For The Answer
Week of January 26, 2004
By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, SAWS, and Horticulturist
FRUITS FOR SAN ANTONIO
Most of the nurseries in the San Antonio area have received their shipment of fruit trees for the year. Container grown plants can be planted year-round but now is the best time.
There are some fruit species that require special coddling to encourage reasonable production and others that are easier to grow in this area.
The toughest, most adapted fruits include Oriental persimmon, pomegranate, blackberries, and figs. Plums, pears, and grapes are in an intermediate category, and apples, strawberries, and peaches are the most difficult to grow. Do not bother to try and grow raspberries, cherries, or blueberries; they do not survive in our alkaline soil and/or weather conditions. Apricots make a pretty tree but are not productive in this area.
Oriental persimmon make a wonderful lawn tree. The trees are small and open with large leaves that can be colorful in the autumn. The fruit on the tree often looks like Christmas bulbs—colorful, well spaced, and showy. Persimmon is astringent; it will make you pucker up if it is eaten before it is mushy ripe. The exception is Fuyu. Another variety to consider is Haichiya. The birds, raccoons, and opossum will eat the fruit you do not harvest. Oriental persimmon can be grown in our native soil. It will survive without irrigation but will produce more fruit if it is watered regularly in the summer.
Figs are also easy to grow in San Antonio. Select from Celeste and Texas Everbearing. They all have a closed eye (keeps insects out). Brown Turkey has an open eye but is still a good choice. Once established, figs can survive without irrigation but will not produce much fruit. Mulch heavily (4 to 8 inches) over the root system and irrigate regularly for maximum production.
Blackberries are so productive they can be overwhelming during their short season. They also can take over your garden because of their growth rate and thorns. If you have blackberries, expect to be ruthless in rogueing out the canes that spread from the original planting. The old wood must also be removed after harvest in April or May to make room for the new canes. Consider Brazos, Kiowa, or Rosborough for huge yields. Thornless selections such as Arapaho and Navajo are not as productive but are easier to manage.
Pomegranate is an interesting fruit. The tart flesh surrounds the seeds inside an apple-shaped case with a crown. The fruit is attractive on the shrub but the blooms are spectacular. They are glow-in-the-dark red-orange in late spring. The plant is one of the few deer-proof fruits. It makes a large dense deciduous shrub. Wonderful is the recommended variety. Pomegranate is a good xeriscape plant.
Plums, pears, apples, and peaches all do best in raised beds irrigated with drip irrigation. A bed formed by used railroad ties (8 by 8 foot) filled with a landscape mix works well. Plant the tree in the middle of the bed. Varieties of these fruits require differing amounts of winter cold to produce fruit. An Elberta peach does not work in San Antonio because it need more cold. Some selections also cannot cope with our diseases. Bartlett pear is very fireblight susceptible and only usually lasts through one bloom period.
These fruit trees also require varying amounts of pruning and spraying attention. Pears and plums the least, and peaches and apples the most. Consult plantanswers.com for the recommended regimes and diagrams.
Methley is the most reliable plum for the San Antonio area. Santa Rosa also is a good choice. For pears select Orient or Kiefer for a large cooking pear. Warren is a small irregularly shaped pear of dessert quality if you can find a tree. Leconte and Moonglow are also good choices.
Plant two varieties of apples that bloom at the same time for the best success. A good choice is Anna and Dorset Golden. Mollies Delicious is also an option.
Peaches are a favorite fruit for our area but require considerable attention including weekly spraying to produce blemish-free peaches. Nectarines are just peaches without fuzz and because of the smooth skin are even harder to grow free of fungus and insect damage. To increase the chance of success, select early maturing varieties. There is less time on the tree for insects, squirrels, and diseases to strike. My favorite are Junegold and Texroyal. Texstar and Florida King are also good early selections. La Feliciana is a freestone that matures in June. If you want a challenge, Armking is the nectarine to try. Try Melba or Belle of Georgia for a white peach. They do best after cold winters. The Red Baron is an ornamental peach. It has the most beautiful and long lasting bloom. The fruit is high quality but is late and I never get as much as the squirrels.
Grapes are very susceptible to disease in the San Antonio area. Black Spanish and Champanel are productive and aggressive vines that can be used for jellies. Flame and Seibel 9110 are fresh fruit quality.
Strawberries need to be treated as annuals in South Texas. Select Chandler or Sequoia plants to plant in the autumn for spring harvest. Strawberries do not survive the summer heat.