I hear and read from a lot of people that after watering a fruit or a nut tree in the pacific northwest for a few years, that tree should make it through the summers (which are almost entirely without rain) without being watered. But what I see is people still watering their trees even beyond this, because of how hot and dry the summers have gotten. Longer term I'd like to have my orchard not rely on irrigation at all, or at least, at a minimum. So I want to know what everyone's thoughts and experiences are. And above all: What fruit and nut trees have you planted that, after being established for a few years, has made it just fine without watering?
Thanks in advance =)
When you reach your lowest point, you are open to the greatest change.
Hi James - while I'm not that far north, currently in Northern California, we still have that dry summer. My established fruit trees don't require summer water to survive. They include a Meyer lemon, loquat, Fuyu persimmon and Santa Rosa plum, nor do my blackberries or elderberries, but they tend to have higher yields with some supplemental water, as they do when we have a wet winter. A year round drought plus no summer water is particularly hard on them. I currently supplement them with grey water during the dry period, but have not always done so. In my experience, increasing the length of time between watering gradually works best.
Thank you Stacy! Depending on where you are in northern California, I feel it's pretty similar and still kind of Pacific Northwest.
S Bengi, thank you for the list. It's very comprehensive. Do you think chestnuts would make the cut? Also, OneGreenWorld will no longer be carrying pistachios, at least not for a couple of years. They've had issues with their seed source.
When you reach your lowest point, you are open to the greatest change.
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7 AHS:4 GDD:3000 Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
Yes chinese chestnut will make the list too.
Same with the Walnut/Hickory family (Pecan is usually too thirsty though)
Sand Plum and actually most of the Prunus spp species should do well
Crab Apples are also okay
Rose family brambles (blackberry, wineberry, fruiting rose bush, etc)
Cornelian Cherry (dogwood family)
Most Evergreen Plants too
Another trick is to only water once a week, and in the summer don't be afraid to let them get water stressed, it will force them to adopt.
James - I'm currently in the Bay Area, but will be moving to southern Oregon next year. So, currently my zone is warmer than most/all of Oregon and Washington, so some of my trees might not work in colder areas, but the dry season is from May to October/November, haven't had any really rain yet this fall. In the dry season, the most I would water a fruit tree is once a month. My grey water system does about 15 gallons, so a fruit tree will get that every month or so.
You are very correct that a lot of folks still water their trees in the PNW.
Rather than asking what trees don't need it, you might want to ask why people are still watering.
There are two main reasons for it,
1) people just get too frightened to ween their trees off irrigation and watering. They get stuck pampering and so the tree never develops the independence it needs to survive. This especially goes for the early years when the tree should be forced to spread it's roots and build the network it needs.
2) most people fear loosing productivity. Watering fruit and nut trees means bigger production typically. People fear loosing out on that big harvest and so water to ensure they get it. Rather than thinking about the health of the tree and letting it experience hardships, folks tend to think about the short term big harvest.
It is a lot less about what trees can survive the PNW without watering (because a lot can as some of the lists above show) and more about are you willing to let some trees fail or produce low so you do not have to water?
"Where will you drive your own picket stake? Where will you choose to make your stand? Give me a threshold, a specific point at which you will finally stop running, at which you will finally fight back." (Derrick Jensen)
James - we are moving somewhere in Jackson County, but probably not Ashland. My daughter works for Costco and that's in Central Point, so we've been looking at homes closer to that. We are very excited.
We are not in the PNW but we grow all of our trees without watering in the sand plains of Minnesota. Almost pure sand, zone 4a, on the windy prairies. Our secret is this - we plant our trees in the fall. If we order bare root or seedlings, we hold them in containers until early fall - September - then they go in the ground. Our falls are moist. The trees put down roots and then go dormant for the long, cold winter. In the spring, the snow melt and early rains get them started. We have had a few trees come out in spring with tons of new growth only to be surprised by our long dry summers. They "learn" pretty quick though and despite a wet spring do not flush with fast growth the second year. They grow slower but can withstand any weather conditions.
Here are the fruit plants we have growing this way:
American Plum Nanking Cherry
Keiffer Pear (this one is amazingly hardy and drought tolerant!)
Hackberry Northstar cherry
Wild Black Cherry Pin cherry
Beach Plum Blueberry
Currants (white, pink and red)
Gooseberry (these are planted in our shadier areas)
Red and black raspberries
We are currently growing out seedling Antonovka apples and they will be put out on the prairie without watering as well. Being in the PNW (and I am guessing with a heavier soil?) you will probably have fantastic results by allowing your trees to fend for themselves. We have good results, but our trees grow slowly. Then again - we are in almost pure sand. That is tough for nutrients and water. We do provide mulch to our trees and do not remove leaf litter. We get fruit set on our trees and they are productive when they reach full size.
Our farm is currently 100% off grid. We have solarenergy and we bring water for cleaning/drinking. Eventually, we will install a well and then we will set up a drip system in a small concentrated orchard area with more plums, cherries, apples, and berries. The trees mentioned above will still be fending for themselves - we just have too many acres to water everything.
Long story short - yes it can be done, yes the trees will be "stronger" for it, but you will sacrifice speed of growth and possibly fruit set. There is probably a happy medium of allowing them to tough it out the first few years and put down adequate roots, but then water periodically during the toughest dry spells and end up with the best of both worlds.
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I live in Northwestern Oregon. A century ago people used to plant Italian plums for drying and selling. Walnuts were a common commercial crop. Both of these trees can be seen growing along the road sites and producing well even in the driest years. Cherries have naturalized here, those some of them look tend to lookstressed after a long summer. Apples and pears can be seen growing wild everywhere, and produce well, with no signs of drought stress. On our farm we have many Chestnut trees planted (as tiny seedlings, with the taproot intact). They are now growing without any supplemental irrigation, After the initial establishment phase(2-3 years). Mulberries, are also going without irrigation after four years. But they look pretty rough at the end of the summer. Olives are super drought tolerant. Figs are set after the establishment phase. Peaches, similarly, though the fruit can be small and sometimes bitter if unirrigated in the early years. Hazelnuts are native here. I have a grove of pawpaws that are flourishing without irrigation. They are very well mulched, in an area with rich deep soil. wine grapes are super drought tolerant, though table grapes seem less so.
I think location is very important, as is the yearly weather pattern. This year has been dryer than average since March, and trees that I had pretty much weaned off water, got watered once every 3-6 weeks if I felt they were at risk of dying. I don't have enough to risk that when I know that I have ways to improve their independence over time.
Things I'm doing to help:
1. up-slope from two of my trees I've dug up rocks and buried wood. Many trees here stick their roots into dead logs/stumps and I figure they know what they're doing, so I'm gradually trying to imitate that.
2. I often water just after fruit set and then minimal or no water until after harvest. This gives the tree some choice as to how much fruit to set, but then gives it enough water that the fruit is decent quality, even if on the small size. For example our Italian prune plums were moderately dry and small, but delicious and plentiful enough to make jam/crumble and gift some away. Having observed the tree in this bad drought year, I want to dig south of it and add more wood. I may then try some rock piles for dew collection as well.
3. This year was so droughty and hot, that a lot of fruit actually got sun-burned. Knowing when to walk away is important too!
I have certainly come to believe that people in general give their trees more water than they need to. Yes, they may get bigger fruit, but smaller fruit often has more intense flavour and I like to believe, more nutrition/pound.