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Peach Leaf Curl

Peach Leaf curl is caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans. The spores of the fungus lodge in the bud scales of peach and nectarine trees in the summer, overwintering there until the tree begins to break dormancy. At that time, the new leaf tissues are infected, causing the cells to grow larger than normal, which gives the diseased leaf the characteristic swollen, distorted look. Wet conditions and temperatures from 48° to 70° favor the fungus. Sounds like our typical spring weather, doesn’t it?

Tight buds, before swelling

Buds swelling

Now is the time to be monitoring peach and nectarine trees for bud swell. To control peach leaf curl, it is important to treat for the disease just as the bud begin to swell. This can occur anytime from mid-January through early February, depending on temperatures. The last couple of years, bud swell has started in early January. We’ve had a lot of cold weather this year. In contrast to the last couple of winters, the peaches at Cloud Mountain are just beginning to swell now.

At Cloud Mountain, we use lime-sulfur to control peach leaf curl. Fixed copper products are also effective and much easier for the home owner to buy. Sulfur and copper products don’t kill anything. They act as prophylactic controls, smothering the spores by not allowing sufficient oxygen for the spores to germinate and infect the buds. Take home message: The spray has to be on the tree before temperatures and rain allow an infection! And, a reminder, even organic pesticides are toxic, so always follow label directions!

Leaves distorted by peach leaf curl fungus

Why control Peach Leaf Curl? A slight infection probably won’t seriously damage your trees, but severe or repeated infections can. The distorted leaves cannot photosynthesize as well as uninfected leaves, and usually drop early. This reduced leaf surface stresses the tree. Severe infections also distort the new growth and flower buds, reducing fruiting. We don’t always get the timing exactly right, but we get good enough control that our trees are not too stressed by the small amount of leaf curl that they get.

If you have trees of curl resistant varieties, such as Frost, Avalon Pride, Salish Summer, Betty, or Indian Free, you should still control peach leaf curl if the trees are young. Resistant varieties can still get the disease, and are not established enough to tolerate the disease without stress.

Another reminder, wait to prune stone fruit until after bloom. Pruning while dormant can actually bring your trees out of dormancy, which can be detrimental in a frosty spring. To find out how and when to prune peaches and other stone fruit, consider attending our Growing Stone Fruits Workshop on April 1.

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Winter Continues

It has been 8 years or more since we’ve seen a winter like the one we’re having now. Here in the Pacific Northwest, long extended cold periods and snow are rare. And it doesn’t look like we’re going to warm up anytime soon, according to the Climate Prediction Center. Already, I’m starting to see some damage on some plants. Why? And what should a gardener do?

choisya

Winter damage on Choisya ternata

Most of the damage that is obvious even now in early January is on broad-leaved evergreens. Many of these plants were probably already drought stressed going into the fall. Then the mild, somewhat wet fall stimulated them to grow a little. That new growth and in some cases, flower buds, were tender and not hardened off when the cold started in early December. The wind that has accompanied the cold dries out the tender foliage, causing it to wither and brown.

Rabbit damage on fruit trees

Rabbit damage on fruit trees

Other damage we’ve seen has more to do with rabbits and mice not having access to their normal winter food- roots- due to the ground being frozen. Snow on the ground also allows these vermin to get close to your trees for nibbling.

What can you do?

For evergreens that are showing winter burn, wait. Once spring arrives, you can cut them back to undamaged wood; established healthy plants should rebound and regrow this summer.

For fruit trees and other plants showing rabbit or mouse damage, if the trees are not girdled (nibbled all the way around), most should recover. Putting hardware cloth, chicken wire, or tree guard sleeves around their trunks can help prevent further damage. Make sure the sleeve touches the ground (or even bury it a little).

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Internship 2016 Reflections

We were just reflecting on the internship season we’ve just finished and thought we’d share one of our favorite memories:

In week 28 of 35 we are in the heat of summer, interns have drafted most pieces of a business plan, been through most of the heavy technical classes for the year but do not realize yet that the end is coming.  It’s the peak of the season and their early idealism has been pushed aside for a while by the weekly harvest and sales numbers, growing pest pressures, and the daily grind of hard physical work.

