Califonia Bountiful

Gardening Q&A

Nov./Dec. 2013 California Bountiful magazine

As a California Bountiful reader, you have the opportunity to get your seasonal gardening questions answered by gardening expert Pat Rubin. What do you want to know, now that fall is in full swing?

Dear Pat,

Would you please tell me when the best time to prune persimmons and cherimoyas is? Thank you very much for your help.


Dear Heddy,

Your timing is great: Now is the time to prune both the persimmon and the cherimoya. I don't know whether your trees are young or mature, but the winter dormant season is the best time for pruning.

Persimmons don't need much pruning other than shaping the tree. They are pretty polite growers and make graceful-looking trees for the landscape. I love the yellow leaves in the fall and the way the fruit hangs on the trees in the winter—very decorative!

The main thing to remember about cherimoyas is to cut away the suckers that tend to grow from the base and mature branches of the tree. The suckers grow straight up, a sure hint this is not a typical branch.

For even more information, check online. Just search "pruning cherimoya trees" or "pruning persimmons" and you'll get a wealth of information.

If you have several different fruit and nut trees, I always found it helpful to buy a book on growing and pruning fruit and nut trees. I'd take the book out into the orchard with me and turn to the section for each type of tree and follow the instructions. They all have slightly different requirements. The only common thread among them all is to prune away dead or crossing branches and suckers first, then take a look and decide what to do from there.

Best of luck!


We just built a raised garden. What vegetables can be planted in December?

In most regions, there's still time to plant bok choy, broccoli and cauliflower. Check your local nursery for starter plants, because you are a bit late to start them from seed. You can plant radishes and lettuce from seed. Now is the time to plant garlic. Just plant the cloves and let them grow until June. Don't forget cool-weather crops like peas, too. I like flowers among the vegetables: Calendulas, pansies and snapdragons are good bets.

Why are there so many acorns some years and so few other years? If we have a lot of acorns, does that mean we are going to have a wet winter? Or is it a dry winter?

There are all sorts of beliefs as to what a bountiful acorn year means, but there is a scientific explanation as to why some years the ground is littered with acorns and other years you can hardly find any at all. When acorns are really plentiful, it's called a mast year.

Getting a mast year is a two-year process. If you look at a year when acorns were really plentiful, you'll see the previous spring was very dry, but the spring the year before was very wet. All the catkins—the male flowers that look like tassels—produced after the wet spring were pollinated. If it had rained as much that previous spring, a lot of the pollen would have been washed off and we'd have fewer acorns. 

My callas are top-heavy with seedpods. I can see yellow seeds inside the green covering. Can I harvest them and grow new plants?

Yes, but wait until the pod splits open. The longer you leave the stem on the plant, the better. Eventually it will start to dry up, and the soft coating on the seeds, which looks like kernels of corn, will get soft and squishy. There's a seed inside each kernel. Some people pop the seeds out, but I simply plant the whole kernel. The big, old-fashioned white callas can produce 25 or 30 seeds per stalk. The dwarf callas produce a dozen or so.

I plant them in 4-inch pots rather than directly in the ground, because it's easier to care for them. Poke the kernels about an inch deep, and 2 to 3 inches apart. Keep the pots watered, but not soggy. Some seeds will germinate right away, while others can take several weeks. Be patient. The seedlings are tough and require little care, but certainly can't be ignored. Once two or three leaves have formed, pot them into a larger pot or into the ground. Again, keep an eye on them. They should bloom the second year. Callas are deer-proof, and for me, that makes them a very desirable plant.

See how Pat answered your questions earlier this year.

About Pat Rubin, California Bountiful's gardening expert

Pat Rubin

For Pat Rubin, gardening is more than just dirt and plants. "It's about history, romance, adventure and people," she says. "And it should be fun."

California Bountiful's gardening columnist has lived and chronicled this fun, hands-in-the-dirt approach for years—and for additional publications including Fine Gardening, Pacific Horticulture, Christian Science Monitor, Family Circle and The Sacramento Bee. Pat has also volunteered as a Master Gardener, speaks to garden clubs and appears regularly on gardening radio shows.

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