Frequently Asked Questions about Fruit
Q. Can I raise my own fruit trees from seed? Wouldn't these be stronger and healthier than the kind of grafted trees sold by nurseries?
A. Seedlings may in some cases prove stronger and healthier - certainly more vigorous - than their grafted counterparts. But there remains one very large problem here: Almost all named fruit varieties are genetically complex hybrids and DO NOT come true from seed. Genetic complexity is compounded by the fact that most types of fruit bear blossoms that are self-sterile and require pollen from another distinct variety. So, in theory at least, every seedling can be considered a new variety.
Unfortunately, the fruit of seedling offspring usually turns out to be inferior to the parent varieties. The general tendency is toward mediocrity, though extremes of good and bad are possible. Every now and then, something different and better comes along; with luck, these outstanding individual seedlings are recognized and named as new varieties. The odds are against this, but playing these odds is what modern fruit breeding is all about. The experiment stations may end up testing thousands of seedlings before focusing on a single superior specimen worthy of a name. On the other hand, pomological history is rich with anecdotes about how a 'family pet" seedling proved itself to be an exceptional fruit variety. Cox's Orange Pippin apple, England's most treasured variety, is probably the favorite example of this pomological grace.
So stated again: Superior seedlings are possible - but not at all probable. This is especially true for self-unfertile fruit like apples. John Chapman (aka "Johnny Appleseed") grew tens of thousands of seedlings. While these trees might have produced fruit for frontier applejack, understocks for grafting , or wood for smoking meat, none of Chapman's trees were good enough to gain recognition as named varieties. With apple seedlings, the old dictum "many are called but few are chosen" seems to apply.
This does not mean that home orchardists should deny themselves the satisfaction of growing seedling trees. Even if the experiment fails, the trees can serve as rootstocks for grafting. Chances of success improve dramatically when working with self-fertile, genetically less diverse types of fruit, especially Prunus species. Peaches (P. persica) and European plums (P. domestica) are good candidates for seed sprouting. While peach and plum varieties do not come exactly true from seed, they may come close enough to be worth the trouble.
For instance, Green Gage plum produces similar enough seedling that its own identity has often been confused with its offspring. And many peach varieties have a long history of "almost true" seedling populations. The old Indian Blood Cling peach was a favorite of Native American tribes for seedling culture. In our region, homesteaders used to grow Indian Blood and John Muir peach strains from seed in the hope of establishing long-lived trees. There is some evidence that seedling peach trees will have more resistance to peach leaf curl (Taphretes ) than comparable bud-grafted specimens. This, of course, applies only to varieties that already show a genetic potential to resist that disease.
Q. Why do fruit trees have to be grafted? Since "own-root" roses are supposed to be better than the bud-grafted kind - wouldn't fruit trees struck from cuttings be cheaper and easier?
A. It's true most rose varieties do better on their own roots - but fruit trees are a whole different matter. Trees are much larger- taller and wider- and are required to support the weight of a heavy fruit crop. This means they need a very strong, well anchored root system which can stand up to the hardships of fruit cropping and extreme weather. Over the centuries, orchardists have discovered that the healthiest, longest-lived trees were those grafted on a rootstock grown from a seed. When grafted, these seedling understocks generally produce vigorous, standard-sized trees with very deep, efficient root systems. They are less likely to be infected with virus and should have more resistance to bacterial and fungal diseases like crown rot.
In comparison, own-root fruit trees of most species - propagated clonally from suckers, cuttings, or tissue culture - tend to have weak, shallow root systems typically conformed like a goose-foot. This makes for a very poorly anchored tree prone to blowing over in storms or simply falling down under the weight of its own fruit.
Modern pomology, of course, has come up with numerous clonal, vegetatively propagated rootstocks for imposing size-control on fruit varieties; this is especially true for apples and pears. Varieties grafted on these clonal rootstocks grow into dwarf or semi-dwarf trees. Being smaller, they will not need the deep, tenacious root system required by a full-size standard. Even so, growers of dwarf fruit trees are well advised to provide staking - especially when dealing with the smaller clonal rootstocks like M9 Apple.
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Another warning on own-root fruit trees: These often have a nasty tendency to sucker rampantly and aggressively, particularly where roots are disturbed by cultivation. Cherries and plums are very prone to this potential nightmare of a problem. So beware: Trees grown from suckers are likely to make lots more suckers. And these seldom make decent, healthy trees.
The only exceptions we make to our 'no own-root' fruit tree propagation rule are figs and quince. These are both somewhat semi-dwarf genera that can be trained to a shrub form. Figs are seldom grafted; instead they are grown on their own roots and seem to do quite well this way. Our old Brown Turkey fig has been bearing for over a century. We have propagated and grown quince varieties both by grafting and with cuttings. However, quince rootstocks can sucker profusely, making it hard to manage the tree. Own root quince will also sucker, but at least this growth represents the desired variety instead of a small-fruited rootstock clone.
