Gardening Tips: Aug. 4, 2010

All About Fruit
I just ate some fresh peaches from a tree that began as a pit from a peach purchased at the supermarket. Since they actually got to ripen on the tree, the flavor was remarkable! Most of the fruit we see for sale is picked in an unripe state to facilitate shipping and storage. Most fruits will continue to ripen after they are picked due to the natural production of ethylene gas. In general, the longer the fruit remains on the plant, the better it tastes! Catch a peach as it falls naturally from the tree and compare the flavor to one yanked off only a few days earlier.

Blueberries will continue to sweeten for up to a week even after they turn blue. Too bad the catbirds and robins are not willing to wait!

Muskmelons are at peak flavor when the fruit “slips” or detaches from the vine with just slight pressure. Tomatoes, of course, taste best when fully ripe on the bush. Most varieties green, bell type, peppers will turn red as they fully ripen. In many cases the difference between a green pepper and a red one is two weeks of growth.

If you have a few apple trees in your backyard that have gotten seriously overgrown, now is the time to prune them back severely to limit their size. Late winter or early spring pruning stimulates growth, much to the frustration of homeowners who are trying to maintain the current size and shape. A pruning cut made in the dormant season may result in as many as four “water sprouts” arising from around the wound. The same cut made now will not give rise to new shoots. Fruit production drops off dramatically when light cannot penetrate into an apple tree’s canopy. Light stimulates flower bud production. An apple tree should be thinned to the extent that you can throw a bushel basket through the canopy.

Peach trees are perhaps the easiest tree fruit for a backyard gardener to grow. I don’t necessarily recommend planting a pit from a supermarket purchased peach but as mentioned above sometimes it works very well! My suggested peach tree varieties for this area are “Reliance” and “Red Haven.” Although peaches do not require cross pollination, as do apples, they seem to bear better when two different varieties are planted nearby. Most of the backyard peach trees I see should have had the fruit thinned much more severely. Thinning to one peach for every eight inches of branch back in early June results in much bigger fruit that are less prone to fungal diseases such as brown rot. It also prevents the need to prop up branches that weigh so much they break the tree’s limbs! It also facilitates annual bearing as opposed to the biennial cycle that many tree fruit are subject to.

Raspberries that have just finished fruiting should have the fruiting canes cut off at ground level and the new canes arising from the roots should be thinned to three vigorous canes per row. Raspberries trained to a V shaped trellis are easier to manage. Fall bearing raspberries usually ripen fruit in September and all the canes may be cut at ground level after harvest.