Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What's Blooming and Sprouting?

One of the best ways to keep track of your garden is to keep a journal. In my case, it's this blog, so here are some notes on what the garden is doing right now...

Almond Trees
This is the first year that my Hall's Hardy Almonds have bloomed for me. They're about 4 feet tall at the moment. (They can get up to 8 feet tall.) There aren't too many blooms this year. I may or may not end up with some almonds off of these trees. If not this year, then next year, I should have some.
The blossoms are surprisingly large and showy. They are easily bigger than most cherry and plum blossoms - a little over twice as wide as my thumb.

The weather is supposed to get close to freezing this weekend. It's something I need to keep an eye on. I may end up covering these trees with some floating row cover to protect the blossoms if it looks like it's going to freeze.

Blueberry Bushes
Buds are swelling on the early blueberry bushes. I have some late varieties that aren't close to blooming yet, but this is a shot of my Pink Lemonade blueberry.

Pink lemonade blueberries have an intense blueberry flavor, so I'm really happy to see that this one is finally blooming.

Nanking Bush Cherry
The nanking red bush cherries are blooming for the first time this year. I've had them in the ground for a little over 2 full years now. They were both about a foot tall when I planted them from a 4" pot. This one was composted with 7-year-old horse manure this year and is almost twice the size as its sister plant. (They were both the same size last year.) The younger one is also blooming, though not as profusely. Once they are done blooming, I am going to transplant the smaller one to a better location.
Wild Cherry
I had to get a shot of this. I love how the branches are criss-crossing through this shot. The flowers are really similar in size and color to the bush cherry.

My front entrance has a very warm, west-facing micro-climate. These bi-colored daffodils ("Monal") have been blooming for some time. In fact, they're already starting to fate, but they're an early season variety. I have some mid-season daffodils that are just starting to bloom, which are all yellow, and some late-season daffodils in my orchard that still aren't close to blooming. (Placing daffodils in an orchard helps to deter 4-legged pests like rodents and deer.)
'Monal' daffodils are one of the earliest to bloom each year.

The miniature daffodils get a bit more shade than the bi-colored ones. I can't remember the cultivar of these little guys. They might be "Little Gem", but I can't seem to find the receipt listing the exact variety. (Little Gem and Monal are both available from Brent & Becky's Bulbs here in Virginia.)
Mini daffodils are still going strong.
Pawpaw Tree
I only had a total of about 4 to 6 flower buds in my pawpaw patch last year. I'm pleased to see that I've gotten a LOT more flower buds this year. At the moment, the trees are mostly bare, with the leaves just starting to sprout on a few of the trees. The buds are well-developed and should start blooming soon. Keep watching for a post with more information about this type of native fruit tree.
Peach Tree
The flower buds are going to start blooming any day now. I had to prune a couple of branches a week or so ago. I think I did it early enough as the plant was still pretty dormant. Now is probably too late to prune peaches due to the warm weather. (Peach tree borer is a wasp and is attracted to the smell of fresh peach sap. I've already seen paper wasps flying about.)
The peas I planted at the beginning of the month are already an inch or two out of the ground. I've added some cages to trellis them and some rhizobium inoculant to ensure they are able to make plenty of their own nitrogen. ("Pea and bean booster" is often found in the seed section at the garden center. It contains the rhizobium species that forms a symbiotic bond with members of the legume family and allows the plant to pull nitrogen from the air. Nitrogen is one of the major building blocks of amino acids, which is why members of the pea and bean family are so high in protein.)

They're sprouting.You can see I've mulched them with a light layer of straw to protect them from heavy rain (much like grass seed).
Tree of Heaven
I keep trying to get rid of this tree, but it's very persistent. Here's a shot of a newly forming bud. The leaf scars are really big, as are the young twigs. You never find slender, delicate growth on this tree.
Black Walnut
The new flower buds aren't quite as far along as the tree of heaven, but it's relatively similar. Note the different twig color.
This is a Japanese species of raspberry. The twigs are covered with a very fine fuzz of prickles. The twigs are usually a deep red color as well (though a have found a few specimens that aren't.) This week, the leaves are just barely starting to sprout. Some of my canes are going to be two-years-old this season, so I expect to get flowers and fruit sometime this summer.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Planting An Apple Tree

Although planting a tree seems simple, I wanted to share my process for working in our local Stafford, Virginia clay soil.

