- Trim the cuttings to the desired length, and wrap the uppper 2-3 inches in parafilm;
- Dip the cuttings in rooting hormone;
- Stick the cuttings into hydrated potting media (I used coconut coir);
- Wait, and don’t over-water them!
I often hear how easy it is to root fig cuttings, and everyone seems to have their own method that gives them a high success rate. So when I was lucky enough to receive a few cuttings from three rare figs, I didn’t want to take any chances. I had previously tried pre-rooting cuttings in a back, but didn’t have great luck. After consulting with the fig gurus on the www.ourfigs.com forum, I decided to use the Theefold Farm method:
This Saturday I volunteered at the annual Urban Harvest fruit tree sale, a major local event that brings together hundreds of people, fruit trees, and wonderful coordinators and volunteers who make it all possible. I had a blast catching up with old friends, answering questions, and sharing what I’ve learned over the years. The selection of fruit trees was mostly from Brazos Citrus Nursery, and for the most part looked really good and healthy. I could have stayed out there all day, it was so much fun seeing people explore all the different varieties.
Even though I was really really tempted, I didn’t buy any more trees for myself, but I did get three Itsaul Summer raspberries to trial this year. They’re very small, barely rooted cuttings, so I’m not sure how well they’ll do. All I can do it try, and who knows? Maybe I’ll have good luck and be eating raspberries next year.
Houston has a problem. A citrus rootstock problem. It has long been taught that that the best rootstock for our area of the Gulf Coast is Poncirus trifoliata, the trifoliate orange. It handles our heavy clay, is resistant to many diseases, and is extremely cold tolerant. Not only does trifoliate gift extra cold-hardiness to whatever citrus is grafted onto it, but fruit grown on trifoliate rootstock is of excellent quality. So if it’s so great, why is it that you can’t find citrus trees grafted on trifolate for sale anywhere?
Now imagine you’re a commercial citrus grower - Your incentive is to grow as many big, pretty citrus trees for sale as quickly as possible. In spite of all its other positive attributes trifoliate is very slow growing, and on average it takes approximately one year longer to grow a tree to market size compared to other more vigorous rootstocks. If your business is growing big trees fast, trifoliate is a losing proposition, especially when there are alternative rootstocks like Carrizo and Kuharske citrange that will.
The two main citrus tree producers I see around town are Brazos Citrus Nursery (many reputable nurseries like ArborGate and RCW) and Saxon Becnel (commonly found at Home Depot, Lowes, etc). Brazos citrus uses trifoliate for kumquats (graft compatibility reasons), Carrizo citrange for most other things, and maybe Swingle citrumelo for pummelos. In the past they have also produced trees labeled ‘Dwarf’, which I’ve bee told means they’re grafted onto either trifoliate, or and even more dwarfing trifoliate variant called Flying Dragon. The last time I called Saxon Becnel I was told they produce trees on Kuharske citrange, and claim their experience has showed them it is the best rootstock for the Gulf Coast.
I completely understand why they use the rootstocks they use, and both rootstocks can work here if given the right conditions (good drainage, cold protection). But I have also been through hard freezes that killed all of my citrus trees that weren’t on trifoliate. What we need is a rootstock that is well suited for the greater Houston area, but grows quickly enough to be competitive with Carrizo and Kuharske citrange. Turns out the University of Florida may have found it as part of their search for rootstocks resistant to citrus greening disease. It’s called US-802, and is a trifoliate x pummelo hybrid (botanically a citrumelo). In field trials it has proven to be well adapted to wet and clay soils, more cold hardy than Swingle citrumelo, resistant to citrus greening, and very vigorous! (https://www.growingproduce.com/citrus/varieties-rootstocks/taking-stock-of-new-citrus-rootstocks/)
The Texas A&M Citrus Center now offers budwood from the UFL program, so I decided to trial this new rootstock for Houston. Who knows? It could be the win-win solution for commercial producers and home citrus growers! The only way to find out is to try it..... but how? Budwood is just, well, budwood. What I really needed was a rootstock, or at least seeds, but it looked like my only option was going to be trying to root the budwood cuttings. While researching this, I stumbled across Dan Willey’s website FruitMentor.com, where he documented how citrus is grafted and rooted from cuttings in a single step by commercial growers. He also detailed his attempts to copy the process. I decided to try it myself, using US-802 budwood from the Citrus Center, and Dancy tangerine budwood I cut from my tree.
