I love bare root fruit trees. So much potential is contained in those now dormant branches. This week we received our bare root fruit trees at the nursery and already they are going home to gardens in the county. Buying your fruit trees bare root is the most economical way to add them to your garden. Later in the season fruit trees can be almost double in price of what they are now. So while the selection is still good, now is the time to pick out a couple. But what varieties should you choose? Here are some important things to consider when picking out your tree.
In warm winter climates like ours here on the Central Coast, it is important to know the minimum number of chill hours a particular tree needs and how many chill hours you get in your area. One model of determining chill hours uses the number of hours where the temperature falls between 32F and 45F. Here we range from under 300 hours for Nipomo to over 600 for Atascadero. Each year can be a little different some years being colder while others are warmer. Here you can find hours for most California counties. What this means if you are on the lower end of the scale is you need to find fruit tree varieties with the lowest number of chill hours required in order to get good production. Low chill varieties may produce in higher chill areas but because they bloom earlier, you risk having them blooming while going through heavy winter storms. So before you make a fruit tree purchase, know what your chill hours are and make sure to ask before you purchase. Most local nurseries do their best to select varieties that will do well in their area. This is not necessarily true of larger chain stores as they purchase for a larger area and online stores that ship nationwide. If you can’t get an answer at the store, do a little online research before you buy.
Self-Fruitful or Pollinator Required
Fruit trees that are described as self-fruitful will produce well without the assistance of another variety of the same fruit tree. Fruit trees that need a pollinator require another variety of the same tree or they will not produce well or at all. For example Burgundy Plums are self-fruitful and planting just one tree will give you good results. Mariposa plums, however, need to be planted with a Catalina, Nubiana or Santa Rosa plum in order to produce fruit. It’s recommended that you plant the trees within about 100 feet of each other. This means that it is possible to work with a neighbor’s trees if you can be assured of its variety.
Varieties within a particular type of fruit can ripen at various times of the season. If you absolutely love apricots and want to eat them all summer long, the best way is to select a tree that ripens early (Katy), one that ripens mid-season (Goldcot) and one that ripens late (Blenheim). This will allow you to have fresh fruit for a longer period. If, however, you like to can or jam your fruit, you may want to select trees that ripen at the same time so that you can do all your work at once. A great resource is Dave Wilson Nursery’s Fruit & Nut ripening chart.
There can be a great deal of variation in the taste of fruit varieties. The best way to determine what you like is to sample varieties the previous season, preferably from a local grower. But since you are shopping in January, you won’t find summer fruits available now. And if you can’t get recommendations from friends and trusted gardeners, taste tests are your next best resource. Here are two of my favorite resources:
Sunset Western Garden Book (affiliate link)
My favorite picks for our area include Pink Lady apples, Blenheim apricots, Santa Rosa and Burgundy Plums.
What About Dwarf Trees?
My personal feeling about dwarf trees is this. Trees that are bred with the primary goal to be small are normally not bred for production or flavor. If it doesn’t taste amazing, why grow it? If you are limited on space and want to grow a variety of fruits, check out this from Dave Wilson nursery on how to plant three trees in one hole which is also referred to as high density planting. With some pruning twice a year (summer and winter) you can keep the trees to the size you desire.
Selecting a Tree at the Nursery
Once you’ve picked your type and variety keep the following in mind when selecting a tree at the nursery:
Check the bud union. This is that knobby part at the base of the trunk where the top grafted portion meets the root stock. It should be nice and straight and have no dark discoloration of sap leaking from it.
Look for holes or oozing sap. This can indicate insect pests.
Look for dark or discolored bark. This can indicate disease.
If you are able to see the roots, check that they are crisp and firm.
If you have specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.