Oh, Sweet-Scented Orchard Blossoms! Selecting & Growing Fruit Trees at Walker Farm with Zeke Goodband…

April 29th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

Apple Blossoms at Scott Farm in Dummerston, Vermont

The Sweet Scent of Spring: Filling My Hands with Fragrant Apple Blossom Petals as They Fall from the Trees

A Inspirational, Springtime Stroll through the Heirloom Apple Orchard at Scott Farm in Vermont

Many gardeners dream of an orchard filled with homegrown peaches, plums, pears, quince, cherries and apples, fresh for the picking. Fruit trees make wonderful additions to the home landscape, and given proper selection and care, they will provide both beauty and sustenance to the gardener for many years. Spring is the best time of year to plant young fruit trees, and I’m often asked to incorporate them into my garden designs. It’s important for all gardeners —including professionals— to refresh and supplement their horticultural knowledge from year to year, and stay on top of trends. So over the weekend, I joined an eager audience of backyard gardeners at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont, to listen to our local fruit tree expert and orchardist extraordinaire, Zeke Goodband of Scott Farm, share his tips on selecting, growing and pruning fruit trees. I always learn something new from Zeke, and here’s a bit of what he had to offer by way of advice on choosing and caring for young trees in the home orchard…

Orchardist Zeke Goodband demonstrates proper technique for staking young, semi-dwarf fruit trees in the first two years after planting. Pointing out the need for care when strapping trees to stakes, in order avoid damaging the living cambium layer of the tree, Zeke explains that wire, twine and rope may cut through this important layer of bark. Never tie directly to the tree. Zeke recommends using soft, pliant material —such as cloth or rubber— to create a sling around the bark, in order to protect the tree when anchoring and tying it to stakes.

The most important step to take when planting fruit trees —whether an entire backyard orchard or a single specimen tree in the garden— is to properly assess the site. Fruit trees of all kinds require full sun and excellent drainage. In order for trees to flower and develop fruit, they need light from sunrise to sunset throughout the growing season. A little bit of shade in early morning or late afternoon is acceptable —though not optimal— for fruit trees, but a half day of sun or full shade will not provide fruit trees with the conditions they need to grow and produce fruit. In addition, keep in mind that all fruit trees are intolerant of wet soil. So before you get your heart set on a backyard filled with apples and peaches, explore your site with a shovel. Is it poorly drained? If so, choose another site. When the roots of fruit trees sit in wet soil, the tree will slowly decline and eventually die. Equally important, be sure to provide your fruit trees with plenty of room to grow. Even though many modern fruit trees are referred to as semi-dwarf, they still need to be positioned at least 10′ from buildings and other objects, and 15-20′ from other trees. This is important. In order to grow and flourish —and avoid diseases— trees need ample sunlight and airflow.

Another site issue worth considering when planting fruit trees is the presence of wildlife. Deer can cause a tremendous amount of damage to unprotected fruit trees —both to fruit and branches in all seasons— so if deer are common guests to your property, building a fence —at least 8′ tall— is advisable to protect your home orchard. Apple trees are particularly vulnerable to deer browse. For a single tree or small grouping, a more economical, shorter fence may be used to surround and protect the trees.

Zeke discusses some of the differences between the cherry tree varieties available at Walker Farm, and talks about how to select, and care for young trees after planting

Once a site has been carefully chosen, fruit trees may be ordered bare-root —from an online source or mail-order catalog— or they may be purchased in pots at local orchards, nurseries and garden centers, where they may be hand-selected. Walker Farm sells many kinds of beautiful, hardy fruit trees —apples, cherries, peaches, plums and pears, to name a few— and most are three years old. Peaches begin to provide fruit at a very young age, and although they are short-lived (Zeke suggests re-planting peaches every 10 years or so), they are quick to provide a sweet reward; making them a great choice for that first tree.