First I Z-grafted the Dancy and US-802 together, and wrapped it with parafilm and a rubber band. Then I dipped it in Dip-n-Grow rooting hormone, and stuck it in a half-soda bottle filled with coconut coir. I placed the top half of the bottle back on to keep the humidity high, and placed it on a heat mat under LED plant lights. After about a week I started to see growth! I knew that this didn’t mean it was growing roots yet, but I was still amazed. I continued to watch every day, until the leaves were pressing against the sides of the bottle. I couldn’t leave it like that, so I decided to separate the two attempts. When I did, I was sad to see no evidence of rooting. I placed them each in their own bottles, and re-sealed them. I’ll have to wait another month or so to see if my experiment will be a success or not. With any luck, I’ll be planting the first trial tree on US-802 soon!
I love peaches, but have never had good luck growing them. In previous attempts I’ve had trouble with bad soil, and ignorance of the correct way to prune them, all resulting in very very little fruit. The soil at my current home is mostly a very heavy clay, which has already claimed the lives of two peach trees. When they died I gave up, and decided that stone fruits were just beyond my reach.....
Then something miraculous happened - my Beauty plum gave us the most wonderful and bountiful crop last summer! That tree is in one of the better-drained places on my lot, and I thought maybe I could finally turn my pathetic peach performance around if I could give them the same kind of well-drained soil that produced such a prolific plum. My first thought was to build a big raised bed for them, but then I remembered all the other raised beds I’ve ever built..... nightmares of weeds, crab grass, and nut sedge. The only way to keep the grass out and make it work would be to make a really tall raised bed, something over 12 inches.
When I started calculating the volume of soil needed to fill such a deep bed, it soon becomes apparent how large an undertaking and expense it would be. When I also considered that a raised bed is a pretty permanent installation, and the time it would take to buy, haul, and build it, I started thinking of intermediate options. Then it came to me... Pots! Why not try starting peaches in pots? I could start them in big pots, and if I decided to later I could build the big bed around them.
First I put down some old paving stones I had lying around to cover the area, to let me cut the grass and weeds around the pots easily. Then I just put out four big 25-30 gallon pots that had previously been used for blueberries, and filled them with a 50/50 mix of ProMix and pine bark mulch. I ordered the four low chill peaches of the Pride series (Eva’s Pride, Mid Pride, May Pride, and August Pride *all patented by Zaiger Genetics) on dwarfing Citation rootstock from Bay Laurel nursery, and planted the bare-root trees as soon as they arrived. I pruned them back pretty severely, and ran an irrigation line to all four pots.
Peaches are marginal at best in our area, and my hypothesis that by keeping the trees small through pruning and root confinement, I may be able to more easily manage the pests and issues that normally ruin the fruit. I know a big tree make more fruit, but if given a choice between a small tree with a few good peaches and a big tree full of worm-filled ones, I’ll take the small tree! If I later decide that the pots are too confining, I can either root prune, or build a raised bed around the patio and cut the trees free.
Scott Johnsgard and I were lucky enough to be invited down to a very special place in southwest Houston to audit the Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Pruning and Training class, so we gratefully accepted this generous offer and drove down. This portion of the class is held at Dr. Randall’s home, an approximately 1/4-acre lot that he has been planting and working for 40 years! I’ve been reading about this place for over 10 years, so I was very excited to finally see it in person.
The class was very informative, not as hands-on as I had assumed, but very valuable in the sense that you could see, touch, and study the cuts that had been made. I was particularly interested in learning more about pruning plums, and also just really interested to see Dr. Randall’s application of permaculture philosophy to his land. The day began with a brief introduction to basic tools, the importance of disinfecting them, and some history of the property. We then divided into three groups, and rotated about the grounds discussing pruning and training 1.) apples, pears, and jujubes; 2.) plums, peaches, and nectarines; and 3.) blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
The instructors were all great, clearly very knowledgeable, and very patient with my contstant questions and interruptions (especially Nancy). After the class, Scott and I got to hang around for a while with Dr. Randall, and see all sorts of things I had only read about: kat mandarins, sancitrange hybrids, the Cormon’s Harlem fig, the original Mysteak/Nagle fig, and on and on. WE easily could have stayed all day, and Dr. Randall was very generous with his time (and fruit), but we had to get back. I plan on heading back down for Part 2 in a few weeks, hopefully Scott will be able to join me again.