Q. When should I expect my benchgraft order to arrive? How big will they get their first season?
A. We try to ship grafts at the optimum time for planting out at our customer's site -. either into individual 5 gallon containers or a well-protected garden row. Weather and climate are big factors; so is our own work schedule. Grafting season for us begins when our rootstocks are ready (usually late February) and continues - with the help of semi-modern refrigeration - through April.....This is a narrow window of opportunity, but adequate enough for us to take care of all our orders in a rotation based on climate zones.
Judging the optimum time for planting out grafts can be a tricky business and depends greatly on local conditions. The best moment is some time after the last hard freeze - but before hot weather sets in. While there are no clearly defined rules that will apply to all regions, we consider apple blossom time to be a good indicator that it should be safe to plant dormant benchgrafts.
Our first shipments (end of February to mid-March) go to customers in Southern and Central California and other warm regions where late frost is not a problem. Then we work our way up the coast to Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. These March shipments go to milder, temperate regions (eg. "West of the Cascades") and places where high altitude doesn't bring the risk of frost and snow. West Coast customers in colder zones are well advised to wait till April when weather conditions are less likely to damage the benchgrafts as they start to grow.
April is also the time we ship to the Midwest and the East Coast - again in a rotation that reflects climate zones as well as actual conditions on the ground. Customers who have specific personal requirements (vacations, illness, etc.) regarding their shipping time should contact us to discuss their situation....... Should your weather suddenly turn bad around the time you're expecting the grafts, please give us a call to re-schedule. If absolutely necessary, you can unpack your grafts and "heel them in" using a large container filled with potting soil, set in a cool place protected from freezing.
PLEASE .NOTE: We cannot ship grafting orders until any outstanding balances are paid in full. Also, orders that include our trademarked varieties (i.e. Rosetta™ and Sweetmeat Crab™apples) will not be shipped until we receive back the signed non-propagation agreement. Thanks for your cooperation......
Re: Size of first season growth on benchgrafts..... There are several factors that influence the growth rate; these include the genetic tendencies of rootstock and scion variety, nutrition (soil fertility, irrigation, fertilization) and weather/climate. This last consideration is especially critical. Regions with warmer, longer growing seasons usually produce significantly larger growth in one season. Stresses from wind and drought can definitely inhibit vigorous shoot development.
Here at Greenmantle, we expect to average approximately 4 feet of growth for apples grafted on MMIII or domestic apple seedling; actual growth can vary between 2 and 6 feet. Some of our customers have reported growth of more than 6 feet in the first season. While they are to be commended for their diligence in fertilizing and irrigating these benchgrafts, we must issue this warning:...... Pushing the growth of young apple, pear, or quince trees seriously invites an outbreak of fireblight (Erwinia), a particularly devastating and difficult-to-control disease.
And while you're watching your benchgrafts turn into one-year whips - don't forget to slit the rubber band under the wrappings once the graft wound has healed - and before the union gets pinched and girdled. Forgetting this vital attention can cause a couple feet of growth to topple overnight.......Early to mid- summer is usually the right time.
Q. Do you callus your benchgrafts before shipping? Will I have to do anything further to promote callus tissue formation?
A. The subject of benchgraft callusing is somewhat complicated, controversial, and difficult to discuss. Nevertheless - in the twenty-five years we have been making and sending out benchgrafts - we have never encountered any graft failure problems that could be attributed to inadequate callus tissue development. Perhaps some background information will help clarify:
Callus formation is an essential process that woody plants have evolved to promote the healing of wounds to their vascular cambium tissue. The techniques of grafting exploit this phenomenon to knit together two pieces of plant material that have matching wound surfaces. The callus tissue as it grows provides a preliminary structural union and protects the integrity of the graft while a new vascular connection between the two cambium sections is being constructed. With grafts, the callusing process is supplemented, promoted, and protected by the use of binding and sealing materials. The rate of callusing is very affected by the surrounding air temperature, so that healing occurs more rapidly in spring than in winter. Similarly, callusing proceeds much faster in milder climates than more frigid ones.
The art of benchgrafting was probably first perfected in England and Europe as a way of doing productive indoor work during the long slow dormant season. Grafts could be made in late winter, callused slowly for several months, and then planted safely in the spring. In modern times, some propagators have experimented with "hot callusing" techniques designed to warm the graft union zone. The trick here is to keep the scion bud cool enough to prevent premature emergence from dormancy. Because of this challenging requirement, amateur grafters are probably best advised to rely on the slow, natural callusing process to take its course.
