1. The Era of the Mandarin

    Marketing has played a huge role in bringing to the forefront one of the most wonderful categories of fruit, the Mandarin. With the introduction of bagged Clementine Mandarins under various brands beginning in the mid-2000's, the Mandarin has quickly become recognized for what it is: the world’s finest fruit.

    The Mandarin has been recognized for its superior qualities in China since the 3rd century AD. Its introduction into the United States would not occur until the 1840's when the Italian consul brought one to New Orleans, La. from Italy. From this point, it was introduced to the southern coastal states, Florida and finally to California.

     The Mandarin, sometimes mistakenly called a Tangerine (which is a marketing name for one Mandarin variety), represents a category of mostly small, seedless, easy-to-peel, wonderfully flavored fruit. Mandarins have a distinct flavor all their own; it is a Mandarin flavor, which is not an orange. In many varieties, the acidity of the Mandarin is masked by the intense sweetness of the fruit mixed with the rich Mandarin flavor. It almost seems like a sub-acid fruit. 

    In the late 1800’s, Mandarin names like the ‘Willow Leaf’, the ‘King’ and the ‘Oneco’ were introduced into the U.S. The #1 variety of Mandarin for the next 100 years - the ‘Owari’ Satsuma - arrived around 1876.

    Owari Satsuma

    The Owari proved the most adaptable of all Mandarin varieties and remains that today. It is the most cold-hardy of all mandarins, tolerating temperatures in the mid- to low-20s. It was immediately identified as being more resistant to disease problems common to other Citrus varieties.

    Today, Owari remains the most popular variety of Mandarin planted in the home-garden. Seedless, easy to peel, most often the first to ripen, the Owari is hard to beat when you add its cold hardiness and let’s not forget the great flavor!

    But in the last 20 years, many new Mandarin varieties have been introduced or have been rediscovered. These newer selections have tremendous qualities that make them standouts as superior fruits, aside from just being Mandarins.


    The Clementine is a stand out as the primary variety used for the popular bagged Mandarins introduced the early 2000’s. There are many varieties of Clementine's that ripen at different times allowing commercial growers the opportunity to harvest over a longer period. For the home garden, the Algerian Clementine is seedless, easy to peel and harvests between October and January. Right off the tree, the Clementine is a very fine flavored fruit.

    More mandarins

    Then comes the powerhouses of this Mandarin Era, newer selections, fast becoming popular based only on their exceptional flavor. Varieties such as:

    • Kishu Seedless Mandarin: a bite-size fruit that peels with ease, ripens in November, and has a wonderfully sweet, juicy flavor will keep you eating them like candy.
    • Pixie Mandarin: ripens early to mid-January, the flavor of the Pixie Mandarin cannot be overstated. The long harvest period is amazing, beginning in January one can be picking wonderful flavored Pixie’s into June - if they last that long. It’s upright growth habit make it a perfect choice for planting in tight spaces, espalier or container planting.
    • Gold Nugget Mandarin: this variety leads the pack in flavor, and extended harvest! In many taste tests  it has proven to be one of the highest rated of all the Mandarin varieties. Coming ripe in mid-February, it is not uncommon to be picking fruit as late as September. Upright in growth habit makes it a great choice for containers, tight plantings, and espaliers. 
    • Page Tangelo: although technically a Tangelo, the Page Mandarin is a Minneola Tangelo crossed with a Clementine Mandarin. The Page needs a mention because of its outstandingly rich flavor. Ripening in December the Page has dependable crops of medium size, is an easy to peel, deep orange fruit. If the Mandarin has a unique flavor of citrus, the Page Mandarin is quite possibly the most unique of all.

    There it is, some varieties to think about for planting in your home garden. The Era of the Mandarin is on. Don’t miss out on another crop of delightful Mandarins to enjoy in your garden.

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  2. Tips for the New Gardener

    Photo by Yutaka Seki on / CC BY

    No doubt about it, gardening is hot. People are discovering again why gardening is so gratifying. There is no denying the workplace is a busy and competitive environment, so it is nice to change gears when you get home. Many are re-discovering that gardening is extremely therapeutic - you can get outside, put your phone on the counter, check on your plants, and maybe give them a drink. 

    If you have never gardened before, watch out … you just might catch the bug.

