Sweet, juicy persimmons are easier to grow than you might expect.
There are many good reasons for growing your own persimmon tree, the first of which is they are not particularly fussy about soil and they are nearly pest-free. You don’t need to worry about chilling hours as much as with other fruit trees, and they bloom late enough in the season to avoid frost damage.
Persimmon is a tropical tree that grows best in Hardiness Zones 7 to 10, and they are large. Mature persimmon trees can grow from 15 to 60 feet tall and 20 feet across, with a lovely rounded canopy. Leaves are both glossy and leathery on top, with a brown, fuzzy undersurface. These leaves will fall off in autumn, being deciduous, but that makes it easier to prune and manage the tree during dormancy.
Your first decision, when growing persimmon, is to decide which type you want.
Types of persimmon
Persimmons are actually the fruit of several trees in the Diospyros (‘Zeus’s wheat’) genus. This group of trees is divided between valuable, dense ebony lumber (Diospyros ebenum, et al) and fruit-producing varieties. Within the fruit-producing varieties, there are some you can eat right away, and some you’d be better off waiting a while.
The North American native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) tends to be smaller and seedier than its more popular Asian cousin (D. kaki). The Oriental, or Japanese persimmon is further divided into two groups: astringent and non-astringent. That astringency [read ‘pucker factor’] is caused by tannins. Those tannins can make your mouth feel as though you just washed your mouth out with witch hazel, which I do not recommend. Generally speaking, the astringent varieties need to be fully ripe and soft before becoming sweet and delicious.
With over 2,000 cultivars of fruit-producing persimmon trees, you have several to choose from, including:
Native and Oriental persimmon trees will not cross-pollinate.
Persimmon fruits and flowers
Native persimmon trees are dioecious, meaning they have male or female flowers, but not both. If you have one of these, you will need two trees. Oriental persimmon trees have both male and female flowers. In either case, those flowers are relatively small, creamy white, with a large green calyx. The calyx is the cup-like structure seen at the base of a flower’s petals and is the hard, dried leaves on top of a harvested persimmon. Botanically, a persimmon fruit is a berry because it is formed from a single fertilized plant ovary.
Fruits mature in autumn, staying on the tree into winter. Don’t be fooled, however. Squirrels and rats have an uncanny ability to gnaw the insides out of your persimmons from the side facing away from your windows. I have a friend who discovered, to her dismay, that every single piece of fruit, and there were many pieces of fruit, had all been hollowed out while she wasn’t looking.
If you only have room for one persimmon tree, just make sure it is a self-pollinating variety. Both ‘Hachiya’ and ‘Fuyu’ will produce fruit without a second tree.
How to grow a persimmon tree
If you want to grow a persimmon tree from seed, you will need to put it in the refrigerator for a couple of months. This is called stratification and it mimics the effects of winter weather. Unlike other fruit trees, which are pretty much companionable to a wide variety of root stock grafts, persimmon trees are not as amenable. You are probably best off buying bare root stock from a reputable seller. Just be gentle with your young tree. The immature taproot breaks easily.
Persimmon trees perform best in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, which may be more acidic than is present in your soil. Keep in mind that altering pH is an uphill battle that requires constant attention and effort. If you are determined, you can acidify your soil to make things more hospitable for your persimmon tree. Your persimmon tree will benefit from good air flow, but the wood tends to be brittle, so provide protection from strong winds.
When planting a young persimmon tree, it is critical that the tree is planted at the proper depth. Then, cut the aboveground portion down to 3 feet in height and mud it in well. You will also want to provide sunburn and herbivore feeding protection. Deer, rats, squirrels, birds, and gophers will gnaw roots, stems, bark, or fruit, depending on the species. Even coyotes enjoy the occasional persimmon.
Select a location with plenty of sunlight, though partial shade will work, too. California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. suggests keeping persimmon trees away from eucalyptus trees. I’m sure there is a good reason, I just don’t know what it is.
Regular irrigation will improve fruit size and quality, though the trees are somewhat drought tolerant. Mature trees will need 36 to 48 inches of water each year.
Persimmon trees do not need a lot in the way of feeding. In fact, if you give them too much nitrogen, they will drop their fruit! Over-feeding, over-watering, and too much boron in the soil can cause blossom drop and young fruit drop. Top dressing with aged compost and some mulch is probably a better way to go, unless a lab-based soil test tells you some important plant nutrient is missing.
Persimmon fruit forms along the sides and at the tips of long, current year stems. If those stems are too long, the branches are likely to break. During the dormant season, train your persimmon tree into a modified central leader or open vase system, removing any dead, diseased, or rubbing branches. Each year, you will want to perform light to medium pruning for size, structure, and air flow. Persimmon can also be pruned into a lovely espalier. Heavy fruit loads can cause branch loss, so fruit thinning is a good idea.
Persimmon pests and diseases
While relatively pest-free, persimmons may occasionally be attacked by root nematodes, mealybugs and scale insects. If you see ant trails, look more closely for signs of scale infestation. You can use sticky barriers to eliminate the protection provide by ants. Other minor pests include whiteflies, thrips, and mites.
The diseases most likely to impact a persimmon tree include armillaria root rot, grey mold, leaf blight, leaf spot, and Phytophthora root and crown rot. Fusarium dieback may also occur.
More commonly, nutrient deficiencies can cause a number of symptoms. Low iron cause cause leaf bleaching, while insufficient calcium leads to leaf curling, and magnesium deficiencies cause brown spots on leaves. Sunburn damage is common, so whitewash exposed areas and keep trees well irrigated during the peak of summer.
We should all have such problems…
Exquisite nuts or toxic leaves, how much do you know about the cashew family?
Expensive, delicious, and nutritious, cashews (Anacardium occidentale) are treat that you just might be able to grow at home. Before you start planting, however, there is more to the cashew family than meets the eye.
Cashew fruits and nuts
In most cases, these trees, shrubs and vines have female and bisexual flowers while others have male and bisexual flowers. If you want to grow your own, you will probably need two or more plants, with one of each gender.
Did you know that those delicious cashew nuts are not really nuts at all? Instead, they are drupes, much like the pits found in stone fruits, such as almonds, cherries, and peaches. In the same way that those trees, fig trees, strawberries, and pineapples produce accessory fruits, cashew trees do, too. The only difference is that cashew nuts hang underneath their accessory fruits, known as cashew apples. Cashew apples are used to make sweet, astringent drinks and liquor.
If you start taking a cashew drupe apart, you will find that the seed coat is very thin and that there is little or no endosperm, also like a strawberry. [You can think of a seed using endosperm to grow the same way we would use a peanut butter sandwich, while accessory fruits are more like drinking juice - both cases provide nutrition, but in different ways.] Before you try this, be sure to don some rubber gloves. More on that in a minute.
Members of the cashew family
There are hundreds of members of the cashew or sumac family. Along with delicious cashews, the cashew family includes some favorite edibles, and a few you may not have heard of before:
Here, in North American, smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) and stag horn sumac (R. typhina) are used to make a drink called “sumac-ade”. The cashew family also includes mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus) and varnish trees (Toxicodendron vernicifluum), which are the trees that give us varnish, lacquer, and useful oils. Natural varnish is made from tree resin.
Like many other families, there is heated debate about who belongs and who does not. Not too long ago, pistachio plants were brought into the cashew fold, but there are still discussions about this in scientific corners. Cashew family taxonomy includes dozens of genera, most of which are not edible. Watch out, though - some of them might try to hurt you!
Cashews - beware!
Did you know that raw cashews are poisonous? They are. They contain the same chemical found in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. That’s because they are all in the same family! The sap of all cashew family plants, called urushiol, is something to be reckoned with as it can be highly toxic. Just under the bark, these plants have resin canals filled with the stuff.
If that weren’t bad enough, the seed coat of cashew drupes contains a toxic oil that is acidic enough to burn your skin. If you are still interested in growing your own cashews, read on. If not, read on anyway! Who knows what you’ll learn?
How to grow cashews
Being native to tropical and subtropical places such as India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Papua New Guinea, cashew tree might be difficult to grow, depending on your Hardiness Zone. If you are determined, however, it can be done. Keep in mind, before you get started, that mature, full-sized cashew trees can grow to nearly 50 feet in height. Dwarf varieties are far more manageable at only 20 feet.
Cashew trees prefer loose, sandy soil with plenty of sun and excellent drainage. Do not try using grocery store seeds - they are not viable. You will need to get seeds from a reputable supplier. Viable seeds should be planted 4 inches deep and about 30 feet away from each other. These plants can handle temperatures as high as 122°F, but cold and damp will be the death of them. Heavy, soggy clay soil nearly always causes root rot in cashew trees. They don’t handle wind very well, either, so be sure to provide tree supports while trees are young and do not plant them in windy areas.
Keep your young tree properly irrigated and feed trees twice a year using a mix determined appropriate by your soil test results. Generally speaking, cashew trees use a lot of nitrogen, phosphorus, and zinc. After 3 or 4 years, you should be able to harvest your first crop of cashews. You will know your crop is ready to harvest when the cashew apple is either red or yellow and the drupe shell has turned grey.
Before you start nibbling, however, remember that the seed coat of cashew drupes contains a toxic oil. You will need to roast those nuts in a covered container at 375°F for 10 to 20 minutes. Traditionally, they are roasted covered in sand. Apparently, the toxins released as fumes during this process will ruin your cookie sheet or whatever lid you opted for, so choose accordingly and be sure to ventilate the area as you work. Since the oils within cashew shells is extremely acidic, it can burn your skin, so wear long sleeves and eye protection.
Next, shake the nuts in a sieve, if they were roasted in sand, and then wash them in soapy water to remove any residual toxins. Crack open your priceless cashews now and use a knife to remove the thin seed hull. Finally, saute your cashews in oil at 300°F for 5 minutes or so to neutralize any last bits of toxins.