Here in Northern California we do not need to be so concerned about callus tissue formation; our dormancy period is relatively short and our weather conditions are warm enough for callusing to occur naturally and rapidly. Callusing begins immediately after grafting so that our benchgrafts are typically partially callused by the time our customers receive them. This healing process should continue until the graft union has knitted together and the buds begin to grow. Hopefully by this time, the weather on site is mild enough not to endanger the young, tender tissue.
At Greenmantle, we try very hard to provide our customers with benchgrafts at the optimum moment for planting. In some cases, however, local weather conditions may require the customer to delay putting the grafts outdoors until the danger of freeze damage has passed. During this storage period, grafts should be kept cool (but above freezing) to prolong dormancy.
We also urge our customers to observe extreme caution in handling benchgrafts. Callus tissue is very fragile and can easily be fractured by rough treatment. Do not hold by the scion portion or drop or otherwise jar the grafts. With reasonable, common sense care - these benchgrafts should heal over quickly and beready to begin their transition into one-year whips.
Q. How long will I have to wait before my trees bear fruit?
A. It all depends....on type of fruit, variety, rootstock, climate/weather, soil etc. And since fruit is borne on the branches of a TREE, perhaps it would be better to focus on establishing a healthy tree with a strong, well-conformed structure. It might take a few years to come into bearing, but a fruit tree can live and remain productive for a very long time. Our family is still enjoying apples and figs harvested from trees planted in 1895.
So again, our advice: Tend the tree and the fruit will follow. For a standard Comice pear or Northern Spy apple, this might mean waiting a decade- these fine varieties are well worth the wait. Fortunately, most varieties won't take this long. Also, by selecting more dwarfing rootstocks, an orchardist can significantly reduce the period of juvenility (as well as longevity).
Some fruit varieties are inherently precocious and make fruit on relatively young trees. We are always amazed to see Wickson crab trees on standard (seedling) rootstock setting apples in the nursery row. Of course, fruit on immature stock must be removed to prevent breakage, deforming, and stunting of the tree. The answer is always PATIENCE. Fruit that has been nurtured in faithful anticipation inevitably will taste better.
Q. I'm tight on space but still want to grow more varieties. Recently a clerk at a local garden center told me about planting two or more trees in the same hole. What do you think?
A. Sounds like a great way to double nursery sales! But we don't think this is a good approach to fruit culture. Double (and triple) trunked trees exist in nature, but the stems are all genetically identical and have the same growth habit. Trees in the wild are also not expected to produce quality fruit or be responsive to pruning. Adequate air circulation and light penetration are crucial to overall tree and fruit health. With constant attention to winter and summer pruning, this might work for a while - it depends on the varieties' growth habits. But for most situations, this will likely turn into a frustrating mess. Our advice: One tree per hole.
Q. Since you don't approve of two trees per hole, how about trees grafted to multiple varieties?
A. Depends on how it's made and how it's managed. While generally subscribing to the dictum "One tree, one variety"- we've been known to make exceptions and have even custom frame-worked some trees for local customers. However, we still have a number of misgivings about multi-variety grafting:
1. Every fruit variety has its own peculiar growth habit. Some are vigorous, others are more compact and slow growing. They might tend toward upright or spreading, spur- or tip-bearing. While it is theoretically possible to select varieties with similar and compatible habits, this is usually not the case. An expert pruner might manage to correct for different growth patterns, but the average grower will probably end up with a somewhat unbalanced and structurally compromised tree.
2. Structural problems are seriously compounded by the way many nurseries typically create these multi-variety trees. Most are bud-grafted on closely spaced branches that seem to fan out from a common hub. This "broom" type of scaffold is inherently weak and inevitably disposed to broken branches and split trunks. A better way to make a multi-variety tree is to use a more developed understock with a well-spaced, strongly branched scaffold that can be appropriately framework-grafted. This approach requires extra time and labor; moreover, the trees will be far more challenging to handle and ship.
3. There is another problem to consider with multi-grafting: the spreading of disease. Infected scionwood and grafting tools can certainly inoculate the understock tree - plus any other grafts on it - with deleterious pathogens. Virus contamination is the main concern; certain viral diseases (i.e. apple mosaic) are spread primarily through grafting. The situation becomes more complicated by the fact that some fruit varieties can be virus-tolerant - showing little or no disease symptoms - while others can be extremely susceptible and manifest intense symptoms. This means that even with clean-looking scionwood, multiple grafting can be a bit of a gamble. Furthermore, scionwood collected from this type of tree has a higher risk of being "virus dirty" and should be regarded with some suspicion. Routine pruning of a multi-grafted tree will become much trickier, requiring extra competency and attention. It isn't difficult for a careless pruner to wipe out a variety or two without even noticing. In other words, this type of tree is best maintained by experienced, highly motivated home orchardists who don't mind the extra challenge. For almost all situations, however, our advice remains: one tree, one variety.