    A garden does not have to be a huge, rectangular plot of vegetables way out in the back corner of your yard. Today’s gardens are in pots, raised beds, mixed in with annuals, perennials and even within your landscape. Plants in an “edible landscape” - why not? 

    Before you get started, check how much sun exposure there is in the area that you would like to grow flowers, herbs, or vegetables. The amount of sun will dictate the plants that can be grown successfully. Start small and keep it simple. 

    Do you cook? Start with a simple herb pot on your patio or outside the front or back door of your home or apartment. Include Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, and Parsley, which are all sun-loving plants. Bigger pot? Add a sun-loving Begonia or some Nasturtiums for some color. Gardening tip? Mulch a container plant to help to maintain better moisture.

    If you start with a container garden, make sure you pick a large, wide pot. The bigger volume of soil will prevent your plants from drying out too frequently, and allow them to get larger. 

    Maybe you are thinking about growing a few items to use other than herbs. Tomato plants love full sun and can easily be incorporated into an existing shrub border or perennial garden. Plant and stake the tomato plants or grow them on towers in the background of your favorite flowering plants. Tomato plants can be included in most locations with sun, but should only be planted in the same spot every third year or so.

    The key is to plant only what you have time to care for. Maybe it is easier to just buy a few cucumbers or squash from your local farmers market and not waste a lot of space in your yard on items that you don’t use. Utilize vertical space for things that you can. Plant pole beans on a tower or homemade tripod. Pole beans produce beans for an extended time.

    Raised beds offer a great way to add compost and other organic matter, increase drainage and can be placed in sunny areas. You will be shocked as to how much you can grow utilizing all the space. Plant radishes, lettuces and greens, and some green onions for an early crop. Then when harvested, plant some beans or eggplant or other warm season crops where you harvested early crops.

    Some vegetables like lettuces, Swiss chard, kale, and parsley are all wildly ornamental and perfect for adding to the annual and perennial gardens. How about adding rhubarb to your perennial border? Beautiful. Have you seen Asparagus plants after you are done harvesting? They make an incredible soft and mellow green backdrop to your favorite perennials or annual flowers.

    Do you have the bug yet? Who says that you need to have all that grass to mow? Expand your gardening skills and add a few more raised beds for flowers and food crops. Plant bigger crops in the ground to allow them to be most productive.

    All plants love great soil. Rich, well drained soils mixed with compost and other organic materials will make your life a lot easier. Add water regularly as needed to prevent stress on your plants. Mulch over the roots is appreciated by all plants, whether in pots or in the ground. 

    Gardening is for everyone. Start small. Keep it simple. Even if you only grow a tray of microgreens, an herb pot on the patio, or an entire edible landscape … gardening is healthy and a great lifetime sport.

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  3. The Power of the Sour Cherry

    The Cherry traces its history as far back as 3300 BCE. Both the Sweet and the Sour Cherry have been a highly desired part of the human diet for thousands of years. Recently, the Sour Cherry has been fading in popularity in the home garden. But with the attention to healthy eating and growing your own, the Sour Cherry is due for a renaissance.

    Sour Cherry varieties are some of the most adaptable of all cherry types. Growing well in zones 4-9 and newer varieties – like the Romeo and Juliet - are showing promise in zone 3-4. The Nanking Cherry has proven a good choice for zone 2. With this wide range of adaptability and the fruits seemingly unlimited uses, the Sour Cherry stands out as a first consideration for today’s home garden.

    The versatile Sour cherry can be cooked, juiced, dried, frozen, eaten fresh or even distilled as the liquors Kirsch and Ratafia. They are included in any number of different preparations including baked goods, pies, preserves, main and side dishes or even for medicinal uses.

    For example, the sour cherry is paired as a main dish with meat in Persian cuisine or used in the preparation of Sour Cherry Saffron Rice (Polow), a wonderful flavored side dish suited for royalty. The most popular variety for this is the red-fleshed English Morello cherry (shown left), though the North Star cherry with its dark red flesh would surly be a good consideration as well. 

    The fresh Sour Cherry pies of Michigan and Wisconsin are always in demand during cherry season. The popular Montmorency Cherry is always in demand for those pies.  

