Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: A slice of summer in your own back yard

May/June 2007 California Country magazine

David Ross shows us how anyone with any space, no matter how small, can grow their own little slice of California's summer fruits.

Either we enjoy fruit from our own back yards—or we would like to. I often speak to people who are afraid to try growing their own fruit trees because of the fear they will get too big and be uncontrollable. There is something new and easy, and when practiced properly, will allow anyone with any space, no matter how small, to grow their own little slice of California's summer fruits.

Traditionally, fruit trees are pruned during the winter months, but more and more we are learning that summer pruning is the way to go if you want to enjoy lots of fruit, but don't have lots of space.

Summer pruning is just that—pruning the trees while they are growing, while it is nice outside, to limit how large they ultimately will get. When done properly, trees will yield lots of fruit in a relatively small space. Summer pruning also reduces the number of leaves available to photosynthesize. Less photosynthesis means less growth and a smaller tree. It also encourages more branching, producing more fruit in much less space. Cutting back on water, without killing your tree from drought, will also help.

When trees get too big, they become difficult to prune and most of the fruit is out of reach and goes to the birds. While sharing fruit with birds is nice, I would prefer to eat my fruit—and get my backyard birds their own feeder.

Waiting until your tree is fruiting makes it much easier to decide which branches stay and which ones go. Different types of trees fruit on different types of branches, so if you prune willy-nilly, you could be cutting off all the branches that will produce fruit next year instead of encouraging or preserving them.

Peaches and nectarines produce next year's fruit on this year's new growth. Cutting them will not only encourage more branches for next year's fruit, but will keep branches from breaking from the weight of too much fruit.

Apples and plums are the best. They fruit on spurs, tiny little branchlets that take a few years to develop, but once present, will fruit for a decade or more. This will allow for any type of shaping and means an especially large harvest in very little space.

Another way to expand your harvest is to plant multiple trees in a single hole. Instead of just a single tree, try planting three or four trees 18 to 24 inches apart in the same hole. Just remove all branches from each tree growing inward toward the center of the group and prune the entire group as a single tree. Not only will this allow you to grow more varieties, but with some planning, you can select varieties that ripen at different times of the year to extend your harvest period by weeks or months. This allows for better pollination of your trees as well. Imagine fresh fruit from your own back yard all summer long.

It really can be easy. Remember, I am only expecting 10 percent of your harvest for this advice!

Want more information? I recommend the Backyard Orchard Guide at

Gardening to-do list for May/June

Adding a 2-inch layer of mulch beneath your plants will control weeds, keep plant roots cool and moist, and reduce water usage. Bark, compost or gravel will help, but keep in mind that bark and compost will be better for your soil. Don't forget to mulch your potted plants as well.

Watch for insects and disease, and begin your control efforts as soon as they appear. The longer you wait, the more difficult they will be to control. Aphids can be controlled easily with a stream of water, but fungus may need a commercial fungicide such as Immunox.

It takes a lot of energy for your plants to bloom and grow for you, so remember to feed your plants regularly. Gro-Power is a great fertilizer. Not only does it feed your plants, it also helps make your soil a better place for them to grow.

Soak established plants in the ground when they need it, but let them begin to dry out before you water again. Plants in containers may need watering daily.

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