On August 11, we pile everyone into a rented 15-passenger van for the hour-long ride south to the upper Skagit valley.  The Skagit river is the largest stream in western Washington and the lush river plain where it intersects with the Sauk river has nourished populations of human beings for at least 8,000 years.  We have three farms to visit there today.

blueheronOur first stop is Blue Heron Farm, where Anne Schwartz, an organic farmer and outspoken advocate for sustainable agriculture since the late 1970’s, meets us in the driveway, skirting smartly around our big white van with her small and disheveled nineteen-eighty-something Toyota truck and popping from the woods a few moments later.  She is short and angular, arms strong and gnarled from years of physical labor, but she is gentle and welcoming in her tough, self-aware seriousness.  She says, grinning, that she had promised to give an inspiring speech on why farmers should “go to meetings”, and involve themselves with the University and government processes near to them, but “this morning she is just pissed.”  Anne goes on to explain her frustrations with some of the new directions in a sustainable agricultural organization she helped to form nearly 40 years before.  While showing us around the 6 acres of vegetables and introducing us to the folks who help run it, she talks with us about her struggles with white rot, her successes in partnership with the Pathology lab at WSU, and how despite her views and scale, she has found much support in the larger ag community around her throughout the years.  We move on far from discouraged.

Our next stop is just a few minutes up the road, a farm where Anne first worked when coming to the valley and known across the country for the pastoral scene portrayed on millions of organic prepared food products: Cascadian Home Farm, the original site of Gene Kahn’s New Cascadian Survival and Reclamation Project in 1971.  Today the farm is, by Gene’s own admission, a “P.R. Farm” owned by General Mills, and supplies sweet corn and berries to the roadside stand and models sustainability to marketing staff of General Mills.  The farm has been run relatively autonomously by its manager since its sale in 2000, and now has been taken on by Mike Peroni, who farmed over 50 acres of vegetables independently until this year.  Mike, cascadianlike Anne, is originally from the East coast and has taken on a huge career transition in order to share his thirty years of farming experience in a way which might affect the larger picture while easing his personal sacrifices.  Mike walks us into the shade of the tall blueberries, takes a seat on the ground and proceeds to talk the challenges of blueberry production directly through to the challenges facing small scale farmers and how he hopes to help from his new position.  His story is laced with negativity and hope, side by side, and leaves us all contemplating the strange position we all find ourselves in the modern food system.

3rdfarm2The last stop of the day is back down the road, right across the street from our first stop, but we have trouble finding it, even though our Education Coordinator has been there twice before.  After driving past it twice, we find our way through a few gates into the woods, where until the moment Matt VanBoven walks from the woods to greet us, we’re still a little unsure if we’re trespassing or not.  The creator of Feral Farm, shirtless, with a long grey beard protruding below his thick glasses and camouflage baseball cap, apologies briefly for the roadkill hanging in a tree behind him before launching directly into a detailed description of the plants around us and why he has planted them there: “the edges of the forest here are the richest because of the frequency of dog and human urine”.  We tail him through the woods as he describes how he has taken on a version of Native American land management by haphazardly promoting species which are beneficial to people while culling species which don’t benefit people using broad assessments of his 80 wooded acres and adjoining properties based on soils, present species, and waterways.  His assertion that “the species here are changing because of the climate anyway, we might as well engineer an environment which promotes our survival”, is controversial with environmentalists as well as farmers.  After nearly two hours he has given us countless descriptions of the edible species he has been successful promoting which had been left behind by agriculture because of the difficulty in marketing them, and showed how he has cultivated a community of artists and suburban refugees in tiny, charming, un-permitted cob buildings.  We are mostly hooked: inspired and enamored with the freedom and adaptability of his world-view and his obvious love of plants and people.

Three revolutionary farmers in three completely different dimensions, living just minutes from each other in an area that experiences over eighty inches of rain each year and in a zip code which claims only 16 agricultural operations according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.  Skagit magic, Thanks Skagit.

–Sean D’Agnolo

Be sure to catch Sean at the Tilth Conference Nov. 11 – 13 where he’ll be on a panel talking about cultivating healthy intern and employee relationships.

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Inside the Internship: Sean McWay

By Sarah Miller
seanLast month I spoke with intern Sean McWay, a Missouri native, about his time at Cloud Mountain Farm Center.  Sean is drawn to the joys of being outside, working with his hands, and the scientific inquiry farming can provide.  This is an unsurprising coincidence as his most recent previous educational experience ended with a BS in Forestry from the University of Missouri.  Those interests seem to be the tip of the farming iceberg as Sean also shared how CMFC is providing a way for him to invest and share in the local community, and how that has allowed him to form a deeper human connection around agriculture.

