Master Gardener: Why California is where gardeners go nuts

Our climate allows us to grow a nice variety of fruits, including all types of citrus, most stone fruits such as peaches, plums, pluots, and apriums, apples, pears, quinces, and the occasional cherry. Likewise, there are many nut varieties that are suitable for growing in the home garden.

Almonds are almost synonymous with California, since all commercially grown almonds are grown here. They are one of the earliest trees to bloom in the spring (usually by Valentine’s Day), and they are as showy as peach trees in this regard. They don’t do well in wet, soggy soils, but they enjoy cooler, wet winters. Since they bloom so early, they are susceptible to early frost damage. For these reasons, they perform best in the Central Valley and inland regions of the southern part of the state.

Almonds need cross-pollination, so you need to grow more than one if you want a crop. They don’t cross-pollinate willy-nilly, so do some research to ensure that you have at least 2 trees that will get along.

Almonds look like little peaches when they are on the tree. When the fuzzy outer hull cracks, it’s time to harvest.

Pistachios are also well-suited for growing in California. They need long, dry, hot summers and mild winters to produce. You will need at least one male and one female tree, planted near each other, to get a decent harvest. These trees get quite large, so they should be planted at least 15 feet apart. Another bonus: they provide beautiful fall color.

If you’ve got a lot of room, a walnut tree may be a good (or at least adventurous) choice. They require very good drainage and deep soil. Their new shoots and blossoms can be damaged by a late frost, and rain in the spring and early summer can encourage walnut blight. You will also need at least two trees for pollination purposes. Since these trees can reach 80 feet, they are appropriate for only the largest properties.

Pecans are not well-suited for California, and the only place they are consistently successful is in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. Just pick up a bag from the local warehouse store instead.

Macadamia nuts are grown in California, but only in San Diego County (Fallbrook). They are very fussy, and require lots of irrigation, deep, rich soil, and a climate with a very limited temperature range. Their shells are extremely difficult to crack, which partially accounts for their high price tag. Most macadamias are grown in Hawaii, where land is pricey, but the climate is perfect.

Looking for more gardening tips? Here’s how to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.

Los Angeles County; 626-586-1988;

Orange County; 949-809-9760;

Riverside County; 951-683-6491 ext. 231;

San Bernardino County; 909-387-2182;

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