Sunday, October 31, 2021

Keeping Fruit Trees Alive in the Vicious Desert

Happy, thriving trees! 
When my wife and I moved to Arizona from Chicago, we had quite a gardening wake up call. In Illinois, the dirt is so fertile that I could sneeze outside and a month later I would have a harvest of whatever I had eaten for breakfast the day of the sneeze. Arizona, with its incredible heat, terrible soil, and overall mocking attitude towards gardeners was quite a different story. 

Originally I had given up on the idea of gardening. But after seeing a garden that some junior high students at my school grew in their science class, I though, "If goofy teenagers can grow a garden, surely I can figure this out." 

Eighteen years later, I have quite a garden growing. I just installed some new garden beds this past weekend with the help of my kids, and now have an abundance of gardening space. Additionally, I have 14 fruit trees, with more being planted every year. 

I can't say that I'm inherently a great gardener. I regularly struggle with things like forgetting to check the sprinklers to make sure they're working, and fertilizing trees later than is recommended. But through the years I've absorbed as much information as I can from people a lot smarter than I am in gardening (more information on that below). 

Valve tapped into a hose bib
I was asked recently about my fruit trees, so I figured it may be time to talk about watering fruit trees in the desert. One of the biggest mistakes that people make is planting fruit trees in the middle of a lawn and allowing regular lawn sprinklers to provide the water for them. The issue with this is that most lawn sprinklers only go two to three inches into the soil. This is a big problem for trees in the desert, where rains are inconsistent and roots seek moisture wherever they can find it. Shallow watering means shallow roots, and this can be a problem in a wind storm where winds can easily knock over a tree without deep roots. Additionally, the top layer of soil dries out more quickly than deeper soil, so trees with shallow roots need to be watered more frequently. 

So fruit trees planted inn desert climates need to be watered deeply, which allows them to be watered less frequently. Here's what I do for my trees. 

I found the hose bib that I was going to utilize for the irrigation line. It was about 40 feet from my sprinkler timer, so it was within reach to run low voltage wiring for the line (and a lot easier than trying to move the water line closer to the sprinkler box). 

I cut into the hose bib line and, using a PVC tee, ran the water line to the tree irrigation valve (pro tip - turn the water off before cutting into the water line [actually, that wasn't a pro tip, but sometimes some of us get so excited that we forget to do this]). 

Bubblers at the base of every tree
Next, I ran the PVC line to the first tree, and teed the line off to add a bubbler under that tree. I continued this until each tree had a dedicated bubbler under it. Also, once I reached the last tree, I added a length of PVC before capping it off. This allows me to cut and extend the line every time I add a new fruit tree (which is hopefully quite often!). Because the vast majority of the tree line is against a block wall, I didn't feel the need to bury it. It is under the mulch, but I saved significant time by not having to bury more than 80 feet of PVC. 

After running the low voltage wire from the irrigation box to the irrigation valve, I was set to begin watering my trees. Now my fruit trees have a dedicated irrigation line that is just for fruit trees. They get watered about every two weeks (10 days in the heat of the summer). The irrigation runs for more than two hours, and my trees could not be happier. 

Baby trees holding their own

So what exactly am I growing here in the desert? Here are the trees that I currently have:

-ruby red grapefruit
-blood orange
-pink lady apple (x2)
-key lime
-Anna apple
-kumquat (x2)

Citrus season is a few weeks away!
I also will be adding two more apple trees in the new year. 

Now, I need to wrap up with this. This whole thing was my older brother's idea. When I was walking around his yard, I asked Ed what the exposed PVC was for, and he had it around the perimeter of his yard to make it easier to access and add to as his garden expands. So like any good little brother, I totally stole his idea. But at least I gave him credit for it. 

If you have any suggestions of trees that I should plant in the Phoenician desert, please send me a message or leave a comment below. I'm always looking for new ideas! 

Happy gardening! 

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