Patience a key part of growing fruit

The Easter lily comes from the southern islands of Japan where it is cool and moist. The Easter lily is a true bulb and takes about four years to develop in fields along the northern coast of California and Oregon, again in a cool, moist climate with deep, rich soils.

Baby bulbs are removed from mother bulbs after their first year of development and replanted into fields where they are grown for another two to three years. Then they are shipped to greenhouse growers who plant the bulbs in pots and, with careful control of light and temperature and the use of growth-controlling and flower-inducing chemicals, they force them to grow and produce flowers during the two weeks prior to Easter.

This is tricky because lilies normally want to bloom during the summer months. The time of flowering must be precise because people want lilies in bloom or near bloom when they buy them. The flowers do not last that long and people don’t buy them until just before Easter.

Growing them and getting them to bloom on exactly the right weekend is very critical. Easter lilies prefer daytime temperatures about 60-65 F and lower nighttime temperatures. They can grow out of this range, but will not do as well.

Q: I have a small pomegranate tree in my backyard next to the house with full southern exposure. I assume that the lack of bees is the reason I had no fruit, although I had a few blossoms. This is the second year since planting this bush and the first year of blossoms. I only fertilized lightly in the spring and deep watered it infrequently this past summer.

A: Be patient. It will take a few years to get into production. The fruit is born on new growth coming from older wood so it will take awhile for your older wood to develop. Just don’t prune off too much new growth in the spring.

Fertilize the tree in January and thin out the canopy so that there is enough room for light to penetrate into the canopy. It is self-fertile and does not need a pollinator.

A common mistake is to think that because certain fruit trees are so-called desert trees, like pomegranates and figs, they don’t need much water. This is not true. Any tree producing fruit needs to have water available throughout fruit development if you expect to have fruit or good quality fruit.

Q: We really enjoy your column, especially the March 6 article on removing tree stakes. Now the only problem is how to tell if our trees are well-rooted and ready to stand on their own. They have been in the ground approximately nine months. They seem to be doing great. Anyway, is there a way to tell or should we do it in late September or early October when we trim or prune them?

A: It is hard to give one broad generalization about when to remove tree stakes for all situations. Much of that depends upon the condition of your tree when you bought it and how it was planted.

One easy method that you can try to see if the tree or plant needs to be staked longer is to remove the stakes. Begin to bend the tree and watch the soil surrounding the trunk. Do this gently.

As you bend the tree, moving it as if it were being blown by the wind, see if the soil moves around the trunk. A firmly rooted plant will not move the soil surrounding it or move it only slightly.

If the soil moves excessively, replace the stake making sure it is driven deeply in the soil so it will not move. Tie the tree to the stake as low on the trunk as possible so that the top of the plant can move while its roots remain motionless. By the end of this growing season your tree should be firmly rooted and you can remove the stake permanently.

If you have done all this and it is not firmly rooted, there may have been something very wrong with the root system at the time you bought it. Tree roots that are pot bound or overgrown for the container may never firmly establish in the soil.

Always select a plant that appears appropriately sized for its container. Avoid plants that appear large for their container. Even though these plants seem to be a ” better deal,” they never are. Those plants will be your future problems.

Q: Right now, I have seven gardenia plants. Six are recommended for full sun and one is a shade gardenia. I don’t agree with you that they are difficult to grow. Two are almost three years old and the rest are one to two years old. They bloom like crazy in the spring and have lovely shiny green leaves the rest of the year. They are watered on the same schedule as the rest of the plants in my yard and I give them acid fertilizer in the spring and fall. Last year’s freeze did not injure them at all and they take the heat here also. I have had a wonderful experience growing them.

A: The problems that you will have with your gardenias will begin at about year four or five. Generally speaking, plants that are considered more acid-loving frequently do well here.

What I believe happens is that these plants are planted in ideal soil conditions. Frequently, they are planted with plenty of compost, acid-forming soil amendments and fertilizers, and given prime care.

This soil environment usually deteriorates in about five years. At this time, the plentiful organic matter has decomposed to low levels. Now, the surrounding desert soils begin to heavily influence the soil surrounding the roots. The deteriorating amended soil begins to revert back to our harsh (for plants like gardenias) desert soil.

The tap water (carrying one ton of salt for every 300,000 gallons) used for irrigation begins its inevitable impact on the soil surrounding the roots. Soil around the plant begins to compact; although it was previously open for drainage, water now drains poorly.

Iron and a couple of other plant nutrients sensitive to our soils start becoming less available to these plants. Root systems respond to these conditions by dying back. Yellowing leaves with green veins begin to appear on new growth. By the following year, leaves begin to scorch more easily and branches begin dying back. Increased susceptibility to stresses like heat is inevitable as plant health deteriorates due to poor nutrition. In following years, these plants continue a slow decline and downward spiral.

We frequently see this happening with plants that are not as sensitive to our soils as gardenias. These nondesert plants, such as photinia, heavenly bamboo, mock orange, bottlebrush and others, are commonly planted in rock mulches with more tolerant plants. The five-year time frame generally holds true for most of them provided they are planted with amended soils at the start. If not, this series of events happens sooner.

I am very happy you are trying them and I would hope that anyone who would like to grow gardenias here should have a chance at them. Gardenias have been sold in Las Vegas for decades but we seldom see any in town over a few years old.

In the meantime, I hope you use organic mulches around these plants and irrigate them so their roots are continually flushed of salts. Secondly, when you can, use acidifying agents such as finely granulated sulfur, aluminum sulfate or soil drenches with phosphoric acid to counteract the buildup of alkalinity. Thirdly, use soil-applied iron chelates such as EDDHA annually in the spring and foliar-applied iron fertilizers when needed.

I would like you to keep me posted on how they are doing during the next three to four years. I think you will have trouble down the road. If I am wrong, you will have to tell me how you grew them. If I am right, at least you can enjoy them for several years to come. You can’t lose either way.

Bob Morris is an associate professor with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Direct gardening questions to the master gardener hot line at 257-5555 or contact Morris by e-mail at extremehort@aol.com.

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