If you choose to fertilize your fruit trees with a ‘slow-release’ fertilizer like cottonseed meal, then following the typical guidelines may leave your plants hungry for nutrients when the growing season begins. I’ve often read that cottonseed meal is a slow-release source of nitrogen, but just how slow is “slow”?
For citrus, Texas A&M fruit specialist Monte Nesbitt recommends giving your citrus trees 60% of their annual nitrogen on Valentine’s Day, 20% on Mother’s Day, and the remaining 20% on Father’s Day. However, this schedule assumes you’re using ammonium sulfate (21-0-0), a “fast-release” chemical fertilizer. How should this schedule be adjusted for other fertilizers?
To figure this out, I first needed to learn the rate at which the nitrogen in cottonseed meal becomes available to plants. I found the answer in a 2013 study (see here: https://journals.ashs.org/hortsci/view/journals/hortsci/48/7/article-p891.xml), which determined for a residential soil, plant-available nitrogen from cottonseed meal peaks at approximately 30 days after application, and then decreases to approximately 50% of that maximum over the next 30 days. This suggests that to follow a schedule similar to Mr. Nesbitt’s using cottonseed meal, the fertilizer would need to be applied approximately one month earlier! In other words, if I want my citrus trees to have peak available nitrogen on Valentine’s Day, I need to start fertilizing now in mid-January.
I also started to wonder about nutrient timing, the unpredictability of weather and citrus growth flushes, and what the nutrient availability would be like if I fertilized on a different schedule. Fertilizing three times a year based on arbitrary dates seems to come with the risk of fertilizing when the trees aren’t growing due to unseasonable weather, or not fertilizing when they are. I think a better approach for the home grower may be to aim for a more consistent level of nutrient availability over the growing season, by applying cottonseed meal on a monthly schedule (see chart below). For 2020 I’m going to try giving my trees 30% of their annual fertilizer allotment in January, and then giving them another 10% each month through August. I think that following such a schedule will mean that my trees will always have what they need, when they need it. I’ll let you know how it goes!
What do you do when you get a bumper crop of citrus!? Naturally you eat all the fresh fruit you can, but if you’re still overwhelmed, the next obvious choice is to make marmalade. Now I enjoy a good marmalade as much as the next person, but I typically don’t eat a lot of jams or jellies, and I don’t like the idea of taking good wholesome fruit and adding pounds of refined sugar. Plus, making marmalade is a pretty labor-intensive process, and I didn’t relish the thought of having to turn the 40+ pounds of Dancy tangerines into a jellied preserve.
So I began to wonder - How do commercial operations can mandarin oranges? How do they get them so clean, and remove all the membranes and white stuff? What I discovered is that an enzyme or lye solution is used to digest the pith from the segments prior to canning! I ordered a bag of pectic enzyme, and set about planning how I could extend my enjoyment of these delightful fruits.
First off, to say that this process wasn’t labor-intensive would be lying, but it was still way less work than making marmalade. It took me approximately 2-2.5 hours just to peel all the fruit. Commercial operations scaled the fruit to make peeling easier, but I didn’t. Dancys peel pretty easy, there was just hundreds of them to work through. Then I soaked batches of segments in the enzyme solution (1 Tbs pectic enzyme to 1 gal water) for about 3 hours each. It was amazing how well the enzyme did it’s magic, the white pith just slipped right off, leaving beautiful clean segments! I packed the segments into jars, and then filled with a boiling very light sugar syrup, leaving 0.5 inches of head space.
I didn’t want to use syrup at first, but since I couldn’t can them in their own juice (due to volatile sulfur compounds in citrus juice), I decided syrup was the best option. I used a very light receipe of 0.75 cups sugar to 6.25 cups water, which is supposed to approximate the sugar concentration in the fruit itself. Regardless, it’s still much less sugar than marmalade. Once sealed, I processed the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
I’m thrilled with the results, and very happy that I was able to preserve so much fruit that might otherwise have gone to waste. All told I canned a little less than five gallons of tangerines, which I’m looking forward to enjoying until loquat season starts! I will definitely be trying this next year with other fruits.
Pepper planting time! Much to Dr. Wife’s “amusement” I have taken over the garden tub in our bathroom, and turned it into my seed-starting station. It’s warm, by a sunny window, and easy to keep an eye on. I received my order from Pepper Joe’s, and immediately got to work planting the seeds in the cheapo plastic seed tray I picked up from Ace Hardware. I ordered a seedling heat mat from Amazon, and as soon as it gets here I’ll slide it under the tray.