Q. Could you recommend the best way to prune and train my new fruit trees?
A. Before beginning a pruning program, the orchardist should have a basic understanding of how trees grow; also, how a fruit crop will eventually be borne. Each type of fruit will have its own particular way of growing and bearing fruit; and individual varieties may show pronounced growth habits (eg. upright, spreading, weeping etc.) Young trees will grow more vigorously and vertically until they come into fruit. The burden of a crop will slow down growth and typically bend branches lower.
All this should help make clear the importance of early training of young trees by pruning to a strong, sustainable framework. After the trees are well-established and bearing, some pruning may be required to repair damage and to maintain air circulation and light penetration. We consider the early training to be most crucial. Once established , a well-formed tree can maintain itself with a minimum of human intervention. Indeed... bad pruning is usually far worse than no pruning at all.
While there are many approaches to managing a fruit tree's structure, we have long favored various modifications of the central leader form for almost all types of trees. We begin by training a young tree to this template, but usually end up with a compromise "modified central leader" tree that reflects growth habit, fruit crop and weather (i.e. bending and/or breaking)- and the ultimate limitation of our ladder's height. Every tree poses its own unique challenges. Over the years an observant orchardist will come to understand and respond to these idiosyncrasies.
Trees, of course, grow by extending shoots from buds; these shoots in turn develop buds that ultimately form a framework of laterals and sub-laterals. So vertical growth does not resemble the style of an inflatable balloon; the distance between limbs will NOT increase with time. On the contrary, branches become more crowded as they grow in diameter. It is important that scaffold branches be spaced vertically at an adequate distance apart along the trunk - we recommend at least 15 inches between laterals for maximum strength. These branches should point in different directions (around 120 degrees apart like a pinwheel) to assure that each will have its own zone to form fruit wood. Scaffold branches should be trained to a strong, durable angle - neither too upright nor too horizontal - weak crotch angles and flat limbs are prone to breakage under weight.
Establishing a durable, sustainable branch framework begins with skillful pruning at planting time; too many branches is the most common mistake and is best corrected at this critical moment. To assure that fruit will get adequate light penetration, sub-lateral growth close to the trunk is best removed as soon as practical. Some other things to consider:
1. Dormant season pruning will typically stimulate vigorous vegetative shoot growth (watersprouts) that can choke the interior of the tree. Judicious summer pruning can remedy this problem, keeping trees open and controlling excess vertical growth.
2. Experienced pruners pay close attention to bud orientation in order to direct growth inside or out, right or left. Generally, pruning to an "outside" bud will encourage the tree to spread more.
3. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it is critical to protect trunk and branch growth on the sunny south side of the tree. To prevent sunscald and flatheaded apple borer damage, it is best to train the leader's growth to point slightly to the south; tilting away from the sun can cause trouble. Where orientation problems can't be avoided, a coat of white exterior latex paint helps prevent damage. This is especially critical when renovating older trees; foliage provides shade as well as plant food. With increasing environmental degradation, excess solar radiation has become a major concern for fruit growers all over the planet.
Q. What about the espalier method ( Belgian Fence, Cordon, etc.) for keeping trees to a more manageable, aesthetically pleasing two-dimensional form?
A. Since we do not employ espalier methods ourselves, we cannot give expert advice on the subject. We do acknowledge that well-established espalier trees have succeeded for centuries and have proved themselves both beautiful and productive. Over the years, we have supplied benchgrafts and whips to customers who were committed to this intensive training/management approach; the smaller, less formed stock affords espalier practitioners a clean start for constructive tree development.
This said, we must add a caveat about the espalier approach: it is a challenging art form that requires patient skill, attentive engagement, and long-term commitment. After the basic structure has been constructed, the espalier grower may be required to intervene with timely detailed pruning in spring and summer to maintain the proper shape. Close attention must also be paid to irrigation, fertilization, and pest control; these artistic plant creations do not usually withstand abandonment very well. So to prospective espalierists we advise some "homework": library and/or Internet research as well as consultation with experienced practitioners. Otherwise, the best course may be growing free-standing, more natural trees in three dimensions.
Q. Should I apply some kind of paint compound to pruning wounds in order to promote healing?
A. Several successive generations of orchardists have faithfully dabbed on the tree paint in hopes of speeding recovery from wounds. The favorite compound is an asphalt emulsion product resembling black tar; other substances are also available. Research done in recent years, however, indicates that the "painting" of pruning wounds is commonly without benefit, and may even slow the healing process through mild phytotoxicity. In other words: spare yourself the bother and mess and don't paint pruning wounds.