Once your fruit trees arrive to their new home, how well they are cared for will determine your success and future yield. Bare root trees will need to be planted soon after they arrive. If you must wait, be sure to keep the trees in a cool, dark place (such as the box in which they arrived). Soak the roots briefly —while digging the holes— and settle them in with a long, slow drink of water after planting (a 5 gallon bucket of water with small hole for steady drip works well). When planting fruit trees —bare root or potted— Zeke discourages improving the subsoil with compost or manure. The goal is to get the trees to settle in; spreading their roots beyond the planting hole. If the soil is over-enriched, the roots of the tree will likely remain confined to the planting hole, instead of spreading out and properly anchoring the tree. When planting a potted tree, dig the hole slightly bigger than the container and back-fill with the same soil. When settling the tree into the hole, be sure to leave the graft-union —looks like a knobby elbow— exposed 2-4″ above the soil, and then back-fill completely —avoiding air pockets— tamping the soil very lightly with your foot when complete. There’s no need to fertilize or add compost as top dressing until the tree leafs out. Once it does, fertilizer (10-10-10) or compost may be sprinkled around the root area and lightly worked in. Young trees do like nitrogen for the first 3-4 years (and peaches grow and fruit best when given nitrogen every year, throughout their lifetime) but never feed your trees after the 4th of July (and always avoid using tree spikes. Zeke really dislikes these —as do I— because in seasons with dry springs and wet falls, they neglect feeding when needed and then provide it at the worst possible time: when trees need to go dormant). In order to discourage pests and eliminate root competition, it’s very, very important to keep the root area of fruit trees clear of weeds and grass. So, a layer of mulch (2-3 inches at the base), plus regular weed patrol, is a good idea.

Voles and string trimmers —both of which damage the tender cambium layer of bark— are the enemy of young fruit trees. Protect your trees by creating 18″ high, circular wire cages from hardware cloth. Avoid use of plastic tree-wraps, as they harbor harmful pests, including borers. Hardware cloth (made from 1/4″ metal mesh), settled into the ground surrounding the tree, is what Zeke recommends to protect young trees from girdling by hungry rodents and/or nicks from unwieldy lawn crews. You may recall my mention of wire tubes for protecting ornamental trees in winter. The construction of hardware-mesh protection for fruit trees is quite similar (click here for previous post).

Young, semi-dwarf trees should also be supported with stakes for the first couple of years (fully dwarf trees should be supported throughout their lifetimes). Be sure to use a non-binding and non-chafing sling when strapping the tree to the stakes. Never use wire or twine —which may cut through the tender, outer bark— and avoid tying twine directly around the tree. Rubber or canvas slings, secured to the stakes with twine, work well to support young trees and prevent them from toppling or rocking in the wind.

Zeke demonstrates fruit thinning on a peach tree  —to one peach every 6″ or so— and explains the importance of this technique. Failure to thin heavy crops of fruit may result in broken branches or limbs and poor fruit production the following season

When selecting young trees, buy early in the season from a reputable orchard, nursery or garden center, and always have a careful look at the entire tree, including the root zone (lift gently at the base and slide the rootball from the pot to insure a healthy, non-pot-bound tree). Also, have a look at the leaves, bark and the basic structure of the tree. Does it look healthy; free of wilted or skeletonized leaves? Avoid bringing trouble home to your garden, and once planted, keep a regular look-out for tent caterpillars and other pests by checking on your trees, and supplying water if necessary, every few days.

Zeke demonstrates how vertically-inclined branches on this pear tree are trained to a more horizontal shape through tying techniques

After fielding some pest-management questions, Zeke went on to demonstrate formative pruning and tying techniques for training young fruit trees for best production. Pollination of fruit trees by honeybees and other insects is very important, and although many fruit trees are cross-pollinated by wide variety of local, flowering trees, Zeke points out that planting fruit trees in multiple usually gives the best results in terms of fruit production. Getting young, upright trees to flower and produce  —particularly upright pear, plum and apple trees— can be a challenge. To encourage fruit production —which takes place on horizontal branches— Zeke demonstrated how vertical limbs are gently trained in a more horizontal or angled position and tied down. This technique can be used with the more upright varieties of pears, apples, plums, peaches and other fruit trees, to encourage a more horizontally-tiered shape. If you have ever trained a climbing rose to flower (using horizontal fan shape) you will be familiar with this concept. Some trees have a naturally open, horizontally-branching framework and require little tying or pruning to produce fruit. For example, the Japanese ‘Shiro’ plum (Prunus ‘Shiro’) has a lovely, open shape; making it aesthetically pleasing as an ornamental and productive as an edible. In addition to tying, Zeke explained the process of thinning apple blossoms from the average of five per cluster to one or two blossoms per cluster. What about pruning? Zeke advises that over-pruning young fruit trees is a mistake. Other than correcting tight crotch angles and removing competing leaders —or other obvious problems like rubbing or broken branches— avoid pruning fruit trees for the first few years. Later on in the life of your fruit tree, prune trees during winter dormancy to keep the shape low, open and horizontally branching, as well as to remove diseased or seasonally damaged wood.