Did you know that cashew shells have been used to make lubricants, paint, and military arms?
I didn’t either.
I think I’m beginning to understand why cashews are so expensive…
For anyone unlucky enough to have a chance meeting with poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), Pacific poison oak (T. pubescens), Atlantic poison oak (T. diversilobum), or poison sumac (T. vernix), you know all too well how those plants can make you devastatingly uncomfortable. Believe me, I speak from experience.
"Leaves of three, let it be; berries white, take flight; root hairs red, recoil"
[I made up that last bit.]
Who knew apples could get the measles?
Unlike the human variety, which is caused by a virus, apple measles is a symptom of manganese toxicity.
Manganese is a micronutrient used by plants to make chlorophyll. It is an important component of chloroplasts. Manganese is used by all living things as an antioxidant, to counteract the toxic effects of oxygen. Manganese can also be phytotoxic, which means it can be poisonous to plants.
Symptoms of apple measles
The first sign of apple measles is tiny red pustules on new twigs. If you look closely, you can see that the tissue in the center of each pustule is dead. Take a look on the inside of the twig and you will see that the lesion spreads, under the bark, into the cortex or the phloem tissue. If you take a cross-section of the twig, you will see brown streaks or flecks. As the affected twig matures, the bark thickens, cracks, and sloughs off, leaving flakey cankers. This flaking off of bark can last for several years.
Treating apple measles
Since apple measles is a symptom of too much manganese in the soil, you need to alter the soil chemistry to help your apple tree. Apple measles occurs most commonly in acidic soil, so increasing the soil pH with lime or other alkaline soil amendment will help reduce future damage.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult for trees to recover from apple measles, so get your soil tested every 3 to 5 years, so you know what they are dealing with - before the damage is done.
Kumquats are members of the rue, or citrus family.
Native to south Asia, kumquats have been cultivated since the 12th century. Unlike oranges, or their giant cousins the grapefruit, kumquats are closer in size to olives. These somewhat tart fruits can be eaten whole, candied, chopped into a relish, fermented into a liquor, or cooked into a delicious marmalade.. These somewhat tart fruits can be eaten whole, candied, chopped into a relish, fermented into a liquor, or cooked into a delicious marmalade.
Kumquats are small, cold-hardy citrus trees. They grow slowly and can reach 8 to 14 feet in height. Glossy evergreen leaves provide excellent color and shade. Fragrant white flowers appear each year, but watch out for thorns. Similar to many other citrus trees, kumquat trees protect their fruit with sharp thorns. Each tree can produce hundreds or thousands of fruits every year.
Types of kumquats
Scientists are still sorting out kumquat classification, arguing over whether different types of kumquats are cultivars or species, but we can all agree that there are round kumquats (Citrus japonica), oval kumquats (Citrus margarita), and bell-shaped kumquats (Citrus obovata). There is also a variegated kumquat that features more fruit, less peel, and no thorns. All kumquats are self-pollinating, so you only need one tree.
Unlike oranges, kumquats can tolerate temperatures as low as 19°F, right along with scorching hot summers, making them an excellent choice in San Jose, California. Before you try planting a kumquat tree from seed, you need to know that that generally doesn’t work out well. Instead, kumquats are usually grown from cuttings, layering, or other vegetative propagation method.
Kumquats can be grown in containers. Container grown kumquats can grow to 6 feet and produce fruit, if they are fertilized regularly.
Kumquat pests and diseases
Asian citrus psyllid is the most serious threat to citrus trees, as they can carry huanglongbing, a fatal disease. The diaprepes root weevil may also become a problem. Leaf miners, aphids, scale insects, and whiteflies are far more likely. Citrus diseases, such as armillaria root rot, alternaria rot, anthracnose, brown rot, citrus blast, exocortis, and phytophthora root rot may occur. Kumquats tend to be resistant to citrus canker and most citrus trees thrive in the Bay Area.
Consider adding kumquats to your foodscape this year for a lifetime of fragrance, color, and Vitamin C!
If you have fruit and nut trees, you can prune those trees to improve both the quantity and quality of your crop, or you might eliminate production altogether.
Normal annual pruning involves removing dead, diseased, and rubbing branches. It also means training trees for shape, size, structure, and air flow. This is normally done while trees are dormant, in winter. There is also renewal pruning, done in autumn, which stimulates new growth the following spring. But, did you know that you can also prune for better fruit production? It’s true!
How fruit happens
Fruit and nut trees produce buds. When those buds are fertilized, they can grow into fruit or nuts. [Assuming the tree of healthy enough and old enough.] But some trees produce fruit on new growth, while others produce fruit on old growth. If you keep cutting off productive wood, you won’t have much of a crop.
Where do trees produce fruit?
Depending on the species, trees produce fruit either on long shoots or on stubby spurs. That fruit can be arranged laterally, along the sides, or at the terminal end. Take a look at the chart below for information about your trees.
This may seem like too much information to be useful, but let’s walk through a few examples together, so you can see how to better prune your trees.
You can see that almond trees produce the majority of their fruit on lateral spurs, and some fruit along lateral shoots. You will also see that each spur is good for 5 years, that very little pruning is needed, and that almond trees are best trained in the open center system. So, what does all this mean to the owner of an almond tree?
First, snipping the tips off of anything on an almond tree won’t harm nut production. Of course, if you snip too much, the tree will have to put energy into healing, rather than filling your hopper with delicious almonds. The open center system is exactly what it sounds like - the center of the tree is left clear of major branches in the middle, creating a bowl shape which allows for plenty of sunlight and air to move through.
Looking at the information for apples, you can see that snipping off the ends of all the spurs would leave you without much of an apple crop, but cutting off the ends of long shoots would only have a very slight impact.
Now look at persimmons. All of the fruit production occurs on long shoots of new wood. Cutting out all of your new growth would hamper fruit production. The same is true for quince. Figs are produced on new wood and one-year old shoots.
Generally speaking, citrus trees do not need to be pruned to improve fruit production.
If you sort the chart by location of major fruiting buds, you have:
Armed with this information, go outside, sanitized pruners in hand, and see where you can prune your fruit and nut trees for improved overall health and a significant increase in production!
Bare, dormant stems begin to swell in spring, transforming from green to red tips, from which tight clusters of pink blossom buds emerge. Those buds will bloom, drop their petals, and generate fruit, assuming they have been pollinated. That is, of course, unless blossom brown rot has taken hold.
Blossom brown rot (Monilinia laxa), also known as brown rot blossom blight, is a fungal disease of almonds, apricots, cherries, and other stone fruits.
Similar to brown rot (Monilinia fructicola), blossom brown rot can affect flowers from pink bud stage through petal fall. All parts of the flower are susceptible.
Symptoms of blossom brown rot
The first sign of blossom brown rot is the death of young blossoms. What should be a colorful, flower-laden tree, buzzing with pollinators, looks more like clusters of brown, dried up tissue paper. [That would be an extreme case.] More often, infected flowers are intermittent (at first).
Gum may ooze from the base of infected flowers and cankers may form on twigs. Those cankers will have tan centers and dark edges. Blossom spurs and their leaves may collapse. Under humid conditions, you may be able to see tan to grey spore masses.
Blossom brown rot lifecycle
Fungal spores overwinter in twig cankers, on mummified fruit, and on any diseased flowers that remain attached to the tree. As temperatures rise in spring, fungal spores begin populating nearby twigs and other blossoms, causing twig and branch dieback, along with blossom losses. Spores are airborne, and spread by irrigation and rain drop splash, and by insects.
How to control blossom brown rot
This fungi thrives in rainy weather with temperatures in the 70s. High humidity can also encourage spore development. In fact, this fungi’s growth is almost directly related to humidity and temperature, both of which are difficult to control in the home garden.
Proponents of compost tea recommend foliar sprays as a treatment for blossom brown rot, but research has shown that compost tea either has no effect, or that it worsens the condition.
Unless you want to apply chemical fungicides, you are best off selecting varieties that are resistant to this disease in the first place. In the world of almond trees, the following species are most susceptible to blossom brown rot: Butte, Carmel, Drake, Ne Plus Ultra, Winters, and Wood Colony.
You can also reduce the likelihood of blossom brown rot by removing all mummies, as soon as they are seen, and disposing of them in the garbage. Pruning and training for better air flow can also reduce the amount of time blossoms take to dry.
Exocortis is a virus-like disease of citrus tree bark. I say virus-like because it is caused by a particle, not a virus, called the Citrus Exocortis viroid (CEVd).
Viroids are the smallest known infectious pathogens, made up of a single, naked strand of RNA. Other diseases caused by viroids include potato tuber spindle disease, avocado sunblotch, and peach latent mosaic.
Exocortis used to be a serious threat to citrus tress, especially those grown with Trifoliate rootstocks, but strict regulations and agricultural inspections have reduced the likelihood of exocortis affecting your citrus trees. That is, if your trees are relatively young. Older trees (>40 years) may still be infected. This is important because you don’t want to spread exocortis viroids to uninflected trees.
Symptoms of exocortis
If you see drying, cracking, and lifting bark, it may be exocortis. Damaged bark may also peel away from the tree trunk in thin strips. This is called shelling. Of course, these are the same symptoms of sunburn damage, so how would a gardener know the difference?
For one thing, you may also see gum droplets under the loose bark, or stunting. Stunting occurs because nutrients are having a difficult time moving through damaged or exposed vascular bundles. Sunburn damage generally does not cause stunting or gummosis.
Dealing with exocortis
You can’t cure exocortis and it is highly contagious. That being said, it probably won’t kill your tree. What it will do is reduce production and make your tree susceptible to other pest and disease problems. Unless you are ready to commit to complete sanitation of shoes, tools, and anything else that might come into contact with an infected tree, its removal is your best option, if only to protect neighboring trees.