First, A Note On Soils
Soil is made up of a combination of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. Sand, silt, and clay are the mineral components. Sand particles are relatively large; sandy soil drains quickly, but holds nutrients poorly. Clay is the opposite end of the spectrum, with microscopically small particles that are capable of holding onto nutrients and water really well. Sometimes too well. Clay has a nasty reputation for poor drainage.

Lots of people know that a balanced combination of sand, silt, and clay is called a 'loam', the holy grail of garden soil. (Almost nobody has loam naturally. Especially in urban/suburban areas.) People also make a big deal over whether there is too much clay, but what most people don't know is that the soil structure is far more important. When I say structure, I mean the way that the tiny soil particles clump together into aggregates to allow pore space.  Pore space allows water and air to penetrate the soil.

Pore space is important because the way you transform clay into a brick is by removing pore space (and then adding heat that change permanent). So, when you work with clay you want to make sure you preserve soil aggregates and the pore space they create.

Three Surefire Ways to Destroy the Structure of Clay Soils:
1) Compaction - do you ever remember working with clay for art in grade school? Do you remember your teacher telling you to pound the clay to get all the pore space air bubbles out of it? Well, the equivalent of this in your garden soil is put a lot of weight on your soil. Especially repeatedly and/or when it is wet. When your soil is sopping wet, don't drive heavy things over it. You want to be careful about walking on it when it's really wet too.

Btw, the reason why suburban and urban soils is so bad is because first, they scrape away all of the original topsoil leaving the subsoil. And second, the developer proceeds to run backhoes and all sorts of other heavy equipment all over it  - in all weather. Any pore space that was originally there gets pounded out before you ever move into your home. This is why I've met so many people who have trouble growing grass at their new luxury home.

You can see the mark where the pitchfork tine has
sheared the soil, making it look shiny and as smooth
as pottery. You want to minimize this. Note how the
rest of the area is breaking into crumbles. With a
shovel, the entire surface of the cut would be sheared.
2) Sodium - my soil science professor used to tell us that the easy way to remember 'Na' stands for 'sodium' on the periodic table is because sodium does NAsty things to soil. Chemically, it makes the individual clay particles repel from each other - making them all equidistant from each other means there is no longer any pore space.

Don't use table salt in your garden - no matter what pinterest tells you about how well it kills the weeds organically. (You might be able to get away with this in a sandy soil in limited amounts, but I especially do not recommend it on a clay soil.) Should your child ever go dump a container of Morton table salt in a section of your yard, calcium (generally in the form of gypsum) reverses the effect that sodium has on soil structure.

3) Shearing - have you ever filled in a hole with wood putty or caulk? You know, when you scrape a shapeless blob of the stuff over the hole to fill it in? Well, clay particles are so tiny, this can essentially happen with your pore space. The really unfortunate thing is, it can happen when you are digging with your shovel.

You are better off digging with a pitchfork in clay soil if you can manage it. Again, avoid working on the soil when it is really wet.

My Process for Planting an Apple Tree
1) Grab your pitchfork. (And don't go after your quarrelsome neighbor.)

2) Check the soil moisture level. You don't want it to be sopping wet, nor do you want it to be bone dry. If you work when the soil has a small amount of moisture, it will break apart easily into crumbles. Then those crumbles tend to stick around. (These conditions are ideal any time you're going to work with clay soil - especially if you're ever going to rototill it.) You can actually test this to see if it will crumble in your hand.

3) Dig a Hole. Make it just as deep as the container, but at least twice as wide. The same depth because the soil will settle and you don't want the crown of the plant to sink down lower than it should be. Ideally, you want the sides to slope in gradually.

It is OK if the soil doesn't look super-smooth on the sides of your hole. Having irregular, choppy, rough edges is actually better for the plant. When a root hits a material that is significantly harder than what it's been growing in, it figures it's hit a rock and turns to move along the rock face until it finds a) softer soil or b) a crevice to jam itself into to work its way between two rocks. The soil you eventually dump back in will probably be a bit softer/looser than it was before. If the hole is too regular and smooth and round, your roots may never venture out into the surrounding soil.

When I planted an apple tree the other day, I piled all of the soil I dug out to the downward side of the hole. You know how you're often advised to make a ring around the tree to help keep the water in when you first water it? Well, the 'ring' isn't needed on the top side of the hill because water always flows downhill. Adding soil on the uphill side isn't benign either - piling soil on the uphill side would essentially divert runoff coming from further up the hill away from my tree. That's not something I want, so I focus on making a mini-berm on the bottom side. I actually want the mini berm to be a little higher than where the trunk will meet the soil so the water will sink in around the trunk. Also, making the area completely level may allow the water to run off.

