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September Growing Tips

Trees and Shrubs: Fall is an excellent time for planting trees and shrubs in the garden if you live in USDA hardiness zone areas 6-10, Raintree offers a great selection of potted plants for fall planting. Click on the Order for Fall button in the top tool bar to see what is available.

What’s Available for Fall Planting? In addition to the weather being right, the plant you are looking for needs to be available as a potted plant. Many of our berries and vines are available as potted plants. We pot them up in the spring and early summer so they are actively growing and have a good root system when you receive them in the fall. However the roots of most of our fruit trees are so large that if they were potted they would require an 8 to10 gallon pot that is heavy and would cost hundreds of dollars to ship. That is why fruit trees are usually sold as bare root plants. During the fall our fruit trees are still growing in the field and not dormant when we do our fall shipping.

Potted Fruit Trees at the Nursery Only: In late spring we potted up a great selection of fruit trees into 5 to 10 gallon pots. Though too heavy to ship, they are available at the Raintree Garden Center starting mid-September. Come by and take some home for fall planting.

Planting Trees and Shrubs: Planting trees and shrubs can begin once the heat of summer is past, when day time temperatures are more likely to be below the upper 70’s and there will be a minimum of 4-6 weeks before hard freeze (overnight temperature to 25° F, or daytime will stay below freezing). If you live in colder winter areas (USDA zone 5 or colder), plant roots might not establish quickly enough before cold weather settles in for the plant to survive the winter.

For those of you living in the warmest parts of the country fall is the best time to plant, so roots can establish during your brief winter and be ready for growth when your spring and summer come. Since the fruit trees are not available for fall planting a good option for you is to have your fruit trees delivered in the early spring. When you receive your bare root plants next spring you have a couple of choices. Plant them in a temporary location that receives afternoon shade all summer, or plant in a container you can keep in a shady location through the summer. Next fall when your summer has moderated, and plant growth has stopped, transplant to the permanent location. You could also plant in the permanent location and provide shade for the first summer, or until they are well established.

BULBS: Fall is also the time for planting spring flowering bulbs and Raintree offers a collection of tulips, iris and daffodils bulbs that will be ready to plant late September. Plant them in the fall and they will pop up and beautify your yard this upcoming spring. Click on the Fall Bulbs button in the top tool bar to see what is available.
It is vital that spring flowering bulbs are planted in well-drained soils. Sandy, gravelly soil amended with compost is fine. If you have a heavy clay soil that does not drain as well you can instead plant in pots (see ideas below) or a raised berm or mound at least eighteen inches high. Work fertilizer into the bottom of the hole at planting time to supply phosphorous to the roots, or apply a top dressing of fertilizer after planting and water in well. Use a fertilizer that states it is formulated for bulbs, or a fertilizer with a 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 ratio can work.  You can wait until spring to apply the fertilizer, when bulbs are up one to two inches, but don’t delay any further. After planting, cover with 2-3 inches of non-acidifying mulch, such as straw or composted leaves.

Spring flowering bulbs are generally planted directly into the ground. However, planting them in containers is another way to create beautiful landscape effects. For best growth and display when potting bulbs, use a container that is deep enough to allow the tops of the bulbs to be several inches below the surface, and broad enough to hold several bulbs. Remember bulbs need a well-drained soil, so use a potting mix with good drainage properties. The following example is for a 12” deep and 12-15” wide container. Start by putting 3” of potting mix in the bottom of the container. Select 8-10 daffodils or tulips, and lightly press them into the potting mix, equally spaced randomly or in a pattern. Make sure the flat looking bottoms are down and the tops are pointing up. They will be closer together than you would normally plant them in the ground. Gently add soil to cover the bulbs and fill the pot.

For a multiple bloom time effect place the bulbs in layers in the container. Start with daffodils or tulips on the 3” base layer of soil. Add just enough soil to barely cover the bulbs and arrange another layer of bulbs. Use a smaller narcissus or tulip bulb, or perhaps Dutch Iris. Again add enough soil to just cover the bulbs, if there is enough room in your container you could add more Dutch Iris, or top off your container with variegated or Siberian iris. Add soil to just cover the rhizomes and water in.

