No, the title of this blog post, Nectarines over Almonds..., does not refer to some kind of dietary cult belief. I'm simply trying to take advantage of the qualities of almond rootstock to grow an outstanding nectarine variety.
Grafting has it's detractors, and maybe they are right about some of their arguments. But there are some decided advantages to grafting. I'm taking advantage of a few of those advantages in this project. For one, I can secure a new tree very quickly. It will also probably come into bearing sooner than a seedling tree. Most important though, is that I'm choosing the roots of the tree by their special qualities.
Almond trees are almost the same tree as peaches and nectarines, which are in turn even more similar to each other. Almond trees, however, are known for being drought tolerant and resilient under stress, while peaches and nectarines are decidedly not. So, the thought of grafting a new Nectarine tree onto Almond rootstock, naturally occurred to me when it was time to plant one of my catch pits. The tree will grow on an 8 foot by 3 foot pit backfilled with layers of charcoal and whatever soil improving goodies manifested on the homestead over a year or more. This is a special tree site, so I picked a special tree, one tested for decades by a local fruit explorer and veteran plantsman.
Stribling's White Free Nectarine is a gem of a variety that now languishes in obscurity. My friend Mark Albert has grown and tested a lot of prunus and it is his best, most reliable stone fruit. The fruits are delicious and good for drying, while the tree itself outgrows the yearly attacks by peach leaf curl that many varieties are set back badly by. While not immune to the curl, as some varieties are, it does outgrow it reliably without spraying, and that is good enough. You are not likely to easily find a grafted Striblings White, so it's only for those that take the time to graft.
From Mark: “Stribling’s White Free Nectarine, a proven gem for our inland climate for 30 years, ripens in July, and has outperformed all other stone fruit varieties. It dependably grows right through the Spring peach leaf curl and makes luscious, white fleshed, freestone nectarines for fresh eating and easy drying. No longer sold by nurseries, only known by collectors now. Must be grafted.”
I found very little on the internet about grafting peaches onto almond stocks. But I did find a reference in California Fruits, by E.J. Wickson, which you can read online by following that link. Our old friend Edward Wickson, left an inestimable legacy in California Agriculture. Among many other achievements, he edited the important agricultural journal Pacific Rural Press. for over two decades, so he had his finger on the pulse of California agriculture. He reports in the later 1920 edition of California Fruits that I own:
"The Hand Shell and Sweet Almonds have long been used as a stock for the peach. It is held that they give a stronger, hardier root in dry coarse soils especially, but neither have been largely used."
Well, that was good enough for me to make the experiment. BUT, this just in! While looking for that quote just now, I found these references to using almond stock in an older edition of California Fruits:
“The success of Nectarine worked on Almond stock, as has been demonstrated by the experience of many, has led to the grafting over of a good many unprofitable almonds to nectarine, though this has not been done to the extent to which the french prune and some other plums have been worked on old almond stocks.”
“The almond is successfully grafted over with the peach, and this course has been followed with thousands of unproductive languedoc almonds during the last ten years.”
“Trees are changed from one fruit to another, as with thousands of unproductive almonds, which have been worked over into plums, prunes and peaches.”
Well, there ya go. Looks like I made a good call. In starting the stocks this time, I did what I always do. I shelled and soaked the almonds and planted way too many. Over-planting allows me to select the best stock in the end. Planting the seeds directly in the ground where they will grow allows the formation of a deep, natural root system. I’m after a self sufficient, drought tolerant root network. I want the trees to go deep to look for water in the dry summers, when I don’t always have a lot of water to spare.
I was more or less planning to graft these stocks to dormant scion wood in the late winter, but I decided that since I had some Striblings White Nectarine branches on a nearby tree, I would go ahead and graft one of them with a small chip of wood. When I contacted Mark to ask him something about Striblings, he suggested that I chip bud it now, which I had just done. But, he also offered to shoot a chip budding video at his place, which we did and that video will be out as soon as it's edited. I went ahead and grafted the other two stocks as well. Even if the buds don’t take (though it’s likely that all three will take) I can still revert to dormant grafting this winter.
Ironically, this may be one of the few trees that I end up pampering, but the almond roots will be just fine with that. In the case that I don’t, I’m hoping that having planted the trees on a huge pit back-filled with charcoal and other goodies, combined with the tough almond stock, will give me a reasonably resilient and productive tree. In general, peach and nectarine do not thrive on neglect. They are very domesticated trees and prefer regular watering, fertile soils and pruning. But, as the rolling stones said, you can’t always get what you want. While I may not get what I want, a productive, drought tolerant nectarine tree that will produce reliably even with low inputs, the potential reward is worth the risk. Possibly more important is the information the experiment might yield in the long run.