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Exotic Fruits: Putting in New Trees? Try Unusual Ones That Provide Food.

December 9, 2006

By Nzong Xiong, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

Dec. 9–Many local nurseries are receiving their new bare-root fruit trees from now through the end of January. Instead of the usual suspects that produce peaches, plums and nectarines, why not try trees that are a little bit different for the central San Joaquin Valley?

While some of these exotic fruits, such as Asian pears and pomegranates, are growing in popularity in the Valley, others, such as jujubes, still are novelties in the backyard and on taste buds. Many of these trees have little or no pest problems, they’re harvested in the late summer or fall, and they can thrive in the Valley.

“There’s reasonable interest out there,” says John Pape, an arborist at Johnny’s Garden Nursery in Fresno. “People are always looking for something different.”

While many of these varieties may make great shade trees, don’t plant them in areas where they can create problems.

“They all can be messy,” Pape says. Many of the trees drop leaves and fruits.

“You never would want to plant a fruit tree by a sidewalk or pool area,” he says. “You want to plant them around the side yard or at a corner — someplace where you have a bare area that you don’t have to worry too much about the droppings.”

Many exotic fruit trees, which may be sold bare-root or in containers by nurseries, prefer well-drained loam, or silty soil.

Once you’ve found the spot, prep the soil with some compost, but don’t overdo it. “Plant into the native soil; don’t go too crazy with the amendments,” Pape says.

The hole should be “a couple feet wide and however deep to have the original root crown level or slightly above the grade level on the property,” he says. Mulch can be placed on top.

Water the roots well when you first plant, then don’t water them again until there are leaves on the branches, says Ron Ludekens, vice president of L.E. Cooke Co., a Visalia wholesale fruit tree grower. “Many people kill their trees by overwatering,” he says.

Many trees will give you some fruit the first year, but it might not be tasty. But with annual pruning the following winters, you can have better harvests in following years. Here are some exotic fruit trees to consider planting this season. Descriptions are from local nursery workers and L.E. Cooke Co.’s online Edible Fruit Descriptive Guide at www.lecooke.com.

Asian Pears

Suggested varieties: 20th Century is a juicy, mild-flavored Asian pear. “It’s crisp like an apple,” says Kevin Neely, manager of Riverside Landscape and Nursery in Fresno. “It comes to harvest in mid-August. It’s self-fruiting, so you don’t need a pollinator.”

Shinseiki also are self-pollinating. “It has a bright yellow skin and is a heavy bearer,” Neely says. “It’s also crisp like an apple.”

A variety that had several nurserymen raving is the Hosui. “The one best-tasting, in my opinion, is the Hosui,” says Ron Ludekens, vice president of L.E. Cooke Co., a Visalia wholesaler. “I think it’s sweeter and got more flavor to it.”

It has golden-russet skin and “juicy, sweet, flavorful, fine- textured flesh,” according to the wholesaler’s online guide.

What you should know: Fire blight, a bacterial infection that turns branches and leaves black, can be a problem in the spring. Minimize the damage by keeping the trees healthy and cutting off limbs immediately when they start showing damage. Dip your shears in bleach after each cutting to prevent spreading the bacteria.

Where you can find them: Shinseiki or 20th Century costs $23.95 at Belmont Nursery in Fresno. Riverside Landscape and Nursery in Fresno, which will get its bare-root shipment soon, also sold Asian pears last year for $26.95.

Pomegranates

Suggested varieties: Wonderful has large, purple-red, tangy fruit. “It’s easy to grow,” says Ed Lavio of Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman. “It’s tough as nails, just like the jujube. It’ll grow like a house on fire.”

Kevin Neely, manager at Riverside Landscape and Nursery, also suggests Ever Sweet, which is “virtually seedless” and has “clear, nonstaining juice.”

What you should know: Aphids can be a problem. Hose them off with water, or an insecticidal soap can be used for a bad infestation.

Where you can find them: Riverside Landscape and Nursery sold them last year for $26.95. They cost between $30 and $40 at Johnny’s Garden Nursery.

Pawpaws

Suggested varieties: Popular in the South, pawpaws have greenish-yellow fruit that are almost black when ripe, according to “Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory” (Seed Savers Exchange, $24). The fruit has soft, yellow pulp with a banana custard flavor. They also usually have seeds. Among the ones to try include Prolific, Rebecca’s Gold, Sunflower and Taylor, says Ed Lavio at Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman. “They have a proven track record,” he says.

What you should know: These trees don’t come as bare root but in plastic-sleeve containers, Lavio says. They require soil with good drainage. “They probably require some shade when first planted,” he says. “They take four years to fruit.”

Where you can find them: Check your local nursery to see whether it can special order them.

Jujubes

Suggested varieties: Li jujubes are round and about the size of a golf ball, says Ed Lavio, sales and marketing manager for the home garden department at Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman. “It has a great crunch.” The fruit can be picked before it is fully ripe.

Langs have small, pear-shaped fruit. Wait until the fruit is a fully mahogany color before picking. For a higher production yield, cross-pollinate them with the Li, Lavio says.

Sherwood is a late-season, “sweet-tasting” variety with oblong fruit. “It’s probably a really good one for homeowners,” says Ron Ludekens of L.E. Cooke Co., a wholesale nursery in Visalia. “It has far fewer thorns.”

What you should know: “They were primarily in the Asian market for many, many years,” Lavio says. “It’s a wonderfully adapted tree. It’s a tough, tough tree. It’s got thorns, but it’s a beautiful tree.

“You can start eating it when it’s blotchy brown. They don’t look appealing, but peo- ple have to taste it.”

Where you can find them: The Li costs $29.95 at Belmont Nursery in Fresno. The Li and Lang cost $30 to $40 at Johnny’s Garden Nursery. Check with your local nursery to find out whether it can order Sherwood.

Persimmons

Suggested varieties: Hachiyas, which often are used in baking, have astringent, bright, red-orange, acorn-shaped fruits. The firm, squatty orange fruits commonly called fuyus are technically jiros, says Kevin Day, a tree fruit farm adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension for Tulare and Kings counties.

“The real fuyu is a round persimmon,” he says.

What you should know: “You don’t want to plant two different varieties together,” Day says. “They will cross-pollinate and have seeds, which are usually considered a bad thing. If you grow one variety, then you won’t have seeds.”

Don’t forget to prune it during the winter. You even can wait until you see the new buds to prune, Day says. “Most people don’t prune severely enough to reduce the crop potential,” he says. If you leave too many buds, you’ll have a lot of small fruit. With less buds, you’ll have bigger fruit, he says.

Where you can find them: Both varieties cost $48.95 at Belmont Nursery, or $30 to $40 at Johnny’s Garden Nursery.

Pakistan or Persian mulberries

Suggested varieties: “The length of the fruit is the difference” between Pakistan and Persian mulberries, says Kathi Ball, manager of Johnny’s Garden Nursery.

The Pakistan mulberries can produce long, maroon- colored fruit 31/2 to 5 inches long, according to the Edible Fruit Descriptive Guide. They have a raspberry flavor and nonstaining juice. The Persian mulberries have shorter, dark red to black, blackberrylike fruit.

What you should know: Aphids can be a problem. Hose them off with water, or use an insecticidal soap for a bad infestation.

Where you can find them: They cost between $30 and $40 at Johnny’s Garden, or $33.95 at Belmont Nursery.

The reporter can be reached at nzong@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6467.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

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