Q: I've purchased a small cottage on a lot of less than a quarter acre and I've always dreamed of having my own mixed-fruit orchard, populated with fruit trees that are easy to grow. Could you suggest species that might work here?
A: An attractive solution is miniature fruit trees, which are hybridized to thrive in small gardens. Most of these arrive by early March at local nurseries and garden centers. They're contained in five-gallon pots, about four to six feet tall, and often are self-pollinators, which means you don't have to double up the plants. Plant them in full sun in the early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Space trees 15 feet apart, and plant in organic-rich, well-worked soils; then water each tree, and let nature do the rest.
Here's a sampling of miniature fruit trees that are hardy and prolific fruit-bearers. All reach about 15 feet and boast scented blossoms in the spring:
- The Asian pear produces round fruit resembling small green apples with tough skin, but which will be very crisp and juicy by August.
- The Santa Rosa plum delivers hundreds of prune-like fruits on a full-grown miniature tree. Around July or August, these plums blush into a hot pink with a tasty,
- The Reliance peach produces firm, yellow peaches with a slight blush by late July.
- Red and golden delicious apples, which bear blemish-free fruit between August and October, will make you the life of the party for a variety of birds, bumblebees, and butterflies.
Q: I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of summer-blooming bulbs, because, in the past, my spring plantings often didn't bloom. Is there a correct time to plant them?
A: Summer-blooming bulbs, ryzomes, and tubers may be planted in mid-April to avoid frosts. Examples are dahlias, perennial bearded iris and elephant's ear, annual tuberous begonias with their large bulbs, and the perennial lily of the valley.
Q: Last summer, my husband bought me three lovely rugosa roses. I planted them immediately in full sun, followed the instructions on the label, and spaced them correctly. They did beautifully and bloomed until November. Since then, though, the canes have grown brittle and grey in appearance. All I can see now are hundreds of sharp, dead-looking thorns. Are these roses worth saving and where should I look for signs of life?
A: The appearance of rugosas during winter and early spring is quite deceptive, but there's nothing wrong with your roses. Snip off small sections from the canes and you'll notice that there is some life deep inside these canes, displaying faint traces of green, but not throughout. Though spring frosts can delay things, the most obvious indicators are the beginnings of numerous tiny "pink eyes" that have started to form on the canes. Since rugosa roses tend to spread out on all sides and can reach up to eight feet when they have good soil, March is a good time to reduce this rose by 18 inches or more, then shape it as you prune. Come June or July, your roses will have filled out nicely.