Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Report from the 2011 Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale

The Urban Harvest fruit tree sale has become a bit of a tradition for my Dad and I. Last year’s freezing cold Urban Harvest sale was the only one we’ve missed in the past 4 or 5 years, and that was by design. It was way too cold to stand in line for an hour to buy fruit trees.
Instead, we waited about a month and went to the master gardeners sale in Pasadena. That was a great sale too, there we were able to buy some awesome tomato and pepper plants as well as fruit trees. But, this year we are back to the tradition. We showed up at the UH football stadium at 7:30am for the sale that started at 9am. The early birds at the front of the line got there at 7am.

This was the first year the sale was at University of Houston, and it was a great venue. Urban Harvest published a map of the sale on the website, which allowed us to combine our shopping lists and map out our route ahead of time. For Dad, an Acres Home pear to go with his Tennousi, a Red Baron Peach, and Emerald and Windsor blueberries. My list was long this year, Ice Cream Banana, Brightwell, Tifblue, Gulf Coast, and Jewel blueberries, Meiwa Seedless Kumquat, N33 Navel Orange, and a 3-1 plum. Here was our plan of attack (click any of the images to enlarge):
I waffled back and forth about buying a jujube, but finally decided against it. I read about it sending suckers out, sometimes 30’ away from the tree. They say to plant it somewhere you can mow around, but I don’t have anywhere in my yard that still has that much grass. Please leave a comment here if you have any jujube advice for me, I think it would be fun to grow.
The line continued to get longer as we eagerly awaited the opening of the sale.IMG_1961
A few other pre-sale pictures:
Tree Questions Answered Here
Picture of Dr. Bob Randall taking a picture of the crowd
Once the gate opened, we executed our plan perfectly, we were in the line to pay and out the door by 9:30. We headed to our cars to load up our purchases when I noticed that some people had not yet been allowed in the gate! I couldn’t believe it, there were about 30 people still waiting to get in.
Here are some pictures I took of the sale after our cars were loaded and the line to get in the gate was non-existent.
Awesome volunteers wore the yellow flags
the check-out line
Oh yeah, we've got trees!
My Dad and I are both in training for the Houston Half-Marathon in a few weeks and Saturday mornings are usually our long runs. So, we left our cars in the UH parking lot and went for an 8 mile run. I think it was around 11:30 when we returned, out of curiosity we walked over to the sale to see how many trees were left. My bet is that this is the first year that there was still a good selection of trees that late in the morning. This new venue provided more room for trees and people and was, I’m sure, the biggest sale ever.
If you missed this sale, check my event calendar for more fruit tree sales in the upcoming month.
Other Fruit Tree Related Posts:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Yesterday was the official bloom day, but I was busy buying fruit trees and getting one of my last long runs in before the Houston half-marathon in a couple of weeks. The fruit tree sale was a big success, but more on that in another post.

We’ve had several nights of freezing temperatures in the past week, so I didn’t expect to find many blooms, but these plants never cease to surprise me. Let’s see what’s blooming in my southwest Houston yard right now…


This calibrachoa is in one of my hanging baskets that usually hangs on the fence, but it’s been moved to the back porch for the winter.

Candy Corn Vine
shrimp plant


These pentas are a big surprise, they don’t usually make it through winter, but they are actually blooming right now, very weird.

Thanks for stopping by for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, visit May Dreams Gardens for more January blooms around the world.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fruit Tree Series #3 Bare root vs Container and High Density Orchards

This will be my last post before Saturday’s Urban Harvest sale, but I will post fruit tree related information throughout the year.

You will find that the trees you buy at the fruit tree sales in town will either be bare root or container grown. There are different ways to handle each of these.

Bare root
Make sure to get your bare root trees put in damp hay and bags before you leave the sale. There is always a group of volunteers happy to do this for you. This is important because you do not want the roots to dry out or to be exposed to too much light. Bare root trees should be planted as soon as possible.
Before you plant the bare root tree, inspect the roots. Prune any damaged roots. Make sure you use clean, sharp pruners.

