A couple weekends ago, I helped my dad prune his fig trees. He has about seven fig trees, which I believe he got by propagating cuttings from one really old tree that was on the property when he bought it.
The propagated trees are pretty young (mostly < 5 years old). Above is a “before” shot of one of them. He prefers a bush-type structure with 4 or so main branches coming out from the ground, as opposed to a tree-like structure with one main stem. We removed dead, diseased, or damaged branches, and then cut out any crossing branches to keep the structure of the tree open.
Here is the after photo:
In addition, he wants to keep the trees relatively short so it’s easy to harvest the fruit.
With this next tree, we did something he calls “stubbing” to (hopefully) keep the tree from getting too tall. Here’s the before photo:
And here’s the after:
We cut the taller branches back, but instead of pruning them all the way back to a branch point, like we normally would, we left a couple of inches above the branch point — leaving stubs. This photo highlights some of the stubs:
The idea is that stubbing will encourage more growth out to the sides just below the stub to make a bushier, shorter tree, so as to have lots of branches for fruit production that are easy to reach without a ladder. But we’re not 100% sure that this strategy will work. Some sites say that stubbing — also known as topping trees — is bad (examples here, here and here). But it’s not clear that we’re talking about the same thing. Their examples are of people lopping off really thick large branches to make the tree shorter. The anti-stubbers say it’s ugly and will encourage “water shoots” — meaning more growth upwards. However, we were cutting pretty small branches, not big thick branches.
I found a different article that talks about stubbing in a way that sounds more in line with what we’re doing (see here, “A stubbing cut…” under the Branches and Pruning Terminology section). (Side note: that article was written by Dr. James Schupp, PhD, Professor of Pomology. Who knew you could get a PhD in the study of fruit?) The pictures and description he gives look and sound kind of like what we were going for….I think? I hope we did it right.
This is all an experiment. If anyone has any information about stubbing or advice for pruning fig trees in particular, leave a comment.
I have to admit: Nate is driving the citrus-propagation train. He has lemons and kumquats and – I think – Meyer lemons and clementines. I also gave him some of my blood orange seeds to try to grow as well. Compared to my two measly lemon trees, his citrus plant collection is much more extensive in numbers. But these plants are slow growing. His biggest lemon trees, which have been growing for about one and a half years are not quite a foot tall.
As for myself, I haven’t jumped onto the citrus-propagating train quite so whole-heartedly. I’m a skeptic, and I have a few questions…
First of all, I’m not so sure the trees will actually produce fruit. I’ve been told that if you plant, say, an apple seed, it’s not a clone of the parent and will likely never bear fruit, or if it does, the fruit won’t taste as good.
Another concern I have is how tall the plants will get. We don’t have space outside to plant these trees, nor do we live in the right climate for citrus to grow outside. If the lemon trees aren’t able to reach their full mature height, will they still produce fruit?
Let’s do some research….
The internet is confusing. Many sites, including gardeningknowhow.com, told me that lemon trees planted from seed won’t necessarily produce fruit (“However, trees produced via seed are not carbon copies of the parent and may take five or more years to fruit, with the resulting fruit generally inferior to those of the parent.”)
But according Plant Parenting (and confirmed by other reputable sources), many citrus varieties are actually apomictic, which means they form seeds asexually, and thus the seeds are genetic clones of the parent trees. (Side note: apomixis is apparently rare in the world of crop plants, and only seen in tropical plants like mangos and citrus.)
In regard to the size of the trees, according to (seemingly-reputable) sources on theinternet, the most common types of lemons in the grocery store are Lisbon Lemons and Eureka Lemons, which account for 90% of the lemons we see in store. The Bearss Lemon is a variety more commonly used in commercial lemon products. Lastly, we see Meyer Lemons in the grocery store, but these aren’t really lemons (I’ll talk about that more later).
Lisbon Lemons originally came from a Portuguese variety of lemon that was then cultivated in Australia and finally made its way to the US in the mid-1800s. Lisbon lemon trees, like essentially all lemons, can be grown outdoors in zones 9 and 10. They are drought tolerant and pretty productive, which is why growers like them. They can grow up to 30 feet tall.
