It’s time to think about planting bare-root fruit trees. They will appear in the coming weeks at most well-stocked nurseries. Even the mega stores that have a nursery section may offer a few. The selection will probably be limited, and for the big-box retailers, the selections may not be entirely appropriate for our southern climate. What you might have to really search out are the entirely new fruits that are just appearing on the scene.
Crossing different species of plants to produce hybrids is nothing new. All the modern roses, chrysanthemums, daylilies, and most other garden and florist flowers are the result of this process. The creator makes the cross, selecting the parents for a specific trait or range of traits, and then grows up the offspring to see what happened. Very few of those babies will make the cut, but the payoff comes when the flower with perfect color, shape, fragrance, or the plant that is the sturdiest, shortest or tallest—whatever the goal was—is selected and propagated. Botanists have long known that peaches, cherries, plums, and apricots all belong in the same branch of the same family tree, but until recently, the hybridizers haven’t tried to cross those species barriers.
Apparently, it may take persistence, but it isn’t that hard to create all-new fruits among this group. Pluots (a cross between plum and apricot) and apriums (the opposite cross) have been around for a while. Now there are multiple crosses that are taste-boggling. Nectaplums (nectarine and plum), cherums (cherry and plum), plerries (plum and cherry—hey, what is the difference here?), nectacots (nectarine and apricot), and peacotums (peach, apricot, and plum) are just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the more subtle improvements in taste or color may already be appearing at fruit stands and markets and will soon be available for home orchards, too.
Most of this research has been driven by a couple of the leading producers of nursery stock for planting new orchards (or replanting older ones). These are the pioneers that have the knowledge and the space and time (these trees won’t produce enough fruit for evaluation for several years!) to pursue this kind of operation. Among the forerunners is the family-run firm of Zaiger’s Genetics. For more than 35 years, they’ve been in the orchards weaving their magic.
There is no accepted method of naming these new products, and some may be grown and produced under various proprietary designations. For home orchardists, that shouldn’t matter much. When space permits, try something really new by planting one of these interspecific or multispecific wonders, and see what the fuss is all about.
• Decorate with succulents; these drought-tolerant plants take well to the warmth and dryness of interior spaces. Make a succulent wreath or tuck small pots of succulents into shiny glass dishes on the holiday table.
• Prune deciduous woody shrubs (roses) and trees (peaches, plums, apples, etc.) as you have time. If the task seems daunting, spend just a few minutes each day until the job is done.
• Continue to fertilize cymbidiums with bloom-promoting formulas like 15-30-15.
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Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to email@example.com.