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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jan 29

Size Matters

Posted on January 29, 2016 at 11:58 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

We are in the middle of bare root season. Fruit and deciduous trees, shrubs, various berries, and even some perennial vegetables are available at the local nurseries. If you are planning to enlarge the vegetable garden, add to the orchard, or try your hand at growing enough berries to freeze and preserve, now is the ideal time to decide the varieties of your liking and purchase your plants.

 five-year-old peach tree
 Five-year-old peach tree
You may already know which varieties you want to add to the garden, but don't forget to consider the amount of space that is available before coming home with a car- (or truck-) load of potential food-bearing plants. When it comes to plant selection, size matters. For example, a standard fruit tree can spread anywhere from 15 to 25 feet. Potentially, two trees could cover over 50 linear feet of your garden. However, if you chose a semi-dwarf fruit tree you would find the average spread reduced to 12 feet. And a genetic dwarf fruit tree will only spread 7 feet at the most.

Trees aren't the only plants where size matters. Berries and grapes may require trellising at which point you must consider the area to quadrant off. Grapes typically should be spaced 8 feet apart. Many vineyards space their grapes much closer, but they have professional vintners constantly monitoring and pruning for their optimum growth and productivity. Raspberries can be spaced every 3 feet, while trailing blackberries require a whopping 10 feet between each plant.

Some berries, such as blueberries, do not require any trellising. But even without the concern of trellising, various types of blueberries require different spacing. The highbush varieties, which are the most commonly planted in our area, should be spaced 5 - 6 feet apart. The lowbush varieties are not typically sought after in Marin due to their need for colder climate, but for comparison they need 2-foot spacing. The rabbiteye blueberries need a full 8 feet between plants.

Peach tree at roof height
 Peach tree at roof height
Size holds true for the height of the plants as well. For example, if you are interested in shading an upstairs room in the house, consider that the standard fruit tree can grow to 20 feet, while most semi-dwarfs hold their height to 15 feet. All trees can be maintained at a height you determine if the tree is pruned yearly, but pruning should be factored into your decision before purchasing. Gardeners who love to prune can maintain most plants to whatever size and shape they like. As with the professional vintner, those same gardeners must be diligent about keeping plants from growing out of control and encroaching on another plant's space. Neglected pruning can compromise the fruit production for both trees, increase shade exposure, and if let go too long, add to the workload of a future three-year pruning program to get the errant tree back to the desired size. If you do not have the time for this type of attention, look for semi-dwarf trees that naturally grow to a manageable height with the bonus of an easier reach for harvesting the fruit. Also keep in mind that no matter which plant(s) you purchase or already grow, some pruning will be needed to remove the three D's (wood that is dead, diseased, or damaged).

Take time to map out the area for new plants. Give them enough space to grow and enough room for you to work around them comfortably.


Scott Stokes
February 10, 2016 at 2:25 PM
You make it sound so easy. ???? Just had a BIG California Black Oak trimmed up by a real artist and he moved around in the tree like he belonged there. Amazing. I also watched as the crew took down a big Stone Pine. Fascinating equipment and teamwork. Let there be sun again. ????
Scott Stokes
February 10, 2016 at 2:26 PM
The ???? Above are smiley faces. :-)

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