When planting your tree, make sure the graft is above the soil. The graft is the place the rootstock and the trunk were put together. It is sometimes knobby, or somehow a little different looking. Pictured on the right are the grafts of two varieties grafted on to one rootstock. You can also see a picture of a bare root, grafted tree here.

Now, it’s time to prune the tree. In most cases you will want to prune it to about 2 feet tall. However, if you want to try high density growing, you might want to prune it to around 15”. (more info on High Density below) You should also prune the side shoots to 1/2 to 2/3 of their current length. Lastly, don’t forget to give it some water.

There it is, the cliff notes of bare root trees. Make sure you talk to the volunteers at the sale about specific care requirements for the trees you are buying and do some reading about pruning techniques

Container plants can also be planted now, with the exception of citrus and other tropicals. DO NOT PLANT the tropical trees you are buying now in the ground just yet. You will need to protect your tree from the cold, especially freezing temperatures. You can plant it after all freeze/frost danger has passed (usually sometime in March).

I made the mistake a few years ago of leaving my newly purchased (and expensive) mango tree on the driveway then going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. When we returned, all I had was a dead mango tree.

Avocados by lady_jess, on Pix-O-Sphere
On another note, I wanted to mention the special care a young avocado needs. I don’t have an avocado tree, but I have heard from several sources that the bark of an avocado tree, when it is still green, is susceptible to sun scald. The green bark should be protected, one possibility of protection is a diluted mixture of paint with water.

High Density Home Orchards
Since I did mention High Density growing, here is some more information on it. The idea is that today’s city dwellers do not have the space for large fruit trees, nor do we have the need for 700 oranges of one variety. High density growing allows you to plant many varieties in a small space, such as 4 trees in a 4’x4’ area and heavily relying on pruning. High density growing also encourages espalier, hedgerows, and multiple varieties grafted on one rootball. Angela Chandler is a local expert that teaches classes on this topic. Her next class is January 23rd at Arbor Gate.

This is a really interesting way of growing a huge variety of fruit in a small area. I’m no expert on this, so here are a few links I found
Dave Wilson Nursery
More from Dave Wilson
Santa Clara Master Gardeners
Angela Chandler

More general resources for fruit tree information:
Fruit & Nut Resources from A&M (thanks for this link Kim @ Houston Homebody)
Fruits of Warm Climates by Julia Morton, free online book
Growing Fruits and Nuts in the South by William Adams and Thomas Leroy

Finally, I want to leave you with an inspirational video. Clayton Bell lives in northwest Houston.  On New Year’s day he posted a video of his backyard orchard, quite impressive.

Fruit Tree Series #2 Pre-Sale Talk
Fruit Tree Series #1

Fruit Tree Series #2 Pre-Sale Talk

I went to the Urban Harvest fruit tree presentation last Saturday where they talk about the trees they will have for sale this coming Saturday, January 15th. Almost all of the sales have similar pre-sale presentations. I encourage you to go to one of these presentations if you are planning on going to their sale. Check out Kathy Huber’s article on Houston Grows for dates and times of plant sales and talks.

The presentations usually include detailed descriptions of the trees and their unique needs or characteristics along with a tantalizing first hand account describing how the fruit tastes. You can pick up a lot of great tips from these presentations, not just about which trees to buy, but also about how to grow them.

This post will concentrate on some of the information I given about tree characteristics, I’ll talk more about care in another post.

Dorsett and Anna are the only varieties that will reliably set fruit in all parts of Houston. If you live on the north side of town you can probably get away with a few other varieties, but know your chill hours. (refer to my last post for more on chill hours)

Blueberries have shallow root systems and need acid soil. I think both of these characteristics make them good candidates for containers. Nature’s Way sells blueberry soil or you can use a mixture of 70% peat moss and 30% washed sand. You will need Blueberries by goose, on Pix-O-Sphereat least two blueberry varieties for pollination (but 3 is better). There are many success stories about growing blueberries in pots. That’s is what I will be doing this spring.