Zeke demonstrates how he would prune this young Honey Crisp apple tree; selecting a strong, central leader and removing a competing, vertical branch

If a gardener is hoping to harvest fruit in the near future, adding a few early-to-bear peach and pear trees would be a great place to start. Walker Farm had several varieties of each on hand; including golden ‘Bartlett’ pears and north-hardy, sweet and juicy ‘Redhaven’ peaches. Zeke  discussed some of the best varieties of cherries for our area, noting that trees producing tart fruits —such as ‘Danube’ and ‘Montmorency’— do better than the sweet cherry varieties this far north. But he quickly dispelled the myth that hardy fruit trees grown locally will do better than those grown outside of this region. Because fruit tree varieties are genetically identical, and grafted upon rootstock, a tree raised in Washington (hardy to your zone) has as good a chance of survival as one grafted and raised up the road. Still, I plan to shop for fruit trees locally to take advantage of the expert advice given by lifelong farmers like Zeke Goodband and Jack Manix. An experienced, successful farmer’s words-of-wisdom —and quick wit— are worth their weight in gold.

Thank you to Zeke Goodband for an incredible seminar, and to Walker Farm for sponsoring a spring’s worth of Saturday morning gardening seminars, free to the public! (Click here for information on upcoming seminars, and register to save your seat)

To read more about Zeke Goodband & his work at Scott Farm Orchard, click here and explore my previous posts (including recipe posts).

 Autumn Apple Harvest at Scott Farm in Vermont

Heirloom Apple Treasures

And of Course, the Best Part of Fruit Trees is … Experimenting in the Kitchen with Orchard-Fresh, Heirloom Fruit! Click here for French Apple Cake Recipe 

Resources for the Home Orchard …

The Best Apples to Buy And Grow (BBG)The Best Apples to Buy and Grow (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide Beth Hanson

Growing Fruit RHS Harry BakerGrowing Fruit (RHS Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening Harry Baker

the Backyard Orchardist stella ottoThe Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden Stella Otto

The Apple Grower, Michael PhillipsThe Apple Grower: Guide for the Organic Orchardist Michael Phillips

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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First Hints of a Changing Season …

September 12th, 2011 § Comments Off on First Hints of a Changing Season … § permalink

Shimmering Bronze Beauty in the Morning Light: Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’

As the last days of summer swirl by in a golden haze, the first hints of a changing season have begun to appear in my garden. Dusk settles in this quiet forest clearing a bit earlier each evening, and although days are still warm and bright, nights are much cooler now. Hooting owls and the cries of distant coyote have replaced the songbird’s twilight serenade. Each morning –greeted by the slow sunrise, heavy as honey– I stroll the garden paths and woodland trails, noting subtle shifts in color. I watch with a touch of sadness as Summer packs her luggage —folding up her gauzy, floral wardrobe and tucking away her perfumes— while Autumn, with her musky scent and leafy, golden crown, approaches the garden gate …

The Mauve-Violet Tones of Maiden Grass are Luminous at Dawn (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’)

The Blossoms of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ Have Developed a Rosy Blush

Favorite Late-Season Combinations, Such as This Pairing of Sedum ‘Matrona’ with Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) and Rudbeckia hirta, Once Again Take Center Stage in the Garden Show

Cornus kousa Fruits Glow Between the Glossy Green Leaves …

So Many Fill the Branches, Dangling Like Brightly Colored Pom-Poms

The Autumn-Kissed Leaves of this Doublefile Viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’) Glow Like Stained Glass

