Planning for moisture, gardeners plant fruit

03/23/2013 7:29 AM

03/23/2013 7:29 AM

It’s been lovely to watch more new growth come out this first week of spring – more daffodils blooming and tulips popping up, quince and forsythia starting to show some color – albeit with snow in the forecast.

But far from dimming the anticipation of spring, the chance of moisture holds out hope that we’ll have a break in the drought, and a shot at being able to garden normally this year.

It’s with such a hope that people are planting gardens now. Extension agent Rebecca McMahon reminds us that even though we’ve had some cold days, it is indeed the season for planting the cool-season garden. When the soil is sufficiently dry, a whole host of fruits and vegetables can start their amazing journey in our yards: rhubarb, strawberries, potatoes, onions, peas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, radishes, onions, spinach, turnips, beets.

But it’s not only the more common edibles that can go in now. When a friend mentioned that she wanted to put in red currants and a plum tree this year, I was a little taken aback. Those are not plants you see listed on the garden calendar. Have I been blind to pints of the semi-translucent red orbs and purple plums at the farmers markets?

I also was a little put out. Why hadn’t I thought of planting red currants and a plum tree? That sounds as charming as a gingham apron. Which, come to think of it, I haven’t been wearing lately.

Rebecca said that both types of fruits indeed can grow here. But they do have some requirements.

Red currants do better in climates that don’t get as hot as Wichita does, and for that reason, they need a bit of light afternoon shade to cut out some of the scorching sun, along with a well-drained location.

“We’ve had them in the demo garden, and they’ve been very productive,” she said. (I guess I missed that part of the tour.) “In the right spot, if they’re well cared for – they like a good amount of water, though not with their roots sitting in it – they should do fine. Plant them now.”

I guess I should pick up some red currant jelly, because I don’t even know what red currants taste like. From what I could find online, they taste like a sour raspberry, but with the sensation of biting into a blueberry.

Plums are a stone fruit, so if you’ve had problems growing cherries or peaches, you probably will have problems with plums too, Rebecca said. They also need a well-drained location, which could be atop a berm.

There are two main types. We’re more familiar with red Japanese plums for eating, she said, but those tend to have the same problems as apricots do in our climate: They often bloom early and then get zapped by a frost, preventing fruiting. Most Japanese plums also need a pollinator, meaning you need room for two trees, and you take on a second early-freeze risk. “That’s often strike three” against planting them, Rebecca said.

The other type, the European blue-purple plum, is more reliable and usually self-pollinating, she said. So if you plan to plant a plum, plan to plumb its pollinating pitfalls – and check out its tolerance to spring frost before deciding on a variety.

No matter what type of fruit tree you plant, be aware that it will require water to get established, the same as any other tree. But to produce good fruit, it will need even more water than a typical non-fruiting plant, Rebecca said. That makes sense. Fortunately for my friend, she has gone beyond the charm of red currant fruit to siphon her children’s bathwater to the plants.

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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