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Ring in the New Fruit Trees!

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If you’re like me when it comes to keeping New Year’s resolutions, you probably suck at it. In the past I’ve vowed everything from remembering to take a basket out to the garden with me so I don’t have to stuff tomatoes in my bra, to stop buying so many shoes and designer bags so I can purchase more power tools. Well, actually, I came up with a happy medium for this one; I believe one can own power tools and Kate Spade.

One resolution that I have kept and even plan ahead for is to plant more fruit trees. Not only does the dreaming and planning stage help with the actual planting, but it helps keep me sane through the cold winter months. Thinking about rushing my local nurseries as soon as Christmas is over gives me something to look forward to. I am usually calling around, harassing my poor, blind-sided nurserymen weeks before any trees have even been ordered, let alone arrived in the store. 

If you live here in the Valley, chances are that you purchased an older home that already boasts a citrus tree or two and you’re enjoying those delicious golden globes of winter sunshine and sweetness right now. I am blessed that my little farm came with a couple of vintage oranges and a lemon, but a few years ago I planted a lime and would eventually like to add a grapefruit. If you were not so blessed, those trees and many newer varieties are available in pots year-round in most nurseries. I purchased the lime in the late spring, put it in the ground, and made sure to water it often while it settled into its new home. And that’s pretty much it.

As far as summer and fall fruits go, such as peaches, persimmons and apples, I like to start with bare-root plants. Knowing that I’ve done something magical, almost alchemistic, by putting an essentially “dead” stick in the ground, certain that it will soon bloom and produce a fountain of fruit, warms me like no cup of hot cocoa. As the description implies, potted trees and plants come in pots and are sold year-round, whereas bare-root trees are sold soilless, the roots bare and wrapped in plastic. They are typically available only mid to late winter here in the Valley and are shipped dormant, which helps them to transplant well and experience less transpiration, or water loss, immediately after planting. 

Questions arise with discussion of the subject of planting trees. “How long do you have to wait for fruit?” “Don’t they take up a lot of space?” But my favorite is, “Why would I mess with that when I can just buy fruit?” Seriously? No, seriously. That’s a really good question. And I have a really good answer; however, it may not be for everyone. Personally, there is nothing more satisfying than biting into a juicy peach in the middle of August that I have picked fresh and pesticide-free from my own tree. I have waited all winter and watched the tiny buds blossom into delicate flowers in early spring. I have stood beneath that tree listening to the hum of gathering bees as they go about the busy work of pollinating, ensuring that I will have fruit. I have watched those lovely flowers wither and fall, leaving behind tiny green nubs that swell and change color, deepening from gold to blush. And I have perfectly timed the covering of my precious bounty with bird netting to keep the fruits all for myself. 

And let’s talk about flavor. If you’ve sampled a home-grown peach, or any other fruit, for that matter, then you know there is no comparison. Of course, we know that market fruit is picked way before it’s actually ripe in order to keep it intact and prolong shelf life. How can a peach picked green have developed to its full flavor and nutritional potential? My peaches have no shelf life. They go straight from the tree into my drooling mouth. Or into a pie, or cobbler. Or fresh-sliced over vanilla ice cream. Or sweet-syrupped into Mason jars for the next winter’s goodness. 

Growing fruit trees in your backyard is easier than ever these days. Varieties have been developed for everything from pest and disease resistance to size, so that you don’t have to climb a ladder to get that last cherry before the birds do. With a little research, you can find exactly what you are looking for and even ask your local nursery to order it. Find a place that gets a full day’s sun, not too close to the house or sidewalk, with good drainage, and you’re ready to dig a hole. Lay in the roots, or spread them if they are bare, scoop the dirt back in, water well, and sit back and wait. Most fruit trees need little to no fertilizer and can pretty much take care of themselves with only adequate watering. However, paying attention to their minimal needs will reward you with a larger, more flavorful crop.

Getting those trees in the ground takes some time in planning and preparation, but it’s the epitome of the sweetest and most satisfying of rewards. In most cases, those rewards can be reaped in just a year or two. I am ever expanding my list of future bounty and for my New Year’s resolution, I think it’s time to get serious about planting an avocado. Happy New Year and happy planting from my garden to yours!

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