Sunday, January 4, 2009

Putting in pawpaws

The pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) has so much of what I like in a plant. It is a good looking ornamental tree with big tropical leaves. Although something of an oddity, it is native to these parts and is host to the zebra swallowtail butterfly. You can grow it in part shade. And on top of all that, it makes an edible, creamy fruit.

photo Wikimedia

I think I have a perfect location for a row of pawpaw trees. Our garage apartment on the north and the neighbor’s on the south create an alley. It gets intermittent or dappled sun from miscellaneous trees and the neighbor’s garage. The soil is damp there longer than anywhere else in the garden. The soil was not as rich or well draining as needed, so steps were taken to fix that.

Ms Brenda, garden lady, dug the 8’ by 60’ wasteland along the back fence. All I asked was that the ground to be broken and weeds removed, but she likes to dig down as deep as the fork and to turn the soil over. All manner of corroded metal and concrete chunklets were removed. A plastic horse, aluminum fence post finials, and a buckle that may be silver turned up.

To build up the bed for the pawpaws, I mined some mounds of soil created during the garage construction project, and wheeled loads of it around to the new bed. In one area I found a Neapolitan confection of soil: a layer of bright white leftover mason’s sand, over the deep black of a former compost pile, on pale brown clay.

The builders had excavated some clay in clods up to the size of a basketball. That’s a representative chunk sitting on top of the load (photo below). Now those clods have been hacked to pieces and worked into the rest of the soil.

I didn’t do a soil test here, but I had some granular sulfur already and I tossed it over the piles. Our soil tends to be alkaline and pawpaws prefer more acidic soil. Some Microlife, an organic fertilizer, was also tossed on. The last amendment added was the ashes of sweet dog Thorn (Read about her here). The pale yellow of the sulfur and the blue-white of her ashes made a strange visual.

When the bed was leveled out, it had a nice crown in the center. Digging holes for the 7-gallon container sized rootballs was as easy as playing in sandbox, thanks to Brenda. The soil is so well prepared back there, it feels like brown sugar on the shovel.

The trees are 10’ on center. They don’t have much presence in this photo, being leafless. The vines being trained to the fence are Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), also native.

Pawpaws must cross pollinate, so I picked several varieties of trees. For a fruit no one ever seems to have tasted, there are a lot of varieties available. Several of mine are an ungrafted ‘native’ variety. They are younger, yet taller, than the two grafted varieties I chose. The grafted “Wells’ matures later than ‘Rebecca’s Gold’ but both have large fruit. (Memo to self: Wells is on southeast side and Rebecca is on southwest) In the nursery, they expected the trees to be temperamental producers throughout their youth. We’ll see. The pawpaws that grow wild on a piece of land we own in Nacogdoches are very small but fruitful, like this one below. There is a small green pawpaw about mid-photo:

The small fig-brown flowers of the pawpaw are pollinated by flies. I recall that the speaker on fruit trees at the Master Gardener class said his trees’ productivity increased when he brought home some roadkill! I'm hoping funky old sandwich meat hung on the fence will work, instead.


I likE plants! said...

I can't wait to hear what the pawpaws taste like to you. There are a relative to the tropical Annona spp. I grow. The have an amazing flavor which is hard to describe, sort of like a pear with a hint of guava or tropical muskiness. The pawpaw is a native to the southeastern U.S. so it should flourish. So let me know how they turn out(updates please)!


compost in my shoe said...

One of my favorite multi-trunked small tres for the garden...a tough, long-lived plant for our southern gardens