    The tremendous health value of Sour Cherries has been realized as far back as 3000 BCE. Only today are we able to define what that really means. In more recent studies, the term “super fruit” has become associated with the Sour Cherry. This is due to the high antioxidant values the Sour Cherry possesses. It has been shown in studies to have high anti-inflammatory benefits, improve memory, lower the risk of heart disease and colon cancer, and has even been cited as contributing to a good night’s sleep. 

    For centuries, the Sour Cherry has been used as a cough suppressant, prized for its sedative, expectorant, drying and cough control qualities. This is mostly the effect from grindings of the bark.    

    Sour Cherry trees are ideally suited to the modern landscape. A full size sweet cherry is often too big and needs pruning to fit into today’s smaller landscapes. The more popular sweet cherry varieties like Bing require a pollinizer, which means another tree. Sour Cherries are all self-fruitful, requiring no extra tree. In addition, the Sour Cherry is a natural dwarf and is often referred to as a bush Cherry because of its low growing canopy. Sour cherries can easily be maintained to below 8 feet with just a little summer pruning.

    Their value as an edible ornamental shrub is tremendous: Prolific blooms in the spring followed by bright ornamental fruit, and a wonderful vase shaped dormant structure. This can readily be achieved with the early season fruiting of the Early Richmond variety of Sour Cherry, long a favorite of American and English gardeners.

    The resurgence of the Sour Cherry’s role in the home garden is here. The facts are in: the Sour Cherry complements our good health and is a beautiful addition to our modern landscape. 

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  4. Understanding Container Citrus Tree Fertilization

    Understanding fertilizing your container Citrus should begin with some words of caution. Fertilizing should never be administered as a medicine to cure a poorly performing plant. This means that a properly fertilize plant should never need fertilizing to cure poor performance.

    For example, plants grown in the nursery receive consistent care, which includes proper feeding. When one receives a new plant, typical symptoms that might arise from the adjustment to a new location - such as yellowing leaf, leaf wilt and leaf drop - rarely have anything to do with the plant’s nutrition. Most often these symptoms are the result of changes in the plants environment such as lower light, exposure to an excessively dry environment or over watering. All care should be given to providing the best location for your citrus plant and developing watering habits with attention to keeping your Citrus plant on the dry side.

    Only after you have found a spot with consistent light and understand how to water without over watering does the need for a consistent fertilizing program come into play.

    If you receive your plant in the fall, odds are that it has been fed at the nursery to support hardiness going into the winter. There should be no need for another application until later in the winter.

    A properly fertilized young container Citrus is one that has applications of organic fertilizer applied quarterly beginning in late winter. As the tree grows into larger containers the feeding becomes more frequent. Citrus likes an acidic soil, so it is preferable to use an acid based fertilizers.

    Acid fertilizers are fertilizers traditionally recommended for Azaleas, Camelias and Rhododendrons.

    An acid soil mix consisting of Bark, Peat Moss, and Coir are always recommended for Citrus container planting.                                                                                                                             

    Acid Fertilizer helps to maintain the pH of your soil at a level suitable for citrus. This is of concern if you know your waters pH is 7 or above. Your water purveyor will provide your water’s pH, and a simple soil test kit can tell you your soil’s pH. It is recommended that organic fertilizers be applied by following the recommendations on the bag for your fertilizer.

    To adjust the pH of soil, an application of Soil Sulfur or regular additions of Cottonseed Meal can help to maintain a healthy pH between 5.8 and 6.0.

    High Nitrogen fertilizers quite often affect the health of the soil and the growth of the tree by disturbing the soil biology. They are not recommended for container growing of citrus.

    All container Citrus plants should be mulched. Mulching has the same effect in a container that it does in the ground. It works to keep roots cool in hot weather, cuts down on evaporation, increases the time between watering, keeps weeds down and in time will provide a nutrient source as it breaks down into organic matter.

    Applying organic fertilizers to mulched container Citrus can pose a challenge as the fertilizer will rest and cake on top of your mulch. Make sure to distribute your fertilizer evenly around the surface in the pot and water in thoroughly until the fertilizer works down into your mulch.

    Maintaining the mulch layer inside your container will also help to maintain the microbiology inside. Try not to disturb the mulch - but do add fresh mulch to the surface yearly or as needed. Try to maintain a 2-inch layer inside of the container.

