You should be cleaning up your fruit trees now and spraying them with dormant oil to kill any insects that have wintered over from last fall. You will also find garden centers loading up with this year's fruit trees, as this is the time to plant new trees and spring blooming shrubs before they awake from dormancy.
If you are thinking of adding a fruiting tree to our local landscape this spring, there are a few things to keep in mind when making your selection. At our mile-high mountain elevation we have beautiful spring days with many frosty nights. Frost kills the blossoms and fruits that form in spring. So, choosing a tree that is apt to do best comes down to which variety blooms latest in the season.
Apples and pears are the best fruit producers because each spring they are the last trees to bloom. You can expect fruit on these trees just about every year. When picking my favorite fruit trees I take into consideration the color and overall beauty of the plants plus the taste and firmness of their fruit. For these reasons I especially enjoy the red fuji and Granny Smith apple varieties.
Not only are they late spring bloomers, but they hold their fruits on the tree longer than most allowing you a longer period of enjoying homegrown fruit.
My two local pear favorites for beauty and overall juiciness are the Max Red Bartlett for out-of-hand eating, and the Comice pear with its firmer texture. I love making pear leather with the fruit dehydrator. Homemade fruit leather is like fruit roll-ups from the grocery store without sugar added so that I can eat as many as my heart desires.
Many fruit trees need a different variety tree to cross-pollinate each other. A Fuji and a Granny Smith will cross-pollinate each other, but two Fuji apples will not. The trees need to be different varieties, from the same family, that bloom at the same time in spring. Pears also need cross-pollinators to produce their crops and the Max Red Bartlett and comice like each other.
The trees don't need to be next to each other to pollinate. They don't even have to be on the same side of the house. Because bees and moths travel throughout the neighborhood picking up and distributing pollen, even a tree several doors down the street can pollinate a fruit tree in your yard.
Many fruit trees are self-pollinating, able to produce fruit by themselves. The tag on the tree will read "self-pollinating," or "self-fertile." For example, Stella Cherry trees are self-pollinating with large dark red fruits for a summer harvest.
Peach trees also are
self- pollinating, and are right behind apples and pears in producing a consistent harvest. The best of the best for our area is the Elberta peach. Its fruit is firm yet so juicy that my mouth is watering just thinking about this all-American favorite. What I like most is that the seed is cling-free, so it pops right out of that luscious flesh.
Plums and nectarines are next on the list of local fruit tree favorites. For a plum that produces sweet dark red fruits with small seeds there is nothing like the Satsuma plum. Not only is the fruit beautiful, but the tree itself is gorgeous with or without fruits.
The Goldmine nectarine produces a heavier crop than any other nectarine at this altitude. The fruit is firm and juicy with a seed that easily lets go. The Goldmine easily rivals the size of the largest peach.
Apricots are the first to bloom in spring, therefore most at risk of frost damage. Be sure to choose a variety that blooms as late in the season as possible. Crop production is either feast or famine with this fruit, although I have had great fruit from my apricot tree for the past two years. My favorite is the Moorpark apricot.
Figs were my grandfather's favorite fruit. If you're like I am and prefer fresh figs over candy, you'll be glad to know that fig trees grow surprisingly well in our climate. For a successful crop just be sure to plant the correct variety. Without any doubt, my favorite is the brown turkey fig. Its large dark fruits are made up of much more flesh than seeds.
I want to mention a piece of gardening equipment that is an indispensable "jack-of-all-jobs" around the garden. Whether you call it a garden tote or a garden tub, it is washable, flexible, lightweight, frost proof, and very durable. It is ideal for garden cleanup, for transporting grass clippings, weeds, cut flowers, and stones. Depending upon the size, it's also handy to use when transplanting small plants with root balls intact, for carrying garden tools, or for hauling dirt.
I'm calling attention to this commonplace garden item because manufacturers have ventured away from the traditional green or black color. These totes now are available in exuberant shades of orange, pink, purple, yellow, red, sky blue, and pistachio. These are the same old gardeners' workhorses with a trendy cosmetic change. As you can see in this week's photo, these new colors are lighthearted and fun.
If you want to talk face-to-face with this garden guy, I am available every Wednesday during the spring season from about 11 to 5 p.m. Bring in your samples, bugs or photos and we can talk local gardening one-on-one. I'm always looking for new garden column ideas, so bring them along, too.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.