While on the subject, we will offer the following advice:
1. Work with appropriate, sharp tools that cut "clean"; wounds made from such tools will heal more quickly. For medium to large limbs, we endorse thin-kerfed Japanese pruning saws that cut on the pull stroke. With smaller wood, we favor pruners with two sharp blades that will make a slightly concave cut that heals faster. Japanese bonsai branch nippers are excellent, as are "double-cut" secateurs from Europe.
2. Since large wound surfaces may never heal, try to keep wound diameters to a minimum. Of course, this may be impossible when renovating older trees. With younger stock, it is wise to nip misplaced growth "in the bud"- or at least before caliper becomes too large for hand pruners.
3. Do not leave stubs that will rot back into healthy wood. The optimum place for healing is at the branch collar where callus tissue forms easily. So make cuts just above the collar whenever possible, leaving this ring intact.
4. For those who still feel compelled to dress a pruning wound - we recommend coating with a milk-based glue product like "Elmer's Glue- All". Bonsai specialists have experimented with white casein glue for many years and it clearly helps accelerate the healing process. To be effective, the glue must be applied immediately after the cut is made, giving special attention to sealing the cambium at the edges.
Q. Are your fruit trees "certified virus-free" ?....If not, why?.... And will this be a problem for your customers?
A. While we make every effort to minimize the risk of virus infection in our foundation trees and nursery stock, we cannot guarantee for "virus-clean" indexing. These programs are laborious, very expensive, and usually confined to a small number of commercially important (i.e. profitable) varieties. As government funding becomes increasingly tight, the prospect of an expanded list of virus-certified material becomes ever more remote.
We do, however, purchase all our rootstocks from growers who maintain indexed virus-free clones that are regularly inspected and certified by their state agriculture department. In the old days, infected rootstock beds were the main source of viral disease, especially among dwarfing apple clones. These problems derived in part from the now discredited practice of bud-grafting in the stooling beds to gain a season's growth. Fortunately, nurseries no longer employ this very risky method. And various government agencies in the United States, Canada, and Europe have undertaken comprehensive programs to replace all the important rootstock clones with virus-clean material.
While there are numerous viruses that can infect apples, they are becoming increasingly rare and seldom manifest deleterious symptoms. The most common and conspicuous is apple mosaic virus(AMV) which causes a yellow mottling pattern on foliage. The damage is mostly cosmetic although trees of very susceptible varieties may be weakened. It is spread almost exclusively by grafting - so some discretion in the selection of scionwood and understocks can easily control it. It should be noted that infected trees of tolerant varieties typically show no symptoms, but can nevertheless spread AMV to trees of more susceptible varieties through injudicious grafting. This is why we advise some caution with topworking or frameworking established trees - and recommend "one variety per tree" as a rule.
We have never encountered any apple mosaic virus or other obvious viral problems from material collected around Ettersburg and other old orchard sites. Only when we began to expand our collection to exotic (eg. English) varieties did virus become a concern. Our first encounter with AMV came with an Ashmead's Kernel on MMIII. The tree has remained otherwise healthy and productive for over 25 years, but it still displays undeniable symptoms of mosaic virus. Since discovering the problem we have tested Ashmead's Kernel scionwood from a number of other sources: so far, all these selections seem similarly infected. Severity of the symptoms seems to vary from year to year and may be affected by stress.
Another variety known to carry AMV is Muster, also originating in England. Symptoms are mild and rumor has it that all sources currently available are infected. Apparently Muster is not an important enough variety for government or industry to invest any money in a virus-cleaning effort. Luckily, the variety seems tolerant enough to grow and fruit adequately without treatment.
The virus situation with other types of fruit, especially varieties of Prunus species, is a bit different. Some devastating viruses are spread not just by grafting, but also through insect damage and even pollination. Cherries in particular are subject to a number of virus diseases. Again, we do not participate in an official phytosanitary program but do monitor the health of our foundation trees; serious virus problems are generally overt - affecting the quality of fruit, foliage, and overall tree condition. At this time, all our Prunus stock is grafted on seedling rootstock obtained from growers who participate in their states' virus monitoring programs. The fact that most of our foundation stock derives from old homestead trees makes the likelihood of problems negligible; even if the sourcewood contains some undetected virus, the varieties appear tolerant and show no adverse symptoms.
This issue of virus tolerance leads us to a controversy that has been debated by pomologists in recent decades. Modern plant breeders have been careful to introduce new varieties that have been thoroughly checked for virus - and if necessary, cleaned through heat treatment and tissue culture. Although it is good to start out with a virus-clean variety, there is concern among "old-school" pomologists that these introductions may not have sufficient tolerance to withstand possible future infection.