    Raising Citrus in a container is like raising fish in a fish tank. The chemistry in the container-grown Citrus plant depends on you providing the food that supports the biology in the soil that feeds the plants root system and in turn keeps your tree healthy.

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  5. When Planting, Take Your Lead From Nature

    The kids are gone, and you don’t need as much lawn as you used to?  Consider using some native grasses and a simple gravel path to create such an incredible retreat and focal point in your yard.

    What to plant - that is the “perennial” question from many of our customers. 

    With so many options available these days - and a never-ending list of new plants being introduced by nurseries not only from the US, but from other countries as well - it’s a challenge to know what will grow in your yard.

    Trends for planting right now? Plant natives and pollinators to help attract beneficial insects to your yard, and help maintain better health for the bees. It makes good sense to use plants that work in your yard, offering you a good supply of flowers (and pollen) from early in the season until late in the year - and if you live in warmer areas - to offer a source of pollen year-round. 

    Maybe you can’t control the way others handle chemical use and adding pollinators, but you can make a difference in your own yard. Cut back on your chemical use especially when it is not needed, or use only as a preventative. There is a better approach using safer alternatives or home remedies that can help solve some simple problems with insects or disease in your own yard. 

    Using a grouping of native Birch clumps create a cool and shaded micro-climate beneath so you can include some of your favorite shade loving plants.

    Get familiar with native trees, shrubs, roses, vines, and perennials that grow naturally in your area. The native range for plants changes by region and by the climate in a region. Nature Hills offers many natives, all you need to do is find out the natives where you live.

    Not only can you ask your local extension office or garden clubs, but you can ask a neighbor or plant lover who might be a good source for what plants perform well in your immediate area.

    When you are out doing your daily routine or errands, pay attention to what is growing well in your local area and utilize those plants for the bones of your landscape. What looks healthy and offers color at a time of the year that your yard is lacking color?

    Look at how nature arranges plants in undisturbed areas. Watch how those areas change with the seasons offering color, texture, or fruits and berries for attracting wildlife to that area. There is a reason a plant grows where it does in nature. Hot, dry, south facing-sites create a very different microclimate than the north-facing slopes that will have cool soils with plants that will need more moisture. Check out your own yard and see what areas are sunny and dry. Use plants that you are seeing doing well in your area for those hot, dry sites.

    Look at how landscapes are being planted for new construction projects. What trends are you seeing that you like? There is no reason you can’t borrow those design ideas for your own yard. 

    Native plants are plants that reside in undisturbed sites and have a relationship with the plants and animals in the area over thousands of years. Native plants include selections that some call “nativars” or selections (cultivars) of the native plants that have superior characteristics. Larger flowers, shorter plants, more fruit, better fall color and a whole lot more! All reasons for bringing a new form of the native plant to market.

    With a backdrop of natural grown Green Giant Arborvitae shown above, and the introduction of color makes for an incredible and interesting landscape.  Check out the use of cut tree limbs formed into a natural trellis for flowering vines or even climbing veggies.

    Remember when introducing new plants to your yard to look at the site where the plant will be installed. Make sure the plant will get the right amount of sun or shade, and the type of soil in that location will best support healthy establishment and growth. 

    You can plant native trees in your town or city and they will thrive and live forever, right? Not necessarily. Planting an oak tree in a sidewalk area in a downtown concrete jungle is most likely not going to mimic where that oak tree would grow natively.

    It is so important to look at where certain healthy plants are growing because there is a reason it is doing well in that location. 

    Be aware of the plants around you, and how they are being used where you live. Watch for interesting design ideas that you too can borrow for your own landscape. Incorporate native and “nativars” and pollinators in your yard. Learn to watch and appreciate the plants in your environment and the wildlife they attract - and most of all…enjoy!

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  6. Winter Landscape: Brown Is a Color Too …

    Most of us think of the winter landscape in many parts of the country as bleak or boring and just brown. Keep in mind that brown is a color too … and so many different shades of brown that can be accented by many other colors in the landscape for some beautiful results.