Imagine a container plant that grows a lush 6 feet tall and produces delicious, soft-skinned, seedless tropical fruits. Introducing… the babaco tree.
Also known as mountain papaya, babaco is cousin to that other sweet tropical fruit of mammoth size. Commonly eaten fresh, or used in fruit salads, smoothies, and ice cream, babaco (Carica pentagona Heilborn) is believed to be a naturally occurring hybrid from Ecuador. People have been eating babaco fruit since the 1500s, but I had never heard of it until recently.
These herbaceous shrubs feature thick, mostly unbranched trunks that are covered with leaf scars, similar to other members of the Carica genus. The healthier the plant, the thicker the trunk. Large, palmate leaves, with prominent veins and long petioles, make this an attractive house or patio plant. Flowers are all female and fruit is generated parthenocarpically. That’s a big word which means without seeds. And it’s the fruit that should make babaco worth considering for those of us who prefer growing our own food. Five-sided babaco fruit is large, reaching 12” in length and 8” wide. Said to taste like a combination of strawberry, papaya, and pineapple, the fruit is somewhat acidic and not overly sweet. The skin is also edible.
How babaco grows
Babaco performs best in cool subtropical climates. Too much sun exposure can result in sunburned fruit and immature fruit drop. While it prefers coastal areas, babaco can be grown it semi-protected areas throughout California and other Mediterranean regions. While babaco can withstand brief exposure to freezing temperatures (>28°F), they are best brought indoors or put in a protected place during the coldest part of winter to avoid root rot. Babaco plants can easily be grown in containers and they thrive in greenhouses (or warm, moist homes).
How to grow babaco
Since babaco do not produce seeds, they are propagated vegetatively, or asexually. To do this, one foot diagonal segments are taken from an existing trunk, after fruit production is completed. These segments are first washed with a fungicide and then the bottom (rooting) side is dipped in rooting hormone. Segments are then stored vertically in a location where they can dry out and form calluses, much the way we treat pineapples. In time, roots and shoots will begin to appear and the segment of trunk is planted 8” below soil level. In just a little over a year, your babaco will be producing fruit!
For the best fruit production, prune out any additional trunks as soon as they appear, except for one trunk, sometime around September, every year or two. This new trunk will replace the existing trunk. Trunks are only productive for a year or two. Babaco can also be propagated from cuttings, but with less success.
Babaco grows best in light, well-drained soil. They require frequent irrigation and nitrogen feeding during fruit production. Mulching with composted chicken bedding will help your babaco tree thrive.
Pests and diseases of babaco
Babaco leaves are susceptible to fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew. Phytophthora root rot can also become a problem. Certain mites, specifically the two spotted mite and the strawberry mite can become problematic, as can snails and slugs, and deer.
Add a touch of the tropics to your home or patio with a delicious babaco!
Juicy, delicious mangos are one of my favorite tropical fruits.
Mango trees have been around for about 50 million years. This means mangos were around for the mass extinction of the Cretaceous Era, through the extreme climate changes and carbon cycling seen at the end of the Paleocene Era, and again today. Hopefully, mangos will continue to thrive.
Native to South Asia, mangos (Mangifera indica) were part of the spice trade of the 15th and 16th centuries. They were brought to the colonies in the 17th century but, because refrigeration was unavailable, those mangos were pickled. Due to poor communication, other pickled foods, such as sweet peppers, were also referred to as mangos. For a time, the word mango was a verb that meant “to pickle”. But I digress.
Types of mangos
You may be surprised to learn that there are over 500 mango cultivars. In commercial mango orchards, these cultivars are often interplanted to improve pollination. The current market leader is the ‘Tommy Atkins’ variety, due to its nice appearance, productivity, disease resistance, and shelf life. Other, less resilient cultivars, such as ‘Alphonso’, are said to provide better eating enjoyment. With so many cultivars to choose from, home growers can afford to be picky. And those mangos you buy in the store? Many of them (like many other fruits) are picked unripe, so they will never attain the rich flavor of a tree-ripened mango. These climatic fruits do continue ripening after leaving the parent plant, but their flavor is never quite what it could have been. [Keep in mind, when you buy mangos at the store, each fruit is picked by hand, then washed, polished, and stickered by people working in warehouses.]
The mango tree
Mangos are stone fruits, right along with apricots and cherries. And that large flat seed - it’s a drupe. Like legumes, pineapple, sorghum, and sweet potatoes, mangos have evolved alongside a helpful bacteria (Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus) that fixes atmospheric nitrogen, making it available to to the plant and its neighbors, until it goes to seed.
Mango trees are big. When I say big, I mean that they can reach heights of over 130 feet. The crown can be 30 feet across and these trees can produce fruit for more than 300 years. [For comparison, the standard, commercially grown nectarine tree is only expected to produce fruit for 15 years.]
Before you let that size scare you off, know that most commercially grown mango trees are pruned to more manageable sizes, and you can, too.
Mango trees have an extensive root system. They produce a taproot that may go down 20 feet and abundant feeder roots that spread out both horizontally and vertically.
Mangos are evergreen trees with large, broad leaves that start out orangish-pink, and then turn dark shiny red before maturing to dark green. Mangos produce small, white, fragrant flowers in clusters, called panicles. These flowers are pollinated by insects, but it is estimated that less than 1% of the flowers produced by a mango tree will every mature to form a fruit. It takes 4 to 5 months to go from flower to harvestable fruit. And you know that red blush on mango fruit? It has nothing to do with ripeness or sweetness. Instead, it is an indicator of how much sun that side of the fruit was exposed to as it grew.
Inside that delicious fruit is a drupe that fights being removed with every fiber of its being. The reason for this is because mangos, along with avocados, lychees, and cocoa seeds cannot tolerate being dried out or too cold. This type of seed is called recalcitrant. Recalcitrant seeds, also known as unorthodox seeds, lose their viability when stored. Other orthodox seeds can tolerate varying degrees of cold, dryness, and storage time. [Note, the stories about seeds from King Tut’s tomb germinating are bogus.] If you want to grow a mango tree from a pit, your odds will improve significantly if you start it right away. Most commercially grown mango cultivars and bare root stock are grafted onto sturdy rootstock.
Before you start growing your own mango tree, you may want to find out if you are sensitive to the oils found in mango stems, sap, and leaves. Some people are sensitive, while others can be severely allergic. Also, mango trees are killed by extended exposure to temperatures below 30°F. If your microclimate receives substantial frost, you may need to protect your tree in winter. If you enjoy snowy winters, you may want to try growing a dwarf mango indoors and pollinating it by hand.
Commercially grown mango trees are often girdled by professionals to increase the sugar content of the fruit, but I advise against this practice, as it can kill your mango tree if done incorrectly.
Mango pests and diseases
Sadly, mango trees are susceptible to a wide variety of pests and diseases. This list is so long that I encourage you to skip it (unless you are really into this sort of thing). If you own a mango tree, you should familiarize yourself with each of these conditions and their treatments.
According to Wikipedia, bacterial diseases of mango include bacterial fruit rot, crown gall, and bacterial canker. Fungal diseases of mango include alternaria leaf spot, anthracnose, black banded disease, black mildew, black mold rot, black rot, blossom blight, blue mold, branch canker, branch necrosis, ceratocystis wilt, charcoal fruit rot, charcoal root rot, crown rot, crusty leaf spot, curvularia blight, felt fungus, fruit rot, galls, grey leaf spot, hendersonia rot, leaf blight, leaf spot, macrophoma rot, fusarium dieback, mucor rot, mushroom root rot, phoma blight, phyllosticta leaf spot, pink disease, powdery mildew, Rhizopus soft rot, various root rots and seed rots, scab, sclerotinia rot, shoestring rot, sooty blotch, sooty molds, stem canker, stem end rot, stem gall, stemphylium rot, stigma leaf spot, tip dieback, transit rot, trunk rot, twig blight, verticillium wilt, white sooty blotch, wood rot, and various forms of dieback. Fixed copper sprays are the most common treatment for many of these fungal diseases.
If that weren’t enough, dagger, lance, and sheathed nematodes, vine mealybugs, guava fruit flies, Mexican fruit flies, melon flies, polyphagous shothole borers, and Oriental fruit flies will attack mango trees, as will an algae that causes red rust, along with a parasitic lichen. Copper, zinc, and boron deficiencies can also cause problems, while too much nitrogen combined with not enough calcium can cause a condition known as soft nose. It’s a wonder we get mangos at all!
Mangos, like most other tropical fruits, produce significant amounts of ethylene gas, a ripening agent. If you need to speed ripen an avocado for guacamole, put it in a paper bag with a mango.
Did you know that mangos are related to cashews?
Now you know.
Growing up in Southern California, I was lucky enough to attend a childcare program that was built on the grounds of a former walnut grove. Scattered throughout the property, there were dozens of ancient walnut trees, great for climbing, tire swings, and more delicious walnuts than any of us kids could possibly have eaten. But we sure tried!
People have been growing walnut trees longer than any other food tree. Nearly 10,000 years ago, in ancient Persia, walnuts were grown for members of the royal family. Traded along the Silk Road, and then via sea trade, Persian walnuts made their way to Rome, where they were called Jupiter’s royal acorn, and to England, where the name was changed to English walnuts, even though they were not being grown commercially in England at that time. In the 1700s, missionaries brought walnuts to California.
Types of walnut trees
There are actually several different trees that qualify as walnut. They are all members of the Juglans genus. The familiar English walnut is only one of four types of walnut tree:
The walnut tree
Walnut is a deciduous hardwood. It is also one of the few trees with a true taproot. [Most tree roots are fibrous.] Walnut trees can take 5 or 6 years before they produce fruit. When selecting a site for a walnut tree, keep in mind that a mature walnut tree can reach 40 to 80 feet, in both height and width, and it can live 50 to 250 years!
