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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Should You Plant Fruit and Nut Trees?

I received this letter in early December:

"For more than 50 years I have in some way been involved in landscaping and gardening. In all of my research and past experience, I have found that in this part of the country the best time to plant shrubs, shade trees and fruit trees is after the first killing frost or freeze. Since the ground does not freeze deep enough in this part of the country to hurt the root system, planting at this time of the year gives the newly planted shrub or tree a chance to establish a root system before the spring flow of sap or food to the upper part of the plant begins."

"In the past I have had great success following this scheme of planting. Trees or shrubs set out in February or later do not have time to produce roots. Without the roots the plant has to perform double duty when spring growth begins, i.e., it has to use energy to produce roots and sprout leaves as well. If planted early, the trees have a chance to get over the shock of being transplanted and to establish some root system."

"I now find that many nurseries claim that the best time to plant nut trees such as pecans is in February. No particular reason is given for this recommendation. What I would like to know from you is just when is the best and proper time to plant pecan trees or any other tree in this area?" The letter was signed Frank L. Kitto.

Mr. Kitto doesn't need my answer; he has already answered his question. If he has found that "in this part of the country the best time to plant shrubs, shade trees and fruit trees is after the first killing frost or freeze" then the same would be true for pecan trees and any other tree or shrub. Tradition is the main reason most nurserymen recommend a later planting date.
Traditionally, growers have not shipped bare?root trees to nurseries until early January. Many times adverse weather conditions discourage tree planting until February. However, I received this telephone call from a premier nurseryman and my local mentor, Eddie Fanick of Fanick Garden Center, located in San Antonio at 1025 Holmgreen:

As he snatched the phone from his son John, with whom I was trying to have a civil conversation, he bellowed, "Parsons! You ought to be telling people that now is the best time to plant trees. I got some good ones??some beauties??in out here."

I quickly responded in an attempt to spark his temper. "Listen, I didn't take you to raise! Just because you are overstocked with trees doesn't mean I am going to write an article to help keep you out of debtor's prison!" The verbal tirade which followed concerning my insinuation that Mr. Fanick was trying to "unload" trees by recommending a less?than?desirable horticultural practice cannot be printed??but I enjoyed it.

After his blood stopped boiling he unloaded this bit of wisdom: "If people would plant fruit and nut trees earlier so that roots can be grown before the trees sprout in the spring, a much greater percentage of trees would survive. But people wait until the last minute, do not cut the top of the tree back to compensate for the roots removed during the digging process, allow the roots to dry out on the way home and then wonder why the plant dies!" Where have I heard similar sentiments before? Seems as if Mr. Kitto said the same thing. Who am I to argue with the over 100 years of combined experience these two gentlemen represent?

Early spring IS the best time to plant fruit and nut trees in this area and NOW is "early spring." When spring begins to break rapidly, a difference of two weeks in the planting date often results in the obvious better growth of earlier?planted trees. An important factor that explains this better growth is that new roots develop when the soil temperature is above 45 degrees F. Pecans begin to develop roots when the soil temperature is above 55 degrees F. Thus earlier?established trees have a period of some root development in their growing location before the leaves appear. This gets the tree off to a vigorous start.

Now that you know when to plant, you will need to consider if you should plant. Just because this is the right time to plant doesn't necessarily mean that you can or should rush out and purchase the fruit or nut tree of your dreams. Evaluate carefully your situation or you may be creating a disaster rather than a joy.

Fruit and nut trees are beautiful plants for any landscape, but you must have the space or suitable conditions for fruit or nut production. When cold winter winds blow, leaves fall and the dormant season grips the area, gardeners conjure up notions about producing juicy peaches, luscious plums, tantalizing apricots, crispy apples and delicious pecans in abundance. We know that we can do it because the catalog says we can! We know that the produce will be high quality because we see the picture that accompanies the catalog description! But that picture was not taken in your backyard. Texans can produce mouth?watering fruit and nuts but only under certain conditions and by using adapted varieties.

The first and most important consideration is space. Stand on the proposed planting location, look around and think 10 years ahead. The mature spread (width) of a pecan tree is at least 40 feet and can even be twice that. Roots extend even farther than the branches. Adequate space between trees is just as important as adequate space between trees and existing structures. Recommended planting space between peach and plum trees is 18 feet; between Japanese persimmons, standard pears and standard apples it is 25 feet; dwarf apples, 6 to 12 feet; between pecans, 50 feet; between grapes and figs, 12 to 14 feet and between blackberries, it is 3 feet with rows 12 feet apart.

Proper selection and placement of fruit plants can provide delicious produce and stunning beauty in the home landscape. However, random plantings can be distracting and even unattractive.

Most fruits should be planted in the backyard as an attractive development around the patio. Concentrate all other plants in bold angular or curving beds around the edges of the yard. This allows open turf areas (with strategically located shade and background trees) that are bounded by easy?care shrub beds.

Don't just dot fruit trees at random throughout the yard because it breaks up otherwise spacious open areas. Fruit trees work better in groups of at least three of a kind (i.e., three peaches, three pears, etc.) and located in beds of groundcover or annual flowers along the outside edges of the property.

Many other "fruitscaping" possibilities exist. For example, many backyards are completely bare and are surrounded by a wooden privacy fence with a small patio at one corner of the home near the fence. First, the patio probably needs to be enlarged with brick, exposed aggregate, decking, etc. Then, to delineate the patio area and to lead the eye to the accent corner, a short section of matching wooden fencing can be tied into the existing fence in a perpendicular arrangement (thus creating an L?shaped enclosure) that is about 8 to 10 feet beyond the newly expanded patio. Place three semi?dwarf fruit trees of a given type in an L?shaped pattern inside the fence. Fill the area between the fence and patio with a combination of dwarf shrubs, groundcovers (such as strawberries) and/or annual flowers.

When planting border beds, strive for a graduation of plant heights ? taller in back (i.e., near the fence) to shorter in front. For example, locate dwarf fruit trees near the fence, blackberries in the middle bed. In south central Texas where strawberries are grown as annuals, use low?growing vegetables or brilliantly colored annuals to fill in during summer months until berry plants are planted in September.

Other possibilities include the use of well-adapted grape varieties to soften exposed sections of fencing and/or on arbors to shade hot patio areas. Dwarf fruit trees or cold?hardy citrus plants can be grown in tasteful, unobtrusive containers which act as gentle screens delineating a patio area or softening the deck lines.

To further increase the fruit production area consider espalier (es?PAL?yea). This system, in which all of a plant's branches are trained in a flat, vertical plane, can be used to grow fruit?producing trees (such as pear, plum or apple) or ornamental trees (such as evergreen pear) against a hot south or west wall. The advantages are many. The otherwise harsh, angular lines of the home are softened, fruit is produced without encroaching upon the outdoor living area, air?conditioning bills are reduced by shading sun?baked walls and heating bills are reduced by allowing maximum solar warming during winter months since fruit trees are deciduous (i.e., drop leaves in the fall). While it's true that the creation of an espalier is time consuming, the results are most gratifying.

Figs are a favorite because they are so easy to grow, and fresh figs are a taste treat. Their coarse leaf texture makes an area seem smaller however, so they're best used along the outer periphery of the yard rather than near the patio.

Finally, don't forget jujubes and Japanese persimmons as they can provide interesting focal points, fall color and usable fruit, all with minimum care.

Intelligent integration of fruit into the landscape delights the eye and palate. If you are interested in planting fruit and nuts, BE SURE to use the varieties recommended at: