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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer



The seasoned gardener


published in The Union in Grass Valley CA



dormant grapes ready to plant barerootWhen does our dormant season end?
Winter planting extends into March in the foothills

by Carolyn Singer
January 19, 2010

My garden never really seems dormant. With signs of spring starting as early as the bulbs that pop up in December and January, a new gardening season begins before I have even finished with the last one. But as long as the weather is chilly, and there is no sign of growth, bareroot season usually extends into March in the Sierra foothills.

Local nurseries offer a wide selection of plants each winter. Purchase your plants now while the selection is good. In choosing fruit trees, look for healthy wood and a branching pattern that includes evenly spaced branches around the trunk. The initial pruning will eliminate all but three to four of the branches and shorten the tree to three to four feet.

Roots should be healthy too, with an extensive system of fine absorbing roots. The primary roots may have been pruned when the trees were dug from the field. Do NOT allow roots to dry out at any time during the transition from nursery to permanent location. Roots should be kept cool and moist, and dormant plants should be protected from warm sun. Full shade while plants are dormant works best for a temporary location.

When you are ready to plant, soak each tree in a 5-gallon bucket of water to which you have added two tablespoons of kelp. The water may be used to water the tree after it is planted.

Some mail order nurseries hold trees in refrigeration, shipping as late as April. One year I ordered some unusual cherry trees I could not find locally. I planted them the day they arrived in late April. Within days, dormancy broke, and the trees grew without shock.

Bareroot berries may be held in a plastic bag under refrigeration to extend dormancy. Moisten roots before refrigerating, and check them frequently, adding more moisture if necessary. It's amazing how quickly growth begins as soon as those plants are exposed to light and good soil.

Digging in wet clay soil is not a good garden practice because it can cause compaction. Wait until several days have passed following a rainstorm. Then test the soil for moisture content. Squeeze a handful of soil: if it feels sticky, or forms a ball, it's still too wet. Soil that crumbles in your hand is perfect for digging and preparation. However, if repeated storms continue into March, planting bareroot may have to be done in less than ideal conditions. It's important that these plants be moved to their permanent location while they are dormant.

dormant raspberries ready to plant barerootBareroot cane berries (blackberries & boysenberries), often referred to as dewberries, may be planted in soil enriched with compost, including composted poultry manures which are high in nitrogen. Raspberries are also cane berries that do best in very fertile soil, although preparation for these needs to be only to about twelve inches depth. Because the raspberry roots spread laterally, making new canes each year, prepare a bed about three feet wide and whatever length seems right for your anticipated consumption. Last year I picked one to two quarts of raspberries from a very small patch everyday for several weeks in the fall.

Strawberries prefer good soils too, although once berries begin to form (often in the first season after planting), soil should not be too high in nitrogen. Fruit trees benefit from the addition of decomposed compost, but not hot manures. All the bareroot plants must be planted with organic phosphorus (soft rock phosphate), 20 pounds per 100 square feet and oyster shell, 5 pounds per 100 square feet.

Mulch as soon as you plant bareroot. Decomposing straw is an excellent mulch, spread 3-4 inches thick. This same thickness may be used for cane berries and fruit trees. Keep the straw away from the trunks of fruit trees. And remember to paint those trunks with white water-based paint or lime to prevent sunscald.

I prefer to mulch strawberries to a depth of 2 inches with straw, then top with a light cover of pine needles to keep the berries off the decomposing mulch where sowbugs, earwigs, and little slugs may hide, waiting for the first ripe berry (and getting to it before you do)!

Microclimates on foothill properties are highly varied, adding to the challenge of choosing and succeeding, but at the same time opening the possibilities of growing marginal crops on some sites. Nurseries and neighbors can help you with your selection of fruits that will do well for your particular elevation and soils.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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