Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2014
Regional Report

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Figs are attractive trees that fit well into an edible landscape design.

Fruit Trees for the Low Desert

When contemplating fruit trees to add to low-desert landscapes, citrus leaps to mind, but many other fruit trees produce here, including apple, apricot, peach, plum, fig, and pomegranate. For optimal fruit production, apple, apricot, peach, and plum need careful pruning, so they aren't the best choices if you want a low-maintenance landscape. But the taste of fruit fresh from the tree will give you a good return for your investment of time!

Chill Out
Different fruit varieties require different amounts of chilling hours to set fruit. A chilling hour is defined as one hour below 45 degrees F. The low desert averages 300 to 400 chilling hours annually. Check with the County Cooperative Extension office for the specific requirements for your area. Choose varieties that have chilling requirements in your range. Trees with even lower requirements, such as 200 hours, have a better chance of bearing fruit if winters are warmer than normal.

Check Pollination Needs
Determine if the variety you plan to grow needs a tree of a different variety nearby for cross-pollination in order to bear fruit. In small yards, a self pollinating variety is a good choice. Another good characteristic to look for is early-bearing so that the fruit can mature before our hot, dry summer starts.

Choosing Varieties
Growers are always introducing new and improved versions, but here are a few with proven track records. 'Anna' (200 chilling hours) and 'Dorsett Golden' (100) are self-pollinating apples. Try 'Katy' (400), 'Gold Kist' (300), or 'Poppy' (200) apricots. For peaches, try 'Babcock' (250-300) or 'Tropic Snow' (175-200). 'Santa Rosa' (300) is a good plum. 'Wonderful' is an aptly named pomegranate. Fig trees provide an exotic look to the landscape with their oversized leaves and full, spreading habit. They do best if they have room to spread, so their overhanging branches and leaves can provide a fun "secret hideout" for kids. 'Black Mission' is a tasty fig, fresh or dried.

It takes 3 to 5 years for most trees to begin bearing fruit after transplanting. With such a wait, you may as well give the tree a head start with a well-prepared planting hole! Loosen or till an area of soil that is five times as wide and only as deep as the tree's root ball (or container size). Most roots grow horizontally in the top two or three feet of soil, not down deep as tap roots. Creating an expanse of aerated soil helps roots spread easily so they can seek moisture and nutrients.

After loosening, dig a planting hole that is twice as wide as the root ball and no deeper. The top of the root ball should be level with the ground. It's best not to add organic matter to the backfill. Do not fertilize until after the first year.

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