    One of the most obvious dormant winter plants are the native and ornamental grasses. The grasses turn brown in many parts of the country for the winter months. Grasses are wildly popular and continue to grow in popularity mainly because of the whole new dimension they add to the dormant winter landscapes. The dramatic fall colors that precede the dormant winter color of grasses vary and can be wildly showy with reds, purples, oranges and many shades of brown.

    Native and ornamental grass selections have become a staple in most all residential and commercial landscapes. They offer interesting substance in the winter landscape not only with color, but movement. The attractive seed heads and feathery dried flowers wave in the wind and look amazing when lit with some landscape lighting during the growing season and when dormant too.

    Mixing broadleaved evergreens - like boxwood and hollies - works well in combination with all grasses. Backdrops of pines, fir and spruce really set off the beauty of dormant grasses. Using grasses with Japanese Yews, Distylium, or some of the many different Junipers create some nice harmony in your plantings.

    Let’s think about how Hydrangeas add to the dormant landscape. The newer Hydrangeas are shorter, offer more flowering and many colors, but turn brown when dormant. Those dried, dormant flower heads make very bold statements in the landscape and they last forever. Dried Hydrangea blooms are incredibly useful for decoration, and they catch and sculpt the snow beautifully in the landscape.

    What about those perennial borders? Don’t be in such a hurry to cut all those beautiful seed heads offering many different shades of brown. Coneflowers and Blackeyed Susan offer not only attractive seed heads, but are nature’s bird feeders. Those perennial borders with all their brown and dormant mounds of leaves and stems are home to many beneficial insects and offer some winter protection for birds and other wildlife as well.

    Some plants like the Russian Arborvitae (Microbiota) go dormant in the fall by transforming the soft green and fluffy ground cover to a beautiful brown color. Now think about a beautiful green evergreen ground cover used in a more natural setting that morphs into the color of a cedar sided home blending into the landscape like no other plant. It’s brilliant and looks amazing.

    Probably our favorite plants that turn brown during the dormant months must be the family of Oak trees. Oak trees are strong, long lived, and many have amazing character. There are many new introductions that have improved forms and hybrid vigor. 

    Now, we can hear you saying … “Oak trees grow so slow” … au contraire! Young transplanted Oak trees may take a year or a bit more to re-establish in your yard, but once they get past that break in period, Oak trees grow quite rapidly. They soon become a favorite in everyone’s yards.

    The other interesting thing about many Oak trees is young trees many times hold their leaves into spring. Holding their brown foliage offers interest, screening, and beautiful backdrops to other plants in your landscape. Even as these beautiful trees get larger, they many times hold the bottom third of their foliage in winter. It does add some interest to your winter landscape, and is something to take note of. Check out this young Oak (left) with its leaves holding tight in early winter. 

    We are just talking “browns” today … but just imagine what the fruit of a holly, crabapple, Viburnum or Hawthorn can do to your winter landscape! 

    Look around the landscapes in your area and see which plants provide some winter interest near you. Send us a picture if you cannot identify a favorite plant kicking up the interest in the landscape near you, and let’s see if we can help you find out what plant you are liking these days. 

    Your homework is to look for year-round interest, cover and food for birds and beneficial insects, and diversity of plants and trees - all things that keep your landscape the envy of the neighborhood. Now is a great time to find the plants that will increase the aesthetics of yard and home. 

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  7. Adapt Your Fruit Tree to Your Home Garden

    The desire to grow your own fruit has never been more popular than today. The access to different fruit types has never been better. The internet makes the possibility of what you can grow seem limitless. But there is one limit that all who desire to be successful at producing home grown fruit should consider in their pursuit, and that is adaptation.

    Cold winter temperatures, extreme hot dry summer temperatures, inadequate sunlight, poor draining soil conditions, susceptibility to local diseases and size control are some common adaptation considerations.

    Depending on where you live, your selection of what fruit to grow may often require special needs to keep it healthy and productive.

    Some things to keep in mind when choosing what you would like to grow are:

    - Is this plant recommended in my USDA climate zone? USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

    - If not, search out information on other home gardeners that may have been successful with your desired selection. See how they adapted the plant to achieve success in your area. If you are willing to put in the extra effort, go for it! If not, seek out the similarities of your desired selection by descriptions and try something new.