Sink the finished container(s) in the ground and mulch. Next spring as the first green shoot tips emerge remove the container from the ground and position where you can enjoy the show. As each variety finishes blooming the next will come along for a long spring show. The variegated and Siberian iris’s will provide foliage throughout the summer months, the variegated being particularly showy with it’s vertical green and cream stripes. Go to our Fall Bulbs page to see what we have to offer this year (top tool bar, Fall Bulbs button).

You have a choice. Even though many potted plants are available for fall shipping, these same plants are also available for shipment in the spring and you can order them now for either spring or fall shipment. If you are also ordering bare root plants combining potted and bare root for spring shipment may save on shipping cost. If you order potted for fall, and bare root for spring, you spread out your planting chores.

Once you have selected and ordered new plants it can be hard to wait for them to arrive. Preparing the planting holes before your plants arrive is a good way to make use of that time, and will help make the planting chore easier when it is time to plant. Clear away unwanted perennial vegetation, turn the soil once (if it’s moist enough to dig) or loosen with a digging fork, and cover the area with coarse compost or mulch. A typical area size would be a 2-3’diameter circle for a 1-4’ shrub, 3-5’ diameter circle for a potted or bare-root tree. At planting time rake the mulch away, dig the hole and plant according to instructions in the Raintree Owners Manual (click on the Growers Info button on our home page). After watering in your new plant, replace the mulch and add additional material, if necessary, to make a 2-4” blanket on the surface. Remember to always keep the mulch 3-6” away from the trunk.

The ripening time of a particular fruit varies from one location to another and from year to year, though the order in which varieties ripen stays roughly the same. The ripening times we give on our website in the “How to Grow” sections and in our catalog are relative to the Pacific Northwest where Raintree Nursery is located. Use the Raintree ripening order charts as a guide to know when to start checking your fruit. To view the Raintree Recipes click on the Growers Info button on our home page, then find the Raintree Projects section. Along with basic juice and jelly making information there are also a few tasty recipes. Here is a list of late summer to early fall ripening fruits with some hints to help you know when your fruit is ready to pick, whatever the weather has been.

Figs are ready when the fruit fully droops from its own weight and is soft. The breba crop (over-wintering crop) typically ripens in July or August, depending on your location. In August to September the alpha (spring initiating) crop starts expanding and ripens in October or November, again depending on your location and how warm and long your summer is. In the Pacific Northwest, our cool fall temperatures usually prevent the alpha crop from maturing. If this is your experience, you may be able to hasten the ripening in the fall, and pick that second crop, by applying a bloom fertilizer when the fruits are about nickel size late August or early September. Bloom fertilizers are high in phosphorous, which supports growth of the reproductive parts of the plant. A fig fruit is an ovary, the bloom fertilizer encourages it to start and keep expanding. Use a water soluble fertilizer, so the phosphorous is immediately available. Desert King is particularly rich tasting if you wait until the skin takes on a brown gnarly look.

Sea Berries are ready to harvest when the fruit starts to soften and you no longer taste the astringency. The ripe fruit will have a combination of sweetness and acidity. The fruit can be harvested by cutting whole branches and then working the fruit off the branches into a bowl. Or pick the fruits from the plant if your bush is young. Use the juice to make jellies, syrups, or to mix with other juices. The raw fruit and juice are not recommended for fresh consumption in large quantity, the high vitamin C content can cause nausea.

Cornus mas are ripe when the fruits readily drop from the tree or are soft and no longer astringent. Yellow fruited cornus mas will be translucent and incredibly sweet when ready to eat. The fruit tends to ripen unevenly, so check your bush regularly to harvest them fully ripe. Laying a ground cloth down and shaking the bush to loosen the ready fruit can work. Or harvest the berries at the firm ripe stage when they have turned from orange to red (or from white to yellow in the case of the yellow fruited), but are still firm; they will finish ripening off the bush at room temperature. Process berries that are soft when harvested right away, they don’t store well. The red varieties vary in flavor, and are usually preferred for cooking, rather than fresh eating.

