Friday, July 11, 2014

Growing Fruit Trees in the Desert

I love gardening! There is nothing more satisfying than actually reaping the fruits or veggies of your labor at harvest time. One of my favorite things to grow is fruit trees! After they are fully established (which can take up to three years or longer in my experience), they are relatively easy to care for.  All they need is a deep water once a week, although I usually have to adjust times for winter and summer. 

This winter was unusually warm and dry so I've been just continuing on my normal watering schedule. Summers in the desert are extremely hot and dry, unless we have thundershowers (which can occur with or without rain) and summer showers.  This means that I am usually watering 2-3 days a week.  I usually check my trees for signs that they are thirsty by looking at the leaves. They tend to curl up when it's super hot.

Growing almonds, a peek of growing grapes, and a developing pomegranate.

 Besides the obvious issue of heat there is also extreme cold at times that can really do a number on your fruit trees. We have had years were we didn't get any fruit, due to a deep freeze after blooming.  All the blooms froze and died.  No blooms equals no fruit, and a horribly heartbroken gardener. I have since learned from other gardeners that a tarp or old blanket can protect the blooms and give you a chance for a harvest in the fall.  In addition to extreme temperature fluctuations there is also the matter of the high winds we experience at various times of the year. 

The winds can get close to hurricane force at times. These winds can cause serious damage to trees. We have opted to use low growing, ultra dwarf fruit trees.  Because they are smaller they tend to hold up a bit better. All we do is brace them with posts and hope that we still have trees when the wind stops blowing.  

There is also the issue of poor soil.  I have lived in a few different areas of the high desert and have noticed that the soil was very different in each area. Currently where we live our land has tons of rocks, and sand with tough, hard clay underneath.  Often when we water, the water pools on top, and sometimes just runs off, which makes it tough on plants.  To help keep water where we put it, we dig trenches around our plants at least twice a year, because the soil doesn't stay where we put it either. 


Last but not least is the pests!  There are a lot of animals running around in the high desert. So if you want to grow successfully it's essential that you protect your plants.  We have lost plants and trees to squirrels gophers and jackrabbits, all of which are voracious eaters and will destroy a plant over night! We have found that making chicken wire cages to put around the areas you want to protect can help deter them. Sometimes the pests aren't even wild ones, dogs love to dig at the base of newly planted trees, so it may be necessary to use some type of deterrent. Or dogs are tiny so I just tell them "no!" or try to distract them when they are digging. 

The larges problem are the birds. They love fruit and will peck into all of your fruit on the top of the trees, opening them up and attracting insects. The only insect pests I have ever experienced are fire ants, who like to set up shop next to the fruit tress and eat fallen or rotted fruit.  I have been able to control them by picking off any fruit that looks damaged by birds. We have since purchased bird netting to deter them. 
Gardening is a challenge in itself, but gardening in an extreme environment has it's additional challenges, but when you are eating apples or almonds from your own tree, it's well worth it.
One of my two apple trees, and getting deep water.
-Have Fun Growing!