January is time to plant pecan, fruit trees  

January 8, 2004
Victoria County
Master Gardener Intern

Now is the time to think about planting fruit and pecan trees. In January, most all nurseries have an ample supply of quality trees. Plan and act quickly as most of these are bare-root trees that will not last long in the bag.

Besides bare-root trees, nurseries also offer these trees already planted into containers. It is very important to be sure that varieties are planted that are best suited, adapted and recommended for the Victoria area. One must remember that some fruits such as pears, plums or blackberries require less care than other fruit or nut trees. So before you go running to the nearest nursery, be sure to know beforehand just how much effort you are willing to put forth.

First I would like to discuss stone fruits, beginning with nectarines. While nectarines are generally not recommended for this area because of disease problems, if you insist on having a tree, the best variety would be Sun Red, which is a small cling stone variety ripening in late April.

Plums do much better in our area. Currently recommended by Victoria County Extension is Bruce, a large red-skinned, that is excellent for jelly. Two other recommended varieties are Methley, for fresh eating, that ripens in early June and the Santa Rosa, a large purple-skinned, that ripens in late June. I have personally had great results with the last two. If you must satisfy your palate with apricots, the only one recommended is Blenheim, a pale orange June-ripening variety. On the horizon is a new variety available in two to three years called Trevet.

The most popular stone fruit by far is the peach. In choosing a peach, one must look at the chilling time or hours required by each variety. Chill time or chill hours is defined as the number of hours during which the temperature remains between 32 and 45 degrees F. The following peach varieties (with chill hour requirements in parentheses) are recommended for Victoria and surrounding areas: Flordacrest (350-400) semi-cling; Flordaking (350-400) semi-cling; TexPrince (450) semi-cling; TexStar (550) semi-cling; the new variety TexKing (550) free-stone; Rio Grande (450) semi-cling; and La Felliciana (550) free-stone. All of these ripen early to late May except La Feliciana, which ripens in late June.

The next fruit for consideration is probably the most popular of all, the "one a day keeps the doctor away" apple. Anna and the Dorsett Golden are the two recommended varieties, but they do best on acid soils planted in open airy sites to minimize diseases. The most important aspect in apple tree selection is to purchase trees grafted on M9 or MM106 rootstock. The MM106 is a semi-dwarf tree while M9 is a dwarf tree requiring a trellis. The Dorsett Golden is a good pollinator for the Anna. In my personal experience with these two varieties, the squirrels harvested more than I did.

Another very popular home garden or yard fruit is the pear. Among the Oriental hybrid varieties are the Warren, a soft pear, which has the best fruit quality. The Orient and the Kieffer are both hard pear varieties. All three of these are highly resistant to fire blight disease. Among Asian pear varieties, two are recommended: Shinko and Hosui. Both are soft, but crunchy pears with the former possessing the better fire blight resistance.

Moving to berry varieties, every home gardener should consider blackberries. Within the thornless varieties, the Apache is the best. A second choice would be the Arapaho. Both varieties ripen mid-May to late June, producing a medium-sized berry. If you don't mind a few thorns, you can choose from three varieties. The best choice is Kiowa, an extremely large berry, ripening late May to mid-June. The other two, Brazos and Rosborough have very large berries ripening from mid-May to late July. I have personally had good success with the Brazos variety.

A couple of other berries worthy of mention are the raspberry and blueberry. The only raspberry recommended for this area, with very limited success though, is the Dorman Red, a heat tolerant variety. Its fruit quality is usually fair - at best. Blueberries (rabbit-eye varieties) are not recommended for our area because they require an acidic pH. But, if you have a sandy type soil with a low pH and are interested in possibly working with the county extension agent in establishing a blueberry test plot, please give the county agent a call.

The most fun berry of all to raise is the strawberry. Currently the only two varieties for this area are the Chandler and the Sequoia. Both are large, good quality spring-bearing varieties. I currently have about 80-100 of the Chandler that are doing very well.

All of us are familiar with the wild mustang grape. With home vineyards or arbors, we have the table grape or the juice/wine grape to choose from. There are currently two table grape varieties recommended for this area, the Orlando Seedless and the Black Monourra. The former is a white French-American hybrid, the latter a red grape. If your talent is wine/juice making, the following are your choices: Black Spanish, Champanel, Favorite, Rouconeuf or Lomanto. These are all red wine varieties except the Reuconeuf, which is a pink.

As a small child, I remember picking and eating fresh figs from my grandparents' trees. What a treat! You, too, can enjoy three different varieties of figs in this area: Celeste, a small fig that ripens in mid-June, and Texas Everbearing and Alma, both medium-sized that ripen in late June to August.

Have you ever bitten into a semi-ripe persimmon? Made you pucker? Currently Texas nurseries cannot meet the demand for oriental persimmons. The best variety recommended for Victoria is the Fuyu. It is a medium size, non-astringent (non-puckering), self-fruitful variety that will do well here. Try it. It also makes a strikingly beautiful ornamental small tree with orange fruit hanging from barren branches in the late fall and winter.

The last fruits to talk about are the citrus fruits. Victoria is the northern most site to plant citrus without much preparation for a heavy freeze. Even then, most people won't want to protect them. If you want to try one, the best orange for Victoria is the navel orange. Want to worry less about the weather? Try the Satsuma, a fruit recognized as a Texas SuperStar. Armstrong is the favorite Satsuma and it is a mandarin type fruit that does extremely well in Victoria and can tolerate temperatures down to 25 degrees. And it is almost seedless and truly delicious. Two other mandarin varieties, the Sito and Miho, will be available next year

One other citrus deserves mention and that is the Meyer lemon. It does well, but must be protected from cold temperatures. Other citrus like loquat or kumquat are used mostly for landscaping, but are also edible.

Lastly, I will touch on pecan trees for the homeowner. I know many of these currently recommended are not what we find in yards and gardens in Victoria, but the latest recommendations by the county extension office are: Caddo, Forkert, Prilop, Oconee, Melrose and Elliott. One may ask," Why plant these varieties and not the old tried and tested varieties?" It is because these varieties of pecan trees are more disease resistant and they do not overproduce. Many of the other varieties may do well in commercial orchards where they are sprayed on a regular basis. However, most homeowners don't want to spray chemicals, don't have the spray equipment or don't take the time to spray.

A favorite pecan of mine is the Prilop, which is a very good producing, medium-sized nut that shells out about 55 to 57 percent kernels per pound of whole nuts. Putting nut production aside, a well cared-for pecan tree also serves as a beautiful shade tree for a yard.

With spring around the corner, consider planting fruit and nut trees and enjoying the fruits of your labor. I wish you good luck and good harvesting.