Walnut trees, like avocado trees, are monoecious, which means they produce both male and female flowers. Male walnut flowers are catkins that look like hanging cat tails. The female flowers are spiky and short. If you slice open a walnut twig, you will see a series of tan chambers, called pith. This is different from the white pith found in citrus rinds.
Fruits of the walnut tree
Unlike chestnuts, which are both botanical and culinary nuts, the common walnut isn’t a nut at all. You may be surprised to learn that walnuts are actually a type of stone fruit. [I know! I was surprised, too!] This means that the walnuts you enjoy eating are a form of fleshy fruit, known as a drupe. Almonds are also drupes. Surrounded by a thick, green rind, the walnuts you see in the grocery store are not what they look like when they are still hanging in the tree. That rind is actually the fruit of a walnut tree, but you wouldn’t want to eat it. It’s nasty.
Walnut trees, like citrus and many other fruit and nut trees, tend to produce heavy crops one year and a light crop the following year. Known as alternate bearing, these fluctuations allow trees to recover from heavy production years.
You have probably heard that walnut trees put out toxins that make it impossible to grow other plants nearby. This is only partly true. Many plants use a type of chemical warfare, called allelopathy, to reduce competition. Walnut trees produce do produce toxins that can cause some other plants to wilt. Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and asparagus do not grow well when planted near a black walnut tree, according to the University of Illinois Extension. At the same time, according to the PennState Extension, onions, beets, squash, melons, carrots, parsnips, beans, yarrow, stonecrops, and corn can all be grown near a walnut tree without any problems. In fact, in commercial walnut groves, a type of agroforestry, called alley cropping, is used to plant other crops, such as corn, between the rows of walnut trees.
Propagating walnut trees
While you can certainly buy a bare root walnut tree, there are other ways. You can plant a raw walnut in the ground, or, if you know of someone with a walnut tree, you can use air layering. Layering is a form of vegetative propagation. Strawberry runners are an example of layering. The nice thing about air layering is that the parent plant continues to feed and care for the newly developing plant, since they are still attached to one another. To air layer a walnut, pull a stem down until it touches the ground at what would have been a leaf node. Instead of developing into a leaf, that bud will start putting out roots.
Walnut trees can produce nuts on the same spurs for several years. Because of this, mature walnut trees do not require renewal pruning. The only pruning needed is occasionally thinning branches to maintain overall shape and good health. Young walnut trees are trained using the modified central leader system. In this method, a single, strong shoot is encouraged up the central line of the tree. Two or three lateral branches, spread evenly around the tree, both vertically and horizontally, are allowed to grow. All other branches are removed. Eventually, there can be five to seven lateral branches in place before the central leader is removed.
Walnut pests and diseases
Walnuts are susceptible to an astounding number of pests and diseases. Luckily, walnuts are rugged trees that rarely need assistance in fighting off these foes. It’s still a good idea to know what your tree might be up against. Many varieties of scale insects, including walnut scale, frosted scale, European fruit lecanium scale, San Jose scale, Kuno scale, and Italian pear scale may be found on walnut. Walnut husk flies, aphids, southern fire ants, walnut twig beetles, fall webworms, Pacific flathead borers, navel orangeworms, false chinch bugs, redhumped caterpillars, American plum borers, and Mediterranean fruit flies prefer walnut, as do tortricid moths, such as the light brown apple moth, which can cause leaf roll of walnut. A type of eriophyid mite, called the blister mite, will also attack walnut trees, as will European red mites and webspinning spider mites. Codling moth larvae will burrow into the nut meat of English walnuts, starting in April. You can monitor your trees for many of these pests by using pheromone traps.
Diseases, such as crown gall and walnut blight can be prevented and treated with Bordeaux mixture or fixed copper. Walnut trees may also become infected with anthracnose, armillaria root rot, phytophthora root and crown rot, branch wilt, and several canker diseases. If that weren’t trouble enough, squirrels, voles, pocket gophers, rats, and deer will try to get at as much of your walnut crop as they can.
While many trees are treated with horticultural oils during dormancy, oils should not be used on walnut. Dormant oils are phytotoxic (poisonous) to walnut trees. Like apricot trees, walnut trees are also susceptible to Eutypa dieback. This fungal disease can kill a tree. The easiest way to avoid it is to only prune your walnut tree during summer, when there are no rains expected. Also, make sure that your sprinklers are not hitting the tree’s trunk.
Walnuts contain high levels of oils that can turn rancid. To keep walnut meats fresh, they are left in their shells and placed in cold storage. If you buy walnuts from a store and plan on using them within one month, store them in your refrigerator. Since walnuts can absorb odors, be sure to keep them away from fragrant foods, such as cabbage, broccoli, and fish. Longer storage should be done in the freezer.
Walnut trees can make a magnificent addition to your foodscape, providing decades of delicious nuts and welcoming shade from the summer sun.
Plant a chestnut tree today for decades of meaty, delicious nuts.
American chestnut trees are majestic. While young, the bark is a smooth, reddish-brown. As the tree matures, the bark becomes darker and deeply furrowed. Their mature height of over 100 feet equals 1/3rd of a football field. Try picturing that in your yard!
Cousin to beeches and oaks, the roasted chestnuts of holiday fare fame should not be confused with horse chestnuts, which are mildly poisonous, or water chestnuts, which are aquatic tubers. No, chestnuts, or Sardian nuts, as they were called in their native Asia Minor, or Jupiter’s nuts, from the Roman Empire, have been cultivated since 2,000 B.C., and they have a rich, delicious history.
Chestnuts as food
Brought to Europe by Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire, chestnut trees thrive in the Mediterranean climate, providing a high carbohydrate food to the masses. Unlike most other nuts, chestnuts are not particularly high in protein or fat. Nutritionally, they are closer to grain or potatoes than nuts, containing 40% carbohydrates.
Chestnuts were a primary food source for much of southern Europe, until the potato was introduced. From the 1500s through the 1700s, Genoan landowners were required to plant four trees each year: olive, fig, mulberry, and chestnut. As a result, that area has rich, productive forests and farmland. [Imagine how productive your yard could be if you plant 4 food-producing trees each year!]
Being high in calories and carbohydrates, chestnuts were often ground into a flour to make a type of flatbread [chestnut flour does not rise, as it does not contain gluten]. Unfortunately, this earned it a reputation as a poor man’s food, which lead to a decline in interest. This was unfortunate, because chestnuts are a highly nutritious food.
Across the pond, Native Americans enjoyed local chestnut species long before Europeans arrived. Regions of the Appalachian Mountains were fully one-fourth chestnut trees. Since a mature American chestnut tree can produce 50 to 100 pounds of fruit each year, that ends up being a lot of food.
There have been some impressive chestnut trees. The Tortworth Chestnut, also known as the Great Tree of Tortworth, found in South Gloucestershire, has been around since Stephen, King of England (1092-1154). This beast has a circumference of 50 feet! [If any of you have a photo of this tree, please share it in the Comments!] Even larger, the Hundred Horse Chestnut grows on Italy’s Mt. Etna and is believed to be the oldest living chestnut tree, at approximately 4,000 years.
There are 8 or 9 different deciduous trees and shrubs that are called the chestnuts. These are placed into one of four groups: American, Chinese, European, and Japanese, for obvious reasons. Each species has distinct characteristics.
European and American chestnuts tend to grow more tree-like, with a single erect trunk, while the Asian varieties tend to be multilayered and more spread out. Also, the former varieties offer stunning fall foliage. There are hundreds of chestnut varieties to choose from. UC Davis offers an excellent list of chestnut trees suitable for growing in California.
Like avocados, chestnuts have both male and female flowers. Chestnuts are not self-compatible, which means you will need at least two trees or shrubs to produce fruit. Flowers appear in late spring and early summer. Male (staminate) flowers are shaped like a cat’s tail and are called catkins. Catkins mature before the female flowers, and the pollen has a rich, sweet aroma. The female, fruit-producing (pistillate) flowers grow together in groups of 2 or 3, which end up forming a prickly, 4-lobed structure called a calybium. The calybium is what ultimately develops into the hull that protects the fruit. Pollen is moved predominantly by wind, though beneficial insects also perform some pollination.
The fruit of chestnut trees is held in sharp, pokey burrs, called cupules. These burrs tend to be clustered. The burrs of some varieties each contain one nut, while other varieties can hold up to severn. Burrs turn yellowish-brown and split open as the fruit matures. Each fruit has a pointed end, called a flame, and an attachment scar end, called the hilum. Chestnut fruit has two skins: the hard outer pericarpus, called the heel, and an attached, thinner skin, called the pellicle or episperm. Chestnuts are both culinary and botanical nuts, unlike almonds, peanuts, cashews, and walnuts.
Chestnut lumber is lovely, but larger pieces tend to split. Most chestnut lumber is now produced through coppicing. Young chestnut lumber is more durable than oak of the same age. Both species contain high levels of tannins. Chestnut wood was a common source of natural tannins for tanning leather.
How to grow chestnuts
Chestnuts are in high demand and the supply is limited. This keeps prices high, and is a good argument for growing your own (assuming you are not in a hurry). Going from bare root sapling to mature, productive tree takes about 10 years. Chestnuts need specific chilling hours to produce flowers and fruit. If the dormant period does not get cold enough, you will still have a beautiful tree, but no homegrown chestnuts. Also, if two chestnut trees are planted such that their canopies touch, they produce no fruit. We don’t know why.
Allowed to fall to the ground, chestnut seeds germinate right away. You can start them in a cold frame, container, or seedbed outdoors, where they will experience winter temperatures. Seedlings require protection from squirrels and other rodents.
