A PASSION FOR PLANTS: June 2007
by Nancy Schramm
So, be honest now, do you want your garden to look like every other garden on the block? No? OK, do you like growing something that you can eat? Yes? Then stick with me and let's explore just a few of the less common fruiting plants that can be grown in this part of the Golden State.
Kiwi vines (Actinidia deliciosa) first became
available in California in the late 1960s. (If I may brag a little,
my Dad, Ed Carman, was the first nurseryman to grow kiwi plants
for the home gardener in the Santa Clara Valley) They're still
a great choice, as long as you have enough room since the Kiwi
is a large and vigorous vine. You need two plants, a male and
a female, in order to get fruit. Good drainage, regular water,
at least 4-5 hours of sun daily and a large sturdy trellis or
arbor fulfill their needs. It is important to prune them correctly.
They take three to five years in the ground before fruiting,
but in return can bear up to 200 lbs. of fruit on one female
vine. The Kiwi fruit, packed full of vitamin C, is remarkable
for it's storage properties. Picked and stored properly, it can
last a year in the refrigerator. An easy rule of thumb is that
they can be grown successfully anywhere you can grow peaches.
Pomegranates (Punica granatum) have made a big splash in health news lately with their high antioxidant content. The juice has been touted as beneficial in combating diseases as varied as high cholesterol, prostate cancer and heart disease. Despite all that, the juice really tastes good! So, why not grow your own since they are so easy. The pomegranate tolerates most types of soil and can take quite a lot of drought. A bit of watering will improve the fruit, but this plant won't up and die the first week of your summer vacation. There are quite a few varieties available, with distinctly different flavors, size and fruit color. The plant tends towards a shrubby habit, but can be pruned into a small tree. There are even a few naturally smaller varieties that are suitable for containers.
The fig (Ficus carica) is another almost fail proof tree for beginners. They aren't picky about soil type, and need regular water mostly when young. Mature trees will do fine with minimal irrigation. You will have to fight off gophers and birds, unfortunately. If you've got gophers, plant your tree in a large wire basket. As for the birds, well, while the tree is small you can be pretty successful with bird netting. There is an amazing variety of different figs slowly becoming more available. Yellow, green and purple skin colors, pink, red, amber and white colored flesh. Choose a variety suitable for your climate. For instance, one that ripens and tastes great in Morgan Hill's heat would probably not win any taste tests in Watsonville. Figs are packed with potassium and are not only delicious fresh, but most varieties can be easily dried.
I have to admit right now that when I was invited to write
this column, I thought, "How on earth can I write 800 words
on anything?" But now that I've passed the 650 count, I
realize I haven't any room left to talk about Pineapple
guava (Feijoa sellowiana, or now more correctly Acca sellowiana)
which is a fantastic landscape tree in addition to producing
wonderful fruit, or Kumquat, a citrus that, in my yard, breezed
through multiple nights of below 20 degree temps this winter.
Local sources: West Side Nursery, Menlo Growers, Catalog sources: One Green World, Raintree Nursery.
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