June is the lush month. June is the jungle month, particularly toward the end. The days are at their longest and they are warm, so the garden begins to look verdant and tangled in a most wonderful way. Squash vines overtake your walking paths. Corn stalks tower overhead. Cherry tomato plants drip with red fruit. Cucumber and beans climb up their cages and strings (pictured above).
I make sure to take pictures of my garden around the solstice in late June since it never looks more bountiful.
But there’s also a sense of urgency this month. It is your last chance to plant most of those warm-season vegetables. Put them in now or you’ll have to wait until next year because, planted in July, they won’t have enough time in the heat of summer to mature a crop. (The main exceptions are corn and beans, which can be successfully planted in July.)
Below are details on doings in the vegetable garden, some fruit tree thoughts, and a few other uniquely June opportunities:
Sow and plant
– Sow or plant these vegetables: basil, beans, corn, cucumber, sweet potato, tomatillo, celery, chard, chives
– Plant seedlings of these vegetables: eggplant, pepper, melon, pumpkin, squash, tomato; if seeds of these vegetables are sown in June, especially later in the month, there’s a real risk of only getting a small crop before it cools too much at the end of the year since they take a long time to grow from seed to harvestable fruit
– Don’t bother planting cilantro; sorry to rain on your salsa parade, but cilantro is not well-suited to growing in the summer in Southern California; you’d think it would grow well with other salsa ingredients like tomatoes and peppers, but it won’t; it will start to flower fast because of the warm weather and, in my opinion, it’s not worthwhile; cilantro naturally grows in the cooler weather of late summer through the winter and spring
– Sow or plant pole beans to be used as temporary, summer shade on east- or west-facing walls or windows by growing them up strings under an eave; you can also use grapes for the purpose of shading a house
– Consider growing your own Halloween pumpkins and decorative fall corn; now’s the time to plant those in order to harvest by late October; last year, I grew the colorful corn variety called Glass Gem, which I posted photos of here
– Plant avocado and citrus trees; they feel right at home in the warmth of early summer and soon prove it to you with a flush of new leaves, which gives you an immediate sense of success that you won’t get when planting in most of the rest of the year; if you plant one, see my post “How to water a new avocado tree”
Harvest and eat
This Jubilee corn, photographed on June 7, is about two weeks from harvest.
– Eat these vegetables (had you planted them): tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, corn, greens, onion, garlic, peas, lettuce, beets, carrots, peppers
– Don’t fret over tomatoes that have blossom end rot (rotten bottom of the fruit); it happens often to the first fruits of May and June but not to the later fruits of summer, and there’s nothing you can do about it despite what someone selling a product might claim (it’s just a symptom of the cooler weather of spring/early summer); incidentally, if you do apply a product for blossom end rot, you’ll find that — voila! — it worked: the placebo effect
– Eat these berries and fruits (had you planted them): blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, avocados (Hass, Lamb, Reed), Valencia oranges, lemons and limes, Pixie and Gold Nugget mandarins, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, passion fruit
June avocados: Reed on the left, and Lamb on the right
(Why do I mention what you could be harvesting and eating? So you can plan. If you want to be harvesting tomatoes next June, for example, then plant them next March. Or if you want to be eating avocados from your yard in June, then plant a Hass, Lamb, or Reed tree.)
– Water plants for “thrival” not mere survival; don’t make the mistake that I have in some past summers of being stingy with water on vegetables and fruit trees, which lowers production and defeats the point; if you scratch into the dirt around the roots of your plants, you’ll know for sure how much water they have access to, as I wrote about in this post
– Appreciate and observe the summer solstice (June 20): Have a late dinner out in the yard while you notice where the sun sets — isn’t it fascinating how far northwest it falls below the horizon on this day?
– Give some deciduous fruit trees a haircut; soon after you harvest the fruit from a tree is a great time to bring it down to size and remove some branches wherever it’s crowded; you’ll have less work to do in winter, and more sunlight will reach lower branches for the rest of summer, making them more fruitful
Snow Queen is a delicious white nectarine whose fruit is ripe starting now in early June. I will prune it at the end of June once we have eaten all of the fruit.