When I plant, I don't dig a simple hole. I add trenches leading in toward where my tree will be planted. On a hill, this means I add two channels going in a V shape up the hill. The idea is that any runoff further up will hit the channel and then start flowing down toward my new fruit tree. On level ground, I spread them out in about 5 directions like spokes. The bottom of each channel slopes down toward the rootball pit. This creates an area of looser (and damper) soil for my tree roots to spread out into, encouraging them to venture out into the broader landscape. Afterall, the further the roots go out, the better they will be able to capture moisture during our droughty summers.

4) Add Organic Matter. Almost any problem in the soil can be solved by adding organic matter. Organic mater helps bind soil particles into aggregates, improving drainage. At the same time, it can hold 6x its weight in water, so it improves and moderates the moisture level in the soil. It also holds onto nutrients and encourages microbial life in the soil, which works to release nutrients from both the organic matter and the mineral portions of the soil.

Now, I don't make the planting hole too rich. If you do that, your tree will concentrate its roots where the 'good stuff'' is and that can interfere with it's ability to spread out into a wider area, which can hurt during periods of low rainfall. Instead, I mix the organic matter with the existing soil.

In the case of our local clay, this often means I grab a chunk of dislodged sod and whack it repeatedly against the backside curve of the pitchfork, or the ground, to dislodge small chunks of soil. If the soil isn't super-wet, the soil breaks off into crumbles and then I can actually mix the organic material throughout the hole with my hands as easily as any pre-packaged soil mixture.

The organic matter I mix in may be a bag of planting medium I pick up from the store, compost, or even some of the bark-based planting medium that came in the pot of the plant I'm installing. In fact, I usually try to get as much of the plant's current potting soil mixed into the natural soil of its final home as possible. This helps to give the plant a transition from one soil environment to another. I also amend the trenches I have going out from the main hole.

5) Gently Tease Apart the Rootball.  If you are planting a bare-root tree, this isn't an issue. But if your tree comes in a pot, then you want to make sure you don't have any girdling roots (roots that circle around the tree relatively close to the trunk - they will restrict the tree's ability to send out roots in the future and may even strangle the tree over time if they are really close to the trunk).

Plants are often re-potted several times in the nursery before they come home with you. Sometimes you may pull out a rootball from a pot and think, 'OK, I don't see any roots creeping around the sides', and then think you're fine. However, what happens if the roots became overcrowded when the plant was stuffed in a pot two sizes smaller? They might still be overcrowded two or three inches in. This is why I try to gently tease apart the rootball as much as possible. There's usually at least one root (the taproot) that wants to be longer than the container will allow and has been forced to circle the pot a fair distance. I try very very hard to avoid breaking any roots during this process, but if the pot is overcrowded, I will allow myself to break through some of the smallest, hairlike roots.

6) Place Your Tree.  I try to gently tease the roots so that they will spread out in different directions. If there are really, really long roots that would need to circle around in my planting hole, I try to direct them so that they are heading out along one of my trenches. (Another reason for doing a trench: you have a place to put those extra-long roots without having to dig up half your yard for a gigantic, wide hole.)

The crown of the tree is where the trunk meets the root system. You will usually see a difference in the color of the bark at the crown. On fruit trees, it is often NOT the widest part of the trunk. Fruit trees are almost always grafted. As a part of knitting the two trees together, the tree forms callous tissue, which can make the graft union more swollen. Evidence of a pruning cut will often appear near the graft as well (but not always depending on the grafting method). Trees are almost always grafted 3 inches to 5 above the crown because if the grafted tree has a chance to send down roots, it will overcome the dwarfing influence of the grafted rootstock.

You want the crown to be right at the final soil level. You also want to check to see if your tree is upright. (The tree can adapt to being a bit crooked, but it might drive you nuts.)  Step down lightly on the soil around the trunk to make sure the tree has a firm contact with the new soil.

7) Stake if the tree is in a windy location or looks like it is going to tip.  If it looks like the tree will stake upright without needing additional help, I do not stake. Small whips often do not need staking. Larger specimens with lots of branches up top are more at risk.

If I do stake, I remember to remove any supports within a year. I also try to avoid staking immediately next to the trunk because it can do weird things to the trunk when the stake is close enough to consistently deprive light to one side of the trunk .

