In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2009
Regional Report

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Thin rigorously to allow fruit to have lots of space to mature and also allow air circulation.

Trees' First Spring Growth

Trees are finally part of the Spring Fling. Citrus are ripening fruit and setting blossoms, perfuming the air. Early peaches and nectarines have already set their fruit and foliage and are awaiting thinning. Mid-season-bearing ones are in full bloom, and late-season ones have yet to open a blossom. Plums and apricots have fruit, blossoms, and foliage. My Fuji apple is confused, still with its leaves, a few blossoms opening sporatically every several weeks, and some tiny apples wondering whether to develop or drop. Persimmons' tiny foliage is a delicate chartreuse, with same-color blossoms yet to come. Figs have tiny fruits for their June ripening and are also putting out new growth that'll set later fruit for August ripening.

Feed Trees
With this first flush of growth, trees need substantial feeding for continued strong growth and good fruit production. Topdress them with compost and fertilizers high in nitrogen (fish emulsion, chicken manure, cottonseed meal, blood meal), and phosphorus (bone meal and rock phosphate). Keep composts, manures, and fertilizers away from tree trunks so the base bark can breathe.

Start Thinning
Start thinning excess fruit set on trees and vines for better-developed remaining fruit and grapes, with less strain on the tree or vine. This is especially important for those trees bearing fruit for the first or second time. Allow a minimum spacing of five inches between peaches on opposite sides of the branch, and three inches between plums and apricots. Remove all fruit towards the end of branches so they don't bend the branch down permanently with their weight. Thin peaches before the fruit reaches almond-size for the greatest benefit in size and flavor of the remaining fruit.

Be ruthless in your thinning: the fruits are small now but the tree will need lots of energy to mature them. You don't want to stress the tree or vine to produce fruit you won't eat because there's too much ripening at one time or there are so many tiny fruits with not much flesh around their pits.

Prevent Sunburn
To prevent sunburn damage of exposed bark -- like on deciduous trees all winter long but through their first couple of developing years -- paint tree trunks with light-colored indoor latex paint to prevent sunburn damage. Use an inexpensive brand, or thin down an expensive one to a solution of half water and half paint. This is the one time when "cheap" is best. Although it seems counter-intuitive to use an indoor paint out of doors, it's for the health of the tree -- oil-based paints will smother the tree's air pores!


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