Saturday, October 23, 2010

What's next in the garden?

With fall under way, it’s time to clean up the yard and prepare for winter. Early rain storms have hurried efforts at our house. Two weeks ago we cut back enough foliage to fill a couple of pickup truck loads. Fortunately, in the Gardenland area of Sacramento where we live, the city still does green waste pickup from the street, chipping it for mulch and saving us a trip to the dump.

Beyond cleanup, it’s also time to evaluate plantings and consider putting in fruit and nut trees for future bearing. With the troubled economy, retail plant nurseries say they’re seeing more customers putting in edible gardens—vegetables and fruits—mixing in food crops with ornamental plantings.

Took a tour last week of beautiful Belmont Nursery in Fresno with a bunch of plant professionals, landscapers planning for large-scale commercial and municipal projects in the spring and retail nursery owners looking toward the spring retail season in uncertain times.

Spread across three production areas, we started at Belmont’s propagation ranch, moved to the grow-out nursery down the road and ended up in the nearby experimental gardens for lunch, where we got an introduction to the nursery’s new and favorite landscape plants and trees. They’re taking commercial orders now for winter and spring planting. Retail nurseries are doing the same with their customers, most want bareroot orders from homeowners by November.

Bareroot trees cost less and offer many more choices in varieties and rootstocks than the potted trees available later in the year. However, bareroot trees require immediate planting or “heeling in,” when they arrive and it’s a sure bet that when you pick up your ordered trees it will be raining shovels and trowels. To avoid muddy feet and water running down the back of your neck, prepare and tarp the planting holes now. Or, skip the cheaper bare-root trees and order paper-potted trees that can stay in the container through the winter. When the storms let up, go out and plant.

Some trees are only available bareroot. Others are available only in paper pots. There are always new tree varieties coming—for example the relatively new Peacotum. A cross between a peach, an apricot and a plum. Its skin is yellowish and slightly fuzzy like an apricot with blushes of red and a tartish zing. The new 'Bella Gold' Peacotum is available in both bareroot and paper pots.

Haven’t heard of a Peacotum? A lot of folks haven’t. So, meet Floyd Zaiger, 84, a Modesto, Calif., inventor and plant geneticist. He’s one of the most prolific fruit breeders on the planet. He created the new Peacotum and the popular Pluto, as well as figuring out how to make fruit sweeter and firmer through grafting and hand pollination. The Pluot—a plum-apricot hybrid is available in purple, yellow, or green with red polka dots and now constitutes about one-fourth of the plum market. Don’t know Pluots from peacoats? Check with your kids. Some are sold under the name "dinosaur eggs," a sneaky way to get young ones to eat more fruit!

If you’re thinking of adding fruit or nut trees to your home garden, a good guide from the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources division called Home Orchard: Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees is a good investment at $25. Order online.

More information on backyard orchards and the latest in ornamental plants also is available online from Belmont Nursery or check out the comprehensive Dave Wilson Nursery Website.

See you in the garden!