Fruit Tree Care
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is the time of the year when all citrus grown in cold climates is brought indoors for winter protection. There are a few critical considerations that will allow your citrus plant to adapt to being indoors and stay healthy until it is put back outside in the spring.
The optimal place to over winter a citrus is in a greenhouse that is climate controlled. This is rarely available to the average homeowner. The process of bringing plants indoors should begin about 3 weeks before expected night-time temperatures reach 35 degrees or less. Citrus plants should be brought to a protected location that is well lit but not necessarily full sun. A location up against the house is ideal. A covered patio works well or just a wall that has good radiant heat coming from the house. The idea is to get the plant used to less light while offering some protection from the fluctuating fall temperatures.
A permanent location inside the house should be selected with some important considerations. First and most important is sunlight. The location should be one with the greatest amount of sun available. A southern or southwest facing window is most often your best choice. Plants should be exposed to as much sunlight as possible. This means that when placing more than one plant, it is recommended that they not be placed behind one another. For maximum light exposure, place plants above one another on the floor and table.
Sometimes optimal sunlight exposure is not available indoors and artificial light is required. There is still much research being done to determine what the best artificial light source for the hobbyist is. Keep in mind that citrus typically is ripening fruit during the fall and into the winter. In nature this is happening when the sunlight is at its lowest exposure. Because of the research at this point, the recommendations are more directed at what not to do. When artificial light is needed, full spectrum florescent lights are not recommended. Though great for light, to the plant they suggest spring or summer. This is confusing to a plant that has just come in from being exposed to the shorter day light of the fall. Currently recommended is a bulb designed for plant growing: a grow light. Even better, if an indoor gardening company is available, contact them concerning the latest light sources or bulbs recommended for fall/ winter growing and fruit ripening.
Also important is not placing the plant close to any heat source. The dry air inside the house is another factor that can cause problems with citrus plants. The biggest contributor to dry air will be around any heat sources. If possible, avoid placing citrus close to heater vents, radiators, fireplaces and wood stoves. Avoid placing citrus close to kitchen stoves and ovens as well.
Last and most important is the watering of your citrus. Fall and winter alone mean that the plant is using less water because it is not in a growing mode but rather a dormant or fruit ripening mode. The improper watering of citrus when indoors is the number 1 reason for defoliation while indoors. While indoors, citrus requires ¼ the amount of water they require during the spring and summer months. Become familiar with the moisture in the soil by pushing your finger in up to the knuckle and feeling the wetness. Citrus should be grown on the dry side during the winter time. A wet finger means wet soil.
The fact is that citrus does best when grown on the dry side anytime. The difference is that the spring and summer months are active growing and flowering periods. The longer days, the heat and the growth all require more frequent application of water - unlike what is need during the winter months.
Wherever summer watering is necessary, fall preparation can make a tremendous difference with the success of your fruit trees. Choosing the location and digging the hole are very important in considerations for planting fruit trees. Determining how the trees will be cared for will ensure many years of bountiful fruit production.
At the top of the list is an irrigation system. This is essential in low water climates and is not as expensive or difficult as one might think. Irrigation tubing, drip lines, emitters and a timer (clock) are your basic requirements. The system you create goes together like a child’s toy, pushing connections together, punching holes for drip lines and setting your clock as you would to bake a cake. Your system need not be a work of art, rather a work that functions.
The initial set up costs should be less than $100 to do a simple system. Once in place, adding additional trees to your yard will be a fraction of the set-up cost, requiring nothing more than the materials needed to reach the additional plantings.
Your fall planting will also require a layer of mulch be applied. Again, this is a water saving application that is best done at planting time. Four inches of mulch applied to 3 feet of the diameter around the tree should provide all the benefits. It keeps the soils warmer in the fall and winter to help promote root development and then provides cooling and eliminates surface evaporation in the warm spring and summer. Mulch should be applied to within 2 inches of the trunk and tapered quickly to 4 inches deep and 3 feet outside the trees canopy, keeping the mulch from contacting the tree's trunk.
As temperatures begin to get cooler and the days get shorter, all citrus grown in cold climates need to be prepared to be brought in for the winter. This routine needs to be gradual to ensure that the plant does not get shocked by too quick a climate change.
The most important consideration in transitioning to indoors is watering. As the days get shorter, the plant's growth rate slows considerably. This results in water needs that are quite a bit less than in the spring and summer. Start to pay close attention to how wet the soil is. Do this by checking with your finger pressed into the soil up to the second knuckle. This is the most accurate way to become familiar with soil on the dry side. You want to check the soil just before watering. The soil's moisture content will differ with the conditions that your plant is exposed to and requires your attention and understanding of how it is reacting to watering. Water only when the soil is on the dry side.
Next, gradually move your plant from its summer location by choosing a place close to the house where it will get radiant heat from the house - porches with good sun exposure or outside walls adjacent to rooms that are typically heated with good sun exposure are some examples of interim locations to acclimate your plant. Keep it in this location until the nighttime temperatures get into the mid- to high-30s. The longer the plant is outdoors with nighttime temperatures above 35 degrees, the better.
Next, choose a location indoors that has ample exposure to sunlight. Big, bright South to Southwest facing windows are usually good. Keep in mind that this may not be enough and additional lighting may be required. When choosing indoor lighting for indoor winter growing, avoid full spectrum lights that are more for promoting growth. This is contrary to what the plant is doing naturally at this time of year and can be detrimental to acclimating your plant and ripening fruit on your plant. Instead look for LED lights that are in the spectrum for flowering and ripening fruit.
In addition, the location that you choose should be away for any heat sources such as vents, heaters and wood stoves. The dry conditions indoors lack humidity, which is another challenge in overwintering your citrus tree. In severely dry conditions, humidifiers can help when placed in close proximity to your plants.