    - Light is essential when growing plants outdoors or bringing plants indoors for winter protection. For outdoor, select a location with at least 8 hours of sunlight, preferably morning sun as it is the drying/warming sun. When adapting them to an indoor environment, choose the brightest location possible. In many cases, artificial grow lights will be necessary to provide adequate light for plants grown indoors. This is common with citrus and should be researched well.

    - Poor drainage is the #1 reason people lose plants. This is common both in the ground where soggy soils deplete oxygen and suffocate plant roots. This also happens in container growing. Overwatering allows too much water to collect in the bottom of the container where root damaging diseases get started and challenge the plant’s rooting ability. Study your outdoor drainage in the locations where you intend to plant and add a raised bed or a tall mound in poor draining locations. Always be careful not to over water your container plants especially after bringing them indoors. This is also a very common problem with citrus.

    - Plant diseases can be very disappointing and costly. For your plant selection, research what diseases might be prevalent in your area and then choose resistant options if available. Look up your local ag advisors to get current information on how others are dealing with common diseases and decide if those are adaptions you are willing to take on to enjoy your fruit choice. Consult local Master Gardeners to find the varieties that do well in your area.

    - Short of apple rootstocks, most semi-dwarf rootstocks do not control the growth of the tree to a reasonable size. Even with apples, the rootstock most associated with successful dwarfing requires some sort of trellis or system of maintenance to make them successful. Pruning is the only true means of size control of any fruit tree. Be sure to familiarize yourself with basic pruning techniques and just do it!   

    There are so many varieties of fruit to enjoy that with a little planning and understanding of responsibility, your successful adaptation should be a sure thing.

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  8. The Loring Peach: A Variety Once on Top

    There once was a variety of peach that was so admired for its flavor, adaptability, and size, that from the time of introduction to becoming the principal variety grown in zones 5b-9 was less than 10 years. This variety is the Loring Peach.

    The Loring Peach is to this day considered by many the best choice for marginal peach growing areas, from the coastal and inland areas of zone 8-9 to the colder zones of 6A-5b and all in between.

    But what happened to this variety is what often happens to fruit when evaluated for its commercial value; it failed in appearance.

    The Loring Peach was developed at the Missouri State Fruit Station at Mountain Grove as a part of a project to discover superior varieties with winter bud hardiness and late-blooming qualities. The primary goal was to introduce better commercial varieties of peaches that would work well in the greater zones 5b-7b, which make up the state of Missouri. Under the direction of P.H. Shepard, a cross of the Frank peach with the Halehaven peach yielded many selections of which 2 we deemed superior. These were the Ozark and the Loring Peach, which were both introduced in 1946.

    Though not as hardy as the project was hoping for, the Loring was undeniably a wonderful flavored selection with great size and as such, it was introduced. Reported to be a heavy cropping variety with good disease resistance - most notably to bacterial spot – the Loring peach caught on fast. The fast rise to popularity in the state quickly turned into a nationwide demand sought after by commercial growers.    

    The Loring was tested in many areas throughout the country with mixed results. Loring proved to be a little too early bloomer for most 5A zones and even in 5b if not given the best growing site possible.

    But the Loring still faced an uphill battle, the commercial growers - though pleased with the cropping and size of the Loring’s fruit - were never quite happy with the lack of red in the skin. It was the case in the 1930’s, 1940’s and throughout most of the 50’s that a prevalent red blush indicated higher sugar to the consumer. Although this was far from the truth, it was what the peach growers of the time identified with as a value to their customer and as such, a replacement for the Loring was just a matter of time.

    Along this time the variety became popular with the home gardener and the adapted areas for planting the Loring grew to zone 9 and coastal zone 8. Coming from a Midwestern hybridization program, it was not the obvious choice; but after some time, it caught on and became noted for its dependable production. Noted on both coasts from Virginia to Oregon, the Loring has become a common recommendation on many home garden suggested lists throughout the country.

    Although varieties have come along to replace the Loring, commercially it has continued to be a popular home garden selection where, of course, the lack of a predominate red blush means nothing.

    The Loring peach has many attributes for the home gardener - the biggest being its reliable production. Where Loring is suited it will always produce. Next is the wonderful flavor. Loring is a taste test winner in many panels conducted across the United States. Loring is a freestone peach that has a noted wonderful spring bloom, the yellow flesh surrounds a red pit with the harvest coming in the mid-season. The fruit is most often large sized and with firm flesh. It is great for drying, canning, cooking or, of course, fresh eating. The Loring’s fruit hangs on the tree well until ripe, but is known to self-thin; Meaning it will drop a portion of it crop in what appears an attempt to space the crop on its own on the tree before ripening. 

