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January 30, 2012

Master Gardeners: Weather perfect for planting fruit trees

HUNTSVILLE — The winter has been a gardeners dream in Southeast Texas.  The extremely mild temperatures and abundant rain have been a marked change from the drought and record breaking temperatures landscapes endured in 2011.  

Mother Nature appears to be shining down on us because she has made the perfect planting climate for fruit trees and roses.  

Late winter has always been synonymous with tree planting season and roses, but folks it just does not get better than this — the weather is perfect, the soil is moist, and selection is at its best.  

Many folks ask, “Can I plant fruit trees in an urban yard?” Yes and your reward will be beautiful blooms in spring and a bountiful harvest in summer.  

Use  fruit trees  in place of a few shade trees or in addition. Fruit tree requirements are fairly simple:  full sun growing area (eight hours minimum), good drainage and consistent watering when planted and throughout the year.

Provide a minimum space of 15 feet between trees and plant in an elevated area, either by mounding the soil or a natural elevation.  

The easiest of the easy will be fig trees, pear trees, banana trees (yes, they will produce fruit here, especially after this winter), nectarine and citrus trees.  These are the most drought tolerant varieties, followed by peach, apple, plum, which will not tolerate drought conditions until they are well established (5 or more years).  The least drought tolerant tree is everyone’s favorite…..the pecan.    This means successful growing will be minimal if planted in a pasture and left to its own for survival.  Pecans are majestic native trees, and are extremely durable once established but really need pampering their first few years.  

Fruit tree varieties are categorized by chilling hours that determine which fruit tree varieties will do best in what areas.  Walker County, on average has 650 chilling hours a year (last year was 1100+), this year may be a bit lower.  A chilling hour, often referred to as .ch., is the amount of time below 45 degrees a plant is exposed too.  For instance a cherry tree in Washington DC will require 1150  chilling hours to bloom and would not do well in East Texas, but a Tex Royale peach with 250 c.h. would not only do well in East Texas but excellent in far south Texas, which is the area it was developed for.  The only drawback to a low chilling hour fruit tree,, is the possibility of a really intense freeze in early April, that could zap the buds, thus no fruit production, although the tree is still beautiful.  For this reason, planting an early, mid and late producer within each fruit variety is a good rule of thumb.  How would you know this without hours of research on the topic?  Ask the garden specialist at your favorite nursery…… this is just one topic that separates the wheat from the chafe in the garden industry.  Independent nurseries will carry the highest quality fruit tree on the market and plant in a specialty growing mix with a biodegradable peat pot, on most occasions.

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