In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2008
Regional Report

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Southern California's claim to fame: fragrant citrus blossoms and delicious fruit in early spring.

Spring Care of Fruit Trees

Early spring care of fruit trees includes planting heat-lovers and not hurrying deciduous ones. Citrus and avocado trees do best when they're planted from late this month through May, as the weather warms up. Choose a southwest exposure that's shielded from the wind for the best protection against cold weather. Plant them on a mound or in a raised bed so water drains away from the roots. Rub suckers off trunks as they appear so growth is directed to existing foliage. 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 damage.

Don't try to rush growth of nectarines, peaches, or plums by providing too much nitrogen fertilizer. This contributes to poor fruit quality, including 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 following year. If the trees have good growth with dark green leaves in the spring, they have sufficient nitrogen.

Planting Tips
Tree roots can extend almost four times the distance from the trunk to the dripline. The longest ones -- the feeder roots -- are near the surface, in the top foot of soil. When planting the tree, dig the hole twice the size of the rootball, and turn over soil a foot deep for that distance again further out. Incorporate a small amount of compost and other organic matter to help keep the soil from getting compacted. Then new roots can easily reach out into this native soil and become well established.

After placing the rootball slightly higher than the soil surface, backfill the hole with the native soil. Then spread lots of compost and mulch on the soil surface, up to 3 inches thick, to help reduce evaporation, moderate soil temperature, and discourage weed germination. In addition, keep walking, decks, and other heavy traffic and construction at least 5 feet away from the trunk, so feeder roots won't be harmed.

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. Drive two sturdy 1-inch-wide or 2-inch-wide stakes about 16 deep into the ground on either side of the trunk and a foot out from it. About two-thirds the way up the trunk, tie loops from each stake around the trunk using soft materials like stockings, or rags, or old garden hose pieces. Tie the loops loosely so the trunk can sway gently in the wind, which will strengthen the trunk and stimulate strong root growth. Remove the stakes after a year.


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