Chestnut trees prefer full sun. They need good drainage and regular irrigation (31 inches per year). Once established, chestnuts are drought resistant. They do not grow well in heavy clay or alkaline soil. Chestnuts prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.0. If you live in the Bay Area, where alkaline clay is pretty much the rule, don’t despair. Chestnut scions can be grafted onto oak rootstock! Chestnut trees are managed much the way walnut trees are grown. Chestnut trees should be trained into a modified central leader scaffold system for the best sun exposure and overall health.
Chestnut pests and diseases
Squirrels, rabbits, deer, wild boar, livestock, and birds can all take a bite out of your chestnut harvest. You may want to consider a tree cage, at least while the tree is small. Chestnut gall wasps (in southeastern states), some moths, the oak roller weevil, oak aphid, filbert worm, oak leaf mining moth, shot hole borers, and the chestnut weevil are common pests of chestnut, depending on where you live.
In 1904, some Asian chestnut trees that had been planted on Long Island, were found to be infected with chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica, formerly Eudothia parasitica). Over the next 40 years, 4 billion chestnut trees died, nearly wiping out the American chestnut. Reforestation efforts, started in the 1930s, using seeds from the few remaining living stumps are giving this majestic tree a new lease on life, but it’s a slow process. There are now blight-resistant cultivars. Chestnut trees are also susceptible to Armillaria rot. On the other hand, chestnuts are believed to be naturally resistant to oak rot fungus. You can protect your chestnut tree against sunburn by whitewashing the trunk, and help it stay healthy by mulching under the canopy (but not touching the trunk).
Chestnuts have been candied, soaked in wine, and roasted as a holiday tradition throughout Europe for a very long time. To early Christians, chestnuts symbolized chastity, while in modern day Japan, they symbolize both good times (mastery) and bad times (strength).
You can roast your own chestnuts at home in the oven. Start with raw, unpeeled, chestnuts. Cut an X on the rounded bottom of each nut. Some people soak their chestnuts in water for 30 to 60 minutes before baking, others use wine, and still others don’t soak at all. You decide. If you do soak them in water, drain and pat dry before roasting.
Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet. Bake for at least 15 to 20 minutes, or until the skins have pulled away from the cuts and the nutmeats have softened. Take them out of the oven and let the nuts rest for a few minutes. Peel and eat!
Did you know that chestnuts are the only nuts that contain vitamin C?
Now you know.
Fresh, sweet cherries are delicious, but cherry trees can be difficult to grow.
According to UC California Backyard Orchard, “cherries are the most difficult trees to keep alive.” If you are still determined, let’s see what we can learn about these trees.
People have been enjoying cherries since prehistoric times. Cherries are stone fruits, which means the fruit is a drupe. There are two types of cherry trees: sweet (Prunus avium) and sour (Prunus cerasus). The two cannot cross-pollinate with each other. Both types are native to Europe and western Asia. Sweet cherries are also known as wild cherries or gean.
How to grow cherry trees
Cherry trees cannot tolerate soggy ground and they need a lot of sunlight. Excellent drainage is critical. So much so, that cherry trees are generally planted on mounds, or berms. Trees should be spaced 14 to 20 feet apart, and you are going to need at least two because most sweet cherry varieties require cross-pollination to bear fruit. Sour cherries, the type used in pies and preserves, are self-fertile and do not require cross-pollination.
While installing bare root stock is preferable, you can grow a cherry tree from a pit. The pit will need to be exposed to cold temperatures (stratification) before it will germinate. When selecting a cherry variety for your landscape, be sure to choose one with a chilling requirement that matches your microclimate. The tree will set fruit in 3 or 4 years.
Seasonal care for cherry trees
Each winter, you will need to prune out 10% of the previous year’s growth, as well as any dead, damaged, diseased, or crossing/rubbing branches. You will also want to apply dormant oil. An application of fixed copper can help reduce bacterial canker (gummosis). In spring, as blossoms appear, apply a fungicide, such as Bordeaux mixture, to control brown rot, and feed each tree 2 lb. of urea or 70 lb. of aged manure just before a deep watering.
Birds will enjoy your cherries long before you do if you do not protect your crop with netting or a tree cage. Trees will need to be drip irrigated every day in summer, or given 3 to 5” of water every 2 or 3 weeks. After harvesting your cherry crop, feed each tree with 2 lb. of urea and irrigate right away. Keep trees irrigated regularly until September, then stop watering altogether. This will help prevent root rot.
Cherry pests and diseases
It is astounding to learn how many diseases and insect pests can interfere with growing cherries. If birds, squirrels, and pocket gophers weren’t bad enough, cherry trees are are regularly attacked by a wide variety of insect pests:
Black cherry aphids, cherry slugs, earwigs, green fruitworms, western flower thrips, nematodes, and cribrate weevil can also be added to that collection. And the list of cherry diseases is no less daunting:
Cherries are also susceptible to a genetic disease, called leaf crinkle, and a couple of mysterious diseases, called cherry necrotic rusty mottle and cherry stem pitting, that occur when grafting scions. Applying sticky barriers to the trunks of trees can block crawling insects, but it does nothing against flying insects.
Bottom line: cherries are probably best left to the professionals. Hopefully, this information will help you appreciate just how much effort goes into providing these delicious summer treats. If you decide to give cherries a try, please share your experience with us in the comments!
Plums, nectarines, apricots, cherries, peaches, and almonds are all stone fruits. But, so are olives, coconuts, mangoes, pistachios, and black pepper! So what, exactly, are stone fruits?
What are stone fruits?
The term stone fruit refers to all plants that produce hard pits, called drupes. Drupes are indehiscent fruits, which means that they do not split open. Drupes have an outer part (pericarp) that is made up of a skin (exocarp), flesh (mesocarp), and a coating (endocarp), that surrounds a single seed, or kernel. That seed is also known as a stone, or pit. Botanically, stone fruits are those that develop from a single carpel. Drupes are close cousins to berries, but that’s another story. A more common definition of stone fruits refers only to members of the Prunus genus.
The Prunus genus is part of the rose family, making plums, almonds, and all the rest distant cousins to loquats and soapnut trees. [Did you know that almonds, nectarines, and peaches are the same species? I didn’t either.] There are both edible and ornamental stone fruits. Hawthorn, flowering cherries, and cherry laurels are ornamental stone fruits, but I much prefer investing time, water, and garden space on plants that produce food. When that food happens to be summer sweet peaches and apricots, well, all the better! The fruit of Prunus can be loosely or firmly attached to the seed, hence the terms freestone or cling varieties. Most stone fruits contain compounds which, when chewed up, generate hydrogen cyanide, but don’t let that scare you off. This is mostly true of the seeds, not the fruit, and the amounts are too small to do anything but fuel sensationalists.
If you plant the pit from a grocery store stone fruit, you probably won’t get offspring that looks, behaves, or tastes the way the first fruit did. This is because most bare root fruit and nut trees available today are a hardy rootstock grafted onto a productive, flavorful fruit producer. Many of these plants are propagated by twig scions and cuttings taken from adventitious roots, to create clones. Because all of these fruit trees are members of the same genus, they can be grafted onto one another and produce edible fruit. One variety of grafted tree, in particular, boasts 40 different types of stone fruit on the same tree! These botanical masterpieces are created by New York artist Sam Van Aken. He calls them Tree of 40 Fruit. You can find similar stone fruit trees, with 4 or 5 types of fruit, available in garden centers and catalogs. These are a great way to make use of a small space.
How stone fruits grow
Members of the Prunus genus are all perennial trees and shrubs descended from a Eurasian ancestor. As such, these trees are best suited to northern temperate regions, or climates with four seasons. If you want grow these productive, rewarding trees, be sure to select a variety that has a chilling hour requirement that matches your microclimate, otherwise, you might not get any fruit. Adding a stone fruit tree to your landscape is a lovely way to enjoy spring blossoms and summer fruit. There are many dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties that don’t take up a lot of room, and some can even be grown in large containers.
Caring for stone fruits
When you first get a bare root tree, you will need to select a site with lots of sunlight and good drainage. Dig a hole slightly wider than the spread out roots and as deep as the roots go. There is no need to dig any deeper or wider. If your soil is heavy clay, be sure to rough up the edges of the hole a bit, to make it easier for young roots to penetrate. Cover the roots with soil, making sure that the soil level is exactly the same as it was before, relative to the tree’s trunk. Covering the graft area or trunk with soil can lead to rot and death of the tree. Water it in well, gently tamping down the soil to remove large air pockets that would allow the roots to dry out.
It is a good idea to provide a tree support for your young tree. The first year or two, you can improve long term production by removing spring blossoms. This frees the young tree to focus its resources on developing a strong root system. As the tree becomes better established, it is still a good idea to thin fruit for better size and flavor.
Whitewash the trunk and exposed branches each spring with one part white, interior latex paint and one part water to prevent sunburn damage. Each spring and summer, stone fruit trees should be fertilized and irrigated properly, depending on the species, tree size and condition, and local weather.
Most stone fruits are deciduous, which makes tree training and winter pruning much easier. The only exception is apricot trees, which should be pruned in summer, due to the threat of Eutypa dieback. It is not unusual for a protective gummy sap to appear at pruning cuts and other wound sites. While these trees are dormant in winter, they are sprayed with dormant oil, to break the disease triangle of many common pathogens.
Corking (dried out fruit) can be prevented by making sure that the soil contains enough boron and calcium. Before adding soil amendments, be sure to get a soil test from a local, reputable lab. Over-the-counter kits are not yet effective enough to be useful. Properly maintained, Prunus trees are classified as low flammability plants, making them a fire safe addition to your landscape.
