Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Feels Like Spring

In between winter rains there are days, if you have the opportunity to work in the garden, that cause you pause and wonder, "am I about to sweat?" Winter in the Sacramento Valley can be misleading at times, even the plants get confused. I keep a careful eye on my dwarf nectarine tree which I consider my special needs plant. Of all my dormant winter plants it is always the first to announce spring.

I purchased it as a "bare root" plant in February a few years back. Most fruit trees (apple, peaches, nectarines, plutos, plums), nut trees, grapes and black berry plants are sold as bare root plants in their dormant state. They have no leaves or flowers and look like a dead branch sitting in a barrel of mulch with no soil clinging to there roots. The only thing you have to go on is the picture on the tag and the hopefully, helpful sales person. There are two reasons why I buy bare root plants: the price and a better start. Typically bare root plants are up to half the price because the nursery doesn't have to use soil or a pot. They will pull them out of the mulch and wrap the roots in a piece of paper and off you go. Because your plant isn't sitting in nursery soil, you don't have to worry about it trying to adjust to your own, just plant it directly into your garden (perhaps mix in a small amount of fertilize in your own soil). Once it wakes up, it will proceed to flower and then shoot out leaves and branches as if it was always living in your yard.

My nectarine did just that, but by early spring it was apparent that all was not well. Its leaves were curly in on themselves. The fruit would grow but then develop very rough spots as if sprinkled with large granules of sea salt. It was quite horrific looking as if my now deformed tree was trying to audition for some part in a gory scream flick. As it turn out, the nectarine tree had been infected by a fungus called taphrina deformans aka Peach Leaf Curl. The nursery handed me a bottle of dormant spray. For now there was nothing to do but watch as the mutilated leaves and fruit quickly fell off my tree and spent the summer looking rather naked and sad.

Dormant sprays are not really fun. The main ingredient is typically sulfur or copper mixed with lime. I spend some time trying to figure out if there was an "organic" solution. In my mind organic would mean mixing some hippy soap and water. But no such luck. Leaf Curl is a very prevalent fungus in the Sacramento Valley and without spraying, it is unlikely that once infected your tree will not continue to be infected year after year. The Integrated Pest Management Program in California (check out their website under Helpful Links to the right) recommends the following products for home gardeners: Lilly Miller Kop R Spray Concentrate, Monterey Liqui-Cop and Lilly Miller Microcop Fungicide. The best time to spray is right before your buds begin to open (looks for those few eager buds that have barely cracked open and you can see a little green or pink). Wait for day when it will be sunny and more importantly when it will not rain for the next couple of days. Dormant sprays can over time build up in the soil and become toxic and should not be allowed to run off into water ways.

In the last few years there are some new varieties that are Leaf Curl resistant or a little more tolerant:
For Peaches- Indian Free, Q 1-8, and Muir

For Nectarines - Kreibich

Now that my nectarine is about to flower I'll start prepping my vegetable beds and debate on adding another raised bed....

1 comment:

Nicole Fox said...

When I was about 11 years old, my friend Cheryl and I were riding bikes in the nearby "not yet developed" neighborhood where the housing lots had been designated, but the foundations not yet poured. I saw a tiny budding tree growing in the ground, and went home to get a shovel, then returned to dig it up and take it home. At the time my motivation was "saving the tree" since I figured it was wild and in a location where soon a house would be. I planted it in my backyard, and it grew nicely. It never had the leaf curl you talk about, until several years later. I wish I knew what my Mom did to cure it, but I think it went away and did not come back the following years after my Mom did something.?? She was really awesome in the garden.