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Learn how to grow fruit without much space

Harvest Day spotlights wide range of varieties in demonstration orchard

Asian pears on tree
Asian pears grow on an espaliered tree at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Ever see a pawpaw? What about an atemoya or a pluerry? Those are just a taste of the exotic fruits that grow in the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center’s demonstration orchard.

Designed to be easy-care and easy-picking, the orchard is pruned for compact spaces – such as a typical Sacramento backyard. But small spaces can produce big harvests.

See for yourself Saturday, Aug. 6, during Harvest Day, the Sacramento region’s celebration of gardening know-how.

Hosted by the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Sacramento County, this free event is annually Sacramento’s biggest free garden party. But due to pandemic restrictions, this will be the first in-person Harvest Day since 2019. Hours will be 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission and parking are free.

Sacramento County master gardener Quentyn Young, a longtime professional nurseryman, oversees the 60-tree orchard. Young and other volunteers will be on hand Saturday to answer all sorts of questions. What’s the best tasting peach? How can you get more fruit in a small tree? Can you grow tropical fruit in Sacramento?

At the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, the master gardeners experiment with techniques of care as well as testing varieties for hardiness, disease resistance and flavor.

Says Young, “We grow a lot of fruit: Peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, pluerries, cherries, apples, pears, Asian pears, avocado, atemoya, pawpaw, guavas, figs, pomegranates, persimmons and all kinds of citrus.

“We’re having a really good fruit year, especially peaches and plums,” he adds. “(Ripening) is maybe running a week early, but it’s pretty close to our harvest guidelines.”

The master gardeners keep their fruit trees short – under 7 feet. That makes their harvest easier to pick (no ladders necessary) as well as reduces the water needs of each tree. (There’s less tree!)

Green pawpaws on tree
Ever seen pawpaws? This Shenandoah variety grew in 2018
in the FOHC orchard.

For irrigation, this little orchard uses microsprayers, explains Young. “They’re usually deep-watered once a week; in July and August, twice a week if needed. The microsprayers put out 25 to 35 gallons an hour, so they run about an hour. We budget 25 gallons per tree per week.”

Young trees (under 3 years old) may need extra water to get established; figure an extra 5 gallons per week. To retain that moisture and keep roots comfortable, use lots of mulch. That also keeps down water-robbing weeds.

“Mulch definitely helps,” Young says. “We have layers and layers of wood chips, a mix of everything (Sacramento County) crews chipped. We put down a fresh layer two or three times a year.”

Some fruit trees get by with less water better than others; in fact, they prefer it, Young notes. “All the biblical fruit: Olives, almonds, pomegranates, grapes, dates, figs. They’re native to the Mediterranean or desert regions. (Most varieties) require very little water. Everything else needs weekly irrigation.”

Fair Oaks Horticulture Center is located at 11549 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks, in Fair Oaks Park. Details: .


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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