Pests and diseases of stone fruits
While each species has its own set of problems, most stone fruits must deal with attacks by aphids, mites, caterpillars, shot hole borers, glassy-winged sharpshooters, San Jose scale, Eutypa dieback, peach twig borers, naval orangeworms, mealybugs, and cucumber beetles. Diseases of stone fruits include cane blight, shot hole fungus, crown gall, brown rot, bacterial spot, peach leaf curl, and bacteria blast. Stone fruit trees use idioblasts to protect themselves, and you can apply fixed copper, sulfur, or Bordeaux mixture (Bt), each in their own way and time, to aid in protecting your stone fruit trees. [Never use sulfur on apricots.] Netting and tree cages can help protect the fruit from birds and squirrels, and sticky barriers are an excellent way to thwart crawling insects.
The shear volume of fruit that a single stone fruit can produce makes them an excellent choice for the home garden. When harvesting your crop, remember than these fruits produce ethylene gas, which which ripen everything nearby.
Add stone fruits to your foodscape for years of sweet summer deliciousness and beauty.
Loquats are delicious, highly productive, broadleaf evergreen trees.
Loquats, also known as Japanese plums, are native to Asia. These easy-to-grow trees are members of the rose family.
Loquat tree characteristics
Loquat trees (Eriobotrya japonica) can reach 10 to 25 feet tall and across. Most specimens are smaller than that. In some cases, they look more like a spreading shrub. They offer lovely, fragrant white blooms in November and December, and can handle temperatures as low as 28°F. Leaves are elliptical, wrinkled, leathery, and toothed around the edge (margins). They are darker on top and lighter underneath. Smooth or slightly fuzzy yellow to orange fruits ripen in spring. These fruits contain one or more very large seeds and the fruit is delicious. These trees can make a bit of a mess when fruit drop time comes around. Loquat trees have a shallow root system, so care should be taken when digging nearby, and regular irrigation is helpful during the peak of summer. On the flip side, they cannot tolerate standing water.
Pests and diseases of loquat
The loquat tree is resistant to most pests and diseases. Fireblight, various rots, cankers, blights, and leaf spot may occur. Aphids, caterpillars, fruit flies, and scale insects may feed on your loquat tree.
This attractive, rounded tree provides beauty at a time when many plants are sleeping through winter. The fruit can be eaten fresh, or used to make jams, jellies, or pies.
I’m ordering mine today!
UPDATE: Loquat seed toxicity
It was recently brought to my attention that loquat seeds can be toxic to dogs and other animals. I did some research and this is what I learned:
So, once again, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. If your dog eats a few loquats, the worst thing that will happen is a little stomach upset. If your dog is crazy in love with loquats, you should probably limit their access to the fruit.
Almond trees are lovely in a landscape and they can produce up to 65 pounds of almonds a year. As far as fruit and nut trees go, almonds have shown themselves to this gardener to be trouble free, but problems can happen. One of those problems is called almond leaf scorch.
Almond leaf scorch is caused by the same bacteria (Xylella fastidiosa) that causes Pierce’s disease, in grapevines, and alfalfa dwarf disease. This disease can also infect many common weeds, including annual bluegrass, burclover, cheeseweed, chickweed, filaree, London rocket, and shepherd’s purse. This pathogen is found on many familiar plants, such as bermudagrass, blackberries, elderberries, fescue grasses, nettle, and rye, without causing any problems for the host plants.
How almond leaf scorch spreads
This disease is carried by sap-sucking insects, such as leafhoppers, sharpshooters, and spittlebugs. As they feed, the bacteria moves from the insect into the plant’s xylem, where it begins to reproduce.
Almond leaves are normally a lovely green color. Around June, however, you may notice the edges (margins) of leaves look scorched. If you look closely, you will see a yellow band between the scorched portion and healthy leaf tissue. This scorched appearance looks a lot like salt burn, but salt burn lacks the yellow band.
This disease is normally seen on one branch, or one scaffold of branches. Scaffolds are major horizontal branches. Over time, this disease spreads to the rest of the tree. Another name for almond leaf scorch is golden death. While infected trees can live for several years, they will leaf out later and be far less productive than a healthy tree.
Leaf scorch management
If your beloved almond tree becomes infected, early detection is critical. The infected branch, or its scaffold, should be removed 5 to 10 FEET below any visible symptoms. Keep a close watch to see if any signs of infection appear elsewhere on the tree. If the tree is less than 10 years old, your best bet is simply to replace the tree.
I hope that your almond tree never faces this problem, but now you know what to watch for.
Nothing says summer like a sweet, juicy, sun-warmed nectarine. The good news is, you can probably grow a nectarine tree in your yard, along a fence, or even in a large container.
Nectarines are delicious fresh, stewed, baked, and sautéed. They freeze well and make excellent jam. Nectarines (and peaches) are so useful and tasty, that they have been cultivated for thousands of years. First grown in China, nectarines and peaches have been around for 2.6 million years!
What’s the difference between nectarines and peaches?
Fur. The only difference between a nectarine and a peach is a single gene that produces fuzzy skin (dominant) or smooth skin (recessive). A nectarine (Prunus persica var. nucipersica or var. nectarina) is simply a peach without the furry skin (trichomes). Nectarines and peaches are both members of the rose family, along with apples, pears, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Nectarines and peaches, like apricots, cherries, plums, and almonds, are stone fruits. There are both cling and freestone varieties, and you can find yellow and white peaches and nectarines. [Yellow fruits are more acidic than white fruits.] Peaches and nectarines are also in a group of plants that use specialized cells for storage, manufacturing, and as weapons. These cells are called idioblasts. Don’t worry, though, they can’t hurt you.
The main reason you do not see nectarines in the store year round is because they do not ship and store well. While nectarines are usually smaller, firmer, and more aromatic than peaches, they also bruise more easily. [All the more reason to grow your own!] A standard nectarine tree can reach over 30 feet in height, semi-dwarf varieties reach 12 to 15 feet tall and wide, while dwarf nectarine trees are only 8 to 10 feet and they can be pruned for an even smaller size while still producing a good crop. Nectarines can also be espaliered, if you only have a narrow space along a wall or fence.
Each spring, your nectarine tree will produce lovely pink blossoms, followed by a delicious crop of fruit, and then all the leaves fall off (making dormant pruning so much easier!). Before you jump on the nectarine bandwagon, however, that yummy fruit can only occur if enough chill hours are accumulated each winter.
Nectarines and chill hours
Chill hours are an accumulation of temperatures between 32°F and 45°F. Somehow, trees keep track of this information. I have no idea how. If enough chill hours are not accumulated, nectarine flowers and buds will not form properly, which means you might not get any fruit. Different nectarine varieties have different chill hour requirements, so it is important that you select a variety appropriate to your location. Do not trust your local box store to sell you the right one. Most nectarine trees need 650 to 850 chill hours. Here in the Bay Area, we only get 450 chill hours (or 52 chill portions). You can learn your own chill hours on my chilling hours page.
Nectarine site selection
Once you have found a variety that matches your garden’s chill hours and your personal tastes, you will want to select a site with excellent drainage and plenty of sunshine. Also, nectarines prefer a soil pH of 6.5. Here, in the Bay Area, our soil is more alkaline than that, so acidification may be needed for the best results. Nectarines, like peaches, are self-fruiting, so you do not need multiple trees for pollination. While you may be tempted to grow a nectarine tree from a pit, think twice about that. Most commercially grown nectarines are actually from two different trees: a root stock and a fruit producing tree. These two trees are grafted together to take advantage of the benefits provided by a strong root system and good fruit production. Your store bought nectarine pit may never produce fruit at all. Or it might. You are far better off buying bare root stock from a reputable producer. Nectarine trees can also be started from twig cuttings called scions.
How to plant a nectarine tree
Bare root trees are best planted in winter and early spring. Examine the root system for signs of disease or damage. These bits should be cut out. If your bare root tree is not going to be planted right away, it should be soaked in a bucket of water for 6 to 12 hours, but no longer. [Plants can drown, too, you know!] When you are ready to plant, dig a hole that allows the roots to spread out freely. If the soil is heavy clay, be sure to rough up the edges of the planting hole. Containerized and balled trees should be given a hole slightly larger and the same depth as the container or root ball. In any case, it is very important that the soil level remains the same. Add soil around the roots and water thoroughly. This removes air pockets that can dry roots out before they ever get a chance to grow. Mulch around your new tree and water regularly until the root system has become established. The first 2 or 3 years, flowers should be removed, to encourage a strong root system. I know it’s hard, but you’ll thank me later.
Feeding and watering nectarines
Nectarine trees use a lot more nitrogen than other fruit and nut trees. You can use blood meal, ammonium sulfate, or commercial 10-10-10 fertilizer to feed your nectarine tree. Young trees will need a total of 10 to 15 lbs. of manure or 1/4 lb. of urea, spread out over the months of spring and summer. Mature trees should receive twice that amount. If your nectarine tree doesn’t get enough nitrogen, you will start seeing red areas on the leaves.
Nectarines are shallow-rooted trees, so they are susceptible to water stress during the summer. You can protect your tree with deep irrigation and a thick layer of mulch, just make sure that the mulch does not actually touch the tree trunk. If your nectarine tree becomes too water stressed, it will develop a condition called bitter fruit which is exactly how it sounds. The problem is, once bitter fruit occurs, the tree will forever after produce fruit that is bitter. If you keep your nectarine tree properly irrigated throughout the growing season, you can improve the taste and sweetness of the fruit with deficit irrigation, just before harvest.
Another technique used to improve both the quantity and quality of fruit is called cincturing, or scaffold girdling. This is not the same thing as girdling your nectarine tree with the weedwacker. Get help from an experienced arborist, rather than trying this on your own, as it can kill your nectarine tree.