Scarlet Leaves (V. plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’) are a Striking in the Agains the Blue Horizon as a Westerly Wind Rustles the Shimmering, New, Metallic Tufts of Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens)

The Fragrant Blossoms of Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’ /aka Cimicifuga racemosa) Perfume the Secret Garden with a Soft, Sweet Scent

The Blossoms of this Variegated Bushclover (Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’) Spill Like a Waterfall, Over the Rusty Bench and Onto the Stone Terrace

Photos and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Golden Light & Glistening Gardens on a Frosty Winter’s Morn…

January 12th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Sunrise on the Frosty Tufts of Miscanthus sinensis

As a winter snow storm swirls about outside, my thoughts drift back to yesterday’s frosty morning, and the glistening, pink-gold sunrise. If today she reveals her wild fury, I am reminded that this tempestuous season more often shows us her beauty…

Morning Light on Humulus lupulus (Golden Hops Vine) with Frost Crystals

Silhouetted Branches of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ at Sunrise

Frost Crystals on Rudbeckia hirta, Gleam and Glisten in the Golden Sunlight

Gilded Korean Dogwood Branches (Cornus kousa) and Luminous Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ at the South-Eastern Edge of My Winter Garden

Silver-Tipped Twigs Strung Along a Chilly Cable-Rail (Humulus lupulus)

These Star-Dusted, Feathery Plumes Seem Fit for the Most Glamorous of Shoulders (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens)

The Beautiful, Crystal-Flecked Tea Viburnum Berries Remind Me of Shoulder-Grazing, Ruby Chandeliers

In this Moment, Could January be Upstaged by June?

Perfect Prisms – The Delightful Geometry of Frost Crystals in Pink-Gold Sunlight

At the Edge of the Garden, Saplings Form a Crystal Curtain

The Frosty Red-Twigs of this Japanese Maple Glow Brightly Against the Native Hemlock Forest

The Stillness of a Frosty Morning and a Perfect Winter Sunrise

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Bright, Red Winterberry & Juniper Magic: Lovely, Native Ilex Verticillata Sparkles & Glows on Grey, Chilly Days…

November 21st, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, paired here with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’

In the last weeks of late autumn —after the leaves have all fallen and deciduous trees stand naked and rattling in cold wind— the conifers and fruit-bearing shrubs reign supreme in my garden. Late fall and early winter days —laced with hoar frost and sugar-coatings of fresh snow— are brightened by the glow of colorful berries, twigs and richly hued conifers. All of the delicately textured remnants —needles, seeds and tiny twigs— catch falling ice crystals and snow flakes; like sweets coated in confectioners sugar.

One of my favorite late-season shrubs, the Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ (common, dwarf winterberry holly) planted in front of my Secret Garden, is a knock-out at this time of year. With bright red fruit ripening in September and holding through January or longer, this shrub is invaluable for color in the winter landscape. Chosen for its charmingly petite, compact size (about 3-5 feet high and wide)  I. verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ is a great choice for softening the edges of walls, buildings and fences. I grow several winterberry cultivars, including the beautiful, statuesque I. verticillata ‘Winter Red’ (9′ x 9′), in my landscape; combining them with conifers and other shrubs and trees to create season-spanning interest in the garden. Juniper make great companions for winterberry, and Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ forms a lovely, contrasting blue-green carpet in front of the dwarf I. verticillata ‘Red Sprite’. Winterberry are extremely hardy shrubs, (USDA zones 3-9) native to eastern North America. These shrubs are long lived and trouble free; provided they are planted in rich, moist, freely- draining, acidic soil in full sun. I use a thick, organic mulch to conserve moisture and keep the root zone of my shrubs cool on hot summer days. When planting winterberry, it’s important to remember that a male cultivar will be needed for pollination -but only the female plants will bear fruit. In the grouping pictured below, the bare twigs in the background are the branches of a male cultivar. The pollinating shrub needn’t be planted in the same grouping -anywhere nearby will do just fine.

