By Bob Labozetta (UC Master Gardener, Mariposa)
December to March is the best time to plant fruit and nut trees here in California. Selecting appropriate fruit trees, however, can be confusing. Impulsive purchases can lead to disappointment, particularly in the foothills where not every variety grows well.
The key to success when it comes to fruit and nut varieties is to buy local. Talk to knowledgeable employees at a local foothill nursery. Tell them about your property (including elevation, sun, etc.) to get the best advice. Trees at your local nursery may be slightly more expensive, but they have been chosen specifically for the foothills.
In narrowing down specific varieties, consider size and chill hours.
Fruit trees commonly come in standard, semi-dwarf or dwarf sizes. Dwarf fruit trees generally produce poorer quality fruit. Standard size trees are too large for most backyard orchards and more difficult to prune. Semi-dwarf fruit trees are the best combination of fruit quality and ease of care. In any case, both semi-dwarf and standard trees can be dwarfed by proper pruning and training.
Vernalization or “chill hours” refers to the cumulative number of hours with temperatures below 45°F, which is necessary for a fruit tree to break dormancy and produce fruit in the following season. This requirement varies depending on the variety. In the foothills, temperatures vary widely, so you want to pick varieties that will be successful for your property.