Saturday, February 23, 2008

How far my backyard has come: The 2nd Summer (2007) More Fruit Trees

Our first summer focused on cleaning up the yard and drawing up a gameplan to tackle all we wanted in our yard. It was a huge improvement with the new trees and trimmed ivy, it didnt even look like the same yard. We still couldnt really let our daughter play outside tho, we kept finding dog droppings everywhere and the ground was still very uneven and a huge trip hazard. Late summer brought the usual 100+ degree days so we hid inside with our Fans when the AC broke down as well. It was too hot to plant anything new without it roasting to death, so we just watered what was out there and prayed for the best.

Winter dealt us a cruel blow. We had a hard freeze in January, which for this area is a once every 30 year event. A week of temps in the upper 20s ( the norm is mid 40s, 30s rarely) killed the papaya, lime,avacado, and mango trees. There was ice on our cars and on the driveway. People's pipes burst. By a stroke of luck we didn't have any sprinkers installed at all so we didn't have that problem to contend with. It also killed the bougenvillas down to the ground. I was able to bring in my potted hibiscus, but even so they got kinda cold shocked and dropped all their leaves. I brought in the mango tree and it still died, I guess it had gotten too cold for it even before the freeze warnings. My jasmine vines in the front yard died down to the ground too. Spring was pretty bleak with everyones yards full of tender tropical plants killed by the cold. Goes to show how little people know about whats planted in their yards around here. Even all the store parking lots looked drab with almost all their plants dead. Back east where ice and snow its common people have enough sense to cover, burlap, or otherwise protect their precious landscape plants. Out here in SoCal tho, worrying about the cold bothering our plants is next to unheard of.

Spring brought even more hope of sunshine and flowers then usual, and I was eager to have a full season to work on the yard. I started some vegetable seeds inside, our dining room ( a former enclosed patio) has a wonderful southern exposure and plenty of sun for starting seeds. I picked up some tomato seedlings from the local Armstrong nursery and made plans to replace what trees we had lost. I was pregnant and due at the end of March so gardening was my nesting activity. I searched the internet for info, spent hours reading books,and must have talked my poor husband's ears off about cultivars, grafting, drip irrigation, and type of fertilizers.

The big patch of yard directly in front of our living room had no grass left after the freeze and from all the mulch chips as a result of grinding out the mulberry tree stump. I envisioned an arbor type area made of of 4 fruit trees that would eventually be shade in the center. The trees would also give some shade to the house, especially the dining room which is poorly insulated and because it gets so much direct sunlight gets very hot in the summers.

After a winter's worth of research on fruit trees in southern California I realized I needed to focus on "low chill" varieties if I wanted trees that could survive the intense summer heat,drought and still give plenty of delicious fruit. Citrus wasn't a problem around here. Growing up out here I remember being surrounded by miles of citrus fields and grape vineyards before development wiped it all off the face of the earth. If I wanted apples or pears I couldn't just go grab what the local Home Depot had....if anything they carried all the wrong varieties for this area. Being a big box retail store I wasnt surprised. Looked like I'd have to search mail order catalogs and the Internet. To conserve space even more I was really curious about getting some 3-in-1 and 4-in-1 combo trees, where they graft different varieties of a fruit onto the same tree for cross pollinating. Armstrong can special some 4 in 1 trees but they are very big ( in 25 gal containers) and around $300. Ouch. My biggest problem was locating a mail order nursery that could ship to CA. Apparently since we're a agricultural hotzone the USDA cracks down on plants/trees being shipped in from out of state. Luckily I found a very cool company called Bay Laurel Nursery that not only had "low chill" fruit trees but it also had "combo" grafted trees and since it was in NorCal shipping to me wasn't a political nightmare and the trees were very affordable as well. I got a 3-in-1 Low Chill Apple, a 4 in 1 'Fruit salad' tree and a 3 in 1 low chill pear. They also had bareroot grape vines for $5 so I got 1 Thompson Seedless. I found a fuyu persimmon and a dwarf avocado tree variety called 'Holiday' that does well out here at Armstrong.
In February when we went to dig the holes for our trees we got a rotten surprise: tree roots everywhere from the mulberry tree. Apparently even the stump grinder couldnt get the roots that spread out for over 10 feet in every direction. We thought of just sawing out the roots where we needed holes, but I was worried the rotting roots could negatively impact the new trees growing there. Armed with a spade, a shovel, and a mantis tiller my wonderful husband Chris ( with some well intentioned help from our 3 year old daughter) spent a couple of backbreaking weeks digging, tugging, sawing, and swearing at many, many tree roots. The poor yard looked like a warzone with holes and mounds everywhere. I was fat, pregnant, and frustrated all I could do was sit and watch. I tried to help as best as I could without overtaxing myself. So everytime my husband found yet another root, I swore for him. He's not a swearing man, and it made me feel useful in my own little hormonally crazed gardening fanatic sort of way.

