In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2012
Regional Report

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Midnight Seedless Valencia three weeks after transplanting - looking good!

Want to Bet That's the End of Winter?

My newly planted Gold Nugget Mandarin and Midnight Seedless Valencia are looking very pleased with themselves, all perky and shiny green with this perfect spring weather of temperatures in the high 70s and brilliantly cloudless days.

Sadly, still no rain in sight, so we must pay for our irrigation water.

With several inches of compressed mulch remaining in my garden following the loose stuff being blown away in that November 30 windstorm, I've made sure that my soaker hoses underneath the mulch are positioned and working properly. In each row, they reach from the hose bib, circle each fruit tree twice at 18 inches and 3 feet from the trunk, run through one planting bed, circle twice around another fruit tree, then through another planting bed and twice around the third tree, finally returning straight back through the planting beds. With the hoses oozing their water out a good foot, this placement enables water to keep the entire planted area moistened so roots from all plantings intermingle and enjoy the rich soil. The thick mulch keeps evaporation to a minimum, so all the water I pay for goes straight to the plant root zones, and I have to water only once every three weeks during this kind of weather. When it gets really hot later, in the 90s for weeks at a time, I'll still have to water only once a week to keep all the plants perky.

Once a month I also sprinkle everything with the overhead watering system that my Dad installed 50 years ago to keep foliage clean and able to do its photosynthesis effectively. But because my mulch is so thick and compacted, watering overhead doesn't get much down to the roots. This is why I prefer continuous rain during the winter, so it can fully moisten the mulch!

You can still do some dormant pruning of deciduous fruit trees. In fact, for beginners, now that the warmth has spurred new growth, it's easier to see which buds are active and which way they face so you can be more assured that you're choosing the right location to prune.

While you do want to fertilize fruit trees, don't try to rush growth of nectarines, peaches, or plums by providing too much nitrogen. This contributes to generally poor fruit quality -- 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.

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. Into the ground on either side of the trunk and a foot out from it, drive two sturdy one-inch or two-inch wide stakes about 16 inches deep. About two-thirds the way up the trunk, tie loops from each stake around the trunk; use "soft" material like stockings or rags or old garden hose pieces. Tie the loops loosely so the trunk can sway gently in the breeze. This strengthens the trunk and stimulates strong root growth. Remove the stakes after a year.

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