I asked Sean about what drew him to CMFC, and he shared his desire to continue informing his understanding of farming with a more formal education on the subject.  Sean had multiple experiences in agriculture prior to CMFC, but was looking to broaden his horizons by gaining a clearer understanding of what agriculture can be, and building community around this learning.  Acquiring knowledge of techniques, answering a bunch of “whys”, filling in some of the gaps in his skillsets, and understanding multiple kinds of production systems were a high priority for him as he entered the internship.

A big benefit of learning at CMFC has been the experiential portion of the Education Days.  Visits to Whatcom and Skagit County farms have added an appreciation of the multitude of ways in which farms work.  Notably, each farm has some similarities but they demonstrate different routes toward success based on specifics of the situations.

It’s no mystery to Sean that he could grow things, but now knowing more clearly how the business piece works, understanding how things are sold and how to plan for leaner times, have given him perspective and confidence as he thinks about how a farm works and how folks create a living for themselves. Sean spoke of how CMFC is helping him achieve his goals by investing in this bigger picture understanding and how that has translated into a growing confidence in his ability to farm.

Sean was interested in learning the basics of a small food growing operation, and how to be successful financially.  He is very interested in at some point creating a business that will support the livelihoods of others as well as his own.  He is committed to truly supporting the lives of the people who would work alongside him.

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Harvest is upon us

With the warm, dry summer we’ve had, fruit is ripening up to three weeks ahead of “normal”. Both last year and this year, our accumulated heat units are well above average. Since many fruits ripen when they’ve experienced the right amount of heat, it is to be expected that they would ripen earlier in a year like this.

But if you have fruit dropping from the trees, is it always because it’s ripe? Not necessarily. If your trees have not had adequate water this summer to support their fruit load, they will drop some of the fruit early. Regular, deep irrigation through a dry summer is important for fruit quality.

Harvesting Pears

Bosc Pears

Bosc Pears

What’s so hard about harvesting? I had a customer ask me the other day why we don’t do U-pick in the orchards. Answer: careless picking can break off fruiting spurs, damaging the potential for fruit next year. When harvesting any tree fruit, it is important to lift and twist carefully to avoid damaging the spurs.

Harvesting European Pears at the right time can be tricky. So many people tell us, “Our pears always rot at the core, it must be a poor variety.” More likely, they are picking their pears too late!

European Pears ripen from the inside out. If the flesh under the skin is ripe, the flesh near the core will be very overripe. Left too long on the tree, they will begin to rot at the core. Picked too green and they don’t develop their full flavor. There is an easy way to tell when they are ripe; when they pick easily! By that, we mean that when you lift a pear, and it breaks cleanly at the stem, it is ripe, and the whole tree should be picked. If you find a fallen pear, that is a good signal to check for ripeness. Even though the pear is hard, if you taste it, it will be sweet.

Unlike European Pears, Asian Pears are ripened on the tree. They will not continue to ripen off the tree! Pick your Asian Pears when the taste and texture are what you like. The most important issue with Asian Pears is that they have thin, tender skins, and any bruising will shorten their storage capability. Handle the ones you want to store very carefully. This is why you see them in the markets in little foam nets.

Harvesting Apples

apples

Akane Apples

Frequently asked question: “When are my (Honeycrisp, Gravenstein, Melrose, fill in the blank) apples ripe?”

One way to tell if an apple is ripe, of course, it to taste it. For early ripening varieties that won’t store well, that is a fine way to test for ripeness. Background color can be another good indicator. On many apples, the background color will change from green to cream or light yellow when the fruit is close to ripe.

Experience will help you determine when to pick later ripening varieties for storage. Cutting across the core to see if the seeds are beginning to turn brown is one clue, although some early apples’ seeds don’t turn until they are fully ripe. Another tool that can help you is a starch test. As the fruit ripens, the starch slowly converts to sugar. If all of the starch in the apple has been converted to sugar, the apple is fully ripe, or even overripe, and will not store. You can check to see how much starch is left by testing it with iodine. Iodine reacts with starch, turning it blue-black. This test doesn’t work for all varieties, or every year, as weather can effect how fast the starch changes to sugar. But, along with tasting and background color, it can be a valuable tool.

