Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2004
Regional Report

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Citrus trunks and branches are painted to reflect the sun and prevent sunburn.

Plant Tender Trees

The weather from now through June is ideal for planting citrus, avocados, kiwis, kumquats, and pomegranates. In completely frost-free areas, also try cherimoya, guava, mango, and passion fruit. When choosing citrus, look for trees with many strong branches, a smooth graft union, and deep green leaves. For containers, be sure to choose dwarf types.

Plant citrus and avocado trees in a southwest exposure that's protected from the wind for the best insurance against damage from cold weather and frost. Plant them on a mound or in a raised bed so water drains away from the roots. Rub suckers off trunks as they appear. Paint trunks and large limbs with a matte-finish, off-white, interior latex paint mixed half and half with water to prevent sunscald.

Tree roots can extend almost four times the distance from the trunk to the dripline. The longest ones -- the feeder roots -- are near the soil surface. When planting a tree, dig the planting hole only as deep as the rootball, but twice the width. Then, turn over soil a foot deep for that distance again further out. New roots can easily reach out into this native soil and become well established. In addition, keep walkways, decks, and other heavy traffic and construction at least 5 feet away from the trunk, so feeder roots won't be harmed. Then, pile up to 4 inches of mulch on top of the loosened soil to reduce evaporation and moderate air temperature.

Staking Young Trees
Newly planted trees may need support for a year while they develop strong root systems and trunks, but only if they can't stand up by themselves. First, remove the stake that came from the nursery. Into the ground on either side of the trunk and a foot out from it, drive two, sturdy, 1-inch stakes about 16 inches deep. About two-thirds the way up the trunk, tie loops from each stake around the trunk; use "soft" material like stockings or rags or old garden hose pieces. Tie the loops loosely so the trunk can sway gently in the wind; this strengthens the trunk and stimulates strong root growth. Remove the stakes after a year.

Fertilize all trees heavily for strong growth and good fruit production. Topdress them with compost and fertilizer high in nitrogen (fish emulsion, chicken manure, cottonseed meal, blood meal), and phosphorus (bone meal and rock phosphate). Spread these out over the root zone to about 6 feet beyond the dripline of the tree. Keep compost, manure, and fertilizer at least 6 inches away from tree trunks.

Don't try to rush growth of nectarines, peaches, or plums by providing too much nitrogen. This contributes to generally poor fruit quality -- poor color development, delayed maturity, softness, and reduced storage. Too much vegetative growth from excessive nitrogen also can result in poor fruit set for the following year. If the trees have good growth with dark green leaves in the spring, they have sufficient nitrogen.

Thinning Fruits
On established trees that have already set fruit, thin the excess for better developed remaining fruit and for less strain on the tree. This is especially important for those trees bearing fruit for the first or second time. Allow a spacing of 5 inches between peaches on opposite sides of the branch, and 3 inches between plums and apricots. Thin peaches before the fruit reaches almond-size to improve the size and flavor of the remaining fruit.

Be ruthless in your thinning: the fruits are small now but will take lots of energy to mature, and you don't want to allow the young tree to produce too much fruit for the first couple of years.

Shield Trunks From Sunburn
Paint tree trunks with light-colored, indoor latex paint to prevent sunburn damage. Use an inexpensive brand, or thin down an expensive one to a solution of half water and half paint. This is the one time when "cheap" is best.

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