Q. My question is about fruit trees. About 8 years ago, I planted 13 semi-dwarf fruit trees: seven apple trees, two apricot, two cherry and two plum. They are now about 15 or so feet tall. There have only been about six apples total. For some reason, that's about all of the flowers on them. Please tell me, if you can, why the trees do not produce better than they do.
A. Achieving a successful home orchard requires a bit of homework and planning. The darned thing about growing fruit crops is that they have to flower first before they can set fruit! And trees take several years before they mature enough to go into their reproductive phase of flowering. Once they do flower, they have to not only survive through Mother Nature's temper tantrums, they also have to be successfully pollinized by a compatible mate.
Standard-sized fruit trees typically take 8 or more years before they flower and begin setting fruit. Semi-dwarf trees are produced by grafting a cultivar that has desirable fruit quality onto a semi-dwarfing rootstock, resulting in a shorter, more compact tree.This rootstock not only makes the trees easier to maintain, but also results in trees coming into fruitfulness earlier, typically 4-7 years for semi-dwarf, and 3-4 years for dwarf.
Your trees are still pretty young and should have been just beginning to come into fruitfulness the last couple of years. Unfortunately, 2007 was not a good fruit year; we had an early warm up in late winter, bringing plants out of dormancy just in time to get hit by a mid-April hard freeze.Hopefully, 2008 will be a better fruit year and, assuming your planting included compatible cultivars for cross-pollination, we'll be expecting you to write us back to tell us about your success! That said, many apricots and sweet cherries are not reliably flower-hardy in our area, so enjoy them when they do fruit.
For more information on planning and caring for the home orchard, Purdue Extension has a number of publications and articles you can download from http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs.html#FruitsandNuts. See also http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/pollination.html and http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/prunehomeorchard.html.
Q. I would appreciate hearing about personal experiences with slow-growing grass that seldom needs mowing. I spend the summer at my cottage on Dewart Lake, and the lawn services are becoming very expensive. I saw a Website promoting "no-mow" grass and wondered if that would work.
A. According to Zac Reicher, Purdue Extension turfgrass specialist, the leaves of most turfgrasses only live for 30-60 days; thus, constant growth is require to maintain ground cover, especially with any pets, children or other traffic. The Holy Grail of "no-mow" turf is unlikely because the turf stand will thin, allowing a lot of weeds to encroach.
That being said, any grass can be converted to "no-mow" by simply stopping the mower. Left unmown, most grasses in Indiana will grow up to 10-20 inches high, including the seedhead. They can be very attractive swaying in the summer breezes, given the proper setting and size of property. However, some might find this unattractive, and since mowing is a critical weed control tool in turf, additional herbicide may be needed to control thistle and other weeds. Most sources will seed a blend of fine fescues for this purpose, and these are often what you will see in the out-of-the way areas on golf courses.
Buffalo grass is a native species that is often referred to as "no-mow" because it only requires mowing two or three times per season. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soil and can provide a low-maintenance lawn, requiring less water, fertilizer and mowing once it is established. However, it is a warm-season grass that is native to the dry prairies of the Western United States and does not perform well here in humid Indiana, where we receive 30-plus inches of rain each year. Crabgrass and other weeds will overtake the buffalograss, if herbicides are not used and/or if the lawn is trafficked. Buffalo grass is also very slow to establish, is a lighter blue-green than most grasses, greens up later in spring and browns quickly after the first frost in fall. Unfortunately, buffalo grass or any of our other current grasses are not the Holy Grail of "no-mow."