Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Tree for All Seasons

Nothing embodies the lushness and fecundity of Mother Nature quite like a fruit tree. Raising fruit trees on your own takes a good deal of care and dedication, though the payoff is undoubtedly well worth the effort. Fortunately, there are several varieties beyond your standard apple or plum tree that can withstand tough conditions, bear copious fruit, and beautify any garden.

So, pencils out! Here’s a quick quiz for you to show off what you know about these lesser-known trees and shrubs. If you’re not feeling too confident, don't fret; take the quiz anyway and chances are you’ll learn a useful thing or two about some pretty terrific trees.

1. What tree will thrive on steep, rocky, poor-soil, arid hillsides, and though it takes 40 years to reach full maturity, will then produce a generous human-food and stock-food crop annually—even through drought and total neglect—for centuries?

2. What temperate-zone fruit has an 8- to 12-inch deciduous leaf, bears a delicious 5-inch fruit, is hardy to -30˚F, can grow in partial shade, can handle the competition of being in the middle of a lawn, and is virtually pest- and disease-free?

3. What tree, hardy to 20˚F or able to live in a container and winter in a basement, will bear two crops of fruit, one in June and the other in August, and (out of the South) is usually not bothered by pests or diseases?

4. What temperate to subtropical zone fruit will grow in subsoil clay where all the topsoil has washed away, or in sand; is drought-resistant once established; can grow in a lawn; can provide ripe fruit continuously from August or September to December or February; will store fruit in good condition on the tree all that time; bears fruit generously; and yields prized carving wood?

5. What plant that is not a pear, but is related to the pear, can produce yellow, baseball-sized fruits in zones 5-9 despite late frosts or drought and is a good choice if you have poorly drained soil?

6. What temperate-zone fruit tree can grow almost anywhere, can handle the competition of a lawn, heavy or poor soil and poor drainage, could get along on one deep watering a month, needs little pruning, is immune to fire blight, can produce for up to 75 years, and bears fruit you can store in your cellar 2-3 months while you get around to eating or preserving them?

Answers: 1. Carob. 2. Pawpaw. 3. Fig. 4. American persimmon. 5. Quince. 6. Keiffer pear.

(Check out our blog next week for tips on proper tree pruning.)

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