Apples showing starch reaction to iodine. The top left slice is fully ripe. The bottom right slice is under ripe.

To do the test, buy tincture of iodine at the drugstore, and dilute it with water at a ratio of 1 part iodine to 10 parts water. Store this solution in a spray bottle. Take the apple you want to test and cut it across the core. Spray it with the iodine solution. The reaction happens within a few minutes. Apples that are to be stored long term should have at least 1/3 to 1/2 of their starch left.

Storing Apples

The optimal temperature for long term storage of apples is 38oF. This is a refrigerator! If you cannot store apples in a refrigerator, the next best site will have steady temperatures below 40oF. The warmer your storage area, the shorter length of time your apples will store. For every 2o warmer, the fruit ripens 8 times faster. If you have too many apples to store in a refrigerator, put your best fruit, picked at the correct ripeness for storage, in the refrigerator, and use the other fruit first.

Interestingly, Honeycrisp apples benefit from sitting outside for 2-3 days before refrigerating. Most others should go into cold storage immediately.

Modern refrigerators are a dry environment for storing fruit. Your fruit should be stored in perforated plastic bags, and you should have an open pan of water in there to add humidity. Open the door regularly to let ethylene gas escape.

Apples that are to be stored should be the nicest ones; fruit with bruises or broken skins will not store.

Storing Pears

Like apples, you should choose your best fruit for storage. A damaged pear could rot in storage and spoil the whole box. Pears store best at 38o. Late ripening European pears such as Bosc and Comice will ripen only slowly in cold storage, and should be brought to room temperature a few days or even a week ahead of use.

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The Best Time To Plant

I wanted to expand on my last post about summer planting. A more general question we get in the nursery at Cloud Mountain is “when is the best time to plant?”

In our maritime climate, you can plant almost any time of year. But as I discussed in the last post, summer planting means more attention to watering, whereas planting in early spring or fall can mean cool, moist soil which helps those roots to establish. Let’s look at each season, pros and cons.

Planting bare root

Planting bare root

Early Spring

In our climate, early spring includes February-late April. This is typically a cool and wet time of year, but we rarely get extremely cold or warm during this season. If you look at high and low temperature averages for Bellingham, you can see this trend.

  • Pros of early spring planting:
    • Cool, mild temperatures on average
    • Nurseries have the best selection this time of year- this is when field grown plants are most available, including bare root fruit trees, dormant berry canes and strawberry plants.
    • Bare root plants are easy to plant
    • Watering is only necessary to settle the soil in the planting hole, or during unusually dry weather
  • Cons of early spring planting:
    • Soil may be too wet to plant
    • Can be unpleasant weather for gardening

Late Spring/Early Summer

Rhododendron Melrose Flash

Rhododendron Melrose Flash

May and June can also be good for planting here in the Northwest. This is the tail end of our very long spring.

  • Pros of late spring planting:
    • Nice outside, pleasant to garden
    • Can see the blooms if buying flowering ornamental plants
    • Can see the foliage of deciduous ornamental plants
    • Still a good selection of fruit plants
    • Soil still has moisture
    • Soil is dry enough to work
  • Cons of late spring planting:
    • Plants are no longer bare root, take more effort to plant
    • Some varieties are sold out
    • You may need to water more to establish the roots

Summer Planting

Planting in July and August, warm outside and typically dry weather. This was discussed in the last blog post, but in brief-

  • Pros of summer planting
    • You have long daylight hours, and it’s nice outside
    • The soil is not wet
    • You may still be able to find the plants you want
    • Planting broad leaved evergreens and conifers now lessens the risk of fall and winter damage
  • Cons of summer planting
    • You have to water to keep the soil moist for root establishment
    • You worry about too much heat stressing non-established plants
Fall color on maple

Fall color on maple

Fall Planting

September through mid-November is a great time to plant

  • Pros of fall planting
    • The weather is cooler and often pleasant to work outside
    • Most soil is very workable, and not too wet
    • Less water is needed to establish plants as fall rains begin
    • You can shop for fall foliage interest in the garden
    • Deciduous material is going dormant, so can be planted very late
    • You can often find good sale prices
  • Cons of fall planting
    • Selection is lowest of the season
    • You still need to water if fall rains start late
    • Late planted broad leaved evergreens and conifers risk winter damage if we have a cold winter- their foliage transpires moisture that can cause leaf or needle burn if roots are not established

