Sharon Hull, This Week in the Garden | Chilling out with fruit trees

As I reminded you in this column last week, if you want to plant one or more fruit trees, now in bare root season is the best time to shop for them in local garden centers. Experienced home orchardists know that if you stop by most local garden centers now and in the next few weeks, you will find hundreds of bare root fruit trees available.

The price for bare root stock is much lower than for container stock and now is also when the selection is by far the broadest. In fact, quite a few varieties of fruit trees are only available now, when trees are dormant. You’ll find older varieties but probably also some new in the trade.

Crucial information to have when selecting trees for your garden is the number of chill hours required by each particular tree. This will be provided on the information tag that you will find attached to each tree. (Chill hours are roughly the number of hours between the temperatures of 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit that occur during the trees’ winter dormant period). Many fruit trees vary in the amount of chill hours that they need. If a tree doesn’t experience enough chill hours in the winter, the flower buds might not open in spring, or they might open unevenly. The production of leaves may also be delayed and the life expectancy of the tree shortened.

Of course the number of chill hours varies throughout our region as well as from year to year, with coastal locations usually receiving the fewest number, but generally, our climate will supply the needs of trees requiring 400 or fewer chill hours. Some trees said to require more may actually do OK here so you might want to experiment a bit. For a more detailed explanation of chill hours, visit

Remember too when choosing a site for your deciduous tree that cold air moves down a slope and pools in the area near the bottom; to maximize chill hours, plant your trees at the low points in your garden (as long as water drainage is good) or where a building or other solid structure provides a barrier to keep the cold air trapped around your trees. Pay attention also to where the winter sun strikes your property. For more chill hours, when possible, plant deciduous stock where it will get the fewest hours of winter sun but where from spring to fall sun exposure is at a maximum. To determine this, it may require several days of watching carefully where the sun strikes over the course of a day. Research this now when our daylight hours are at the shortest.

You probably already know that a number of apple tree types grow well here, and that some plums are also easily cultivated on the Central Coast. Which apple and plum trees need 400 chill hours or fewer? Here are a few of the better known varieties: Apples: ANNA (200 hours), BEVERLY HILLS (300 hours), GRANNY SMITH (400 hours) Plums: BURGUNDY (300 hours), METHLEY (250 or less), SANTA ROSA (300 hours), SATSUMA (300 hours) Some Asian pears also find our mild climate to their liking. They include HOSUI (300 – 400 hours) and SHINSEIKI (250-300.) Japanese persimmons have low chill requirements so thrive here, even along the coast, and give the added bonus of stunning fall color.

Peaches have been somewhat more problematic here, not only for chill hours required but also because of disease issues. If you love peaches (and who doesn’t?), PEACHY KEEN is a variety that you might want to try. It is described like this: healthy grower with large, colorful, and long lasting flowers. Precocious tree produces a heavy set of colorful fruit with firm, moist, tasty flesh. Freestone. Ripens: Late June – Early July. Chill requirement: 150 – 200 Hours.

Most years, there are several lectures and hands-on classes on the planting, care and pruning of fruit trees. Orin Martin and the Center of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UCSC will hold an online seminar on the topic on Jan 13 (…/tJMrd-6rrTMsHNPN2oeF1tZY75DPGxz6WT3Q) but this year because of the pandemic, most such events seem to have been canceled or postponed. If I learn of any more in time to get the word out, I will include the information in this column.

Garden tips are provided courtesy of horticulturist Sharon Hull of the San Lorenzo Garden Center. Contact her at 831-423-0223.

Contributed by local news sources

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