8) Water.  One long soak is better than 5 short sprinkles. The apple tree I just planted is still dormant, so it doesn't need as much water. But I make sure that any new tree gets supplemental water for the first summer. I have ordered a few WaterGators off of ebay to help provide a consistent supply of water to new trees while they establish during the hot summer months.

One word of caution: I have seen blackwidows take up residence under the WaterGators because it's dark and it's moist, and that moisture attracts prey (other bugs). This is especially true with the junior watergators, which have a lower, wider profile and a darker color (the brown absorbs more heat than the green bags). By the way, you may be horrified to know that Stafford has not one, but two different species of black widow: one with just the red hourglass on the bottom and one with the red hourglass underneath AND red spots on the top of its swollen abdomen. I've found three of the black ones and one of the red-and-black ones since I moved here 3 years ago.

9) Mulch is good for your tree. It helps keep the soil (and therefore the roots) cool, keeps the water from evaporating as quickly, and protects the soil from erosion/force of heavy raindrops. If you use an organic mulch, it also absorbs water and adds nutrients/organic mater to the soil. For the apple I planted yesterday, I actually mulched it with straw because that is what I readily had on hand. I will mulch it with shredded hardwood later.

When it comes to mulch, trees like t-shirts, not turtlenecks. You want to keep the mulch 2-3 inches away from the trunk of the tree. This helps the crown to stay healthy. It also helps keep mice from chewing the outer layer of bark off the side of the tree, killing it via girdling.

For Further Information on Caring for Apple Trees
I recommend taking a look at what the Extension Service at Virginia Tech has put together about caring for apple trees:

Friday, March 11, 2016

Planting Progress: Onions, Chicory, Mache, and Spinach

The average date of last frost for this part of Virginia is about April 20th, give or take a few days.

Hot weather crops (tomatoes, squash, cucumber, peppers, eggplant, corn, etc.) cannot tolerate any frost at all. However, there are a lot of cold weather crops, and a lot of them can take a little bit of frost. Some can even take a bit of snow.

At this point, I have already planted all my peas. They're even starting to sprout. (I put them in on the last day of February.) I have also planted collard greens, which are interplanted with radishes (both went in on March 7th). Today, I put out my onion sets and I interplanted them with salad greens.

What's In?
In all, this means I currently have the following in the vegetable garden:

  • Chicory - looks a bit like a dandelion lettuce leaf (aster family)
  • Collard - (brassica family)
  • Mache - also called corn salad or lamb lettuce. It's super-cold hardy. I could have planted it a month ago. (valerian family)
  • Onions - "Red Baron" (lily family)
  • Radish - cherry radish (brassica family)
  • Shell Peas - these need to be removed from their shell. Bush variety. (legume family)
  • Snap Peas - you can eat the whole pod. Vine variety. (legume family)
  • Spinach - also very cold hardy and could have gone in sooner. (amaranth family)

When I say I've 'interplanted' something, it means that I have planted both of them together in the same bed. For both radish/greens and onion/greens, you have one plant with a large, solid root or bulb under the ground but relatively few leaves living right next to a plant with a shallow, spreading, fibrous root system and lots of full, bushy leaves. The above- and belowground parts fit together like puzzle pieces. Onions and the green leaf crops are also from different botanical families, so it helps each plant avoid disease. Onions also repel small herbivores (rabbits, deer, mice), which helps to protect my succulent leaves from a being eaten. The radishes and the collards are both in the brassica family, so I don't get the disease resistance bonus with them, but radishes mature so quickly that they will be out of the bed before the collards are fully grown.

What's Next?
Some of these will need to wait until next week to ensure they're not out too early, but these are more cold weather crops that I will be adding to the garden soon.

  • Beets
  • Broccoli (transplant)
  • Brussel Sprout (transplant)
  • Cabbage (transplant)
  • Carrots
  • Cress
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Pak Choi
  • Radicchio
  • Swiss Chard
  • Turnip

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Apple Tree Varieties

I have a love/hate relationship with apples. I love eating them. My kids love eating them. In fact, it's not uncommon for them to go through a pound of apples per day. I hate that Stafford, Virginia does not have the ideal climate to grow them. Like tulips, apples are adapted to relatively cold areas. They prefer areas with lower humidity. The Shenandoah Valley grows most of the apples in the state of Virginia because it doesn't get as muggy at elevation. 
This map, from, shows that most of the State's apples are grown at elevation.
The website is a good resource to find orchards that will allow you to pick your own apples.

