The smell of cherry blossoms, the taste of a fresh peach, the sound of white pear blossoms falling to the ground. These are the harbingers of springtime in California. And with Mother’s Day approaching, I thought the perfect gift for a mom who gardens, or one who is a “newbie” in her first garden, is a fruit tree!
When consulting with my favorite local expert, Stephen Froess, manager at Anderson’s La Costa Nursery in Encinitas, I learned that his tree recommendations for Mom’s garden would be two easy-to-grow fruit trees — the fig and pomegranate.
“Because these trees transplant easily and grow quickly, we recommend either for the ‘newbie’ gardener,” he said. “They don’t require much pruning, are relatively free of disease and insect problems and produce fruit the first year.”
Stephen advises getting the largest specimen available, in 15-gallon pots, of both the fig and pomegranate.
“One word of caution when planting a fig tree,” he added, “would be that since it is in the ficus family, the roots grow very quickly, and should not be planted near a house or garage because they could disrupt water systems.”
The second caution is that if you plant a fig tree, you have to like to eat figs! Last fall, I attended a garden club meeting and three gardeners brought bowls of figs to share.
Because they ripen so quickly, figs must be used immediately, such as in a fig jam. Excellent recipes for fig jam, hundreds of fruit jams and jellies can be found in “The Ball Book of Canning and Preserving.”
As for pomegranates, Stephen recommends that you “buy the biggest one you can afford, and it will produce fruit the first year. Since they will end up looking more like a large shrub than a tall tree, I recommend buying a two-trunk specimen. You can train it to splay outward with its branches reaching horizontally.”
This small, showy tree from Iran grows to 15-20 feet tall though it is often pruned to half the size. After the showy red flowers appear in spring, the 5-inch-wide fruits ripen in the fall.
The fruit has a multitude of uses, including being simply cut into quarters as a snack or cut in half and processed in a high-power juicer. It is now a favorite ingredient in many restaurant salads and desserts.
PRETTY AS A PEACH
One of my neighbors in Vista, Bustami Pollard, has remodeled a rambling ranch home and started a small orchard and extensive raised beds for vegetables and berries.
His favorite and most productive fruit tree is a peach tree that he purchased two years ago and that produces over 100 peaches during the summer season.
I asked Bustami his secret to producing sweet fruit and he said: “It all depends on the sun, the soil and good fertilizer. Our only issue at the end of the season is an attack of a bright green beetle that destroys most of the fully ripened fruit at the end of the season.”
I consulted Stephen, my horticultural expert at Anderson’s, and he diagnosed the problem immediately. “The bright green fig beetle waits patiently until the peaches are overripe and consumes all the fruit in a few days.
“The best prevention is to pick the last of the ripe peach crop just as the harvest is ending.”
The only method of control is not by applying pesticides but by keeping an eye out at the time the larvae are forming in the leaf litter. Be certain to rake and remove all the litter and place it in garbage bags. This is a type of leaf litter you definitely do not want to add to compost since it will spread to other fruit trees.
Many North County gardeners love to grow blueberries and strawberries, which are now available at all garden centers.
Armstrong Garden Center, at 5702 Paseo Del Norte in Carlsbad, has a large variety of blue fruit that, if planted in May, will produce fruit from mid-spring throughout the summer season.
When purchasing blueberries, it is recommended to always plant at least two varieties near each other so they will cross-pollinate. Be sure to ask the garden staff for planting and soil recommendations when planting all fruit trees and berries.
Blueberries are also available at Anderson’s La Costa Nursery, 400 La Costa Ave., Encinitas, (760) 753-3153, and Green Thumb Nursery, 1019 W. San Marcos Blvd., San Marcos, (760) 903-5600.
DON’T FORGET THE CARD!
A simple remembrance but true. I still have cards that my now 37-year-old son made me for Mother’s Day years ago. That childlike handwriting and special greeting, “ I LOVE YOU MOM!” still brings tears to my eyes! Handmade or store-bought, the card is the perfect final touch.
Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and horticulturist and teaches vegetable gardening at the Carlsbad Senior Center. Contact her at [email protected] for further workshop and consultation information.