Since older varieties usually began as chance seedlings that were subject to the stresses of natural selection before coming under cultivation, they very likely possessed sufficient tolerance to viruses to survive and thrive; they certainly have had to pass the test of time. Not all modern varieties will be endowed with this genetic potential to co-exist with virus and will have to be recalled periodically for cleaning. From our viewpoint, this is not a sustainable approach to fruit. We would encourage breeders to select for virus tolerance along with resistance to other types of disease.
Q. What about those Etter crabs you offer.... Are they like the crabby little apples my grandmother used to pickle & make into jelly (with a lot of sugar)? Do these small-fruited varieties mean naturally dwarf trees?
A. The traditional crab varieties of the American farmstead were for the most part hybrids with Siberian crab genetics. A list of the most popular would include Transcendent, Whitney, Montreal Beauty, Martha, and Hyslop. In addition, various "wild" seedlings producing small, bitter/sharp fruit were often used for similar culinary functions: jelly, pickling, and cider. In general, these apples are small, very tart, bracingly astringent, and lacking in sweetness. Most ripen relatively early, typically by August in California. They bloom early and are very floriferous, making them useful as pollenizers as well as ornamental.
Etter used these varieties in his breeding work, but managed to produce something quite distinct and different. His first introductions (Wickson, Crimson Gold, and Humboldt) are intensely flavored in a very pleasant way: high in sugar, acid and aromatics with only the slightest hint of tannic astringency. Together with our own Sweetmeat Crab™ selections, they form their own class of small robust dessert apples somewhat on the model of Pitmaston Pineapple. While they have specific culinary virtues, they may not be the best choice for "grandma's pickled crabs". For that purpose, we offer the traditional varieties Transcendent and Montreal Beauty as well as Dolgo, a Hanson hybrid crab that is excellent for old-fashioned jelly and pickling.
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Small fruit does not mean small trees; size-control derives from rootstock choice. The largest apple tree we have planted and grown here is a standard specimen of the Eden™ Crab, with a scaffold that extends over 35 feet in diameter.
Q. Which of the Rosetta™ apples are most likely to do well in my situation?
A. These varieties are still somewhat experimental in the sense that have never been tested by the various university/government research institutes. We introduced Thornberry® and Pink Pearmain® 25 years ago; the other Rosetta™ varieties have been offered for about 12 years. So its not always possible to predict how they'll perform in a particular place or climate. We can only extrapolate from our own personal experience here in Ettersburg - as well as reports from our customers. Here are some factors to consider:
1. High summer temperatures - This affects the earlier ripening varieties (Pink Pearmain® and Blush Rosette™) the most. Stress from hot weather tends to inhibit the formation of the anthocyanin pigment in the flesh, resulting in little or no pink coloration. Moreover, the flesh may become somewhat mealy at ripening time. These problems may vary from year to year and will be most pronounced in locales that have prolonged periods of hot evening as well as daytime temperatures during the ripening times.
2. Common apple disease problems - Like Pink Pearl and other pink/red fleshed types, the Rosetta™ apples do have some susceptibility to apple scab where this problem is endemic (regions with warm, humid summer weather). Careful attention to training and pruning to promote good air circulation and light penetration can help significantly; overhead irrigation should be avoided. Since we don't have much problem with scab here, we can't say too much about individual varietal tendencies. Thornberry®, Blush Rosette™, and Rubaiyat® may be a little more susceptible..... Rubaiyat® - while among the best-flavored and most beautiful selections - is noticeably lacking in vigor, and displays a susceptibility to Wooly Apple Aphis. We recommend customers use a vigorous understock such as domestic seedling or MMIII; the latter has the added benefit of resistance to Wooly Apple Aphis.
We are fortunate not to have any direct experience with fireblight so far. However, we have received reports about Pink Pearl showing blight infection in humid regions and presume that our other pink-fleshed varieties might have a similar tendency. We haven't heard anything regarding cedar apple rust or mildew, and have no personal experience. We would welcome any feedback from customers who are now growing the Etter Rosetta™ apples where these diseases can be a problem.
3. Length of growing season - Here in Ettersburg we have an exceptionally long, warm growing season that allows even the latest apple varieties to ripen on the trees. We do not usually harvest Christmas Pink®, Grenadine®, or Pink Parfait® until early November; sometimes, if the rainy season is late, we wait even longer. These three are fine keeping varieties and will maintain or even improve their quality in storage. Robust when just picked, they mellow nicely by Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even though these varieties can be ripened off the tree, they do have limits. Orchardists in places with short and/or low heat seasons will probably do best with the earlier ripening selections.
4. Late frost at blossom time - The Rosetta™ varieties mostly bloom in the middle of the blossom period. The one exception is Pink Pearmain® which blooms late and for an extended period; thus, it would be a good choice for frosty mountain orchards.
