must be protected along with most Lemons, Limes and Grapefruit. Some varieties to try in these zones are the Trovita Orange, Lisbon Lemon, Bears or Persian Lime and the Oro Blanco Grapefruit.
For all other varieties grown in Zone 9a, 10 or higher, simple recommendations for covering your plants and feeding and keeping them watered in the event of a hard freeze are the order.
Most people cover their roses for the winter too early. Wait until your rose plants have been exposed to several killing frosts and some good colder weather to help them go dormant BEFORE covering if winter protection is needed in your area.
All across the midsection of the states, typically the right time is about Thanksgiving time to protect your roses. In the more northern states still time if you have not, and as you move into the more southern areas if winter protection is needed it may be a bit early still.
Hybrid tea, grandiflora, floribunda, and of course all the new shrub rose types can all benefit from some additional mulch added right on the plants about a foot deep.
Wait to prune your roses until late winter or early spring so any winter damage is removed when being pruned. And for roses that bloom on last year’s wood - they don’t get pruned until after the June bloom is done.
Any kind of shredded mulch (bags may still be available near you), or compost works great too. Dump the mulch right where the canes come out of the ground piling it up about a foot thick. It will protect the canes from dying back. The exposed parts will discolor and may die back but those parts get cut off in spring anyway, and the covered portions will remain green and viable.
Many used to use the styrofoam rose cones and many times those plants would rot underneath the cones so if you are using them, be sure to cut the tops off the cones to allow moisture in and out during the winter months.
A pile of mulch is such a simple way to insure winter success in areas that do get cold, and now is the time!
Photo (right) shows a foot of mulch piled on the canes covering the crown of the plant for the winter for simple success.
Here are a few tips for keeping your tree fresh while it is in your home for the holiday season.
- You just brought your tree home. While it is still outside, spray all needles with an anti-transpirant like Wilt Stop or Wilt Pruf, or even hairspray works great, to prevent the needles from drying out the day before you bring your tree inside. Spraying the needles prevent them from giving off moisture - instead they will hold the moisture in the tree. Hairspray does work well but remember it is very flammable (like your tree) so keep the spray and the sprayed needles away from flame like you would anyway.- Make a fresh cut on the bottom of the trunk (even if only removing an inch or two) JUST before bringing the tree into your home.- Put hot tap water in the reservoir, and add some soda pop or an energy drink. Trees take up lots of water at the start so don’t let the reservoir dry up - very important! It may empty the reservoir daily at the start so get as much water as you can into the tree right from the start.- Cool rooms are best, and keep your tree away from heat.- Using LED lights not only saves energy, but they stay cool, better for keeping your tree fresh longer. - It doesn’t hurt to mist the trunk of the tree with fresh water whenever you can without getting any electrical cords or decorations wet.
Enjoy and remember to check the water level daily at the start – you will be amazed at how much water some trees can take up.