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The other day I had a good time giving a talk about growing citrus to the Lake San Marcos Garden Club, and a couple of people asked me about pruning. My impression is that most of us think that, as a general rule, all fruit trees need to be pruned. It’s simply not true, especially regarding citrus. In contrast to this mistaken notion I’d say that, as a general rule, citrus should not be pruned. I can think of only a couple of exceptions to this rule.
In my yard I grow eight citrus trees, and out of those eight I only ever touch two with my pruners, each for a different reason.
Prune to keep a citrus tree small
I give our Bearss lime tree haircuts because I want it to stay small, to about the height of my three year-old son. It already produces more limes than we use at that diminutive size. Once a year I prune it by just trimming off every branch that is taller than I want, or by handing Cass the pruners.
Five year-old lime tree being pruned by a three year-old boy.
Prune to shape a citrus tree
I also prune our large Valencia orange tree. It’s 25 feet tall, and I’ve never tried to trim the top. Rather, I prune the sides and interior to create an umbrella shape. I keep its skirt a few feet off the ground and then I keep the inside pruned high enough that we can walk around under it so that it feels like an outdoor living room. I prune up a couple of spots on its canopy edge to make doorways for entrance. Shaping this citrus tree in this way makes it a very comfortable spot to sit in the shade on a summer day.
I’ve even hung a swing from one of its branches.
Keeping a tree small like my lime and shaping a tree like my Valencia are the only two good reasons I can think of for pruning citrus. There are plenty of bad reasons though.
Don’t lace a citrus tree
The worst reason, or way, to prune a citrus tree that I’ve encountered is opening up the tree’s canopy so the interior gets sunlight. That can be a good idea for some other types of fruit trees, like plums and peaches. It’s definitely not advisable for citrus, however.
Why not? I once did a home consultation at a multi-million dollar residence in Rancho Santa Fe where the owners had put in an orchard of a few dozen fruit trees and then their hired gardener had pruned all of the citrus trees just like the peaches and plums. The foliage had been thinned, entire branches had been cut out, the canopies had a skeletal look, and the effect was that you could see lots of light going through the trees and hitting the interior branches.
Why are our citrus trees dying? the owner asked me. All of those interior branches now exposed to the sun were cracking and blackened from sunburn. Yes indeed, trees get sunburned.
If you want to keep a citrus tree small or shape it, then trim the outside like you would trim a hedge. Don’t cut out entire branches and expose interior parts of the tree that are used to being shaded. Have a look at this video showing how citrus farmers mechanically prune their trees. This farm is in Spain, but the same technique is used here in Southern California, and the world over.
A citrus expert once told me that if a citrus tree is in prime health, then if you look at its canopy you won’t be able to see any light or sky through it. It should be a dense green globe.
A couple of other no-good reasons to prune citrus include cutting out dead or crossing branches. That’s just a big old waste of your time. Do it if you have nothing better to do, but your citrus tree couldn’t care less if some of its branches are crossing or are dead and hanging. Both are harmless and natural. I don’t cut out any dead or crossing branches on my citrus trees and they’ve never complained about it.
Also, if aphids or leafminers or other insects have damaged the leaves of your citrus tree, don’t waste your time cutting those damaged leaves out. They’re still capable of photosynthesizing and contributing to the growth and fruitfulness of the tree even though they’re not completely healthy. Pruning them out won’t make a significant difference to the insect population in the tree either. Better to adjust your aesthetic sensibility than cut up the tree, in terms of the health of the tree.
Lastly, and here’s a bit of a twist, do pay attention to what’s growing from low down on the trunk of your citrus tree. I don’t think of this as pruning, but it’s really important that if any branch starts growing from below the graft (bud) union of your citrus tree you immediately remove it. If you’re unsure of what I mean by that, then please read my post titled, “Beware of rootstock suckers on citrus.” It might save the life of your tree.