5. Variability of pigment depth - We sometimes hear "My pink-fleshed apple tree just produced its first crop. While the fruit tasted fine, the flesh showed no noticeable color. Did someone make a mistake?....." The production of the anthocyanins that turn the apple flesh pink or red is a mysterious process that seems to be inhibited by stress. The first crop or two may show little or no color. Sometimes the color will not start to develop until just before ripening time. Weather can be a prime stress factor (See #1). We have seen specimens of Pink Pearl grown in Visalia CA that were ripe (or over-ripe) in July and exhibited no pink pigment. Of the Rosetta™ series, Pink Pearmain®, Blush Rosette™, and Pink Parfait® can be shy about flesh color. Thornberry® can also be slow, but usually will develop a pale pink when fully ripe (October). Remember: the color sometimes won't come on strong until the weather starts to cool down. Growers who require the deepest pigment should consider Grenadine® and Christmas Pink®.
6. Cooking quality - Like their Pink Pearl sister, all the Rosetta™ varieties make fine pies and sauces. Grenadine® and Christmas Pink® stand out for their deep color and lively flavor. Pink Parfait®, which is one of our favorite dessert apples, is also high on our list of outstanding cooking varieties.
Q. What's with the Trademarks and the Non-Propagation Contract?
A. We realize that some customers will resent our efforts to retain this degree of control over the Rosetta™ and Sweetmeat Crab™ apple varieties. Our primary intention is to protect Albert Etter's extraordinary fruit legacy and to insure that the varieties that he originated - and we re-discovered , saved, and named- are given a responsible introduction to the pomological world. The varieties are still experimental and prone to being misrepresented and/or exploited in ways that confuse the public and damage the reputation of the Etter fruit contribution. Because they are unusual "novelties" , these apples could easily fall prey to questionable commercial exploitation. We feel that our decades of work in finding, evaluating and introducing these 14 varieties entitle us to some control over the way the Ettersburg heirlooms are distributed....Our chief concerns are these:
1. That Albert Etter receive the recognition and respect he deserves as the creator of these extraordinary varieties, and that Ettersburg itself be given its due as their historic homeplace.
2. That orchardists who grow these varieties recognize their experimental status and understand that they may not perform satisfactorily under certain growing conditions.
3. That the varietal names that we have assigned to these varieties be respected so that the integrity of their identity will be maintained into the future. We have already been confronted by nomenclature problems that arose when certain nurserymen refused to honor our wishes, preferring to generate pomological confusion with an effort to circumvent our trademark rights. It has been tedious for us to explain to confused customers about the true identities of "Pink Sparkle" and "Cranberry"....
4. That both the fruit and trees of these varieties should be protected from the kind of commercial exploitation that novelties are so prone to. At present, Greenmantle Nursery is the sole authorized propagator/distributor of the Rosetta™ and Sweetmeat™ apple nursery stock. The fruit of these varieties is not yet grown commercially for sale to the public. We are willing to consider licensing trademarked varieties to selected growers who are willing to work with us to maintain the identity and integrity of these apples in the marketplace.
Thanks to all our Rosetta™ and Sweetmeat™ customers for honoring our trademark and non-propagation restrictions....Your reward, we hope, will be the pleasure of tasting some of the finest apple varieties on the planet.
Q. Will global warming affect my orchard? Will it make things better or worse? And what can I do to protect my trees and fruit crops?
A. The impending climate crisis called "global warming" will undoubtedly affect a lot more than our orchards.... But your concerns are understandable and commendable - since trees are primary guardians of our planet's well-being. While there is ample evidence of an overall trend toward higher temperatures, "global climate change" (a more accurate term) will manifest itself mainly as extreme anomalous weather phenomena. The general tendency will be toward warmer temperatures, but every region will experience climate change in its own way. Already, gardeners in many places have noticed that plants are being affected. Our own observation has been that well-adapted species will probably hold their own while more marginal plants may suffer or thrive depending on their situation. For example, sub-tropical species growing in higher latitudes may benefit while cold-loving plants might suffer. Here are some of the problems that fruit growers may have to deal with in the future:
1. Insect pests - Warmer winter weather may encourage insect populations to become more aggressive. Hotter, droughtier conditions might mean a larger range for the flat-headed apple borer to do its damage. Pests like codlin moth that are very sensitive to temperatures during blossom time are likely to increase their presence in the orchard.
2. Diseases - Bacteria and fungi definitely will enjoy the warmer temperatures, especially where the warmth combines with humidity and rain. So places struggling with peach leaf curl, scab, or fireblight may find the situation getting worse.
3. Intense high temperatures and drought - The extra heat may benefit a few crops...and damage many others. A warmer growing season might mean that figs will produce more reliably where ripening has been problematic. Extreme temperatures can have a damaging affect on summer fruit varieties. Here in Ettersburg, we have noticed that some apple varieties that used to maintain their texture well through summer heat waves now suffer from premature meltdown. Fruit growers will have to pay extra attention to soil moisture conditions during the growing and dormant seasons. Lack of precipitation means forms of irrigation will be necessary, particularly when trees are young.