Difficult does not mean impossible - particularly if you grow the right varieties. The above map also shows several apple orchards along the major rivers relatively close to the bay. The nearest orchard to us appears to be Westmoreland Berry Farm, near Colonial Beach. According to their facebook page in Sept. 2015, this orchard was growing Gala, Golden Supreme, Empire, Jonagold, Crispin, and Rome apples, which are pretty much all commercial varieties. 

What Makes a Good Commercial Variety of Apple? 
Commercial varieties of apples are chosen because they ship well to fulfill grocery stores' demand for fresh apples year-round. Commercial varieties need to keep and they need to sell at market. (This usually means that they need a nice color, consistent size/shape, a sweet taste, and some degree of name recognition.) Flavor is often sacrificed for durability.

In a backyard planting, the apples that are going to do the best are going to be disease resistant and have good flavor. We don't need to ship our apples across the state, so a delicate skin is OK. Good flavor is more important to a home gardener than consistent size and shape. However, I hate that most of the apple trees I see available for sale are the same commerical varieties I see in the store.

Why Don't I Want to Plant What I See in the Grocery Store?
Just because an apple is widely grown does not mean that it is going to be a good choice for our climate. Arguably, the more widely planted a given apple is, the more likely you are to have diseases that are able to target it. In fact, I have heard apple expert Dan Bussey compare diseases to computer hackers: they are constantly looking for a way to crack the apple's genetic code. And the more a single variety is planted, the more chances a disease has to crack that code.

Think of the Irish Potato famine. They had massive crop failure because almost every single potato in Ireland was one specific cultivar. Each potato had the exact same set and combination of genes because it is easier to propagate potatoes by cutting the tubers into "seed potatoes" than to grow potatoes from true seeds.

Just so you know, apples never come true from seed, so in order to get a specific variety of apple, you need to graft. That means that every single 'Fuji' apple out there, is actually the exact same tree with the exact same genes. The top half of the tree is grafted onto the root system for a different tree. These rootstocks are also cloned, and are given very short codes for names, like "M.9" or "G.5-A". In some ways, the way we grow apples today is the same as how the Irish grew potatoes before the great famine.

It doesn't need to be this way. Apples have a tremendous amount of genetic diversity. The way that apples mix their genes when they go to seed is dramatic. You could get little red crabapples from a seed inside a Granny Smith, for example. As a result, there are over 17,000 different cultivars of apples that have been grown in the United States alone since Colonial times. Many of the heirlooms were adapted to grow in specific regions with the accompanying soil, temperatures, humidity, and frost dates (relevant for not having your blossoms freeze).

A lot of the heirloom varieties have superior taste as well. And each cultivar has different properties. Some are sweet for fresh eating, some are tart. Some cultivars hold their shape for cooking while others are juicy and delicate. There are apples that have tastes or fragrances reminiscent of fruit punchbananaraspberry ice cream, even turpentine. Some apple varieties are very old. "Ashmead's Kernel" has been grown since 1700 in England and Åkerö has been grown since the 1400s in Sweden, for example.  "Baldwin" has been grown since 1740 in Massachusetts. These varieties are tasty enough that people still grow them. "Fuji" is one of the most widely planted commerical cultivars at the moment, but even it dates to the 1930s in Japan. (I'd argue that it's so popular because it still has some of the full-bodied taste of the heirlooms.) The thing is, Fuji apples have become so popular at the grocery store that you consistently see it for sale at nurseries regardless of whether or not it does well in a given climate. (Fujis don't really like hot weather. A newer variety, called 'Red Fuji' does better in warm weather.)

What Have I Planted? 
I've generally stuck with apples that are noted for being low-care or for doing well in warm areas:   Arkansas Black, Stayman, and Enterprise are already on my property. Admittedly, I also purchased a new variety called Blushing Delight as a semi-impulse purchase at Home Depot earlier this week. Here's some more about the apples:

Arkansas Black Spur is known for being able to handle hot, humid summers and for keeping really well in storage. (It is hard as a brick when it is harvested and needs to sit around for a few months before it's soft enough to eat, at which point it becomes a tasty desert apple.) I planted this apple so I would have something for storage and for cooking. It does not brown when cut, which makes it good for salads or school lunches. Also, I needed to have a pollinator for Enterprise. I was running low on compost when I originally planted this apple. I started with a small specimen, and it is noted for having a slow growth habit. It's still really small. 

