Jeff Scroggin, a local horticulturist with decades of experience, sees growing fruit as a great way to connect with neighbors. It allows people to share growing tips as well as their harvests, he said.
Scroggin said it's not uncommon for neighbors to stop and chat when they see him working outside on trees -- he hopes to expand this bonding experience into the greater community by holding a class titled "Summer Maintenance of your Small Fruit Trees" on Saturday, July 21, at Gamble Garden.
"The focus of the class is one of my passions, which is how to grow a small fruit tree," Scroggin said, with a beam of enthusiasm apparent in his voice. "In this area where land prices are so high and people don't have tremendously large gardens, it's really valuable to be able to successfully grow a small fruit tree or small orchard of fruit trees."
Scroggin said many gardeners aren't aware that with proper pruning, most trees can be maintained at around 6 feet, where fruits are still easily reachable. Limiting the size of a fruit tree also allows for a variety of trees to be grown so the garden can produce different fruits year round.
"It's a methodology that starts when you plant the tree," he said, adding that as the tree matures, proper management is necessary to keep it both small and productive.
In his class, he'll also speak in depth about irrigation, pruning and controlling pests and disease.
"This time of year, there are several tasks people need to be thinking about," he said. "The first is actually just doing a status check of your garden. How is your garden doing? Do the trees look healthy? Are there any obvious problems?"
He'll have those attending make a list of concerns they are having with their gardens, so they have something concrete they can act on. While he'll bring handouts and go through an informative presentation, he values an interactive session and hopes to take many questions from the audience.
"(The questions) are rooted in what's happening out there. It's not theoretical; its practical," he said.
Since it's summer, he's anticipating many questions about water management in what he still considers to be a drought. It's also the time of year when fruit-tree owners see pests and unwanted visitors in their gardens. He'll go over treatment methods "without using some horrible man-made chemical that might be not so good for the environment."
When it comes to pruning, he said many people don't know that there's both winter pruning and summer pruning, which can be extremely beneficial for the tree.
Then he'll go over fertilizing and how to plan for next year, since now is the time to be thinking about the next season.
Scroggin will take the class on a walk around Gamble Garden to see some of the garden's fruit trees. He hopes to show real-life demonstrations of pests and pruning stages.
Although it's difficult to find a tree that doesn't do well in this climate, Scroggin said some of his favorites include deciduous fruit trees such as apples and pears. He'll also speak at length about citrus trees, which produce fruit year round.
When it comes to choosing which fruits to grow, Scroggin said there's really only one main determinant. "What kind of fruit do you like? If you're going to plant a fruit tree, gosh, it should be something you like eating or you want to make preserves or jam out of. Grow something you're going to enjoy," he said.
Making jam, Scroggin said, is one of his favorite things to do with his fruit harvests. "It's a great way to share the gifts from your garden with others," he said. "Here in the winter, it's hard to get freshly grown fruits, so it's a nice substitute."
Scroggin, who runs a landscape management business, grew up in Menlo Park and has had an interest in gardening since his teens.
He volunteers at the Filoli estate in Woodside, maintaining its orchard of more than 650 fruit trees, and also cares for the trees at Gamble Garden.
"I'm just looking forward to a really fun, interactive session. I've found that people who attend really enjoy gardening, are curious about gardening and (have) lots of interesting questions," he said.
To sign up for the fruit-tree class, go to gamblegarden.org. The cost is $25 for members and $35 for non-members.