4. Extremes of rain, cold, frost, and snow - Despite the term "global warming", many fruit growers - ourselves included - have been coping with unseasonable weather incidents of the opposite extreme. UNSEASONAL is the keyword here. Most temperate fruit species can handle impressive extremes of cold temperatures during their dormant season; hardy apple varieties grafted on Antanovka rootstock for instance, might handle lows of -45 degrees F during the winter. Once the sap starts to rise and buds are swelling, a fruit tree becomes much more vulnerable to damage from cold. April temperatures in the mid-twenties have been known to destroy blossoms and leaf buds. A few years ago we were startled when a neighbor 'up the ridge' lost established apple trees to a freak late Spring cold snap. It should also be noted that trees in moist soil can safely handle a lot more freeze than those with dry roots. Container stock might need extra attention.
While it is virtually impossible for home orchardists to prevent all damage from early frost and freezes, growers in cold pockets should try to select varieties with hardier buds and later blooming habits. Where early frost is a problem, European plums (eg. prunes and gages) will be more reliable than Japanese types like Santa Rosa. Likewise, European (aka "domestic") pears (Pyrus communis) may fare better than earlier blooming Asian pears (Pyrus serotina); pie cherries bloom later and are generally hardier than sweet cherries. And with apples, late blooming varieties such as Court Pendu Plat, Arkansas Black, Rome Beauty, Bramley's Seedling, and King David are more likely to escape frost damage to their blossoms should Spring weather turn unexpectedly cold.
While drought and desertification are predicted as the long term outcome for many regions, some places have had to cope with the effects of increased precipitation, at least during intense periods. Extra rain and snow, of course, will concern anyone trying to grow fruit. As mentioned above, rain in the Spring predisposes both trees and fruit to bacterial and fungal diseases, making it especially difficult for organic growers. Higher levels of precipitation - and snow melt - also make it necessary for growers to pay extra attention to soil drainage.
Increased winter snow accumulation can be a blessing to orchardists, insulating the soil and keeping temperatures somewhat warmer. On the other hand, the snow can cause problems such as limb damage (from weight)) and bark damage (from rodents). Traditionally, fruit growers in regions with the potential for heavy snow load minimize damage by training trees to a strong central leader. As for rodents: keeping the trunks clear of weeds and other debris should help prevent vole and mouse damage, regardless of snow accumulation.
5. Winter Chill - Every year we receive a number of inquiries regarding winter chill requirements, particularly with regard to the Etter apple varieties. As global warming becomes an imminent concern, we will probably get a lot more of these questions. Recent demographic trends have resulted in a significant migration to the "Sunbelt" from colder climate regions. And many re-located gardeners would like to grow the same kinds of temperate fruit that were common "back up North". Unfortunately, many fruit varieties need a certain number of accumulated hours of relative chill (eg. below 38 degrees F) in order to establish proper dormancy cycles.
Here in Ettersburg we don't have to worry about winter chill in the orchards; we are more preoccupied with getting enough firewood put away to keep us warm through the winter months. So we don't have much personal experience with winter chill problems. Our customers in places like Southern California are not so lucky...
Warm climate customers may have to start paying more attention to selecting fruit species and varieties that have relatively low winter chill requirements. This kind of information is available from universities and government agencies, but only for relatively common or popular varieties. With apples, there are several newer introductions that have been bred especially for warmer climates; these include Adina, Ana, Dorsett Golden, and Ein Shemer. Their quality may not be ranked as best, but in extreme cases they may be the only apple trees to produce a crop. A few older varieties have a reputation for adapting to low winter chill locations. Two of the best are Winter Banana and White Winter Pearmain - with chill requirements less than 400 hours.
Regarding the Etter apple varieties - particularly our Sweetmeat™ and Rosetta™ introductions: During the past decade we have sent out many trees and benchgrafts to customers in low chill zones, but still do not have enough reliable data available; warm climate orchardists should therefore consider these varieties "experimental". As more of these varieties come into fruit (or do not), anecdotal information will gradually develop. Meanwhile, low-chill area growers might do well to contact consultants of the California Rare Fruit Growers(CRFG) http://www.crfg.org for help with this worrisome issue.
Almost every place on this planet can produce some sort of good fruit, but no single locale can accommodate all the diverse possibilities. Fruit explorers are always trying to push the envelope, but limitations are inevitable. When the quest seems to end in frustration, we can always console ourselves with the kinds of fruit that will grow really well in our unique homeplace orchards.
"It can only be the end of the world.....ahead of time."
Illuminations - Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)
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