Better fruits make better wines, cobblers and jams
Garden alert! Because our last storm was disappointing at best, plants need water ASAP! The system delivered inadequate amounts of rain essential to the region just as it is about to ignite with spring growth. Make sure to deep water everything in your landscape before the end of the month.
To complete two garden tasks at the same time try fertilizing plants with my 7-4-4 "All Purpose Plant Food" just before watering. With timely food and moisture, your plants will be well primed for the arrival of spring weather.
After last week's column about the most fragrant rose varieties, a rush of local gardeners came in to see me about the best practices for pruning roses. It's almost time to be pruning roses, but looking at my spring writing schedule, I see that there just is no Saturday available to cover that topic. Therefore, for those of you who need help in pruning roses, I did post an online instruction sheet that should be quite helpful; you'll find it at http://goo.gl/NPoYB. Sorry for goofy url link; it came about because I had Google shorten my longer version. Of course, you can always visit the garden center in person and get a free hardcopy.
Blackberries and raspberries have proven themselves in our mountain landscapes by producing amazingly well in local gardens. Where you plant berries in your garden is fundamental to their success. These fruiting wonders produce best when they get at least six hours of sun, and most will produce monumental crops in full sun locations.
Blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, grapes and currants need to be planted as soon as the earth thaws, even if there's snow on the ground. Plant them while they're still dormant and you will have zero loss because of transplant shock. The added bonus from planting now is that new plants come out of their winter naps at the same time as all other fruiting plants in the area. Because this is the peak of the planting season for these fruits, garden centers have greater quantities of more varieties in stock. Right now selection is at its best so make your choices from the cream of the crop.
I've picked a lot of blackberries in my years, always ending up with scratched arms. A new variety of blackberry has become my absolute favorite because of its extremely large fruits and its lack of thorns. It is the Black Satin Blackberry, a prolific producer of the tastiest midsummer fruits. The plant itself is a beauty of erect, thornless canes with small, soft pink flowers that fade to white as they precede fruit formation. For the same reason, the absence of thorns, my favorite raspberry plant is the Canby Red. Both of these varieties allow for pain-free harvesting without the picker's arms looking like survivors of a cat fight!
My family and I have enjoyed successful grape harvests from each of my gardens throughout Yavapai County. As with berries, because this is the time to plant, selection is plentiful right now. Whether you like table grapes, seedless, or wine grapes, there is only one secret to choosing the best plants: Buy the tallest, leggiest vine available. I always look for the tallest plant, preferably with a single stem. Put each plant into the ground as deeply as possible. Plant it with soil right up to the first branches starting to form on the main stem. Grapes are one of those odd plants that will root up and down the length of the stem and in a dry climate; this characteristic produces a superior grape harvest. Some of my past grape plantings have been buried in two-foot deep holes. This technique is not for berry plants, but it works every time for grapes.
Generous quantities of plant food seem to be the key to increasing fruit size and harvest size from shrubs and trees. If I'm going to eat it garden produce needs to be organic, and fortunately the new organic fertilizers available are easier than ever to use and to understand.
Organic farming friends have helped me put together this year's food introduction, and I really am proud to announce my latest plant food hand crafted for our local soils. It's my 100 percent organic "Fruit & Berry Food." Unlike most organic foods, this mixture has been pelletized for ease of spreading. The package label has very clear instructions on how much to apply. This food also is very good for blooming shrubs like forsythias and lilacs.
When planting a new fruit tree, berry bush, or grape vine mix the food right into the planting soil. Don't worry; organic fertilizer doesn't burn new roots. Blend the native earth with one-third volume of mulch, sprinkle in some of my "Organic Fruit & Berry Food," and pack this loamy mixture in around the root ball. Top dress the planting with a 3-inch layer of shredded cedar bark and planting is complete.
During the growing season feed plants at two-month intervals and water about once a week. Ask for my 'Planting Successes' handout for exact drawings, measurements and details the next time you visit the garden center.
Blueberries can produce very well in our region, but they take a little more care then other berry plants. I just created a new handout specific to blueberries, so if growing blueberries is your thing, ask for this handy, informative guide to producing the absolutely sweetest blueberries ever.
Whichever fruits fan your passion try to grow the best product possible. Keep in mind that the quality of your harvest affects the quality of the wines, cobblers and jams you serve at your table.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Throughout the week, Ken Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott or contact him through www.wattersonline.com.