By Patricia Jordan
I am always being asked why some fruit and nut trees have enormous crops one year and barely any the next. This is known as ‘biennial bearing’, when the tree is so heavily laden that it takes a complete break the following year, and it may not produce many flowers, so no fruit.
It is usually necessary to have a male tree as well as a female tree in the orchard, in order to have fruits. Sometimes a tree has both male and female parts, and is known as hermaphrodite.
Wind pollination is normal in plants with tassels such as pecans, casuarinas and sweet corn when they have both flowers and long pollen-laden male tassels among the branches. The pollen is transferred from the tassels into the usually tiny flowers by breezes, resulting in nuts, corncobs or tiny cones in the case of casuarina trees.
However in most cases, bees are necessary for fertilisation, as they flit from flower to flower, transferring pollen from one to another as they do so and it is wonderful to watch. This method may also be performed with the aid of a fine-haired paintbrush, but is generally only used in greenhouses, where there may be a lack of insects or wind.
Some say that flowering almonds trees are a sign of spring as they start to flower in late January here, and while we enjoy looking at their lovely flowers there may not be many bees around to fertilise them. Once the flowers have been fertilised they begin to produce the fruits.
Early winds and heavy rain can cause the embryonic fruits to fall, as can cold nights and out of season hot weather. If your trees have a lot of little fruits early on, reduce the numbers as they begin to swell, only retaining the strongest looking fruits or the branches might break with the weight of too many mature fruits. Sometimes, this occurs naturally and is known around the world as the ‘June Drop’, although it doesn’t always happen in June!
We can’t control the wind and rain on our outdoor plants, no more that we can turn down the heat during the extremely unseasonal hot weather that we have had in early spring over the past few years, when embryonic fruits on the trees cannot cope with such extremes of weather, and consequently they are burned and fall to the ground!
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
November is a good month for getting things done while the soil is still warm and there is a chance of some moisture around. Since the earlier heavy rain in September, plants have taken on a new lease of life and early bulbs like Paperwhites are sprouting new growth and the pretty leaves of cyclamen are beginning to appear. Cacti and succulents are also slowly filling out again after the long dry spell. You may find that cerinthes are shooting up all over the place, probably right where you don’t want them as well! They are annuals and having flowered early in the spring, their seeds were dropped where they were grown and germinated very quickly in the autumn. Some won’t survive the winter especially if you live on higher ground, but there will be some left that will brighten up the spring garden!
Osteospermums drop seeds everywhere as well, and you may find that you have interesting colour combinations when the new little plants grow to full height as spring comes in. I look out for these now and prick them out into pots giving them a better chance than being scratched up by a hoe or a marauding neighbourhood cat! The mother plants may well become very woody now, so best to dig them up and start again with fresh plants. They are such a joy to have in the garden with their bright cushions of colour.
Viburnum tinus is a native of this end of the Mediterranean and may have flowers buds already depending where you live. Hibiscus need a rest now and a clip if they are getting too large for their place, but their older leaves turn yellow and drop nearly all year round. In higher elevations the tops may be frosted during the winter. A feed of 20.20.20 in the spring time is all the feeding you need and will ensure lots of flowers and good root systems throughout the growing season.
As the citrus fruits start to colour up now watch out for the appearance of Mediterranean Fruit Flies again. These little blighters will invade your fruit once the peel softens with ripening, piercing the peel and laying their eggs inside, so hang out those yellow sticky cards among the branches. If your prunus trees (almonds, apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines) are weeping from their trunks and branches, sometimes referred to as ‘gumming’ or bacterial canker, then you should take action once the leaves have fallen and before the buds start to swell again, which in the case of almonds can be as early as January. ‘Cuproxat’, a copper based fungicide and available from garden centres or garden chemical shops, may help here. Add 50ml of ‘Cuproxat’ to 10 litres of water and spray the trees. Remember when spraying always to wear protective glasses and a nose and mouth mask and to wash your hands and face afterwards, lest any of the spray lands on you. I have to warn you that this doesn’t always work and the tree might die anyway.
Winter vegetables should be growing well now with cooler temperatures and some rain, so watch out for any Cabbage White butterflies, which given half a chance will be laying their eggs on the succulent leaves and turning quickly into caterpillars with voracious appetites. Pick them off or you will not have any delicious cauliflowers or broccoli later on. If you live in warmer areas you should still be able to plant lettuce for salads and any herbs should be okay, although if you live above sea level you may have to dig them up and put them on a window sill as temperatures drop.
If you decide to repot plants then remember to turn the potting compost out onto a path or a piece of plastic and either use a shovel or your suitably gloved hands to break up all the lumps which will be there. The compost, which nowadays may contain lots of recycled garden waste, may have been in the bag for some months and this process will add some air to the soil!
There is still time to plant any bulbs if you haven’t done so yet. November is a good month for planting tulips. Make sure that the soil is damp in the chosen area as they will not make roots if they are dry and grow them in drifts rather than singly. If you want to give pots of Hippeastrum, locally known as Amaryllis, for Christmas gifts, then prepare them about the middle of the month. Put some stones at the bottom of the container which will give weight to the pot and plant the big bulbs in good quality compost remembering to leave the necks and shoulders proud. If they are multi-headed they may need some staking later on…
Plant of the Month: Freesias
The freesias that we know today started life in South Africa, probably in Cape Province, and are regarded as one of the most liked flowers around the world. Imported into Europe around the end of the 19th century, they were named after the German Physician Friedrich Heinrich Theodor Freese.
Freesias are part of the Iridaceae (Iris) family. They grow from corms and are classed as herbaceous plants, meaning that they should come up every year if they are left in the ground. The long slender foliage which may need staking as it grows, appears far ahead of the eventual highly perfumed flowers, with the pink and red flowered varieties having the most perfume. The flowers can be in single or double form. Sometimes double freesias have thicker stems than the singles and a shorter stem of flowers, but the perfume comes in double quantity and that is what they are mainly grown for.
Freesias like to grow in full sun in well-drained soil about 10cm apart. When the growing tips appear, the soil should be kept moist. Once the flowers have died off, gradually reduce the amount of watering until the foliage dies down as well. Then you can lift them out of the ground or pot and keep them in a dry place until the autumn. Replant them once the soil is moist in late autumn. These plants don’t do well in the cold, so are best grown where temperatures don’t go below freezing. Although they are generally available as florists’ flowers all year round, they flower in the spring garden here.