Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2006
Regional Report

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Oranges in spring%blooming, bearing, and glorious fragrance!


The weather from now through June is ideal for planting citrus, avocados, and other tender trees such as kiwis, kumquats, and pomegranates. In frost-free areas, also try cherimoya, guava, mango, and passion fruit. For containers, be sure to choose dwarf types. For the best choice in citrus, look for trees with many strong branches, a smooth graft union, and deep green leaves.
For the planting site, choose a southwest exposure that is protected from the wind, for the best protection from cold weather and frost. Plant trees on a slight mound or in a raised bed so water drains away from the roots. Rub suckers off trunks as they appear. Tape together or remove broken branches. Paint trunks and large limbs with a matte-finish, off-white interior latex paint mixed half and half with water to prevent sunscald. In addition, keep walking, decks, and other heavy-traffic and construction at least five feet away from the trunk, so feeder roots won't be harmed.
Tree roots can extend almost four times the distance from the trunk to the dripline. The longest ones, the "feeder" roots, are in the top 12 inches below the soil surface. When planting the tree, dig the planting hole twice the size of the rootball, and turn over soil a foot deep for that distance again further out. Rough up the outside edges of the hole so roots can work their way out into the native soil and become well-established. Fill the newly planted hole three times with water to make sure roots at the bottom are moist. Then, place organic mulch two or three inches deep around the whole planting area, but keep it six inches away from the trunk.
Don't try to rush growth of nectarines, peaches, or plums by providing too much nitro%gen. This contributes to generally poor fruit quality, poor color development, delayed maturity, softness, and reduced storageability. Too much vegetative growth from excessive nitrogen can also result in poor fruit set for the follow%ing year. If the trees have good growth with dark green leaves in the spring, they have sufficient nitrogen.
Prune frost-damaged wood once the plant or tree has completely leafed out and you can easily see just what wood is dead. If you're in doubt, wait another month to avoid pruning wood which was just late in leafing out. By mid-summer, any remaining deadwood will be obvious.
Feed all trees heavily for strong growth and good fruit production. Topdress them with compost and fertilizers high in nitrogen (fish emulsion, chicken manure, cottonseed meal, blood meal), and phosphorus (bone meal and rock phosphate). Keep composts, manures, and fertilizers away from tree trunks.
Start thinning excess fruit set on trees and vines for better-developed remaining fruit and grapes with less strain on the tree or vine. This is especially important for those trees bearing fruit for the first or second time. Allow a spacing of five inches between peaches on opposite sides of the branch, and three inches between plums and apricots. Thin peaches before the fruit reaches almond-size for the greatest benefit in 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 stress the tree or vine to produce fruit you won't eat because there's too much ripening at one time.
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.
Newly planted trees may need support for a year while they develop strong root systems and trunks. 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 one-inch or two-inch wide stakes about 16 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.

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