Snowy orchard

Winter Planting

Winter- mid-November through late January- is typically our coldest and wettest season. This is the most likely time to have snow on the ground, and also the most likely time for us to have a ‘Northeaster’, those cold outflow winds that make Whatcom County notoriously colder than much of Western Washington. You can still plant deciduous dormant trees and shrubs, but your soil may be too wet to work. If you choose to plant evergreens during this period, you may risk some leaf burn if cold weather happens. But we can have mild, dry weather during these months, too, so if you find a plant this time of year, you can still plant it.

One of the joys of living in the Pacific Northwest is our climate. Take advantage of it and don’t feel you missed out planting at the “right time”. Given a little thought and timing, the best time to plant is when it works for you!

Desert-King-fig

Summer Planting

We’re often asked by customers if they can plant this time of year, or should they wait for fall. The simple answer- you can plant if you can water. Having said that, it is best not to plant during a real heat wave, when daytime temperatures are in the mid-80’s or higher. Put your plants into a shady area and keep them watered until it cools off a bit.

albynswidehole

Hole dug twice as wide as pot

Steps for the act of planting in the summer:

  • Water the plant to be planted thoroughly. Let it drain while you prepare the planting site.
  • Remove sod and weeds first, then dig your hole. Make the hole twice as wide as the pot, but the same depth.
  • Fill the hole with water and let it drain out. Repeat two more times. This wets the soil around the hole.

    Roots roughed up & ready to plant

    Roots roughed up & ready to plant

  • Remove the pot from the plant and “rough” the roots. This means rubbing, pulling, tugging, even using a garden claw to pull the roots away from the root mass.
  • Place the plant in the hole, making sure it is not too deep. When finished, the surface of the pot should be level with the ground, not below it. If anything, err on the side of planting too shallow, not too deep.
  • Fill the hole about 2/3 with soil. Water.
  • Fill the hole to the rim with soil. Water again.
  • Cover the surface with a mulch. This will help keep the soil moist and cool.

 

 

Planted and mulched

Planted and mulched

For the rest of the summer, water the area enough to keep the soil evenly moist. What does that mean? It means checking at least once a week for soil moisture and water if the soil is not moist to a depth of 6″-8″. It doesn’t need to be wet, just moist.

Why should you plant now, rather than waiting for fall? The first reason- if you can keep the soil moist, by fall the root system of your new plant will be well established. An established plant is hardier going into its first winter. This is especially true for broad-leaved evergreens like rhododendrons or camellias. Any plant that might be a little tender the first winter should definitely be planted before mid-September. This includes figs.

Some plants like fruit trees are usually field grown and sold in early spring as bare root plants. By summer your choices of variety and rootstocks gets smaller and smaller. By fall, your choices of variety and rootstock might be quite limited. If you can plant this summer, and keep those trees watered, you’ll be closer to producing fruit.

There is an old Chinese proverb: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now. If you have the time to garden this summer, and the water to keep your plants happy, go for it!

 

 

 

Inside the Incubator: Slanted Sun Farm

By Sarah Miller, Cloud Mountain Farm Center Intern

Anna MorrisRecently I had the pleasure to speak with Anna Morris of Slanted Sun Farm about her experience as an Incubator Farmer at Cloud Mountain Farm Center. The Incubator Farm Program is dedicated to maintaining and improving the local food system in Whatcom County by leasing land to new farmers, while sharing facilities and equipment to aid in the development of new farm businesses.  Anna is in her second year at the Incubator Farm and spent time sharing her experience thus far.

Graduating with a B.S. in Community Health Education from Western Washington University in 2010, Anna began her career interning with the Lummi Nation, working to promote indigenous foods, community gardens and health initiatives on the reservation.  While she loved working with the Lummi Nation, Anna realized quickly that she is better suited for a life working outside instead of behind a desk.  Since then, Anna has spent time traveling and farming, working on a permaculture farm in Nicaragua, and spending time developing skills stateside in Idaho and California before beginning an eight-month Organic Farm School program on Whidbey Island at Greenbank Farm.

The Organic Farm School proved to be a catalyst for Anna, allowing for transformative thoughts on organic farming, building her confidence as a farmer, and giving her the time and space to explore the possibilities of what farming could become in her life.  There, Anna also developed serious skills around crop planning and succession plantings as well as participating in growing a community of women farmers in western Washington.

In her first year as an Incubator Farmer with Cloud Mountain Farm Center, Anna utilized 3-quarters of an acre of land.  This year, Slanted Sun Farms has increased that number to a full acre.  Anna has been focused on impacting the local food system by providing access to healthy and sustainably grown food produced for those in need by engaging in the Lydnen, Growing Veterans, and Twin Sister Farmers Markets.  This connection to the Whatcom community has been an important part of the mission of her farm, and drawing on the parallels from her time with the Lummi Nation.

When asked about the things that have helped Slanted Sun Farm to succeed and what advice she would like to share with new farmers looking to develop, Anna brought up skills like unrelenting assessment and observation, developing a keen memory, and the ability to systemize aspects of farming for the benefit of time management.  Also mentioned in her recipe for success was her partner Jared and his tireless support of Slanted Sun Farm whether during harvest, or for moral support.

Sharing what she hopes folks should know about farming, we discussed how farming is WORTH IT!  Often times, the price you see at the farmers market does not reflect the true cost of production but more what people are willing to pay.  If you can afford it and want to see local farmers succeed we should be paying more for produce grown on small farms close to home.  She emphasized that the lack of transparency can often make organic farming seem idyllic, but with more people learning about their community farms it may make it more accessible to those outside the agriculture loop.   Anna also shared how important it is to know the people growing your food, and for those growing the food to know those being nourished by it.

This year Anna has developed a value-added product, which will be available this fall.  She will be growing more than 300 Basque pepper plants and drying the Basque pepper to make ground Espelette powder.  This long red pepper is known for intense flavor without adding a great deal of heat and is often used as a replacement for the traditional black pepper.  Traditionally called Piment d’Espelette, this is a culinary spice that is often used in Basque cuisine and adds a subtly fruity spice to any dish.   The drying of these peppers will be done in the Processing Center at Cloud Mountain Farm Center in a commercial food dehydrator.  The Processing Center is another way CMFC develops and invests in members of the new farm community.

Within 5 years, Anna hopes to acquire land in the area, add animals to her production, increase vegetable growth to 5 acres annually, hire a few employees and diversify to include more value-added products within Slanted Sun Farms production.  We wish her all the luck, and look forward to her next experiment in farming!

Find Anna at: Anna@slantedsunfarm.com and https://www.facebook.com/slantedsunfarm/

Sarah Miller comes to Cloud Mountain Farm Center from the Chicago area, where she spent 12 years working in higher education at DePaul University before deciding to pursue a life in agriculture. Sarah chose Cloud Mountain for its mix of experiential learning and classroom work, along with the opportunity to live in a rural area. 

ananas

Multi-variety fruit trees and other musings

It sounds great, doesn’t it? 4 or 5 varieties of apple, all on one tree! Both pie and sweet cherries on one tree! How about plums and peaches together-an on-the-tree fruit cocktail! No worries about pollination, long fruiting season….why doesn’t Cloud Mountain carry trees like these?

Akane apples

Akane apples

It’s a question we get asked every year. But we like to carry plants that really work for people. Fruit trees are not that easy to start with, and learning to prune them correctly can be a life long effort. Each kind of fruit tree is pruned slightly differently, and even sometimes different varieties are pruned differently. When you start talking about multiple varieties grafted to one tree, you increase the challenge of keeping that tree fruiting.

Every variety of fruit has it’s own characteristics- vigor, disease resistance, bearing type. Each of those characteristics requires some knowledge in pruning and care to keep the tree balanced and fruitful. When each branch of a tree has different characteristics, it take a skilled pruner to keep them all balanced. Without that skill, over time, the most vigorous variety takes over the tree, and the weaker varieties decline and die out. You end up with a single variety tree.

A better solution to small spaces is to plant several trees on dwarf or mini-dwarf rootstocks.  Each variety has its own roots, so won’t out-compete the other varieties planted. We’ve seen some sites that even recommend planting two trees in the same hole- this could work if you can keep them adequately watered and fed, and will present its own pruning challenges.