Aronia produce copious quantities of blue-black fruits that are usually ready to pick in late summer. Until the berries have started to soften the fruit will be astringent. Use Aronia to make jam or pie; or juice and make jelly or mixed fruit juice beverages. They are not considered a fresh eating fruit.

European pears are usually harvested before they are fully ripe and kept in a cool place (45-55°F) for a few days or several months, depending on the variety, to allow the outer portion of the fruit to catch up with the ripening of the core. Early maturing varieties (August to early September) tend to need less storage time and may occasionally be in good condition if left on the tree until full ripe (core not over-ripe and starting to rot). For best results, the fruit is ready to pick when its stem readily separates from the tree as you bend the fruit upwards. Stored fruit is ready to eat when the blossom or stem end is soft when you gently press, or the stem easily pulls out of the fruit. Color change is not as reliable an indicator of when the fruit is ready to eat for most varieties.

Asian pears do not continue ripening after they have been picked, so leave them on the tree until they are fully ripe. Look at the background color of the skin on the side facing away from the sun. When the color changes from green to yellow or golden the fruit is approaching maturity. Cut open the fruit, the seeds are black when the fruit is mature, and the taste should be just right. Another option, after the back ground color has changed from green, is to gently poke your thumbnail into the skin of the fruit. If your fingernail easily pierces the skin it is generally ready, if the skin is still tough then it is not ready. The fruit often ripens unevenly on the tree. Only pick those that are ready. If your trees do not receive enough summer heat or water, the fruit may not develop much flavor or sweetness, even though it appears to be ripe.

European and Asian plums. The earliest ripening plums are predominantly Asian. Then most of the European’s ripen. Both types over-lap in the middle of the plum season. In our orchard at Raintree Nursery, Hollywood is often the last of the Asian plums we harvest, late August or early September. Opinions vary as to when plums are ready to eat. I like to let them start softening, especially certain Asian varieties with a high water content, such as Methley or Beauty. Others like them more firm, green and tart. For canning or fresh eating purposes, fruit that is just starting to soften around the stem or blossom end, or that easily comes off the tree, can have a high enough sugar content to taste good, but still have a firm texture. As the fruit continues to soften the sugar content will increase, until it is very soft and starts to ferment. Jam and jelly are best made with a mix of slightly under ripe and full ripe fruits.

Apples In the Pacific Northwest, the earliest varieties are often ready to start picking by mid-August. If you are not sure when you should start checking the varieties in your yard for their ripeness, review the ripening order list in the catalog or on our web site as a guide. To find the ripening order on-line click on the Growers Info button on our home page, then find Pollination and Ripening Guides under Plant Care. Again, some people like their fruit more green and tart, others more ripe. As with Asian pears, the background color of the fruit skin away from the sun will change from green to a yellow or pale orange as maturity approaches. A further test is to cut the fruit open and look at the seed color, dark brown indicates the seed and the fruit are mature. Varieties like Pristine or Chehalis are considered best a little on the green side, turning soft and starchy as the skin turns yellow and the seeds finish maturing. Others are better after some storage, such as Karmijn de Sonneville. Maturity is relative to seed ripening, ready to eat is relative to your taste preferences.

Early ripening apples, such as Centennial, Pristine, and Williams Pride, tend not to last long on the tree. Expect to harvest all of the fruit within 10-14 days after the first fruit is ready to eat. Applesauce is a great way to make use of all that fruit ripening at once. A Fruit Strainer and Sauce Maker will help you get the job done quickly. Use it also to make seedless blackberry or mulberry pulp for jam or fruit leathers.

September and October, with their cooler temperatures, slow down the ripening process, so fruits will tend to last gradually longer on the tree. The latest ripening varieties, in October or November, will also have the best storage properties.

Berries. Enjoy ever bearing strawberries, late ripening blackberries, loganberries, blueberries and fall-fruiting raspberries. Elderberries may be ripe now for you to make juices, wines, and jellies from. Harvest elderberries by clipping off the fruit cluster, rather than picking each little berry. A pole pruner will help you reach the fruit clusters of the taller growing Blue Elderberry native to the Pacific Northwest. Remove the thickest of the stems when you clean the fruit. Gently simmer in the pot or steam in a juicer for no more than 10 minutes to extract the juice without imparting a stem flavor. Another method I learned about this year is to freeze your harvest, then easily remove the hard frozen berries from the stem.