The Eureka Lemon is a native of Los Angeles, California. The tree is less thorny than the Lisbon lemon, and is everbearing, which makes also it quite attractive to growers, but it is not quite as hardy and vigorous as the Lisbon Lemon. This tree reportedly grows up to 20 feet tall.
If you buy a lemon tree from a nursery, you’ll likely have the option to buy a Eureka or Lisbon lemon tree grafted onto dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock, so that you can grow a smaller tree. In addition, certain rootstock may convey more vigor to the tree. True dwarf rootstock comes from the Flying Dragon Orange, an orange that is supposedly edible, but sour, and grows about 6 feet tall. Semi-dwarf rootstock would give you a tree that wants to be 15-20 feet tall.
A Meyer Lemon is actually a hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin. It originated from China, but was named after Frank N. Meyer, a man who the USDA sent over to China in the early 1900s to bring plant new and interesting plant species. The tree is naturally on the smaller side: 10-15 feet tall when mature.
Most kumquats are also naturally smaller, growing up to 15 feet tall. A standard blood orange tree seems to want to reach a similar height of 10-15 feet tall. (All of the mature tree heights I give are based on a compilation of a variety of websites; each one says something slightly different, but the numbers I give seems to be about the average.)
With all of these trees, if we keep them in containers, they will grow slower and will not grow as large as if they were planted in the ground, but they will eventually outgrow the largest pot we can put them in.
Although she planted is a Meyer lemon, which is naturally smaller than a Lisbon or Eureka Lemon, this gives me hope that in 5 (or 10) years, we will see fruit on the citrus trees that we’re planting.
Laura’s advice for growing lemons in containers is to keep them on the dry side (allow them to almost, but not quite, dry out completely between watering) and to give them as much bright sunlight as possible (8-12 hours minimum, south-facing window). She recommended planting the trees in generic potting soil if planting in a terracotta pot, which dries out faster, or, if planting in a plastic pot, using cactus potting soil, which has a bit more drainage than traditional potting soil.
While I don’t have a space for a garden at my house, I am a member of a local community garden.
This community garden was started about 10 years ago (I think) by a group of people who saw an area of empty Parks Department land and asked if they could use the space to grow food. The Parks Department said yes, and after a few years of careful planning, we now have a large amount of space in which to grow food.
There is no cost to join the community garden; to be a member, just come to the garden work parties and help out. The produce that we harvest is split amongst the work party members and about half of it is donated to the local food bank.
The photo above is just of the garden space. There is also a separate orchard area that has a number of fruit, nut, and berry trees/shrubs (including figs, crabapples, plums, quince, chestnuts, aronia berries, medlars….). I wasn’t working in the orchard last Sunday, so I don’t have any photos of that space to share with you, but I hope you enjoy these photos of the garden space (info in the captions below the photos):
We meet every Sunday for a two hour work party and have a potluck afterwards. The potlucks are on hiatus in an effort to keep the coronavirus at bay, but we are still meeting for our weekly work parties. We’re working outdoors, not in a small enclosed space, and we try to spread out at as much as possible, keeping ideally 6 feet between each other. I’m really glad the work parties haven’t disbanded. Personally, I find the work to be a nice distraction at a time like. More importantly, the food banks are going to need the donations now more than ever.
[Update: Gov. Inslee issued a two-week “Stay at Home” order starting on 3/23/20, so work parties for the next two weeks may not happen.]
Last Sunday, we planted potatoes and onions, and did some weeding.
Hope you enjoyed seeing a bit of our community garden.
(Note: In order to respect everyone’s privacy, I’m intentionally not showing identifiable faces in any of the photos I take.)
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve saved some Meyer lemon seeds and blood orange seeds.
I’m doing a test to see if pre-germinating them with the paper towel method is any better than planting directly into soil.
In Plants from Pits, Holly Farrell says to plant citrus seeds directly into soil, but Leslie Halleck, in Plant Parenting says, “Seeds of stone fruits, such as peaches and apricots, nut trees, or citrus seeds, will root more successfully if you pre-sprout them” (emphasis mine). She suggests chitting seeds. I didn’t know what chitting was before reading her book, but I was familiar with “the paper towel method,” which, as it turns out, is the exact same thing. Another term that means the same thing is “greensprouting.”
The paper towel method, for those of you who are not familiar, goes like this:
Wet a paper towel
Fold the seeds up in the wet paper towel
Place the wet paper towel into a plastic bag
Place plastic bag with seeds in paper towel in a warm place
Wait until you see a sprout
Plant the sprouted seeds
People claim this makes for more efficient germination. We shall see…
For my experiment, I planted half of my seeds directly into potting soil, and did the paper towel method with the other half.
Here are the potted seeds — blood orange seeds in the left pot and lemons in the right:
I planted the seeds on one half of the pot, and I’ll put the pre-sprouted “chitted” seeds on the other half, so I can see their side-by-side growth.
I was visiting my dad last week, and decided to do a bit of work in his yard. There is a rhododendron on the backside of his house near the shed. There are also a couple of azaleas nearby – I didn’t get a good photo of them, but you can see the edge of one in the bottom right corner of this photo.
This bed sits underneath the canopy of a giant oak tree that sheds tons of leaves and acorns in the fall, and this rhododendron bed was thick with leaves. The leaves were also stuck in the azalea branches weighing down the azaleas. (No photo, but believe me when I tell you they were looking pretty sad.)
I raked out the leaves and then pruned the rhododendron to clean it up and get it out of the way of the pathway. Here’s the blurry *after* photo I took (I need to work on my camera skills if I’m gonna to keep going with this site…):
And then this happened:
Here’s the post-snow non-blurry *after* photo of the rhododendron:
It’s a little hard to tell in the photos, but all the leaves have been raked out the bed — 3 wheelbarrows-full of them — and a lot of the lower branches that were hanging over the walkway have been pruned out. Very satisfying in person.
I’ll try to remember to get a photo of it when it’s in bloom.
On a completely different note, I’ve started germinating my Meyer lemon and blood orange seeds and will have more to share with you on that later…
A garden without a gardener is a jungle waiting to happen. But a gardener without a plot to till is likewise a very sorry sight.
The last frost date for my city, according to Farmer’s Almanac, is Mar 17th. So I thought it was only fitting to start this blog on March 17. We also happen to be in the midst of a coronarovirus outbreak (COVID-19), which is completely unrelated and occurred after the mental conception of this blog, but is information worth noting for posterity’s sake.
My current garden — or lack thereof — looks a little like this:
I live in a walk-out basement apartment and four of my five window sills house plants. Two of windows face south, and one faces west, so the lighting is pretty good for being in a basement.
The majority of my plants were cuttings from various other plants or plants grown from seed/pit. #frugalgardener The only plant I paid for is the croton. I think it was $5 at Swanson’s Nursery in Seattle. When I first bought it, it was about a third of the size it is now. That was maybe 3 years ago? I’m happy with how it’s done so far, but I’m worried it might be at the end of its lifespan. When I first got it, I transplanted it into the black plastic pot that you see it in now. I paired it with a colorful yellow saucer to match its colorful leaves. Aside from water and a bit of fertilizer, that’s all I’ve done for it.
The spider plants are from my dad, as is the ctenanthe. I got the ctenanthe when my dad’s ctenanthe was getting too big for it’s pot, and was split. Spider plants are super easy to grow and propagate from spider babies. I used to have five of them, but have been paring down recently. My dad cuts all his spider babies off – he says it’s bad for the plant. I like the look of them draping over the side of the window sill, and the plants seem to be doing just fine, so I’m leaving them.
The avocado, lemons, kumquats, and pomegranates are grown from seed. The kumquats are pretty much dead.
Lastly, there are two pothos (cuttings taken from a friend’s roommate’s plant and from a plant at work), a wandering jew (cutting taken from my boyfriend’s coworker’s plants), and a snake plant (stolen from a plant at work, shhh!).
Well, that’s all I have to share today. I think it’s time to get rid of the kumquats and plant something else in that pot — I have some Meyer lemon and blood orange seeds that I’d like to try. Stay tuned if you’re interested in seeing how that project turns out, and subscribe below to get notified when I post more.