Enterprise is known for tasting relatively similar to Fuji, but with better disease resistance. It tastes spicy right off the tree (still tasty) and then mellows in storage. Many of the apples from the same breeding program that produced it are noted for being good in hot weather (e.g. Goldrush, Williams Pride, Pristine). I planted this one for fresh eating. This is a late-season apple. It is doing the best of any of the apples currently on my property. Granted, I also bought a larger specimen and then took extra care to amend the soil with organic matter, and keep it especially well-watered... This could explain most of the difference.  

Stayman is a triploid variety, meaning it has 3 sets of chromosomes instead of the usual 2. This means it can't pollinate other apple varieties. It is an older, heirloom variety of apple that is extremely disease resistant and hardy. It is good for cider/juice, baking, and fresh eating and is widely planted in the Shenandoah valley. It doesn't keep at room temperature for very long, but can be stored in the refrigerator for 6 weeks.) I plan to use mine for juice. Mine had a major setback due to some deer damage and I am waiting to see how well it recovers this year. 

Blushing Delight is something I saw it at the Home Depot, along with another variety from the same breeding program (Tangy Green). I noticed that it is a columnar tree that only gets 2 feet wide and 8-10 feet tall. Now I've heard of a few columnar apple varieties before, but this one was new to me, so I did a quick google search on it using my phone for any notes about disease resistance. I discovered it was developed a few years ago (2009) in the Czech Republic in order to work as a patio container tree or in a small garden. It is supposed to have good disease resistance. 

The chilling requirements are listed as 800-1200 chill hours in comparison to 500-600 chill hours for Arkansas Black and 800 for Stayman. So I had to ask myself it this area is cold enough for it. The Czech Republic has a varied climate across the country. It seems to be a bit more mild than here with slightly warmer winters and cooler summers. Some areas of the country are dramatically warmer than here, but the apple is supposed to have good cold tolerance (to zone 4). The only chill hour map I could find for our area notes we should expect to get around 1500 chill hours here in Stafford on an average year, which exceeds the variety's minimum chill hour requirement. I decided to plant it as a trial. I really want to see how it does given how little space it needs to grow. 

A Note on Apple Tree Vendors
Each year, a lot of different stores carry fruit trees: Home Depot, Lowes, even Kmart and Costco.

I always approach fruit tree selections from big box stores with a bit of skepticism. A national chain tries to standardize its selections for the sake of corporate simplicity and the ease of maintaining its website. I never know who selects and orders the plant varieties for specific stores. Is it an experienced horticulturalist who is allowed some degree of autonomy? Or someone whose main exposure to gardening is tallying the weekly sales totals for the entire eastern seaboard?  

Ultimately, a big box store is going to offer what they think will sell, and often, this translates into what people specifically ask for.  The thing is, people generally only ask for the commercial varieties because, unless you grow a non-commercial variety, that's all they've ever eaten. Although commercial varieties are widely planted, eaten, and requested, that doesn't mean it's a good for a given area.  

For example, this year, I've seen lots of Honeycrisp apples available for sale. However, according to this article in The Seattle Times, "Its flavor is inconsistent and fades in long storage and it is maddeningly difficult to grow." (Emphasis mine.) As much as I like the taste of a good Honeycrisp apple, I'm not sure if it is really suitable for the home hobby grower. Tim Burford's book notes that Honeycrisp apples generally do not get their characteristic sweetness and crisp texture in southern climates. 

The trees at the big box stores are often very reasonably priced. I'm not above grabbing a good deal if I happen to see a good plant, but the selection is often limited. I always like to do my own research (even on my phone) to double check how suitable a given cultivar will be.

I am also always careful to inspect the trees for disease. Big box stores offer great prices because they don't exactly pay top dollar for top horticulturalists. That said, I have seen horribly diseased fruit trees at one of our local small nurseries on Garrisonville Road. It was in the middle of last summer, well past major fruit tree planting season, and I mentioned it to the staff, so hopefully the diseased trees were trashed.

If you are looking to add some diversity to your garden, here are a few specialty vendors... 

