Growing a papaya tree is a simple matter. If you plant papaya seeds now from store-bought fruit, you will probably see a crop within a year. Papaya trees will die in a frost but they may be grown successfully from Granada Hills to San Bernardino and everywhere south of the line between those two points. After removing the aril (fluid bubble) around the seeds, allow them to dry out, and then immediately plant them barely beneath the soil surface. You can also order papaya seeds from online vendors.
Native to the tropics of Mexico and Central America, a papaya tree may be male, female, or bisexual. (Note: the vast majority of plants are bisexual, having both male and female flower parts.) However, commercial papaya orchards are invariably planted to bisexual trees and it is their fruit that you see in the market. The seeds from this fruit will grow into either bisexual or female trees but you will not know which you have until flowers develop. It is thus a common practice to germinate a group of seeds in containers and to select the self-fertile, bisexual seedlings, once their flowers bloom, for planting out in the garden. Pollination of papaya trees, incidentally, is both by wind and insects, with hawkmoths – the adults of tomato hornworms – assisting in the process. At Papaya Tree Nursery in Granada Hills, you can select from five papaya varieties, including several dwarf types. To schedule a visit, call 818-363-3680.
“My Fuyu Persimmon tree is approximately 22 years old. It always had loads of fruit until 3 years ago, when the tree started dropping all of its fruit. Can you help me?” – Hilda Pittman, Sierra Madre
The fact that your tree suddenly started dropping fruit after many years of good harvests suggests that something in its environmental or cultural conditions has changed. Perhaps a shade tree has grown up overhead and is depriving your tree of light; persimmon trees need at least six daily hours of full sun to hold their fruit. Extremely wet or dry soil could also explain your fruit drop so pay attention to your irrigation schedule. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch around your tree is a recommended practice since it lengthens irrigation intervals while keeping soil moisture at a constant level. If you have fertilized your tree overzealously in recent years, this could also explain fruit drop since fertilization favors vegetative (shoot and leaf) growth over reproductive (fruit) growth.
It should be mentioned that persimmons grow by parthenocarpy (a word that combines “parthenos,” meaning virgin, and “karpos” meaning fruit), the production of fruit without pollination, fertilization (when genetic material from a pollen grain fertilizes an ovum or egg), and seed formation. In most plants, the hormone exuded by a developing seed stimulates the growth of the ovary into a fruit. But in a few select plants — such as persimmons, bananas, figs, navel oranges, and Satsuma plums — fruits may grow without the benefit of seed formation. In the case of persimmons, although fruit can develop without seeds, larger crops will result and fruit will stay on the tree until ripe when pollination and seed development occurs.
The most popular persimmon variety is ‘Fuyu’ whose fruit may drop when it develops parthenocarpically. To ensure a crop, plant a pollinator variety such as ‘Gailey’ next to your ‘Fuyu.’ In this regard, lack of bee activity and, therefore, limited pollination and seed formation even where a pollinator tree is present, will also contribute to premature fruit drop.
I received the following tip on how to grow a fig tree for heavy harvests and easy picking, as well as how to utilize your excess fig crop, from Beverly and Bob Triggs, who garden in Granada Hills.
“We planted a Kadota fig tree about 25 years ago and have enjoyed the bountiful and tasty crops for all these many years. We were told by the nursery person that the tree would only produce figs on new growth, so every year, following the last harvest, we cut back almost all that year’s new growth. The results of doing this cutback have been two-fold: we have a tree that is small enough to reach the crops without climbing or using a step ladder to get to the fruit, and the new-growth stems produce large quantities of fruit. What do we do with the excess fruit you might ask? Well, we put several sandwich bags full of figs in the freezer to be eaten later as popsicles by us and our grandkids.”
Cover of “Color In and Out of the Garden.” (Courtesy of Abrams)
“Color In and Out of the Garden” (Abrams, 2022), by Lorene Edwards Forkner, is a book that focuses the reader’s attention on the many different colors or shades of a single color found in plants. Forkner’s art consists of a photograph superimposed on a watercolor painted canvas consisting of three rows of three squares, each square painted in a color that matches the color of the fruit, flower, stem, or leaf resting upon it. These creations are the sort of horticultural mementos that could easily be framed and hung in your living room and some of them are available (in 8” by 8” prints for $30) through the author’s website at ahandmadegarden.com. Click “Store” at the top of the page when you get there.
Forkner’s enthusiasm for her art is such that, at the end of the book, she leaves detailed instructions so that anyone can do what she does. Yet to initiate the process, “All you need to begin your color studies are paints, a brush, a glass of water, a surface on which to mix your colors, and paper to paint on.” In addition to a few paragraphs on what each botanical specimen and its colors inspire in her, the author, under “Try This” intermezzos, describes how to prepare a rhubarb cocktail, citrus salt, calendula tea, a mint infusion, blue floral confetti, and lavender honey.