In front of my Secret Garden, Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ looks like a tasty treat in a confectioner’s window. I snapped this picture the morning after the first snow…

Birds love plump, red winterberries, and will often gobble them up before the end of December. I keep planting more to please the crowd…

The bright red winterberries are even more stunning when snow drifts cover the carpet of juniper in a soft, white blanket

Rock candy mountain – Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, the morning after an ice storm

Our native winterberry (Ilex verticillata) can usually be found in wet, low-lying areas —places like marsh and swamp land or natural, open drainage areas— where it forms dense thickets. In the later part of the year, the shrubs are filled with colorful, red fruits, which hold until late winter unless they are picked clean by wildlife. Although winterberries are inedible to humans (mildly toxic) they are extremely popular with small mammals and overwintering birds. Gathering winterberry for holiday decorations is a tradition for me, as it is for many cold-climate gardeners. If you are collecting these berries from the wild, please be sure to check with the property owner before harvesting — and never harvest from public parks or protected lands. Always gather branches responsibly; leaving enough for the wildlife depending upon this important source of food. Remember to use sharp pruning shears and make clean cuts at a slight angle (clean pruners with rubbing alcohol after use to prevent spread of disease), as you would on ornamental shrubs in your own garden. Because I have a large garden of my own, I grow enough winterberry to both enjoy in holiday decorations and in the landscape, where I can share with local birds. And when January rolls ’round, I deposit my discarded, decorative branches in the snow for field mice and feathered friends.

If you have the room, it makes sense to grow extra winterberry for holiday decorations

Bright red winterberries sparkle in a vase here in my dining room

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Festive Autumn Centerpieces from Garden to Table…

November 20th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Curious Dinner Companions: Dried Leaves of Sago Palm Add a Light, Golden Touch to Traditional Gourds and White Pumpkins

At long last, it seems that the season of feasts and festivities is finally upon us. And like many of you, I am looking for ways to bring the garden’s bounty to my dinner table: pumpkins, squash, carrots and potatoes from the root cellar; peas and berries from the freezer; and fresh greens and alpine strawberries from the hoop houses in my potager. But the garden offers endless delights for the eye as well as the taste buds, and I always like to dress up the house, holiday buffet, and even everyday place settings, with arrangements from the natural world.

From bittersweet-twined jars and low bowls filled with floating candles and cranberries, to luminous hurricane lamps surrounded by pinecones, crabapples and seedpods, I continue to bring a bit of nature’s beauty indoors throughout the late fall and winter. And in creating a few new festive, table-top scenes, it occurred to me that I should pull up some of last year’s photos and decorating ideas from the blog archive. Though many of us are living on tight budgets these days, with a little creativity, a beautiful centerpiece for the dinner table is always within reach. Autumn walks along riverbanks, train tracks and woodland paths last week revealed tangles of bright orange bittersweet, resin-tipped pinecones, bright red hollyberries and a jumble of seedpods amongst the tawny meadow grasses. Bring a bag or basket along next time you take a stroll through the park or walk the dog through the wastelands. You may be surprised and delighted by the natural curiosities you will find. And while it’s possible to spend a fortune on holiday decorations, I often find that bits of twine, recycled jars and old wine bottles topped with candles are just as pretty as more expensive ornaments.

Here are some free and inexpensive ideas from the archive, and you can bet there will be more to come! After all, I always find that getting ready for the party is half the fun!

Bittersweet Vines Wrap Around a Glass Jar to Create a Floating Candle Centerpiece

A Minimalist Centerpiece: Floating Cranberries and Candles in a Low Bowl

Gathered Pinecones and Crabapples Make a Festive and Elegant Centerpiece, Indoors or Out (shown here on a table near the entry to my studio)

Golden Amsonia shimmers in a hand-blown glass vase I brought home one year from Italy

Winterberry Holly Branches Fill an Old Urn (Ilex verticillata)

Ornamental grasses (like this Deschampsia flexuosa) catch the light beautifully, indoors as well as out

A Homemade Terrarium Filled with Native Plants (See more terrarium ideas and step-by-step tutorials here)

A Vase Filled with Dry Hydrangea Paniculata Dresses Up a Stack of Books at the Foot of the Stairs

See More Garden Remnant Ideas from the Archive By Clicking Here and Here Too!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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