Column: 2013 fruit trees ready at local garden centers
The definition of a bare-root plant is one that has been grown in a field, lifted from that field with no dirt left clinging to its roots, and shipped to market in that condition. Hence, the label "bare-root" plant. This process is hard on the plant and is reflected in the extremely high failure rate with this type of planting. As you might suspect, cost has been the reason for marketing these naked plants. However, even including shipping costs from distant farms, I find there isn't much price difference between a bare-root tree and a fully rooted tree from a local farm. Especially since bare-root plants are three to five years behind the development of their fully rooted counterparts and the fully rooted tree will produce fruit this year, not years from now!
Just as soon as soil can be seen peeking through our snowy landscape, it is time to get new fruit trees into the ground. It also is the time to plant grapes and most berry-producing vines. That's why local garden centers now have good selections of these fruit-producing plants. Following is the proper planting technique for planting local-area fruit trees.
It's important to know that a tree grown in mountain clay soil does not send down a typical taproot. Instead, it sends out a bent growth that I call a "hockey stick root." This root will send out runners just under the surface of the soil in order to absorb rain and nutrients from our area's sporadic rainfall. Because we know this is how the root is going to grow, it only makes sense to give it a hole that is wide but no deeper than the current root ball. My rule of thumb is a hole that is the same depth as the root ball, but three times the width of the roots in the container.
Remove any rocks and debris that are larger than a golf ball and amend the excavated soil with composted mulch, using one shovel of mulch to three shovels of native earth. At this time, it's good to add a natural fertilizer, too. I suggest my "All Natural Plant Food"; it's the perfect blend of nutrients to encourage leaf growth, which in turn will bring on a hardy root system. To save time, I blend the soil, mulch and plant food into a single planting medium.
Using your foot, pack down this nutrient rich soil firmly around your newly planted tree so there are no air pockets remaining around the root ball. Water the tree thoroughly with a mixture of water and "Root & Grow." This is a rooting hormone that encourages new root hairs to form right away and results in a strong, well-established plant before the stressful effects of summer heat.
The final planting instruction is to stake. Each new tree requires two stakes, one on either side of the root ball. Use one of my specially designed "V-straps" to secure the tree to the stakes. They allow the tree to move and sway with the wind, but never to snap in two.
Late blooming apple, pear, peach, cherry, nectarine and apricot trees all produce well in the mountains of Arizona. The following list includes some of my favorites, so I confidently can say: "If in doubt start with these varieties and you can't go wrong."
Fuji apple - This fruit "explodes" with a breaking crispness, tantalizing your taste buds with mouthwatering flavor and juiciness. I've seen kids choose this over candy and other sweets! As if taste were not enough, it handles a late frost much better than other fruits and other apple varieties.
pear - This pear's higher acid content adds a snappy tang like no other fruit, and crisp like an apple, it makes great jams, jellies, cobblers, or eaten my favorite way, right off the tree. Conveniently for the small yard, it only takes one tree to produce fruit. You can get specimens of this tree large enough to put on fruit this spring, so why wait?
Ranger peach - This big juicy fruit ripens in colors of red to gold. With extra vigor and an abundance of dark green foliage, the Ranger blooms much later than other peaches. Good in pies or jams, its flesh is easy on the eye, easy to get off the seed, and even easier to eat fresh off the tree. A good value for the size available at your favorite garden center, it is ready to produce this year, but only if you plant early.
Gardening Class - One of the most experienced retired local gardeners is making a special appearance to teach the next class, "Fruit Trees from Planting to Pruning." Harold Watters has been pruning and primping local fruit trees since the 1950s, so come get insider's tips from a pro who knows variety, planting style, fertilizing, and more. What better way to get yourself and your fruit trees ready for a blockbuster harvest this year? This free class will be Feb. 9 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Watters Garden Center.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, or contact him through www.wattersonline.com.