We finally got enough cleared out of the ground that we could rototill without getting it thrown back at our gut from hitting yet another root. The trees were shipped well and in great condition, I was thrilled. I'm wary of ordering from catalogs and not handpicking plants myself, but their customer service was excellent. Luckily for my husband they were sold out of every other tree I had wanted to try so he was spared having to tell his pregnant wife no to another crazy whim.

We replaced the dead Mexican lime with a bearess lime and moved the orange alongside it to the west wide of the yard, where they have more sun/heat then the south side in the shadow of the fence. The trees we planted in the first year that survived the freeze leafed out and flowered quite nicely.

How far my backyard has come: the 1st summer

When we bought this house in May of 2006 we didn't have a backyard. What we had was a huge expanse of crappy bermuda grass lawn, weeds, and uneven ground from years of dogs digging and rolling about. There were also 2 mulberry trees that had been cut down and "killed" many times only to resurrect every year. We finally got those killed off the the stumps ground out. Then the real fun began.

Our first task was to clear years of untrimmed ivy hedge from the fence, clear the piles of weeds and brush from the edges of the yard and rototill the nice planter that frames the yard. The soil is actually really nice, at some point in this home's 50 year history there may have been a well tended backyard filled with flowers and bushes.

We had no privacy from the neighbor behind us on the other side of the ally, just a chain link fence. We couldn't afford to put up a new fence or a block wall but I found this nice heavy duty fabric (Solarscreen)at Lowes I could zip tie to the existing fence that let us still see comings and going in the ally and still give us some privacy. Its so It also let light thru nicely. Seeing the yard in such disarray was very overwhelming at first. I had dreams of flowers and fruit trees and green lawn and a swing set for my daughter. Now it was up to us to convert the potential we saw into reality. Its a nice location, it faces south so it gets full sun year round in about 90% of the yard. Only along the fence does it become pretty shady in the middle of winter from the suns angle.

We started by adding fruit trees in that planter. The plan is to semi-espalier them so they provice more privacy from the neighbors and the ally behind us, provide some shade to the ground below and give us some nice fresh fruit. We planted a satsuma plum, kadota fig, mexican lime, valencia orange, honey babe peach, papaya, "minicado" avacado, bartlet pear, misty blueberry bush, and a mango tree in a large pot ( we didnt know what its permanent location would be yet.

The east side of the yard is bordered with a chan link fence covered in ivy. I really don't like ivy hedges. I'm afriad rats and all sorts of nasty critters will be hiding underneath, plus leaves and trash tend to blow under and get stuck in it. I also hate leaving places where wasps or black widows could be hiding ( as is every mother's fear) so I decided to trim it to the fence.....whereever it was. The ivy was so thick when we bought the place we didn't realize we had a good 4 feet of space and another planter on that side of the yard until I trimmed it like a crazy mad woman until it was flush with the fence. Looking at this photo the ivy extended well beyond the old hose post and water faucet. I discovered those the hard way with my shins when I walked "into" the ivy to trim it closer to the fence. Ouch.

The SE part of this side is full sun, very hot and fairly dry since theres no sprinkler there, so I put in some bougenvillas for color and to weave into the ivy for added privacy ( the screening effect was very patchy after I cut so much of the ivy back). The other part of that side ( next to the BBQ in these pictures) is in almost full sun in the summer but deep shade and cold in the winter. A good place for annuals I suppose. Its also directly viewable from the glass doors in my living room, so eventually I do want something thats pretty and more or less permanent...maybe a camellia shrub, some lillies, and a clemantis vine.