Backyard Orchard Culture From The Master

So, I’ve made an executive decision. I can’t add any Saturdays to this month so although I went to two amazing seminars last week at Otto & Sons Nursery in Fillmore, I am only going to write about the Backyard Orchard Culture Seminar presented by Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery. The other seminar was on roses, and although it was fabulous and I learned a lot from Otto & Son’s owner, Scott Klittich like I said there are only so much time to write. Plus, Otto & Sons is presenting Rose Care U again 1/21/12 & 1/28/12 – so just go and you don’t need me to tell you about it.

I had heard about Tom Spellman and his great talks on Backyard Orchard culture from my friend, Alex Silber, at Papaya Tree Nursery and at his suggestion I found some great ouTube videos of Tom teaching how to prune fruit trees, so I was excited when I saw that in addition to the January Saturday Rose Care University seminars Otto and Sons was offering Tom’s seminar.

So you say, what is backyard orchard culture? Good question! Basically it means changing the way you think about planting and harvesting fruit from fruit trees for your home use. Commercial fruit growers and home growers want pretty much the opposite thing from their tree. Commercial growers want a tree that will produce a big crop of fruit that ripens pretty much all at the same time, so that it can be harvested all at once with a crew that can get in with equipment and the fruit can be sent off to market. Fruit for home use (unless you have a huge family) is best if it ripens over time so that you get say seven peaches, 10 plums, a couple lemons, twelve apples a week from trees that you can easily reach to pick fruit; hopefully before the birds and squirrels get to it. Makes sense right?

How do you as a garden owner make that happen? By changing a few thought patterns!

1. Size Control your trees. Ask yourself, what is manageable to me and the other pickers in my family? Are you willing to stand on a ladder, a stepladder, or do you want to pick while standing on the ground? I’m a climber; I don’t mind heights but I am small so a 7’ tree would probably be maximum height for me even with a step ladder and since it is easy enough – I think I’m going to try keeping my new trees at 5 ½ – 6’. Sounds impossible… It isn’t!

2. Don’t have a commercial growers expectation. Plant fruit with successive ripening. Since you are keeping your trees smaller, you can have more. Plant three or four varieties of plums or a combination of plums and pluots to extend your fruit production time. Try Burgundy Plum for early June, Santa Rosa, which ripens later June into July, Beauty or Mariposa Plum, ripening in August, and Emerald View for September. A little research on fruiting time or a call to Your Garden Goddess will help you do the same as above with other fruit types. (I’m Your Garden Goddess by the way).

3. Grow varieties that you understand and that you will use at home. That doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment, you should, but don’t just plant something you know nothing about because it is on sale or because someone is clearing out their yard and it is free. If you plant something that you don’t like or don’t know how to use – you are wasting your hard work and garden space.

Here are a couple photos of how Tom suggests you prune your trees when you first get them for planting.

There are a few other items you need to know to have a successful backyard orchard beside the mindset steps above. Here they are:

  • Understand the microclimate of your garden. What are the sunny spots? Where is it shady? There are hot and cold spots as well as wet and soggy spots that need attention to drainage. By pairing up the proper fruit tree with the area you will have a lot more success. *Tip: Cane plants like berries like wet, citrus likes the sun, and avocados need great drainage… but don’t plant avocados in SCV… they don’t really work.
  • Test your soil to see what it is like – clay, sandy, loam. This is important!
  • Pay attention to the rootstock as well as the variety of tree. Citation is good for clay soils, Nemaguard for sandy soil or can be planted on a berm or mound to name just two.
  • If you are reading this in Southern California, you really need to think about chill hours. We don’t get a lot in most places so you need to select low chill varieties.
  • Your young tree is a building block to form and shape for the future. Don’t get hung up on having fruit right away, as a matter of fact too much fruit on a young tree can damage it. Hard as it is, taking off the little baby fruits before they mature (on a new tree) is really the best. (Sorry, I know it is hard.)
  • Prune twice a year: Summer Prune for size control, July – September- this is the big “haircut” and Winter Prune for detail. Always start by removing dead wood and cross branches to open the tree up for sun & air circulation, remove diseased wood, then prune to create balance. *Tip: If you have to think about whether to prune it – just make the cut! You can always fix it next year – the tree will just keep growing.
  • Mulch! Yes, I talk about mulch all the time but it is important! Use biodiverse mulch (not a single wood or product only) 4” of mulch on everything (except concrete and lawn says Tom.) If you use large chunks, you can put it right up to your tree trunks, if it is small or shaved – keep it away from the trunks. Replace your mulch yearly.
  • Fertilizing – the first two years you can use a fertilizer with a good amount of Nitrogen in it to promote growth, fertilize four times per year in January, March, May, and July. After that a fertilizer with more Potassium, & Phosphorus is better, fertilize twice per year at the end of January and the end of May. Tom recommends Gro Power Plus for the first two years and Gro Power Flower ‘n Bloom after that. They are not completely organic however, so you make the call for your lifestyle.

Tom also took the loppers to this tree which he felt was way too tall already to reach the fruit, and although it is kind of hard to see, I’ll describe that he basically cut off the whole branching top and left the trunk at about 4’ tall! Obviously no fruit this year, but this is how you start creating your building block

Here are some beautiful fruit trees, shrubs, and vines that grow well here in Southern California, maybe they will give you ideas of what you might want to grow.

Well there is so much more that I learned but this post is going to be way too long so. If you have questions you can ask them or, you can just hire me to help you create the garden of your dreams – edible or ornamental or a mixture of both! 661-917-3521 or [email protected]




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