Kiwi can be picked when the fruit is firm ripe (berry feels firm, and when you cut it open the seeds inside are mature, dark brown in color), and stored in a cool (35-45°F) location. Finish ripening the fruit in a warm area when you are ready to eat it. Or pick regularly as the fruit finish ripening unevenly on the vine. When they are ready to eat they will be soft and come loose easily. Kiwi are enjoyed fresh, and made into jam, jelly, or wine. Small fruited kolomikta or arguta kiwi are also delicious dried like a raisin. To dry, the fruit needs to be at the ready to eat soft stage. Remove the blossom end and a pinch of skin, and place the fruit on the dehydrator.

Pawpaw When the fruit is soft and aromatic and the skin has become speckled and streaked with brown, it is ripe and ready to eat; but it may also be picked in the firm ripe stage (fruit feels firm and the seeds inside are mature, dark brown to black in color) and ripened off the tree. Harvesting at the firm ripe stage may be the best option for those growing pawpaw in short season or cool growing areas. Look for background color changes in the portion of the fruit facing away from the sun, from green to a light yellow. Check one or two fruit by cutting them open, the seeds should be mature, very dark brown or black. Harvest and store in a cool place (above 40°F to avoid off flavor), or finish ripening the fruit in a warm area and enjoy its exotic banana-like flavor. Remove the pulp with a spoon and use in drinks, ice cream, custard pie, or eat fresh.

Grape harvest times can be determined by the personal test system (try a few, if they’re good they’re ready); or you can take a more accurate approach by using a Refractometer. Measure the soluble solids in the fruit to determine the sugar content and harvest at the optimal time for fresh eating and making raisins (table grapes) or for making juice or wine (seeded dessert or wine grapes). The refractometer can also take the guess work out of harvesting apples, pears, and other fruit. In the Pacific Northwest most early ripening grape varieties ripen in October.

Shipova, a natural cross between European pear and mountain ash, benefit from being harvested before they are fully ripe, similar to the pear. Look for color change in the portion of the fruit facing away from the sun, from green to yellow. Cut a few fruit open, and check to see that the seeds are mature, deep brown or black. Shipova have a pear flavor when fully ripe, high sugar content, and firm flesh. They dry very well, and can also be canned.

Filbert (or hazel) nuts are enjoyed by many creatures, including people. How do you make sure you get your fair share? If your only competition is the jay birds (blue, stellar, etc.) you are in luck. They are very adept at knowing when the nuts are mature, as soon as the jays start harvesting it is time for you to harvest. The nuts will still be green, but just starting to turn to a tan color. Leave the nuts the jays discarded on the ground, those will be empty, or otherwise no good. Remove the green husk before it dries and wash the nuts in a bucket of water. Discard any nuts that float, they will be empty. Spread the nuts in thin layers on the floor or on wire mesh trays in a warm well-ventilated area out of direct sun to cure that is pest proof (mice, squirrels, jay birds, etc.). Curing will take several weeks; the nuts will tend to rattle in the shell when they are done. Store the nuts in a cool location with moderate humidity, such as a root cellar.

Walnut, Butternut, and Heartnut are cured and stored like the filbert, but cleaning them is a bit more involved. Knock the nuts from the tree when the green hulls begin to split and the packing tissue between and around the kernel halves has just started to turn brown. Remove the hulls as soon as you can. Use a knife, stomp and roll the nuts with your foot, roll over them with the car tire, or work them over a rough screen to loosen and remove the hulls. If the hulls stick tightly to the shells, moisten them and cover with a moist tarp or burlap sheet for several days to loosen. Particularly with black walnuts, but also with the others, wear gloves when handling the hulls to avoid staining your hands. Wash the nuts to remove clinging fibers, discard any floaters. Cure like the filberts above. Store the nuts in their shell in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location for several months. Shelled nuts may be frozen for up to a year.

