DIG THIS! SLO Landscape Strategies

Bare Root And Beautiful

As we button up our coats and wrap our scarves against the winds, Summer may seem like a distant memory–but try, for a moment, to recall last year’s array of sweet summery produce. Remember the delicious fruits: juicy plums, crisp apples, plump berries, and more? The way to get a head start on these summer crops is by planting your own fruiting trees now. How? With bare-root trees! Bare-root trees and berries are cultivated and nurtured throughout the year by growers around the country. Then, as the plants go dormant, workers gently remove dirt from the roots and wrap the root ball in sawdust, newspaper, or other insulating material, and prep it for shipping.

Now that you’ve acquired the taste for Summer, selecting the trees is the fun part! San Luis Obispo County residents have a huge diversity of trees available to them via local purveyors such as Bay Laurel Nursery and Farm Supply, and can easily plant themselves a kingly orchard. For the homeowner with less-than-ample growing space, consider multiple-budded trees, which have 3 or 4 varieties grafted onto them, meaning that one apple tree can provide you with early-, mid-, and late-season fruit.

Once you’ve picked out some favorites, it’s important to confirm that your choices will do well in your particular micro-climate. In much of the country, as air temperatures begin dropping below 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the Autumn, trees loose their leaves and enter a dormant period. Many fruit trees originate from these colder climates and need enough “winter chill hours” to send them fully dormant in the winter. The required number of hours that the tree spends at 45 degrees is considered its own personal “chill hours.” Fortunately for us, plant breeding has introduced trees that are “low chill” and do well with the reduced chill hours that our mild winter climate provides. Therefore, look for trees that are rated at 400 chill hours or less for best performance if your garden is in San Luis Obispo County.

Immediate coastal climates will require varieties with even fewer chill hours to do well (i.e. 1-200 hrs). Good selections for the foggier coast are figs, pomegranates, persimmons, kiwis, lemons, pineapple guavas and berries. If you’re gardening in North County, you have plenty of chill hours and need to be concerned more with winter hardy varieties that don’t mind freezing temperatures.When your trees and brambles arrive, take extra care with their delicate roots since they won’t be protected by soil and will easily dry out or freeze. Have some good compost on hand to amend the soil, and give yourself time to plant the trees the same day you bring them home. If you can’t plant them the same day, dig them partially into the ground or cover the root ball with layers of moist, insulating material. Come springtime, the plants’ well-established root system will provide you with happy, healthy fruit and flower production!