Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2011
Regional Report

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Provide organic mulch and water, but let fruit trees develop at their own rate.

Early Spring Fruit Tree Tips

Tree roots are way longer than you thought! They can extend almost four times beyond the distance from the trunk to the dripline. The longest ones -- the "feeder" roots -- are near the soil surface. Keep walkways, decks, and other heavy-traffic and construction areas at least five feet away from the trunk -- and preferably always beyond the drip line -- so feeder roots won't be harmed.

Planting Tips
Dig the planting hole twice as wide as the rootball, but no deeper than the rootball.

Turn over soil a foot deep in an area extending three feet out from the trunk to make it easier for the roots to move out into the native soil, anchoring the tree as well as gathering nutrition and moisture.

Don't incorporate any compost or other organic matter into the backfill soil. Doing so will change the soil texture and make the planting soil too rich, and roots won't travel out into the native soil.

Spread compost and organic matter on top of the soil surface to moderate soil temperatures, hold moisture, retard evaporation, and gradually break to provide nutrients.

Don't Overfeed Fruit Trees
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 life. Too much vegetative growth from excessive nitrogen can also result in poor fruit set the following year. If the trees have dark green leaves and make good growth in the spring, they have sufficient nitrogen.

Plant Citrus and Avocado Trees
As the weather warms up through May, plant citrus and avocado trees. Choose a southwest exposure that is protected from the wind for the best protection from future cold weather and frost. Plant trees on a mound or in a raised bed so water drains away from the roots. Rub suckers off trunks as they appear, so energy concentrates on developing top foliage. Paint trunks and large limbs with a matte-finish, off-white interior latex paint mixed half and half with water to prevent sunscald until foliage sufficiently shades the trunk.

Newly planted trees may need support for a year while they develop strong root systems and trunks. However, the trunk must be able to sway gently in breezes to strengthen and stimulate strong root growth into the native soil. Here's how to stake properly:

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 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 in a figure-eight with one loop around the stake and the other loop around the tree trunk. Remove the stakes after a year.

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