* Big Horse Creek Farm - based in North Carolina. They have an extensive list of warm climate apples. They operate as a custom order nursery. You find a variety you like, place a request for them to graft it, and they send it to you. Because of the small size of the nursery and the time involved, they need to have orders by March 1 for delivery the following November. They also sell extra trees in Mid-September. They have an excellent reputation.*
* Edible Landscaping - based near Charlottesville, VA. I have personally ordered from them on more than one occasion. They have good selection, but are a little understaffed on weekends.
* Kuffel Creek - based in Southern California. They focus on trying to find apples that thrive in hot weather. (Note: this does not necessarily mean humid weather.) Oddly, they have even found some varieties of apples that are apple that are able to grow in arid areas of Africa (which generally goes against the accepted knowledge of apple chilling hour requirements).
* Old VA Apples - this website hasn't been updated in a while, but they have a list of apples that have been traditionally planted in Virginia. Since most of Virginia's apples are grown at elevation, you may want to find out whether the apples were also grown in the Piedmont areas. 
* Trees of Antiquity - this site specializes in heirloom fruit tree varieties. You would need to do your own research to see how well they would work in Stafford County.This company also has a excellent reputation online.*

If you end up seeing a variety (at a local nursery or online), is an excellent quick reference to a gazillion different apple varieties. If you prefer to read books, Apples of North America: 192 exceptional varieties for gardeners,growers, and cooks by Tom Burford is available through the Rappahannock Regional library.

*Dave's Gardening World has a site to rate the reputation of mail order nurseries, here.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Review of Lala Star Sweet Cherry

Lala Star is a new variety of sweet cherry. It was bred in an area of Italy with a similar climate to Virginia (though not as cold). has been offering it for trial here in the US.

I decided to try it rather than Stella cherry because I was intrigued by the cherry's origins. I planted it almost a year ago at the same time as a Montmorency sour cherry. I'm writing this post because as a new variety to the US, I think it might be beneficial to have some feedback on how it is doing in Mid-Atlantic/East Coast conditions. 

Some of the Lala Star's pruning cuts are oozing.
Some are not. Bacterial canker is suspected.
Oozing Bark
Unfortunately, I think my tree has a bacterial disease. It's oozing a tobacco-colored or dark-amber-colored gel each time it rains from a couple of different locations on the plant. When it gets hot and dry, the oozing seems to dry up. 

It's not coming from every pruning location, but it is coming from at least two of them, plus a couple of cracks in the bark. 

I haven't noticed this type of ooze on my Montmorency or any of the other Rosaceae family fruit trees on my property. (I also have 3 varieties of apple, 3 varieties of pear, 2 a Halls Hardy Almonds, a Methley plum, a Harrow Diamond peach, a Breda Giant medlar, and some Nanking Bush Cherries.) 

Cytospora Bacterial Canker?
I suspect it is bacterial canker, specifically Cytospora canker (Leucostoma cincta), which is an opportunistic pathogen that often enters through wounds. I have had the occasional deer visitor, so I have needed to clip off a ragged twig on a couple of occasions. The deer-damaged area is where I first noticed the oozing. 

The deer have damaged other trees in the area as well (including the other cherry) on the same visit. However, this the only tree in my orchard that is displaying the canker. This makes me wonder whether it is not as resistant to Cytospora as some of my other varieties. I don't know how normal it is not have this type of canker, but it seems to have spread quickly from those first two locations. Admittedly, the deer left a far more ragged wound on this tree compared to the mostly clean clips they gave to my other trees. The Methley plum also got a ragged wound due to deer and it has not shown any symptoms, however. (BTW, I sanitize my pruning shears between cuts.)

Given that the tree was installed a little less than a year go in this location and that it is oozing from multiple locations, I don't think the tree can be saved. I plan to remove it later this weekend because I don't want it to infect any of my other trees. Eventually, I will plant another sweet cherry in a different location. If I replant in this location, it will be with something that isn't in the Rosaceae family.

You can see here, that the ooze is building up
into distinct globs at this pruning cut. It also oozes
from another cut further up.

The tree is also oozing from cracks in the bark.
This is one of two locations with this type of crack.

Other Notes:
 I haven't sprayed these trees with anything, but I have composted them with composted horse manure. (The manure pile had been composting for 8 years, so it was essentially a histosol by the time I applied it.) I've needed to pick off some Japanese beetles off of the foliage this month. Some of the area underneath the trees are planted with peanuts for additional soil-building activity. Earlier in the season, I sprinkled some of the area with dried blood meal to deter deer and to provide nitrogen before the peanuts were planted. I have been giving supplemental water in between rain storms this season as my trees are all still too young to be fully established.