Continue walking your orchard regularly, checking for problems or fruit that is ready to harvest (see fruit processing section). Provide support for over-laden limbs that are threatening to break, or thin the fruit, especially from the terminal end of the limb. After you have harvested remove broken limbs, make a clean cut at the break. Other limbs that hung down but did not break need to be shortened or de-weighted. Do not make heading cuts this time of year though, instead cut back to a side branch when possible, or a fruit spur. If heading cuts will be needed, mark where they will need to be and wait until winter or early spring to make the cut.

Keep grass short and control weeds.

If you want to propagate strawberries from runners on your existing plants it is best to collect and plant them before mid-September. Typically the runners will have several new little plants on them, the oldest ones will have roots already growing and the next couple will have root initials ready to grow. Clip the plantlets free from the runners leaving a couple inches of stem, and push them into the prepared bed making sure the crown (the point where the stem and roots meet) is just at the soil surface, or a little higher. If the weather is expected to be a little cool (50’s and 60’s) and wet, your new plants will be established in a couple weeks or less. If the weather is expected to be warm and dry, keep them misted regularly, or provide temporary shade until their roots are established. Do keep in mind it is recommended that you replace your strawberries every 3-5 years with new certified virus free plants.  Your plants will tend to become weaker and less productive as viruses establish and build up in them over time.

Continue irrigating if needed for fruit ripening or minimizing drought or heat stress. Drought or heat stress in fruit trees can cause premature fruit drop just a few weeks before the fruit is ready, leaf curling or leaf drop, and sunburn on the leaves. Water is required to fill and expand the cells in the fruit. Extra water will pump up the fruit so it is large and juicy when you pick it. Water any trees that have become very dry so their roots are recharged with moisture before winter. Apply coarse mulch to bare soils to conserve moisture and break up hard rains as they return, so the water penetrates into the soil rather than running off.

Avoid wetting the foliage and fruit of fruit trees that are sensitive to brown rot, powdery mildew, and other fungal diseases. Drip irrigation allows you to use less water, keep the foliage dry, and still accomplish the goal of maintaining your trees. (Call or e-mail Drip Works to order drip irrigation supplies and ask drip irrigation questions.)

Continue applying brown rot, mildew and botrytis sprays to your grapes, currants, apples, and other fruits as needed if you do not have resistant varieties. Thinning the fruit clusters of grapes, so they are not so crowded, can also help reduce botrytis expression.

Continue keeping apple and pear fruit that falls to the ground picked up. Discard or destroy any that you don’t use to reduce the number of apple maggot larvae over-wintering in the ground under your fruit trees. You might consider applying Nemaseek Beneficial Nematodes to the soil this fall. These predatory nematodes will actively seek and consume pupating apple maggot larvae and other harmful grubs in the soil, reducing the number of adults available to emerge and start the cycle over again next spring. Apply after fall rains have re-saturated the soil and before night temperatures start consistently falling below 40° F. Nemaseek is available through Arbico Organics.

* NOTE: Your local co-operative extension office should be able to provide you with local spray product and use recommendations, as well as pest identification. To find a link to your extension office in our Useful Links section click on the Growers Info button on our home page; or look in your local phone book under county listings.

There is a new insect of concern west of the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which has the potential to cause serious fruit damage in soft fruits as well as hazelnuts, vegetables, and ornamentals. It is already established in other parts of the country. While it is not considered to be a major threat at this time, there is enough concern to warrant tracking this insect.

As your first frost date approaches, prepare plants you are growing outdoors in containers for winter. Plant roots are generally not as hardy as the top of the plant, so they need to be protected from freezing during severe winter weather. Sink containers in the ground, or surround containers with sawdust or other insulating material. Another option is to move hardy dormant plants to a cool (35°- 45° F.) location during severe weather episodes, otherwise, leave them outside if temperatures are staying above 26° F overnight and above freezing during the day.

When moving frost-tender plants indoors for the winter, be sure to harden them off (Plant Owners manual, pg 2) and inspect for insect infestations. Ideally they should be moved indoors as night temperatures start going below 50° F consistently. Wait until plants are fully dormant to repot or pot up to a larger container.