Nectarine pruning and thinning
Nectarine trees perform best when they are trained in what’s called an open center system. This is exactly what it sounds like. Each winter, you will want to remove 50% of the previous year’s new growth. This will stimulate fruit production and maintain a reasonable tree size. One problem that commonly occurs with nectarines and peaches is that trees produce more fruit than they can support. This can mean broken branches. Proper pruning and fruit thinning can save your tree. Thin fruits to 6 inches apart when they are the size of a marble. If you think there is too much fruit on a branch, you can always prop it up with a board or other support until after the fruit is harvested, and then prune and thin more heavily next year.
Nectarine pests and diseases
The most common diseases faced by nectarine trees here, in San Jose, California, are peach leaf curl and brown rot. Nectarine are also susceptible to crown gall, bacterial blight, citrus blast, bacterial spot, stem blight, and shot hole disease.
Peach twig borers are a common pest of nectarines. Peach twig borer infestations often appear as dead twigs, called flags or shoot strikes. Luckily, many beneficial insects, such as braconid wasps, mealybug destroyers, and tachinid flies love to eat peach twig borers, so avoid using broad spectrum pesticides. Armyworms, earwigs, eugenia psyllid, Japanese beetles, mealybugs, San Jose scale, green fruit beetles, Mediterranean fruit fly, armored scale, eriophyid mites, katydids, and birds are also common pests. [Who can blame them?] You can use tree cages to protect your crop from birds in summer. Kaolin clay can be applied to individual fruits to protect against some pests.
In fall, after harvesting your delicious crop and before the first heavy rain, apply fixed copper to control shot hole fungus, fertilize plants one last time, and give your tree a deep watering. After all the leaves fall, move them away from your nectarine tree. Destroy or compost the leaves to prevent the spread of apple scab. As always, remove mummies as soon as they are seen.
Bordeaux mixture, dormant oil sprays, and fixed copper sprays should be used in fall and winter to protect against San Jose scale, shot hole disease, and other fungal diseases. You can prevent brown rot with a spring fungicide application. Crawling pests can be blocking from reaching fruit by wrapping the tree trunk with a sticky barrier.
Nectarines are ready for harvest when they come away from the tree easily with a gentle twisting motion. The fruit will bruise easily, so be gentle when handling ripe nectarines.
If you install a nectarine tree this spring, you can expect to have a tree for 7 to 20 years, depending on where you live. Since each nectarine tree can produce up to 65 lbs. of fruit each year, or approximately 200 nectarines, you will have plenty of delicious fruit to go along with a lovely tree.
Plant one today!
They will never jump through a hoop for you, but you can train your trees to be healthier and more productive.
Tree training helps fruit and nut trees stay healthy, produce larger crops, and avoid broken branches. Proper tree training also reduces the likelihood of pests and disease. Too much fruit and strong winds can result in broken branches. Proper training can prevent these problems. You may not want to go as far as pollarding or coppicing, but training your trees for good structure, air flow, and the retention of productive wood is always a good idea, except when it isn’t. Trees that are particularly large or unstable should never be trimmed or pruned by an amateur. It is too dangerous.
When to train trees
Most fruit and nut trees are deciduous. This means they go dormant and lose their leaves in winter. This is handy for several reasons. First, it allows you to remove leaves that may be carrying pests or diseases. Secondly, it allows you to see the true structure of your trees. This makes training them a lot easier. The only exceptions are cherry and apricot trees, which should only be pruned in summer, to avoid Eutypa dieback.
Making a proper cut
You may want to read up on pruning before you start training your trees. Put simply, you will want to make a smooth cut that is flush with, but does not cut into, the branch collar. There is no need to paint or treat these cuts. Your tree will develop a protective callus over the area, all on its own.
Tree training basics
To maintain a healthy fruit or nut tree in your backyard, you will probably want to keep it pruned to a manageable size. This is usually 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. If it gets too large, you won’t be able to reach. Surprisingly, trees of this size can still produce a lot of fruit. As with any other pruning job, you will want to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged limbs. You will also want to eliminate one of any pair of crossed branches. These will tend to rub against each other, creating points of entry for pests and disease. As you prune, try to work from the inside out and avoid leaving stubs. You can orchestrate the direction new twigs will take by cutting just above buds that face in the direction you want the new twigs to grow. Do not use downward facing buds as these tend to be weak and break easily. Your overall goal should be to expose the tree’s interior to more sunlight, without risking extensive sunburn damage.
The big picture
Before cutting, take the time to really look at your tree’s structure and shape. Learn what is typical for that particular species, and think about what you want from your tree over the next several years. Consider issues such as wind exposure, shifting shade patterns, fruit and leaf litter, and tree maintenance. What is proper training for a tree in one location may be completely inappropriate in a different location. If you’re not sure, ask me. You can also look at this fruiting wood characteristics chart, from UC Davis, that can help you decide what to remove and what to leave for another year. Once you have really looked at your tree and prepared your tools, you will need to select the training style best suited to your tree species. The lowest branches are usually at knee height, regardless of the style chosen.
The central leader training style is best suited to semi-dwarf and standard size trees. This style features a single main, vertical trunk. Competing upright shoots are removed and an alternating spiral of lateral branches is encouraged. This is your classic Christmas tree shape.
Modified central leader
The modified central leader style allows more sunlight into the center than a central leader system. To create this shape, a tree is first trained as a central leader, until it reaches the desired height. Then, the central trunk is topped, or removed, just above the most recent lateral growth. This causes the tree to develop more of an open center. This method is particularly good for cherries and pears.
The open center style seems to be the most popular for backyard orchards. In this style, three or four low-growing scaffold (main) branches are encouraged, with the center kept open, like a bowl. Lateral (horizontal) branches make up the sides of this bowl shape and are trimmed back to approximately 30 inches. Fruiting wood will grow from these branches. This method provides good sun exposure and air flow. Also known as vase-shaped training, it is a good method for almonds, Asian pears, and European plums.
The “Y” system
The “Y” system features two scaffolding branches, heading in opposite directions, creating a “Y” shape. Look at it as a two-dimensional open center style. This method is particularly good for peaches and nectarines. It can also be used for apples, plums, cherries, and pears.
Espalier training is a trellising system used to create a two dimensional shape. This method works well alongside driveways, paths, buildings, and fences.
If you end up removing smaller, new wood, you can save these and use them as scions, to create new trees or modify existing trees. They make good gifts for fellow gardeners, as well!
Also, as you work closely with your tree, keep a look out for scale and other insect pests that may be overwintering in your tree’s bark.
Peaches may be the last thing on your mind right now, but autumn is a good time of year to find room on your property for a peach tree. Even if you don’t have room in your yard, dwarf peach varieties can be grown in containers.
Peach trees make a lovely addition to a foodscape. Fragrant spring blossoms give way to fruit that practically defines summer. Autumn leaf drop makes pruning easy and what winter would be complete without a surprise dessert of peach cobbler? A mature peach tree can produce up to 65 pounds of fruit each year. That’s over 200 peaches!
History of the peach
Did you know that peach trees have been around for over 2.6 million years? Traditionally thought to be from Persia, genetic research shows that peaches actually originated in China. Also, it was thought that peach cultivation started some 6,000 years ago, until some ancient writings showed that certain kings and emperors, back in the 10th century B.C., favored a delectable peach now and then. So, if you love peaches, you are in good company.
The peach tree
Peaches and nectarines are the same fruit, like fraternal twins. The only difference is that peaches have fuzzy skin (trichomes) and nectarines are smooth skinned. This difference is due to a recessive gene, the same way blue eyes or red hair occurs. Peaches are in the rose family, members of the Prunus genus, all of which produce fruits called drupes. This makes them cousin to almonds, apricots, cherries, and plums. Peach trees are in a group of plants that use specialized cells for storage, manufacturing, and as weapons. These cells are called idioblasts.
Standard peach trees can grow 25 to 33 feet tall and 25 feet wide, if you let them. For the best productivity and tree health, it is better to keep them pruned to 15 feet by 15 feet. Dwarfs can reach 8 to 10 feet. Most peach trees in Maine only live 7 years, while California peach trees live 12 to 20 years.
Peach trees and chill hours
Before you plant a peach tree, you need to understand chill hours. Each winter, peach trees enter a period of dormancy. Being deciduous, they lose all their leaves and enter a winter rest. During that rest, the number of hours spent between 32°F and 45°F are accumulated (don’t ask me how - I have no idea). These “chill hours” must reach a certain number for a tree to be able to blossom properly in the spring. Once enough chill hours are accumulated, the tree enters a different type of dormancy called quiescence. Depending on the variety, peach trees need 600 to 900 chill hours. Here in the Bay Area, we generally only get 450 chill hours. When selecting a peach tree variety, you want to take chill hours into account. There are several models used to calculate chill hours, and each one gives you different information. Below you can see the chill hour results for the South Bay Area. Go to my page on chilling hours to learn how to get your local information. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from. According to UC Davis, using the Dynamic Model, the following varieties have their chill hours noted alongside:
[Using the Dynamic Model, San Jose receives an average of 52 chill portions each year, so only two varieties would be a good choice.] You can see detailed list of different fruit trees at the UC Davis Home Orchard.
Peach varieties are divided between cling and freestone. Those names refer to how easily the fruit comes away from the pit. Freestone peaches tend to have firmer fruit, while clingstone peaches are known for their sweeter taste. Clingstone varieties are harvested May through August, while the freestone harvest extends into October. There is also a hybrid cross between the two, called a semi-freestone, and flat varieties, called pan-tao. Not all peach tree varieties perform well in all regions or microclimates. Check with your local County Extension Office and be sure to verify your growing zone using the USDA Hardiness Zone Map.
