With our valley's history as the former fruit bowl of the world, a revolutionary new way to grow backyard fruit trees could revitalize home gardeners' fruit production for family eating.
"We live in the most incredible place - we can grow a broader range of fruit here in this valley than anywhere else in the world," Nancy Garrison, coordinator of the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program in Santa Clara County, told the Western Horticulture Society on May 10 at Loyola School in Los Altos.
A plum, cherry, apricot and peach tree - and more - can all grow in a single, 8- 10-foot hedge, according to the new theory of backyard orchard culture.
"I have six fruit trees in a 10-foot hedge - the average space used for one tree in the past," Ed Laivo, an orchardist with the Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman, told the audience. He even plants two or three trees in one planting hole to promote what he calls "positive stress," which leads to juicier, more intensely-flavored fruit.
His two main rules are to plant trees 18 inches-to-two-feet apart and to keep them small by pruning during the summer months.
Here are his pruning directions:
First Year: After the spring flush of growth, cut the new growth back by half. In late summer, cut the subsequent growth back by half.
Second Year: Pruning is the same as the first year.
Third Year: Choose a height and don't let the tree get any taller. Tree height is the decision of the pruner.
Ongoing: Remove broken limbs. Remove diseased limbs well below the signs of disease.
The smaller one, two, and three-year-old branches that bear the fruit should have at least six inches of free space all around.
Don't let the pruning decisions inhibit you or slow you down. There are always multiple acceptable decisions - no two people would prune a tree exactly the same. You learn to prune by pruning!
Ed Laivo may be contacted at the Dave Wilson Nursery, Hickman, Calif., 1-800-654-5854.
Garrison offers a printed guide to the best fruit varieties for growing on the Peninsula, with information about where to purchase them. To receive your own copy, call the U.S. Master Gardeners at (408)299-2638, Monday-Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.