Isn’t it a relief, though, to know that your citrus tree knows how to grow pretty well on its own? That’s why you can find citrus trees thriving even in Southern California yards that have been neglected for years. And that’s why every Southern California yard should have a citrus tree, or eight.
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Can you tell? Hint: the purple blush on the back sides of the petals gives it away.
See the comments section for the answer.
I suspected that when I pointed out to my son Cass that the Kishu mandarins were ready, it would be a whirlwind of peeling and chewing that wouldn’t stop until the tree was bare, and I was right. The photo above shows Cass on December 3rd with the final fruit. He ate his first one on Halloween, when the tiny tree had 81 pieces of fruit on it. Every single day I had to stop Cass and his little brother Miles from picking and eating another and another and yet another. They weren’t even anywhere near prime flavor yet.
Kishu, Seedless Kishu, Kishu Mini — however it’s called, this little mandarin tree was built by God as the perfect natural snack for children. The fruit is the size of a golf ball; a child can grasp and pull it from the tree. The peel comes off readily; Cass peeled them all himself (Miles had a tendency to get distracted by chewing on the peel, but he’s barely a year old). The fruit is seedless and the sections easily come apart. Oh yeah, and the taste: “It’s a burst of tangy sugar!” I wrote in my notes the first time I ate one.
Unfortunately, you’ve probably never tasted one nor will you unless you plant your own tree. For commercial farmers, the fruit is too small and hard to pick such that it’s not profitable.
If you do have your own tree, they’ll likely taste good enough to eat from November through March. Watch 36:55 to 39:50 of this video taken in early March, 2012, at the UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection to hear some details about the Kishu as told by citrus expert Ottillia Bier, as well as to see some of us old kids experiencing the fruit for the first time. This is the moment when I determined that I would buy a Kishu tree for my yard.
This is my Kishu tree today. It was planted in January of 2015. It flowered that spring, but didn’t hold fruit. It flowered again in the spring of this year and set the fruit that we just finished eating. For a tree that has been in the ground a bit shy of two years to hold 81 fruits is not shabby. It’s only about three feet tall. I have done nothing special in my care for it: I planted it in full sun; I gave it water every four days during the summer; it has a layer of woodchip mulch under its canopy; I have never fertilized it.
We’ve got a wide selection of other fruit trees in the yard, and the boys enjoy them all — plums, pluots, apricots, peaches, nectarines, oranges, pomegranates. But the way they got obsessed with the Kishus . . .
Kishu, the best fruit tree for kids, the best fruit tree for the kid in all of us.
(Want to buy a Kishu tree? I bought mine at Home Depot, but it was grown by Durling Nursery. Durling also supplies trees to Walter Andersen Nurseries in San Diego County as well as Armstrong Garden Centers throughout Southern California, among many other retailers. Kishus can also be mail ordered from Four Winds Growers in Northern California.)
(RELATED POST: Citrus year-round)
This young Cara Cara navel orange tree looks fine, right? That’s what I thought until I crouched down and noticed this little devil:
That branch growing from the base of the trunk — that’s the little devil. It’s not a branch of Cara Cara navel orange; it’s rootstock.
Almost every citrus tree you can buy from a nursery (the main exception being Meyer lemon) is actually two trees in one. There is a rootstock on the bottom, and there is a scion on top. The scion is the part that gives you the fruit you desire.
Usually you can spot the union where the rootstock and scion were grafted together because the bark has a change in shape there, sometimes an extreme bump but sometimes only a subtle line. Can you see the graft union on my tree above? It’s just below where the branches start. It looks a bit like a “V”.
Beware. If the rootstock on a citrus tree sends up a branch, often referred to as a sucker, it will be vigorous and it will eventually take over the whole tree. Within a couple years, you’ll find that all of your tree’s fruit taste sour, and that’s because it’s not really your tree’s fruit — it’s not the scion’s fruit, that is. It’s rootstock fruit.
So keep an eye out, and cut any rootstock suckers off immediately.