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Bare roots for fall fruits

Get an early start now for summer and fall flavors later

Posted: January 15, 2010 10:03 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Workers at Green Thumb International in Newhall take bare root fruit trees and plant them in five-gallon pots. The bare root trees are stored in the soil to keep them alive and moist until they can be planted.

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January is bare root time, whether it be roses, as we covered on these pages last week, or fruit trees or berries or grapes. And, if you’re an experienced bare rooter, you’ve probably noticed that, lately, you find your “bare root” trees and such already planted in pots when you buy them. While you still can find bare root fruit trees in poly bags, the trend seems to be away from this.

Such is the case at Green Thumb International. At this Newhall nursery, the bare root fruit trees come in “naked” and are temporarily “planted” in a mound of moist soil. As the crew can get to them, these trees are replanted in five-gallon pots and readied for sale. You take off the pots when you plant these, but won’t re-expose the recently-bare roots again.

Sandy Cudmore, an advanced certified nurseryman at Green Thumb, said that all of this helps to ensure the trees are in better shape, and better able to handle replanting, when you buy them.

“Now, the only ones in poly bags are grapes,” she said.

Cudmore noted that you can see the proof-of-life, so to speak, with these fruit trees. You can see they are doing well.

“Some are already starting to have little buds,” she said. “Many of these bare root fruit trees will be ready to produce a small amount of fruit the first year. They will flower in the spring and produce in the summer or fall.”

The fruit trees (and other plants) available at Green Thumb are suited to the SCV climate.

“We carry fruit trees that match the chilling requirement here,” Cudmore said.

Since we get 400 to 450 hours of chilling (below 45°F) each year on average in the SCV, the nursery selects trees that require no more than that to bear fruit.

Cudmore noted that most of these fruit trees can be pruned as low as 10 feet, making them a good size for a smaller backyard. In addition, some types are “trained” to be low branching, so people can pick their fruit easily. “These are called ‘EZ-Pick,’” she said.

Green Thumb has miniatures and genetic dwarfs, which are the right size to grow in pots on apartment or condo balconies. One example is Nectar Babe miniature nectarines. “These only grow to about four feet tall,” Cudmore said.

“The trend is continuing for people to be more interested in growing their own fruits and vegetables,” she explained.

Green Thumb International has (or will soon have) a large selection of different types of bare root fruit trees. Single-graft trees are $21.99 (except figs, persimmons and almonds, which are $29.99, and pistachios, which are $39.99).

There also are multi-graft trees. On a multi-graft peach tree, for example, each graft is a different variety of peach, so it will bear peaches that ripen at a different time from the other grafts. In that way your fruit ripens in a manageable way, over a longer period.

You won’t find yourself running around the neighborhood, giving away fruit your family can’t consume before it goes bad.

Two-graft fruit trees are $29.99, three-graft $39.99, four-graft trees are $49.99 and five-graft trees $59.99.

Other bare root food plants you will find in pots at Green Thumb include various types of berries, such as blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries and raspberries. “One of my favorites for growing here are blueberries,” Cudmore said. “My grand kids like to pick them right off the plant.”

But Cudmore cautioned, “Blueberries are the one thing in this entire group that need to be planted in acidic soil.”

To adapt them to our soil you use peat moss or plant them in a mixture, such as azalea or camellia mix.

A SharpBlue blueberry plant in a pot goes for $12.99.

There are also potted asparagus plants. Though the asparagus looks pretty pitiful right now, Cudmore said bare root asparagus is a very attractive plant that grows for about 10 years.

Nature’s Pride bare root grapes are $6.99 (in poly bags). These include Thompson Seedless, Flame Seedless, Perlett and California Concord varieties.

Planting and watering

With some minor variation, the planting techniques are the same for most of these plants.

Cudmore explained that most fruit trees do better if they are planted on a slight mound. “Dig a hole half as deep as the pot, but way wider. You want the crown of the tree to be above your normal soil level,” she said. Then smooth the soil down from there in a wide mound. “This prevents water from puddling around the crown of the tree and other dirt from working in around it,” she said.

She said to mix a small amount of amendments with your native soil when refilling your hole. It’s better in the long run because the roots become more acclimated to the native soil and more likely to spread out into it.

Cudmore noted that gophers can be a problem in the SCV. “We hear gopher horror stories every day,” she said. Consequently, it might be a good idea to plant your fruit trees in a gopher cage. This is a wire mesh basket that prevents gophers from chewing on the young tree’s roots.

Plant your fruit trees in a sunny location where they can be watered deeply and less frequently than the lawn. “Fruit trees don’t do well planted in a lawn,” Cudmore said.

She added that, “With anything you plant, it needs to be thoroughly saturated with water right after planting and I recommend you water a second time using Super Thrive, which is a rooting hormone. It really gets plants off to a great start.”

Green Thumb International, 23734 Newhall Ave. in Newhall, (661) 259-1071.

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