Late summer is the time to do your summer budding. Stone fruits, such as apricots, peaches, cherries, and nectarines, and certain cultivars of other fruits propagate most reliably from summer budding. Peaches won’t propagate by normal winter grafting. Apple and pear propagate well from summer budding, as well as dormant grafting. Budding is also an excellent technique for making the largest number of trees from a limited quantity of scion wood.

Budding is done by removing a bud from the desired variety of tree and inserting it in an established rootstock. The rootstock can be a new rootstock planted for this purpose, or an existing fruit tree you would like to add a new variety to. For summer budding, the bud stick from the desired variety is collected near to the time you will be doing the budding. Select a vigorous vegetative shoot (it could be a water sprout shoot) with pointed vegetative buds. It should be ¼-3/8” in diameter and from the current year’s growth. In the later part of summer the buds in the lower part of the current year shoot will be mature and dormant, and the stem will be firm and tend to break if you bend it. The buds near the tip of the shoot will still be actively growing, and the stem will bend without breaking. Harvest the shoot (bud stick), and immediately remove the leaf blades, leaving about ½” of petiole attached to the shoot. Discard the immature tip of the shoot and the basal whorl of buds (which may be flower, rather than vegetative, buds). The rest can be cut into convenient lengths (6 to 10” is common). Label, wrap the bud sticks in barely moist paper towel, and seal them in a bag to retain freshness. While it’s best to use the bud sticks right away, you may store the prepared bud sticks at 35-40°F, up to a couple of weeks.

Here in the Pacific Northwest late August to early September is the best time to bud graft. The grafts will heal best if day time temperatures are in the mid-60’s to mid-70’s, and night time temperatures above 50° F,  for 10-14 days following the grafts. It is also necessary that the rootstock is actively growing when you do the graft, or the graft won’t heal properly. When a tree is actively growing the cambium layer underneath the bark is actively growing, and has a lot of moisture in it, so it easily separates from the bark. This is called slipping. To determine if the rootstock is in good condition for grafting make a test cut in the bark, higher than where you intend to put the bud. Make a vertical cut, then a horizontal cut at the top, to make a T. Try to open the flaps of the T. If they open easily the bark is ‘slipping’, if not, now is not a good time to graft. To encourage a rootstock to be actively growing when you want to do your grafting, keep it watered, and fertilize a couple weeks before you intend to graft.

T-buds and chip buds are the two most common bud grafts. Commercially chip buds are preferred, they are quicker to insert. T-buds tend to be more successful for those with less experience. There are many resources that describe and provide pictures of doing the grafts.

Tools you will need include: a grafting knife (with single beveled edge), budding strips or chip bud tape, alcohol (to keep your knife clean), and labels. Go to our grafting supplies page (under books and supplies) for descriptions. If the ground is damp we might have a piece of cardboard to sit on, or wear knee pads if a person prefers to kneel

September thru November are typically the least desirable months for pruning trees and shrubs in the Pacific Northwest. Plant growth is slowing and wound healing responses also slow down, giving disease organisms opportunity to cause infection. Heading cuts may also stimulate new growth which will not harden off properly for winter. The actual timing of when pruning should be avoided varies from year to year, pay attention to temperature patterns where you are. If day time temperatures are more consistently in the 60’s, and night time temperatures below 50°F, then you may want to delay pruning until plants are fully dormant. Once the trees are fully dormant pruning can resume for plants that are normally pruned during the dormant season, although there is benefit to waiting until the worst of the winter weather has passed before beginning.

It is OK to remove dead or broken limbs any time, smooth cuts will heal more quickly and be less prone to infections than ragged tears.

Over the next several months I will be addressing typical questions people have when ordering fruit trees and berries. This month’s question is:

How big will the new tree I am ordering be when I receive it next year?

Every year is a different answer; each type of fruit is a different answer. How the trees grow is impacted by the weather, irrigation patterns, and soil fertility. Irrigation and soil fertility can be managed, but we can’t manage the weather. Our trees are typically grown 1-2 years after grafting, depending on their vigor, to produce trees that when planted will be 3-5' tall, with a caliper of 1/2-5/8", but there are always exceptions that will be bigger or smaller. One inch and larger caliper trees are heavy to ship, and 3 years after planting our smaller caliper trees will typically be the same size as the larger caliper trees planted at the same time.