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Seeds: How sweet—now there’s a fruit tree for every yard

February 16, 2013 - CALIFORNIA LIFE from Sacramento Bee

George Washington would approve. These cherry trees already have been “chopped” down to size.

To tell the truth, though, no ax was involved. Through breeding and improved rootstock, these new dwarf cherry trees stay compact – just 8 feet tall at maturity. With pruning, they can be kept under 6 feet – making their crop easy to harvest without a ladder. Perfect for small backyards, they can be grown in containers.

These dwarf cherries are part of a new wave of fruit trees developed for backyard farmers who want to raise their own delicious harvest. Following vegetables, homegrown fruit is the next step for such gardeners.

“Edible landscaping is no longer a trend but a new movement in American gardening,” said Charlotte Germane of Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. “Dwarf fruit trees, whether in containers or as part of the landscape, are an innovative way to maintain the landscape look with flowering trees and also produce fruit for eating at home and preserving. From cottage gardens to formal allées, gardeners are replacing ornamental, fruitless trees with productive fruit trees.”

Peaceful Valley, which annually sells more than 10,000 bare-root fruit trees, carries eight dwarf cherry varieties using Rootstock One, which allows the trees to thrive in clay soil and stay small. Among the varieties available from the Grass Valley nursery are the ever-popular Rainer, Stella, Lapins, Utah Giant, Bing, Craig’s Crimson, Royal Lee and Minnie Royal. The latter three can bear fruit in warmer climate zones, adding even more versatility.

These mini-cherries aren’t the only new fruit available during the current bare-root season. Late-harvest plums and peaches lengthen summer’s fresh fruit season late into fall. And hybrid fruit crosses such as pluots are gaining popularity, too.

“The pluot, a plum-apricot cross, is my favorite of the bare-root fruit trees available now,” said radio host and local gardening expert Farmer Fred Hoffman, who grows dozens of fruit trees. “It satisfies my sweet tooth and is easy to grow. Plus, there are so many varieties available, it is possible to be harvesting pluots from late June through October with the right ones.”

Hoffman’s favorite pluots: Flavor Supreme (June-July harvest), Flavor Queen (late July), Dapple Dandy (early August), Flavor King (late August) and Flavor Grenade (September- October).

“Last year, we harvested 150 pounds of Flavor Queen pluots from a single tree,” he added . “That tree is only 7 feet tall! And that’s after thinning the fruit in spring. Besides eating them fresh, they freeze and dehydrate easily to enjoy their sweetness year-round in smoothies or as snacks.”

Wheatland’s Flower Hut Nursery carries a large selection of bare-root fruit trees. New varieties add several weeks to the traditional summer fruit season.

“We are selling trees from Burchell this year and have chosen some late-ripening varieties that have definitely generated some interest,” said Flower Hut’s Jennifer Miner. “I have the Lavender Showers plum that ripens in mid-September – which for a plum is very late – and October Sugar Nectarine that ripens in October! Pink Diamond peach ripens in mid-September, too. We’re very excited about these late varieties. It allows homeowners to have a longer fruit season of their favorite fruit if they plant an early, mid- and late variety.”

February is prime time for planting bare-root fruit trees, which are dormant and usually less expensive than potted trees. Once in the ground, they quickly grow new roots and adapt to their new homes.

“I have found that many gardeners don’t know that planting bare root means less stress on both the fruit tree and the gardener’s wallet,” said Germane.

Growing fruit can be easier than vegetables, but it takes patience. Don’t expect a crop for the first year – sometimes two or three. But after that, the rewards are plentiful.

“Fruit trees need full sun, regular watering but easy draining soil, and a monthly fertilization during the growing season,” Hoffman said. “A 3-inch layer of mulch beneath the trees helps keep the soil evenly moist, controls weeds and nourishes the soil as it decomposes. Other than that, fruit trees are easy to grow.”

Gardeners still gravitate toward old favorites plus a few new introductions. Peaceful Valley’s best-sellers for the Sacramento area: Honey Crisp and Fuji apples; Chinese and Harcot apricots; Bing and Ranier cherries; JH Hale and Suncrest peaches; Italian and Santa Rosa plums; Bartlett and Bosc pears; and all the Asian pears, particularly 20th Century, Hosui and Shinseiki.

“Our best-sellers are always peaches and nectarines, then apples,” Miner said. “We sold out of the new Fireball peach by Burchell. It is a great late-ripening peach that has red flesh and skin – very yummy!”

Get bare-root fruit trees into the ground – or container – as soon as possible.

“You just need to be careful if you see new white roots forming on the root mass because they are tender and break off easily,” Miner said. “It’s best to get them planted before they start generating a bunch of new roots.”

For procrastinators, Flower Hut potted up bare-root fruit trees in fiber pots, “just in case people don’t get them in the ground right away,” Miner said. “They can plant the whole pot and not disturb the new roots at all.”


Where: Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, Fair Oaks Park, 11549 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks

When: 9 a.m.-noon next Saturday

Admission: Free

Details: (916) 875-6913;

Talk with Sacramento County master gardeners as they finish pruning dormant fruit trees and ornamental grasses.

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