    If you are unsure of a peach variety to try, this may be the one to start with. Select the popular home garden variety, without which would most likely not be here today.

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  9. Arkansas Black Apple: The Cabernet of the Apples

    Apples are the most popular fruit tree planted in the world with 7,500+ varieties to choose from. This can make selecting just one a challenge. Based on the adaptability alone, the Arkansas Black apple should be on the top of your list.

    Thought to have been discovered in the mid-1800's in Bentonville, Arkansas, it is said to be a seedling of the Winesap apple, which it shares many characteristics. It quickly grew to become a popular regional selection and was a commercial success into the 1930’s. The Arkansas Black has distinguished itself as a true Gem of home garden apple selections since that time.

    Very able to adapt to many climates, the Arkansas Black can tolerate the hot summer inland valley temperatures of California - sometimes more than 110 degrees - or the cold winter climates that are found in USDA Zone 5a - minus 15 to 20 degrees. Then everything in between including coastal planting zones like 8a and b and zone 10 are all good for the Arkansas Black Apple.

    The fruit has a deep rich red to black color that distinguishes it from all other apples. The flavor is a wonderfully unique and sweet taste to which there are few comparisons, often defined as if it were a fine wine.

    Arkansas Black has become best known for its ability to be stored for 3 to 4 months and - like a fine wine - it just continues to improve in quality. In fact, the Arkansas Black apple is a difficult apple to eat directly off the tree; it is hard as a rock, almost impossible to bite into and really lacks any flavor to speak of.

    When picked and stored in temperatures of 50 degrees or less (such as the refrigerator), the Arkansas Black Apple begins to mellow into one the finest dessert apples known. The hard texture softens to a pleasant crispness, and the flesh comes alive with a unique musky, sweet flavor not found in any other apple. This process of refinement just continues with storage, with each Arkansas Black Apple tasting just a hint better than the last.

    Arkansas Black is a highly desirable cider apple, as well as a great cooking and applesauce selection. Of course, it is second to none when fully ripe for fresh eating.

    Arkansas Black is an apple that requires a pollinator and is a perfect addition to ones already-established apple collection. If you are just getting started and your desire is to enjoy an Arkansas Black, be sure to include a self-fruitful selection like Golden Delicious or Empire apple as a pollinator. Not only will this ensure a great crop, but it will also extend your apple enjoying season with early selections and the Arkansas Black, which ripens later in the season.

    Plant Arkansas Black where it gets a full day of sunlight and always mulch well. Mulching well is particularly important in the hotter, drier climates where Arkansas Black will be protected from getting a sun spot on the sun side of the fruit. Mulching keeps the root cool and helps to avoid premature fruit drop, which is common in hot/dry climates. Mulching is a benefit in all climates as it improves the soil beneath the tree and cuts the amount of water needed throughout the season.

    Finally, the Arkansas Black is very disease resistant, which just adds to the value to the home gardener, as most of the common apple diseases will not interfere with successfully growing and cropping this jewel. With the enormous selection of apples one has to choose from, the Arkansas Black is one that should rise to the top of the list of considerations.

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  10. Don't Plant Trees Too Deep

    Planting trees and shrubs too deep will cause a slow death for sure. 

    It is so very important to be sure that you plant your new trees and shrubs at the same depth as they are growing in the container that you received them in. If you are working with bare root plants be sure to plant all roots just under the soil surface and not bury them too deeply. Many times, the planting depth is visible on a bare root plant showing where they were grown at the nursery. 

    Planting your trees and other plants too deep where there is less oxygen in the soil and can cause root girdling and death of your plants. 

    Roots like to grow in the warmer soils closer to the surface where they can grow out in all directions to find food and water. Most tree roots can be found in the top eighteen inches of soil and many feet away from the trunk. 

    Another kiss of death beside planting too deep is the addition of mulch up against the trunk of the trees and shrubs. Mulch is great over the roots of plants, but not against the stems of the plants above ground. 

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