HG: Homegrown Column October 11, 2008

We have dwarf apricot and dwarf peach trees about 10 years old. The last couple of years the fruit has not been very sweet. We see that they are sprayed every spring and summer. Is there some thing that we can do to receive sweeter fruit? We live on the Redlands and would appreciate your help.
Thanks you.
— Irene

I’m not precisely sure what may be going on.

The two possibilities I’ve heard of are watering issues and stress on the trees.

Too much or too little water as the fruit is approaching its final ripeness can do this. Since you’ve successfully grown these trees for the first eight years, I wouldn’t expect that to be the problem.

The second problem, stress, has a better chance of being the culprit. Anything that would hurt the tree — watering issues, lack of fertility, physical stresses, or insect and disease problems — could be it.

I’d fertilize the trees next spring when they break bud with a complete slow-release fertilizer that contains iron. You could follow up six or eight weeks later. Just be sure to water it in well after you sprinkle it out.

Go out and take a close look at the base of your two trees. There’s an insidious insect called the peach tree borer that attacks all of the stone fruits.

The borer tunnels under the bark right down near ground level. If it is present, you should see some jelly-like sap oozing out (it may be dried up) and/or bark damage.

There are a series of preventative drenches you can apply to the base of the trees next June and July to get your trees back on their feet.

Will rhododendrons grow in this area?
— David

Rhododendrons will grow here, but not without some preparation and ongoing maintenance on your part.

Some rhododendrons aren’t winter hardy for us, but there’s a group called the H-1 hybrids that have plenty of cold hardiness. However, it’s not the winters that usually give them problems here, it’s the summers.

Rhodies like a cool, humid climate (think Seattle) and a rich, organic, well-drained, acidic soil.

Basically, we don’t have any of that here.

To grow a rhododendron here you need to try to create a spot in your garden that is as close to Seattle as you can, and I’m not talking about planting them on the west side of the yard.

The first thing to do is to plant it in the shade. They like pretty bright light, but need protection from that scorching afternoon sun.

I’ve found that it’s also helpful to plant other plants around them and use an organic mulch on the ground such as bark chips or cedar mulch. This helps to raise the humidity in that area.

You also want do a great job preparing the soil before you plant. You want to amend the soil well out from the plant with lots of decomposed, low salt organic matter such as Soil Pep, Peat Moss or compost. I’d mix it 50-50 with the soil from your yard.

Amend the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches (18 inches is better) and as far out around the plant as you’re able.

And lastly, regularly feed the plant with an acid forming fertilizer such as Mir-Acid.

I know this is a bit of a hassle, but they’re so beautiful in the spring.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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