Originally Published: February 1, 2008 9:21 p.m.
Thanks to all the recent precipitation, local lakes are full and the creeks are running. The most important moisture for the mountains of Arizona comes in the form of snow at the higher elevations. This is moisture that will carry us through the spring season and continually charge aquifers. So, prospects for this year's water supply are looking very good, and that is good news for gardeners and non-gardeners alike.
Normally I would want the rain and snow to continue as long as possible, but I'm building new greenhouses behind the native cottonwood trees at the garden center and pooling water is getting in the way. The water level in our construction area is at four feet, which means delaying the pouring of new footers. Don't get me wrong; I welcome all the rain and snow, but I really would like a few nice days in the next month and a half. That's how long it takes to build a new retail greenhouse.
If you followed my suggestion to plant wildflowers a couple of weeks ago, you timed it perfectly. The abundant moisture combined with the freezing and thawing of late winter will make for a very nice wildflower show. If you didn't sow your seeds before, check out the garden column for Jan. 19 because you still have time to plant a nice wildflower garden from seed.
Garden centers have started shipping their spring inventory, beginning with the year's best choices in roses and the best selections of fruit trees. Today's article is about fruit trees; I'll write about roses later. If you want your rose information now, come by the garden center where my staff and I will be glad to help you.
The fruit trees in my yard set fruit almost every year and grow some of the sweetest apples and pears you have ever tasted! We also grow very good pitted fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, and apricots. We even have a nice fig tree happily flourishing in the warmer part of the yard.
Choosing the correct tree variety is crucial if you want consistent fruit at this altitude. Of course, it also is important to know which varieties need another tree for pollination. This is where it pays to ask for help from nursery professionals.
Common sense can direct you in choosing where to plant fruit trees. If your home is built on an elevation, choose the uphill side of the property if possible. Stay away from creeks and drainage areas. The reason is simple: cold air sinks and follows the natural drainage of the land. You are at less risk of frost damage to spring bloom if trees are planted uphill.
The soft fruit trees most likely to bloom first are apricots then nectarines, followed by peaches, cherries and plums. Each tends to produce heavily most years. I have an apricot tree that sets fruit about every other year. When it does, it loads up with hundreds of fruits. My mouth is watering just thinking about how juicy and sweet they are. Fruit trees are much like tomatoes bought from the store. They taste so much better when ripened in your own garden.
Apples and pears are the last fruit trees to bloom in spring, which means they are at least risk of frost damaging the blossoms. This is the reason they set fruit more often than other fruit trees. You should know that virtually all apples and pears need another variety of apple or pear to carry out pollination. In other words, it takes two different types of apple trees to have fruit on either of the trees. You might like to get professional advice in choosing the varieties that are best suited for each other.
If frost is expected and fruit trees are in bloom, cover them with a sheet with a shop light under the sheet and you will avert fruit loss. The magic number is 27 degrees. If the air around a fruit tree in bloom reaches 27 degrees, all blossoms will be damaged and fruit will not set. The tree will be fine, but that year's fruit will be lost.
Also, Christmas lights with the larger C-7 or C-9 size bulbs strung through the branches will throw off enough warmth to protect most blossoms. The neighbors may think you are crazy for having your Christmas lights still on, but when you share that first peach cobbler with them in July, they'll understand that you're really on top of things.
Pitted fruits produce well without pollination from another tree. For trees that do take two, they can be planted anywhere on your property and still pollinate each other. Bees help pollinate trees even from a neighbor's yard.
I would like to know your thoughts or concerns about this garden column and your suggestions for future topics. Submit them to me at Watters Garden Center, 1815 Irons Springs Road, Prescott, AZ 86305, or by logging onto my web site at www.wattersonline.com and clicking the 'ask a question link' on the left.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain, the owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, is a certified nursery professional and master gardener who has gardened extensively throughout Yavapai County.