Rather than make tiny labels for each cell, I just drew a map to help me keep track of what is what. As long as I don’t lose that sheet of paper, I’ll be able to keep things straight. As you can see from the map, I’ve planted a large variety of jalapeños, habaneros, and cayennes, along with something called Bhutan Bubblegum 7 Pot Chocolate (came free with my order). Once the seedlings come up, I’ll transplant them into plastic solo cups, and try to get them as big as I can before March/April. I’ve finished running water lines to the pepper patch and laying cardboard to smother the grass, so I’ll be ready when spring comes. I can’t wait to see that first green shoot poking through the soil!
After many years of waiting, I finally harvested some Bloomsweet grapefruits from our tree. I planted the tree when we moved in around 6 years ago, and despite hard freezes, drought, and neglect it has continued to grow. It’s one tough tree. Also known as a Kinkoji, the Bloomsweet grapefruit isn’t really a grapefruit at all as we think of them, but it is a cross between a pummelo and a mandarin. The peel is very thick and pithy like a pummelo, and membranes surrounding the segments are very tough, and the flesh is firm. It isn’t juicy like an orange or a tangerine, you can eat this without getting sticky fingers. It isn’t particularly easy to peel, and most segments contain at least one seed (some as many as four).
The flavor is, well....it doesn’t really have much flavor. It’s sweet, but not overly sweet, with a faint hint of lemon. It definitely has a pummelo-like flavor quality, but is pretty underwhelming. The taste isn’t bad, there’s just much better tasing fruit available. My Dancy tangerines blow it away, and I’d definitely prefer any grapefruit. I’m pretty disappointed after waiting so long to try it, but that being said, all the other trees I planted with this one are now dead. It may not be the best tasting fruit, but at least it survives and produces with almost no care. I don’t know if I’ll just let it keep growing, or if I’ll top-work it to something else. Who knows? Maybe the fruit quality will improve with time. As tough as the tree has been, I’m definitely tempted to graft on some pummelos or Ujukitsus.
***UPDATE 2/10/2020*** - I was wrong! I take it all back! This past weekend I tasted some fruit from Dr. Randall’s tree, and it was amazing, like a lemon-flavored pummelo. So the issue is not with the variety, the problem is with my tree. Most likely the tree is just too immature to make truly phenomenal fruit yet. That’s Ok, I’m glad I decided not to graft it to something else.
After 3 years, I’ve decided I’m just done with pomegranates. They grow, they look nice in the spring, they have pretty red flowers..... but the fruit rots out in the Houston humidity before they’re even close to edible! To be fair, I’m speaking about the Russian pomegranate varieties sold by Ison’s nursery in Georgia. If I could ever find another Sharp Velvet I’d just at the chance to grow it again, but I think these Russian types are duds here. While they may do great in Georgia, I finally had enough and pulled them up. I couldn’t let the prime real estate they occupied just go to lawn, so I drove down to RCW Nursery to see what they had in stock.
I was really surprised at the very nice selection of citrus trees they had this early in the season! Usually the area nurseries don’t really bump up their fruit tree inventory until at least early January, and here before me was almost everything I could want! I immediately grabbed the last three Changshou kumquats, and then perused the rest of the varieties on offer. I didn’t write down a detailed list, but if you’re looking for something in particular, they might have it. They even had a few pummelos I hadn’t seen before, so I need to do a little research on those. They also had several very nice looking avocado varieties, but I’m not interested in killing any more of those.
After caving in and also buying an Italian Honey fig and a Cara Cara navel, I headed home and got to work running new irrigation lines and planting. Later this week I plan to head up to Arbor Gate to check out their selection too (and hunt for more figs). I’ll post about it if I find anything interesting.
Merry Citrus and Happy Holidays!
Arbor Gate had a huge selection of Brazos Citrus trees also, but:
1.) They didn’t have any pummelos or grapefruits in stock at the moment (I was told they’re coming); and
2.) They’re prices were $10 more per tree than RCW
When you consider that RCW is/was also offering a 25% discount on fruit trees, you should definitely try them first. Arbor Gate did have a slightly better selection of figs to choose from though. I brought home a ‘Little Ruby’, an LSU Purple, and an O’Rourke (Improved Celeste). I’ll be planting those along the driveway before the holiday break is over.
I'm a geologist in Houston, Texas who loves growing fruit trees.
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