This year Urban Harvest will be selling Southern High Bush blueberries. These set fruit at a different time of year than the Rabbiteye blueberries. Rabbiteye blueberries have been proven winners in our area, it sounds to me like the Southern High Bush are still in an experimental stage. I’m not sure that they have been proven to do well in the Houston area, so these are for those of you who are a little more daring.

Figs are very easy to grow and tend to taste better when grown in full sun. They are so easy to grow, I grew mine and my Dad’s from cuttings given to me by another gardener. You should harvest in the morning before the birds get to them. Celeste is the sweetest, South Carolina Lemon does have a slight lemon flavor, and LSU Gold has a very upright growth habit.

Jujube’s are extremely drought tolerant and will tolerate occasional floods, they are very upright, and need to be mowed around to keep the suckers under control (on a separate site, I read that they should also not be planted near a foundation for the same reason). When jujubes are dried they taste like dates. Mmm, sounds yummy.

Here’s an interesting jujube article from Texas Gardener.

The 5-1 Peach will be Mid-Pride, May Pride, Eva’s Pride, Florida Prince, & Desert Gold

Plums2 by lady_jess, on Pix-O-SphereThe Gulf Plums being offered this year are patented by the University of Florida and they are hard to come by. The Gulf plums all need another Gulf plum for pollination, so buy two to get fruit.
They are offering a 3-1 plum, some of the possible varieties are Beauty, Mariposa, Golden Nectar, and Santa Rosa. The growers will often graft 5 or 6 varieties onto the same rootstock, but only some will survive, that’s why there are sometimes 3-1, 4-1, or 5-1 offered. There will be several combinations offered at the sale. Take note that Santa Rosa is only good if you live on the North or West side of town.

Pomegranates are very cold hardy, have few to no pests, are deciduous (beautiful as a hedge), you can juice them with a citrus juicer, and they usually ripen in August or September.

Now, on to the citrus. Most citrus will not need cold protection once established, with the exception of limes. I put the caveat “once established” in there, because people have a tendency to buy citrus at a plant sale then run home and plant it in the ground in January. Then we have a freeze in February and they wonder why their citrus is dead. Do not plant your new citrus tree (or any other tropical tree) in the ground until all danger of a freeze has past (probably sometime in March). When buying multiple citrus trees consider when they will ripen and spread it out over the season. Both Marrs and Navel N33 will ripen early.

Good fruit trees for containers include pomegranates, apples, blueberries, blackberries, lemon, lime, kumquats, & tangerine. For the more exotic go for dragonfruit, lychee, grumichama, starfruit, or sugar apple. Stay tuned for more information on container gardening in an upcoming post.

Have I peaked your interest in fruit tree gardening yet? There is something for everyone when it comes to fruit trees, and there is nothing better than eating fresh homegrown fruit from your yard (whether large or small) or from your patio or balcony.

Additional Fruit Tree articles: Fruit Tree Series #1 and Fruit Tree Series #3

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fruit Tree Series #1

It’s that time of year again, fruit tree sale time! The time to consider buying a fruit tree for your yard. Yes, we can grow an extensive variety of fruit in and around the Houston area.

What kind of fruit?, you ask. Well, just about every part of the Houston area can grow the following: apples, avocado, banana, blackberries, blueberries, cherries (and cherry look-a-likes), figs, grapes, grapefruit, jujubes, kumquats, lemons, limes, limequats, mandarins, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, pomegranates, satsumas, tangelo, tangerines. But, the devil is in the details.

Here are some highlights of what you should think about when buying a fruit tree at any of the local fruit tree sales or local nurseries. If you are new to gardening, be very wary of buying fruit trees or berries at the local big box stores, many of those varieties will not produce fruit in our climate.

Depending on what part of town you live in will determine how successful you will be at growing specific varieties of all of these fruits. If you live on the north side of town you will have more chill hours than folks on the south side of town (for example). Chill hours are the average number of hours temperatures in your area are between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Chill hours are important to pay attention to when choosing your tree!

