The Pluot Revolution

Pluot ‘Pink Candy’

“I was visiting my parents in Modesto and we picked up some delicious pluots at a local fruit stand. Since my Santa Rosa plum has rarely bloomed or produced fruit, I was interested in replacing it with a pluot variety.  Do you know if any specific pluots grow and produce fruit in my area?  And do they need another tree as a pollinator? My yard currently produces Keishu mini mandarins, ruby Grapefruit, Manilla mango, Fuyu persimmons, Eureka lemon, navel oranges, and avocados. I occasionally can get apricots, but both peach and nectarine trees bit the dust.”

Kathy Jones, Orange
Your success with tropical, evergreen fruit trees, in contrast with your struggles to grow temperate zone deciduous trees, may be attributed to the mild winter climate in Orange which, as its name suggests, was home to commercial orange groves at one time.
Modesto, where you sampled pluots, happens to be the home of the pluot revolution, whose origins can be traced back to the work of Luther Burbank.  In the late 1800’s, Burbank created the first plumcot, a hybrid between a plum and an apricot.  Nearly one hundred years later, Floyd Zaiger, a Modesto agronomist, crossed a plumcot with a plum and pluots (75% plum, 25% apricot) were born.  The hybrid created from a plumcot and an apricot, incidentally, was called an aprium.  Zaiger has since hybridized various permutations of his original crosses, giving birth to dozens of pluot varieties, of many different colors and flavors, in the process.
Yes, you will need a pollinator so make room for two trees before you embark on your pluot project.  Locally for you, Laguna Hills Nursery carries pluot trees and you may want to pay them a visit at 1829 N. Tustin Avenue in Santa Ana (, 714-542-5600).
I also would not give up on finding plums, nectarines, and peaches that grow in mild winter Orange County or other sub-tropical southern California locales.  If you do an Internet search of “low chill nectarines,” you will find varieties raised by California growers that would be compatible with your climate.
By the way, I would like to put in a good word for independent nurseries.  I have seen many of them vanish over the years and they deserve to be patronized unless we want plant selection to be confined to the offerings of garden departments at home improvement centers.
“My mature pomegranate tree at some point in the past had it’s main core branches chopped at the 7 to 8 foot level from which now sprout dozens and dozens of quarter to half inch diameter branches which shoot straight up giving it the “I see a ghost” look. Should I chop all this back or just leave it?  The tree normally produced 8 to 10 cardboard boxes of fruit but, after a significant pruning last year to open up the interior, it produced only a couple of boxes but the fruit was generally larger.  Last spring I noticed on the ground scores and scores of blossoms and wondered about the cause of this. There has not been any irrigation or fertilizer over my five years of association with the tree.”
Richie Locasso, Hemet
Pomegranate trees, of Mediterranean origin, are so tough that they can grow quite well when left alone.   I find it interesting that you had large harvests without irrigation or fertilization.  However, it is also true that older fruit trees of all kinds decline in productivity and it could be that your tree is past its prime which, in the case of pomegranates, is around 15 years of age, although the trees may live for two centuries.  For peak pomegranate performance, you should deep soak your trees once a week during the growing season and fertilize twice a year, in March and November, with 1 pound of nitrogen fertilizer per mature tree.  For instance, if the amount of nitrogen listed on the bag is 8%, you would need 100/8 = 12.5 pounds of the product to equal the 1 pound of actual nitrogen that you need per tree.  Starting at the canopy edge, circle the perimeter of the tree with a shovel, pushing it a few inches into the earth in the direction of the trunk at two foot intervals and dropping a handful of fertilizer into each opening.
As for pruning, you need to bear in mind that pomegranates produce fruit on two to three year old spurs at the ends of shoots.  If you have a lot of thin shoots that develop after a major pruning, you will want to take off up to two-thirds of these, encouraging the rest to grow into pomegranate producers.  The blossom drop you mention is most commonly caused either by lack of pollinating bee activity or by lack of water.
In several decades of plant watching, I have never seen luscious pomegranates on a local tree.  They are either cracked or undersized or both.  You are hereby invited to send me your positive pomegranate experiences so I can share them with our readers.
Tip of the Week:  David Salvaggio, who gardens in Redlands, asked about pruning practices reagarding azaleas and climbing roses such as the fragrant and multi-colored ‘Joseph’s Coat.’  Pruning azaleas now will remove flower buds that would otherwise open up later this winter or in the spring.  With azaleas as with most flowering shrubs, the best time to prune is just after flowers fade.  Do not prune climbing roses their first two to three years in the garden.  When you do prune, first remove all leaves in order to see canes and branches and to eliminate foliar fungal spores.  Then cut out any diseased or dead growth.  Where two branches cross, cut away the older branch since it will produce fewer flowers than the younger one.  Cut back lateral shoots to  five buds or less.  Finally, disinfect pruning shears — with a 3:1 water to bleach solution — before starting to prune and after pruning any dead or diseased growth.

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