Imagine biting into the first apricot of the season — juicy, sweet flesh the color of an orange sunset.
Or maybe a rich, dark burgundy plum, sweet but slightly tart, that makes you think of those summers when you picked them off the tree in your parents’ backyard.
And then there are cherries, pears, apples, peaches and nectarines to look forward to.
It might still be winter, but now is the perfect time to plant some of your favorite fruit trees while they are available in bare-root form.
Growing fruit trees in the backyard has come a long way in recent years. Even in-season, those organic peaches from the farmer's market are expensive when you load up a big bag — probably because you just have to have a couple of each variety after trying the samples.
So starting a home orchard or adding to your own edibles during bare-root season is the way to go.
With a little planning, you can have a prolonged harvest of tree-ripe fruit from a small space. Maximize the length of harvest by choosing varieties with different ripening times. Then train those fruit trees to stay small by pruning them in summer — winter pruning tends to invigorate trees — planting them close together or planting several in the same hole.
Small trees yield crops of manageable size and are much easier than large trees to spray, thin, prune, net and harvest.
The hard part is choosing what will be your next fruit tree.
I've talked to several experts about their favorites. Here's what they told me.
Orin Martin of University of California, Santa Cruz, Farm and Garden loves apples. His highest praise goes to Cox's orange pippin, golden delicious, American golden russet and mutsu. Plant these varieties, and you could be eating apples from August through October. (Did you know that at one time in American history, russet apples were the most desired, and wages were actually paid in cider made from russet apples?)
Sheila from ProBuild told me she has seen a lot of interest in new introductions such a Pluerry, a hybrid she described as plum-meet-cherry.
Bella Gold Peacotum has also been very popular since being introduced last year by Dave Wilson Nursery. This peach-apricot-plum fruit has slightly fuzzy skin like an apricot but with a mildly sweet flavor all its own.
Flavor Delight aprium has become a favorite because of its resistance to brown rot. It's three-quarters apricot and one-quarter plum, with the clean tang of an apricot boosted by the sweetness of a plum. This variety is also recommended by Martin.
Spice Zee Nectaplum is another hybrid getting a lot of buzz. I've heard it described as being "just about the tastiest fruit ever eaten — very sweet, with an indescribably rich taste and aroma." Being a gorgeous tree with deep red leaves in the spring that gradually become a dark green by mid-summer makes it ornamental in the garden, as well.
Chris and Dave from Mountain Feed like many of the heirloom fruit trees. If a variety is older than 50 years, it is classified as an heirloom.
In addition to apples, Chris told me about his favorite pear, Belle Lucrative, which he described as an amazing French butter pear. This classic variety of 19th century France has a juicy, syrupy melting texture.
Plums are also high on his list of favorites. Luther Burbank varieties such as Elephant Heart, Beauty, Inca and the ever-popular Santa Rosa are easy to grow and need very little care once established.
Bare-root trees need to be planted while they are dormant — tou want your tree to start developing its permanent roots in its permanent home.
Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums and cherries are going to start waking up first, so they are best put into the ground soon. Fruit trees like pears and apples will be dormant for a while longer, so you can wait a bit to plant them.
Take advantage of bare-root season to add more edibles to your landscape. A smart design can make your garden look beautiful while feeding your family.
- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.