Here are some estimated chill hours (Source: Urban Harvest)
300 hours or less: Gulf and Bay Beach Areas, Hobby Area, Inner City/Southern Houston
400-600 hours:  Harris County (other than above), Interior of Coastal counties, & Ft. Bend County
600-900 hours: Counties north of Harris and South of Austin (including College Station, Conroe & Huntsville)

You need the right number of chill hours so that you have successful fruiting, but they are also an important consideration for tropical trees. The more chill hours you have the more likely it is that you will have to protect trees such as mango, avocado, limes and bananas. It’s not impossible for you to grow these, but it may take more effort because they will need winter protection. So, think about how much time you are willing to devote to your trees.

Making sure the trees get enough sunlight is another consideration. Most of the trees need full sun, be sure to read the sunlight requirements for each variety before choosing one for your yard.

IMG_0659So, you don’t think you have room for a fruit tree in your tiny yard? No problem. You have some options.
  • Get a dwarf variety
  • Prune it to the size that you need it to be
  • Grow it in a container
  • Get one of the 2 in 1, 3 in 1, or 4 in 1 trees so you can have multiple varieties of fruit on one tree. These trees have one rootball/one trunk and multiple varieties of a single type of fruit (such as apple or peach) grafted onto them. Don’t worry, there is no freaky science going on here. These are not genetically modified, nothing to worry about. (pictured to the right is a 3 in 1 Peach)
Another option is to attend one of Angela Chandler’s High Density Orchard Management for Backyard Gardener’s classes. There is one on January 12th at UH and one at Arbor Gate on January 23rd.  

Pruning This is another area to pay attention to, especially if you don’t have extra time to learn about pruning your trees or to actually prune them. If you want the least amount of pruning, get a citrus tree (these also happen to be one of the only trees that will do ok in part sun).  Here’s a nice pruning article in Texas Gardener  

Pollination Most of the varieties sold at the local fruit tree sales are self-fruiting. Meaning, they do not need another tree nearby for pollination. But, make sure you read the descriptions to make sure. New this year at the sales are true cherries called Minnie Royal and Royal Lee. You MUST get one of each if you actually want to have any cherries, which I am sure you do since you bought a cherry tree! Other varieties that need pollinators are pears, muscadines, some plums, & blueberries.

Fruit Tree Sales There are many fruit tree sales around town benefiting local garden organizations. Although, all of them are popular, the Urban Harvest fruit tree sale is the biggest one and gets the season kicked off on January 15th. Folks come to this sale from all over the metro area and Urban Harvest will be selling trees for all the local climatic zones. Don’t worry if you miss this one, there are others. Try to make it to one that is closest to you. They are likely to have trees that will be most suitable for your area. If you remain on the fence about getting a fruit tree and all the sales have passed, many local nurseries such as Buchanan’s, Wabash, and Arbor Gate carry some of the same trees that will be sold at the fruit tree sales. view Upcoming Fruit Tree Sales (Urban Harvest and Master Gardener)

For more information, visit the following links:
Urban Harvest
Apples and Pears article in the Houston Chronicle
Peaches and Plums article in the Houston Chronicle
Jujube article in Texas Gardener
Fall Berries in Texas Gardener
Banana article in Texas Gardener
Figs article in Texas Gardener  

Book Recommendations: Every vegetable and fruit tree gardener in Houston should have this book: Year Round Vegetables, Fruits, and Flowers for Metro Houston by former Urban Harvest director Bob Randall. I also like All About Citrus and Subtropical Fruits for general information and nice pictures.  

My final recommendation: Everyone should have at least one citrus tree in their yard. Citrus trees are one of the easier trees to grow and are a great tree for beginners. They don’t need much attention (in fact I know of several that get no attention and have the most amazing fruit you’ve ever tasted), no skilled pruning required, and they are one of the few fruit trees that can take part shade.