Desert King Figs

Time to….

  • If you are spraying for codling moth, and haven’t put your first spray on, do it ASAP
  • Put up maggot traps to monitor for apple maggot flies if you’re planning on controlling apple maggot with sprays- or get the maggot barriers on the fruit ASAP
  • Pinch your fig trees! Each branch as it grows should be allowed to get 4-6 leaves, then pinch out the tip of the branch (wear rubber gloves, the sap is sticky!) Do this once now, then again in about 4-6 weeks. This will keep the breba crop from setting until August, keeping those figs small enough to overwinter for next summer’s harvest
  • Be aware of drought issues, especially for young plants. In Whatcom County, we are behind normal on rainfall- check your soil moisture and water if it’s dry! The worst time for plants to experience drought is when they are actively growing.

Growing in Containers

We talk to many people these days that want to grow perennial and woody plants in containers. Maybe because they live in an apartment or condo, and don’t have a yard, or because they find it easier to manage. But growing plants in containers is actually a little trickier than growing in the ground. Some considerations:

barrelChoosing your container: 

Make sure the container is large enough for a mature plant. The container should be frost proof; some ceramic containers will crack if exposed to freezing and thawing. There are attractive plastic and fiberglass containers on the market today, but perhaps one of the best materials is wood. Cedar boxes and oak barrels make excellent patio planters. Galvanized stock tanks found at many farm stores also make good containers.

 Potting:

It is best to use a coarse potting soil rather than garden soil in the container. It does not compact as readily as garden soil and provides more even moisture retention. One good brand of coarse potting soil that is somewhat readily available is Sunshine Mix #4 (Aggregate).  You should plan on repotting your plants every 2-3 years during their dormant period ( late winter or early spring), replacing the potting soil with new potting soil. If you are putting the plant back into the same container, you should root prune at repotting to keep the root system dense.

stocktankWater & Fertilizer:

Plants in containers prefer even moisture. This means checking the soil often and watering frequently. When you hand water, water in small amounts several times to make sure the soil is thoroughly moistened. We recommend investing in a patio drip system on a timer if you are not a reliable waterer.

The easiest way to fertilize container plants is to use a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote. For organic fertilizing, mix bone meal or a complete all purpose organic fertilizer into your potting mix before planting, or use a liquid plant based fertilizer at a weak rate on a regular basis. It is better to under-fertilize rather than over-fertilize.

Soil Temperature:

In a container, soil temperatures fluctuate much more than in the ground. In the summer protect the pot from direct sun to keep the soil cool. The soil also gets much colder during winter cold spells. Many plants that are hardy planted in the ground can suffer winter damage in a pot because their roots get too cold. To prevent this kind of damage, you can move your plant into an unheated building for the winter, or move it close to your house. If it is too big to move, you can wrap the pot with insulation. Another method is to line the pot before planting. Some people place straw bales around their pots for winter protection.

Growing Woody Plants In Containers 

One of the best groups of plants for containers are conifers. Many conifers are both extremely hardy and drought tolerant. Many pines (Pinus sp.)are hardy enough that their containers do not need winter protection. Other conifers that work well are true cedars (Cedrus), yews (Taxus), and junipers (Juniperus). Most of these conifers take well to pruning, and can be trained as large, artistic bonsai plants.

Japanese maples (Acer palmatum, Acer japonicum, Acer shirasawanum) are beautiful as container plants for decks. Be sure to choose a cultivar that is suitable for your light situation; all can take shade, but only a limited number can take full sun. The maples are very sensitive to drought, so
be careful with your summer watering. They also prefer cool soil in summer, so choose a light colored container, or make sure the container is shaded. Fertilize sparingly. Winter protect your maples.

Mini-dwarf apple in container

Mini-dwarf apple in container

You can also grow food plants in containers. Mini-dwarf apples can easily be grown in a whiskey barrel sized pot. Dwarf blueberries work well in containers, as do strawberries. Salad greens and herbs are also great in containers, although with shrubby herbs, pay attention to winter hardiness.

Almost any plant can be grown in a container if you follow the rules above. For containers that stay outside, a good rule of thumb on hardiness is this: a plant in an unprotected container is about 2-3 zones less hardy than in the ground. If you have a plant ground hardy to zone 6 in a container, its actual hardiness will be zone 8 or 9.