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Spring is the time to plant fruit trees. Nursery outlets offer grafted saplings grown in fast-draining bark soil medium. Buyer beware. Check online with IFAS at the University of Florida for specific fruit trees that will get sufficient chill hours in your garden climate zone and can withstand the heat Zone 10 of Central Florida. Certain varieties of nectarine, peach, pear and plums can be grown locally.
Citrus trees are grafted on hardier root stock that can withstand some light frosts. Always snip off any sucker shoots below the graft. These will be of the undesirable sour orange root stock. The UF Extension office has a list of cold-hardy citrus for north and central Florida — brochure FC36 is available online.
Most central Florida gardens get 10 to 15 frosty morning and a freeze or two. Citrus will need the protection of a nearby body of warmer water or protection from winter wind and cold by being planted close to a building, preferably on the south side.
Citrus normally flowers in March and April. Be sure to plant flowers that bloom at that time to attract pollinators to your garden. Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, Florida Violets, Viola, Rain lilies, Zephyranthes, Red Salvia, Salvia coccinea, Asian Bridal Wreath Spiraea, Spiraea cantoniensis, and Blue Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginia are easy to grow, require little maintenance and flower when citrus trees are in bloom. Beneficial insects will then find the citrus flower blossoms and pollinate them.
Peaches, nectarines and rabbiteye blueberries flower from February to March locally. I planted ‘Tropic Snow,’ a white-fleshed peach, and two nectarines, ‘Sun Raycer’ and another where the tag has disappeared. All were recommended by UF and knowledgeable Craig Collins of Color Country on State Road 44. The trees are 15 feet apart in a bed flanking the fire-break lawn. The untagged tree in the center has attractive burgundy leaves. Several green shoots sprouted at its base from the rootstock. I snipped them off.
A late February freeze could kill tiny, developing peaches and nectarines. This year there was no late freeze — only lots of rain. My trees are loaded with developing fruit. This year, the young trees have a bumper crop.
To lure pollinators I planted two native, evergreen Carolina Jessamine vines, Gelsemium sempervirens, beside a pathway leading to the unkempt back half of the lot. They were named varieties in hanging baskets, flowerless and needing water on the clearance rack at a big box store. The sickly plants soon recovered after planting in humus-rich soil.
The vines were hand-watered daily for a week, every other day the next week, then three times a week, and finally twice a week for their first month in the ground. After establishment, they got only natural rainfall, morning fog and dew. They are now clambering happily over a rusting steel arbor and up nearby Longleaf Pines and Turkey Oaks. By their second year, the jessamine erupted in a mass of yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers. The first flowers appeared late in January and flowering continued through March. Named cultivars often have longer flowering periods than wild natural plants.
More flowers, more pollen and nectar, more pollinators and consequently more fruit on the peaches, nectarines, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes and pepper plants. Cross Bayou Farms in Holder has a bumper crop of rabbiteye blueberries ready to pick right now.
An edible garden can look after itself, providing you amend the sandy soil, select the right varieties and give them a good start. Spring is a good time to plant fruit trees so they can get established before cool fall weather.
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Visitors are welcome to her Dunnellon, Marion County, garden. For an appointment, call 352-249-6899 or contact JWeber12385@gmail.com.