Feeding your plant before bringing it indoor is ideal. Use an organic acid base fertilizer and feed as you begin to adapt your plant to the move indoors. Feed again about 30 days before you move the plant back out.
It is ok to transplant your citrus into a desired container when you receive it. A 16 inch pot is recommended for a #3. Once planted, DO NOT repot your plant during its time indoors. This almost always results in the loss of the plant. We never recommended this. If repotting is required, wait until late winter, early spring or just as you transition the plant to the outdoors.
Watch for insect problems which often occur when the plant is brought indoors. Mites and scale are the two most common and if caught early they are easy to care for. Small black bugs coming out of the soil are most often fungus gnats - and a sure sign that you are overwatering.
Last, yellowing leaves and leaf discoloration are common when bringing plants indoors. The goal is to bring the plant indoors as healthy as possible. A plant brought indoors with foliage discoloration will rarely recover until the following spring. If your plant is discolored when coming inside, follow the instructions above. Resume working on improving the health of the plant the following spring.
Wherever you live, the basic rules for selecting and planting a fruit trees are similar. First and foremost is selecting the right variety for where you live. Many varieties of fruit are widely adaptable like the Santa Rosa Plum. But the question is: will your favorite do well in your yard?
Popular newer varieties like the Honeycrisp Apple or the Flavor King Pluot are the greatest, but they can be a challenge in some locations. The Honeycrisp Apple, for instance, was developed by the University of Minnesota and released in 1974. It is a fine quality apple that is perfectly suited for colder climates. However, it can be a challenge in dry climates with low humidity. In regions with low summer humidity, Honeycrisp can drop its crop with the occasional heat spikes. In drier areas, Gala would be a much better choice. With that said, the Flavor King Pluot is an outstanding plum-like piece of fruit introduced in the 1980’s by Zaiger Hybrids and is limited to areas where apricots do well. If you are unaware of apricots in your area, a selection like the Methley plum would be a better choice. The point is to make sure to pay attention to where the variety you are selecting is recommended.
Drainage is the next consideration. The #1 reason people lose fruit trees is due to poor drainage. The problem is most often not over watering, rather suffocation in the root zone brought on by standing water throughout the wintertime. Recovery in the spring is difficult because once spring begins, irrigation begins as well. This does not allow the tree to dry out in the root zone and it struggles. In the Midwest, Northeast and South - where the rainy season extends into the summer months - a poor draining location will often never allow the tree to adapt. Some have no other choice but to plant in a location that drains poorly. In this case, a raised bed planting is recommended. The dimensions for a raised bed need not be any more than 3 x 3 x 12 inches tall and can be done with any material that will last. A simple mound can satisfy the need to elevate, but it needs to be at least 24 inches high by 4 feet wide to ensure that the mound will settle to 2 feet high.
Digging a hole can be the easiest task of all. The hole need not be any deeper than the depth of the root you are planting. In the case of a #3 gallon tree, the depth would only be 12 inches. The width of the hole should be 3 times the width of the root or container, and dug in a cone-like shape. Place the tree in the center of the hole (cone) cover with soil packing the root as you cover to ensure no air pockets are remaining. In most situations, there is no need to amend the soil except in the most extreme conditions where there is an obvious lack of organic material present. It is to the benefit of the tree to get established in the soil that it will live in as soon as possible. If you are planting in a raised bed whether due to poor drainage or for ornamental reasons, use native soil and don’t worry about digging a hole. Place your tree in the center of your raised bed and fill and pack.
Mulching, in the eyes of the experts, has become one off the most important additions required to growing almost anything successfully. This is particularly the case with fruit trees. Mulch provides winter protection to the root, keeps the root cool in the heat of the summer and when regularly replenished, provides nutrients to the tree. This means that the overall expense of mulch begins to pay you back right away with a more consistent growing environment for your tree. Mulching should be done to 3 feet from the trunk after planting. This includes the raised bed when one is used. In colder climates - like those that can occur in Zone 4a through 5b - it is recommended that the mulch cover the outside of the raised bed. Place the mulch within 5 inches of the trunk of the tree and taper it away from the trunk so it does not cover it. Make sure it raises quickly to 3 to 4 inches going out to 3 feet from the newly planted tree.
Irrigation systems for dry climates are an important addition to fruit tree maintenance. A dripline with emitters and a clock allows for the more consistent control of water distribution, making it easier to adjust watering needs throughout the year.
Container or bareroot is a choice most often about timing. Bareroot is available from early January until June. The largest variety of fruit trees becomes available in the winter with the delivery of the current crop of fruit trees. Growers send one crop a year of bareroot harvested in fall and delivered throughout the winter and spring. It is now that most container fruit trees are planted up to become available as the bareroot winds down. The containers are typically available throughout the season and some will roll into the next year. Both are great choices, with containers being there anytime you are ready to plant.
With so many different crabapples available today it is hard to know what to choose. Some of those old-fashioned crabapple varieties used to be wildly susceptible to apple scab and other diseases, to the point where the leaves would rain off the trees in August. The older selections also had fruit that was also large and fell to the ground in summer creating another mess. Those days of disease ridden, messy crabapple varieties are long gone, but not forgotten. Maybe you remember the old Hopa Crabapple from years ago? It was a huge grower with pink flowers, and once the flowers were done, it had no other attributes. Today, Nature Hills offers Crabapples of many types offering a myriad of flower color, leaf color, persistent fruit, and disease resistance. Crabapples are worth looking at once again!
Gardeners often fall into one of two categories either they LOVE pruning time every year (Its cathartic!) or they HATE pruning time every year (I think that tree can wait till next year.). Unfortunately, it is part of the deal when you plant fruit trees. All fruit trees but especially peach trees need some coddling when it comes to pruning time.