Q: You recommend to check for root problems in newly planted fruit trees by bending the tree over and seeing if it wiggles in the soil. How hard should I push? When I push my tree, it does move in the soil, but I wouldn’t say it wiggles.
A: The tree should be solid in the soil and not wiggle after it is planted. Staking helps but doesn’t replace proper planting. Moving the top of the tree back and forth (like a strong wind is blowing) says a lot about potential problems during the first year and future establishment.
After the soil has settled from planting and watering, move the top of the tree back and forth before staking to see if it was planted too deep. Once staked, a tree is tough to wiggle and for you to make that determination.
If your tree never leafed out or if it did and the leaves promptly died, the tree was most likely planted too deep. A tree should not be planted more than ½ inch below the surrounding soil.
Plant the tree at the same depth it grew in the container or (if bare root) the same depth it grew in the field when harvested. When no soil is attached to the roots (bare root), look for a color change in the trunk separating below-ground and above-ground parts. A metal stake (or stakes), driven deep enough so it is in solid ground and tied to the tree with stretchable, plastic tape a few times, keeps the trunk and roots from moving.
Mistakes I see frequently at planting time are planting trees too deep, planting too shallow (so roots are exposed after watering), not staking and digging the planting hole too deep when there is no reason for doing that. Some people don’t stake trees because they think it is not necessary. Well, staking shouldn’t be necessary when the tree is small and there is no wind.
When trees are planted correctly, and before they are staked, they should feel like they are solid in the ground when moved back and forth. Then stake them so the lower trunk and roots don’t move later on.
Wiggling the tree from side to side (when it’s not yet staked) visually exposes trees that are planted too deep. Look down. The tree trunk makes a larger hole in the soil when it’s moved back and forth. That’s a sign the tree just may have been planted too deep.
You know that old saying, “Dig a $50 hole for a $5 tree,” is still a valuable adage proportionately even if the money is wrong.
Q: My new trees (apple, plum, peach) were planted a month ago and appear healthy. I watched several YouTube videos and am nervously ready to trim these trees. Being nearly May and heat coming on, should I wait until next year or just do it now?
A: I usually prune right after planting in January or February. My rule of thumb is 90 percent of my pruning is directed toward improving the structure of the tree and only 10 percent is concerned with production; the second year focuses 50 percent of my pruning efforts on the structure and 50 percent toward production. By the third year, only about 10 percent focuses on the tree’s structure and 90 percent on production.
Each year the tree’s structure is evaluated, but most pruning focuses on entering production no later than the third year of growth in the ground. Some older varieties may take longer than that.
Do I keep a few fruit to savor earlier than this? Of course. But only a few. I’m encouraging as much good growth as possible and getting rid of unnecessary growth as early as possible.
I always carry a sanitized and sharpened hand pruner on my walks through the orchard during the year. I never know when I’ll see something that needs my attention. Better to remove small amounts of unnecessary growth early in the season than wait until December or January and remove a large limb.
Light pruning can be done now or anytime, but in the Mojave Desert, be careful of removing too much, which can contribute to sunburn of the limbs and fruit. Since we are in late spring, wait until December or January to do any major pruning.
You can lightly prune fruit trees all year long if they need it, but don’t remove too much. Summer pruning is done about now to older trees to keep them smaller, but that’s for the experienced fruit tree grower.
Q: I recently harvested my garlic crop, wrapped it in burlap and hung it up to dry. How long should I let it dry in the heat? Last year I let it go for over a month and the bulbs got mushy.
A: If the bulbs got mushy, then it was harvested too early or the bulbs stayed too wet. In our climate, don’t wrap garlic in burlap but dry it in the shade instead. I never had problems drying garlic. I leave the tops attached, bunch them together and hang them in the shade.
To me, this seems a bit early to harvest garlic. My garlic was harvested in late May or June, when the tops had dried back about ⅓ in the field. It is hard to tell without seeing them, but the bulbs should be fully developed when harvesting.
Browning of the tops is a way to know if they are starting to mature or not. If you let the tops all turn brown, then the paper wrapping around the bulbs will get damaged.
Garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in early to mid-summer after the bulbs have formed. Shake the soil from the plants when you harvest; don’t wash them.
I grew about 25 varieties of garlic, and they all did well here. This is a good climate for garlic. So, keep an eye on the plants and harvest them when they are fully formed on their own and dry them in the shade.
Q: I have a 2-year-old Flavor Supreme pluot and a 4-year-old Flavor King pluot. Recently my Santa Rosa plum (their pollinator) died from borers. The Flavor Supreme had only a few fruit, while the Flavor King was loaded. Do I need to plant a plum tree to pollinate the Flavor Supreme? Or does it have less fruit because it is only 2 years old?
A: Flavor Supreme pluot has wonderful fruit, but its production is sketchy because of spring freezes. So most likely the tree was thinned of some fruit by some late spring freezes. Plus, it’s only 2 years old. Some years Flavor Supreme may get no fruit, even though it flowers, because of a freeze. This is less likely to happen with Flavor King.
Santa Rosa plum produces good soft fruit in our climate and is a good pollinator for most pluots. Flavor Supreme is a pollinator for Flavor King pluot as well. Throw Dapple Dandy pluot in that group as well.
But pluots will still produce fruit without a Santa Rosa plum or pluot in your yard. Just possibly a lighter crop. If a neighbor has a Santa Rosa plum or Dapple Dandy pluot, then it is to your benefit.
Q: I planted two Showpot tea roses a short time ago. The stems are green, but there is no growth on the stems. Any idea when can I expect to see some growth?
A: Just be patient. They were supposed to be bare root without leaves, and it may take some time for them to start growing. The soil should be amended at planting time and covered with wood chips when you’re done.
It’s more important to know the variety of the rose rather than whether it’s a Showpot rose. You will see on the box the varietal name.
Go to the Weeks Roses website online and find their list of roses that perform well in hot, dry climates. That list gives you the varietal names of roses that do well in our desert. Make your selection by a variety rather than trusting that it’s a Showpot rose.
Don’t water daily. Twice a week should be fine if they were mulched when planted. Without mulch, three times a week is enough. Make sure to give them one full day with no additional water, at least every other day, after planting.
This time of year, expect that watering 2 to 3 gallons every other day with a hose is enough. After a couple of weeks, turn them over to drip irrigation.
Bob Morris is a horticulture expert and professor emeritus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com. Send questions to Extremehort@aol.com.