Growing a tree from a peach pit
While you can eat a peach and then plant its seed, this doesn’t always work out the way you expect. Like apples and many other fruits, peach seeds do not necessarily produce offspring that taste as good or grow as well as the stock you buy at your local nursery. This is because most fruit and nut trees are grafted. Grafted trees have an aboveground part from one variety and a root stock from another variety. This is done to take advantage of one variety’s ability to develop strong roots, while other varieties may taste better or be more pest or disease resistant. Also, your pit grown peach tree will not produce fruit for a few years, and some will never produce fruit.
If you want to give it a try, you can simply put your peach pit in the ground and let nature take its course, or you can refrigerate the pit until December or January. This method, called stratification, fools the pit into triggering winter processes (vernalization), in preparation for spring. Just soak your pits in water for a couple of hours, and then place them in a plastic bag, along with a little moist soil. This bag goes into the refrigerator, until you see signs of germination. This can take a few weeks or months, depending on the variety and other factors. Since peaches emit high levels of ethylene gas (a ripening agent), you should keep them away from other fruits and vegetables. Once it starts germinating, remove it from its cold environment and let the planting begin! But first, you need to select the best location for your peach tree.
Peach tree site selection
Peach trees need plenty of sunshine, but they will also benefit from a little protection at the extreme points of summer and winter, if possible. Being susceptible to several fungal diseases, peach trees also need good drainage. Peach trees prefer a soil pH of 6.5. Here, in the Bay Area, we tend to have more alkaline soil, so acidification may help your tree thrive. Of course, you won’t know what your soil is without a test from a reputable lab. Just sayin’…
How to plant a peach tree
Bare root trees are best planted in January and February. Your peach sapling should be planted right away, or soaked in water for 6 to 12 hours before planting. If you have a bare root tree, gently spread the roots out to see how much space they can use and dig a hole that will accommodate them. This is also a good time to clip off any dead, diseased, or damaged roots. Be sure to rough up the edges of your planting hole. If you don’t, the smooth clay left by your shovel can create a tough barrier for young roots. Containerized and balled trees should be given a hole slightly larger and the same depth as the container or root ball. It is very important that the soil level remains the same. Add soil around the roots and gently tamp it down. This removes air pockets that can dry roots out before they ever get a chance to grow. Mulch around your new tree and water it in well. Peach trees can also be started from twig cuttings called scions.
Peach tree care
Peaches are self-pollinating, which means that another tree is not needed to produce a crop. If you have room for more than one tree, be sure to space them 12 by 16 to 18 by 18 feet apart. Peaches perform best when trained with what’s called the “Y” system. The “Y” system features two scaffolding (main) branches, heading in opposite directions, creating a “Y” shape. You can picture it as a two-dimensional open center system, which also works with peaches. These tree training systems leave the trees open in the center, allowing lots of air and sunlight to reach the fruiting wood. Peaches can also be espaliered.
Feeding and watering peaches
Peach trees use a lot of nitrogen. You can use blood meal, ammonium sulfate, or commercial 10-10-10 fertilizer to feed your peach tree. Nitrogen deficiencies in peach appear as red areas on the leaves. Peaches are shallow-rooted, so they are susceptible to water stress during the summer. Too much stress can lead to a condition called bitter fruit that can mean the end of the useful production of your tree, so irrigate accordingly. Near the end of fruit development, deficit irrigation can be used to improve taste and sweetness.
While you certainly want to avoid girdling your peach tree with the weedwacker, doing it on purpose, called cincturing, or scaffold girdling, can increase production and fruit quality. You just have to be really careful that you don’t kill your tree in the process.
Peach pests and diseases
Peaches are susceptible to these bacterial diseases: crown gall, bacterial blight, citrus blast, and bacterial spot. Fungal diseases include stem blight, peach leaf curl, shot hole disease, and brown rot. Armyworms, peach twig borers, earwigs, eugenia psyllid, Japanese beetles, mealybugs, San Jose scale, green fruit beetles, Mediterranean fruit flies, armored scale, eriophyid mites, katydids, and birds are the biggest pests. Luckily, beneficial insects, such as braconid wasps, mealybug destroyers, and tachinid flies love to eat peach twig borers!
Pheromone traps can be used to monitor many of these pests and sticky barriers will prevent many pests from ever reaching tender buds, shoots, and fruit. Bordeaux mixture, fixed copper, and dormant oil can be used to prevent or treat some bacterial diseases, fungal diseases, and pest infestations. Kaolin clay can also be used to prevent some pest damage. Since fruiting occurs from pollination by honey bees, flies, and other pollinators, avoid using broad spectrum pesticides.
When to harvest peaches
Color and smell are good ripeness indicators, when it comes to peaches. Yellow skin, which may or may not have a red tinge, and that amazing sweet summer aroma of ripe peaches are reason enough to give one a try. Taste, ultimately, is the only true indicator of ripeness, but who can complain about conducting that test? If the fruit comes away from the stem easily, it is ripe.
Too much of a good thing
Your peach tree will produce far more fruit than it can support. This leads to a low quality harvest and broken limbs (the tree’s - not yours). You can protect your tree and improve crop quality by thinning flowers and fruit partway through the growing season. First, when your tree is covered with blossoms, leave it alone and enjoy it. As the flowers start developing into tiny fruits, it is time to thin. The basic rule of thumb for thinning fruit is to leave one fruit per spur, with fruit 4-6” apart. Apricots, nectarines and peaches are normally thinned when the fruit is 1/2-3/4” in diameter.
Make a place for a peach tree in your yard today for a decade of fresh summer peaches in your pantry!
Persian limes with brown bottoms have stylar end rot.
Also known as stylar end breakdown, stylar end rot generally affects Bearss, Tahitian, and other Persian limes species, though it has been seen in other lime and lemon varieties. Stylar end rot is a physiological disease, which means it is not caused by pests or pathogens. Instead, stylar end rot is caused by too much heat and drought. Even though limes, lemons, and other citrus have thick, waxy skins to protect themselves from the sun’s heat and drought conditions, sometimes that protection isn’t enough.
Symptoms of stylar end rot
The stylar end of a fruit is the part with the dried up flower petals, opposite the stem end. Stylar end rot starts out as a small, grayish sunken area, at the stylar end, that slowly becomes firm and leathery. Affected areas can spread to cover 1/4 to 1/2 of the fruit, which is often invaded by bacteria or fungi. The tissues inside break down and turn brown or pink. Diseased fruit can be added to the compost pile, but only if it is free of other fungi and bacteria. Otherwise, toss it in the trash. Stylar end rot found on guava has been found to be caused by a fungi, Phomopsis. Some fungal diseases exhibit similar symptoms:
Preventing stylar end rot
You can’t. Stylar end rot occurs when Persian limes and other citrus are exposed to an accumulated 18 hours of temperatures over 105°F. Think of it as reverse chill hours. What you can do is pick the fruit earlier than normal after a particularly hot summer.
You can grow these tasty nuts in your own backyard, if you have room and patience.
The delicious flavor of pistachios doesn’t come cheap. They are not inexpensive and they require effort to pry from their shells. That being said, pistachios have a protein-rich flavor that begs us to eat just one more, and another, and another.
What are pistachios?
The meat of a pistachio (Pistacia vera L.) is not technically a nut. Like apricots, olives, cherries, coconuts, and mangoes, pistachios are drupes, or stone fruits. Pistachios are the edible seeds held within a hard shell. When these seeds ripen, the shell pops open with an audible pop. In the world of botany, the thing that makes a drupe a drupe is that the fruit develops from a single ovary.
How do pistachios grow?
Pistachio trees need long, hot, dry summers and gentle winters to produce those hard-shelled nuts. Pistachio trees can tolerate a lot of salinity, but they do not grow well near the California coast, due to the lack of adequately hot, dry summers. Soggy soil will kill your pistachio tree, so good drainage is critical. Pistachios are a slow-growing, alternate bearing, deciduous tree that needs 600 to 1500 chill hours, depending on variety, to produce fruit. Those chill hours can be hard to come by in San Jose, California, but the trees are lovely and some varieties can be very productive. A healthy, mature pistachio tree can produce 110 pounds of seeds every other year. That’s a lot of pistachios!
The following cultivars have been shown to produce well in the south Bay Area:
Pistachio trees are dioecious. That means there are both male and female trees. You only need one male for up to 10 females for successful pollination, but these trees get rather large, so you probably won’t have room for more than one of each. Mature trees can reach 33 feet in height and should be spaced 20 feet apart.
How to grow pistachios
Plant pistachio rootstock from January through early May. Be sure to provide support by inserting a large, heavy stake next to the root ball. You will want the wind to push the tree toward the support for the best development. Irrigate the root ball immediately and follow with regular waterings until the root system is established. This may take several months, so be patient. Your pistachio tree will also need to be fertilized regularly. During the first dormant season, cut the top of the main shoot off, just above leaf buds. This heading cut will promote a solid structure later on.
Pistachio pests and diseases
A disease called panicle and shoot blight, caused by the Botryosphaeria fungi, kills flowers and young shoots of pistachio trees. In 2011, 50% of the Australia pistachio harvest was lost to anthracnose. Verticillium wilt can also be a problem. Severe drought has also reduced commercial production in many areas. Common pistachio pests include leaf-footed bugs, mealybugs, nematodes, and late season navel orangeworms.
After waiting for 5 to 7 years, you will finally be able to harvest your very own pistachios. Like almonds, this is done by shaking the tree. Ripe nuts fall and are collected from the ground. If you see any nuts with mold, toss them in the trash. That particular mold is carcinogenic. Also, be sure to dry your pistachios out completely before storing - they have been known to spontaneously combust.
Don’t let all those problems discourage you or scare you off. These beautiful trees can produce an edible crop for decades, if cared for properly.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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