Stay tuned for more posts this week about fruit trees!

Fruit Tree Series #2

Friday, January 7, 2011

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

The roses are loving this cool weather.


After I titled this post Everything’s Coming up Roses, I thought I would actually see where that came from. I bet a lot of you already know, but for those who don’t, take a look at this. She’s not talking about flowers!

"You'll be swell, you'll be great. Gonna have the whole world on a plate.
Starting here, starting now. Honey, everything's coming up roses."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 Garden Plans

This is my first New Year as a garden blogger. It seems an appropriate time and place for a brain dump of all the garden projects I have swirling around in my head. I probably won’t get all of these done this year, but it’s a good list of the things I want to do in the garden. I’ll check in at the end of 2011 and review what was accomplished.

In no particular order:
  1. Volunteer my garden to be on the neighborhood garden tour. Our neighborhood started a backyard garden tour in 2005. I have been a docent for about 3 of the tours and it is about time my garden joins the party.

  2. Install a rain water collection system. I’ve found two different sources for rain barrels, so now I just have to decide on which ones I will use. Here are the two companies I will likely use: Texas Metal Cisterns and Plastic-Mart.

  3. IMG_1553Finish building the new beds that I started a few months ago. I figure I will need about 10 yards of dirt to complete these beds plus I still have to get all the edging level and get some of the winter weeds out.

  4. Redesign the front gardens with 80% or more native plants. Ok, this will be a challenge. I suffer from plant impulse buyer syndrome. It is really difficult for me to make a plan before I start buying plants, but we’ll see how it goes. I have bought a few books to help me out with this, Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for WildlifeGardening with Native Plants of the South, and Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region. (a note about these links-I just signed up for an Amazon associates plan, so I do get a little something from Amazon if you buy these books after clicking the link, just so you know)

  5. Stop buying plants that I do not intend to plant right away. OK, this one will be more difficult than #4. I currently have a ton of bulbs from the October Bulb & Plant Mart as well as around 20 potted plants from the fall plant sales that have still not been put in the ground. This is really problematic during the summer when I am out of town for business or vacation. Luckily my mother-in-law really likes me and is willing to toil in the heat to keep my plants alive while I am not around. But, this needs to stop. I can do this, I’m sure I can, at least I think I can, maybe.

  6. Add more fruit trees, including planting the lemon and fig that I already have.

    IMG_1941First, the story behind the lemon tree…My dad bought a Meyer Lemon about 4 or 5 years ago and there were actually 3 trees in the same pot. He gave me one and it has been in a pot ever since. While his tree is about 8’ tall and last year produced hundreds of lemons, mine is about two feet tall and has produced 3 lemons since I’ve had it. Poor lemon tree has suffered my neglect long enough, it will go in the ground in the spring, I declare it will be done!

    and the story behind the fig tree…(actually not so different from the lemon tree story) I was given cuttings from what is either a LSU Gold or Conadria fig. I successfully rooted two of them. I gave my dad one and I have the other. His tree is about 6 foot tall and produced some tasty figs this year. Mine is one foot tall and has not produced. (I’m starting to get a little depressed at this point)

    I know there are a couple of problems with #6. I have already alluded to the fact that I have too many plants in pots and that I (almost) habitually buy plants then take forever to get them in the ground. But, this time will be different, I swear.

    I’m signed up for next week’s Urban Harvest class entitled High Density Home Orchard Management. Exciting! The first part of the description is “This system enables the urban gardener to quadruple the variety of fruit they can grow without buying a single square foot of land.” Nice, that’s what I want to do, quadruple the variety of fruit in my yard. I will be hitting the Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale hard this year, hopefully it won’t be as cold as last year’s.

  7. IMG_1940Install the arbor I bought last summer. I got a great deal on this at Lowe’s, but I wasn’t ready to put it up, I’m still not. I need to get those new beds finished first and get all those fruit tress planted. This project probably won’t happen until the summer.
So, that’s it. My gardening to do list for this year. Wish me luck!