BOOK REVIEW: Grow A Little Fruit Tree

 Book Grow A Little Fruit Tree

Ann Ralph has written a fabulous book on fruit trees. With 168 pages and eleven chapters, Grow A Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques (Storey Publishing, 2014), covers everything you need to know to easily grow backyard fruit. Ralph claims the backyard and its fruit tree is in our American DNA. We dream of self-reliance and harvesting fruit we’ve grown ourselves.

Ralph advocates that we should not grow a fruit tree like a farmer because our tree will need costly pruning and more fruit than we can use. For instance, a 12-foot apple tree can produce 1500-2000 apples if not thinned. Instead, we should grow a smaller tree we can prune twice a year, taking 15 minutes each time.

Over several pages, Ralph makes her case that proper pruning does more than “keep trees small; it limits crop size to fruit you will actually use.” Rather than choosing a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree, choose an apricot, apple, cherry, fig, quince, persimmon, plum or pluot for fruit flavor and then control the size of the tree with regular pruning. Put away your ladder and keep it small – no taller than you can reach while standing on the ground.

The best time to prune for achieving a short fruit tree? In June, near the time of the solstice because pruning at this particular time decreases vigor.

Other subjects Ralph addresses:

  • Bare root trees
  • Alternative to grafted multiples
  • Drought and over-watering
  • Espalier
  • How to prune and aesthetic pruning (four basic pruning rules)
  • Thinning
  • Choosing varieties
  • How to plant a fruit tree

The information she gives over four pages on the subject of signs of drought and what occurs when you over-water is worth the price of the book for experienced gardeners and those who claim they don’t have a green thumb.

I was quite smitten with this book because it makes growing fruit trees manageable.

BOOK REVIEW:  Foodscaping

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Foodscaping: Practical and Innovative Ways to Create An Edible Landscape by Charlie Nardozzi (Cool Springs Press 2015) is, for the most part, a “picture book.” It has page after page of colorful photographs and only four chapters:

  1. Ways and Places to Grow Food
  2. Foodscaping 101
  3. My Favorite Foodscape Plants (the largest section, with about 40 featured plants)
  4. Plant, Grow, and Harvest

Nardozzi suggests that you start small but have a plan – plant the right plant in the right place and grow what you like to eat.

He suggests substituting foodscape plants for ornamentals. His small list of substitutions for ornamentals included only a few edible perennials. Nardozzi also provided substitution lists for plants with seasonal color, interesting leaf color, and dwarf varieties suitable for containers.

In the acknowledgments, he gave a nod to Rosalind Creasy as the edible landscape trailblazer. Her 1982 book, The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, still resides on my garden bookshelves. Her book is probably more complete than Nardozzi’s but has mostly drawings and only a handful of photographs. All those photographs in Nardozzi’s book show how it’s done.

BOOK: Ever-Blooming Flower Garden

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I found the best book ever for helping you with season-spanning, continuous blooms in your perennial garden design: The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden: A Blueprint for Continous Color by Lee Schneller (Storey Publishing, 2009). It’s divided into four parts:

Part 1 – Creating your blueprint and buying all the plants

Part 2 – Case studies of five gardens

Part 3 – Her plant palette

Part 4 – Her flower catalog

There are five simple steps:

Step 1 – Draw your bed to scale on graph paper (the graph paper is included in the back of the book as well as an alternative method that skips the graph paper if you would prefer to work with square footage instead).

Step 2 – Roughly divide the bed into 3 parts on the graph: tall plants at the back, then medium, and short in the front.

Step 3 – Use her formula to see how many plants you need.

Step 4 – Transfer the plant quantities to her color-coded Blueprint Form under the appropriate category – tall, medium, short.

Step 5 – Use her Plant Palette to choose plants according to their bloom time.

Over-simplified, that’s the basics of her continuous bloom garden but she goes into using foliage plants, color combinations that work well, variety in plant height and flower shape, plant placement, and plant flower habits/shape.

The Plant Palette includes a limited list of specially recommended plants that grow in each season.  It provides plant charts for Foliage, Spring, Early Summer, Midsummer, Late Summer and Fall. For each plant it shows: the plant height, how long it blooms, the blooming season, and the recommended Zones.

The Flower Catalog was limited to 220 plants she considered to be “the very best plants” that met certain criteria. Even then, she was very specific on what to use such as Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’.

The last few pages of the book was given over to an Appendix covering special conditions, plants with special problems and an index of common plant names.

I’m not sure that I would recommend the purchase of this book to a southern gardener. Instead, I would encourage them to look for this book at the public library. In limiting her selections to specific criteria, the author created a major bummer for southern gardeners. Only 31 of the 220 plants were good for Zone 9. Zones 10 or 11 had almost no plants. Nor did she include a section on tropical plants for Zones 9 – 11 in her Appendix.  Nevertheless, I still found her overall concept very useful. A southern gardener could use her basic method using a perennial “encyclopedia” such as Perennials for Every Purpose: Choose the Right Plants for Your Conditions, Your Garden, and Your Taste by Larry Hodgson (2003) which includes a heat index and Sunset Books’ Landscaping with Tropical Plants by Monica Moran Brandies (2004).