By: Mary Ellen Ellis
For a tasty, sweet, and large peach, Santa Barbara is a popular choice. It is a great option for gardeners in areas with a mild winter, like California.
Santa Barbara peach trees are a fairly new development in fruit growing. The peaches were first discovered as a sport growing on a Ventura peach tree in southern California. A sport is a branch with fruit that is different from the rest of the fruit on the tree.
Researchers soon discovered that the new sport was similar to the Elberta variety, a peach known for its high quality, very sweet flavor and good texture. But how it differed from Elberta was in its low chill requirement. These trees need only 200 to 300 chill hours, while Elberta requires 400 to 500.
The new sport was soon named Santa Barbara and was introduced to growers in California who were ready for such a tasty fruit that could actually be grown in their climate. The peaches are large with yellow flesh. They are freestone and have a high sugar content. Santa Barbara peaches are best eaten fresh and won’t last long off the tree, but they can be canned.
Santa Barbara peach care is much like that for any other peach tree. If you give it the right environment and conditions, it will thrive and produce a big harvest. Put your tree in a spot with full sunlight and soil that drains and won’t leave it in standing water. Make sure it has space to grow to 15 or 25 feet (4.5 to 7.5 m.) tall.
Water your Santa Barbara peach tree regularly in the first season and after that only as needed. Use fertilizer once or twice a year, but also amend your soil with compost before planting if it’s weak.
You do not have to get a second variety of peach tree to pollinate it, as this tree is self-fertile. Prune the peach tree each year in late winter or early spring to maintain your tree’s shape and health. Be ready to harvest your peaches in mid-summer.
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WHAT TO PLANT
Edibles: Sow seeds of beets, celery, carrots, chard, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips. Plants sets of garlic, onions, and shallots. If you want to grow unusual varieties of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, start seeds indoors now. Artichoke and asparagus crowns, as well as rhubarb rhizomes, can be dug and transplanted. For information about planting strawberries, check out Growing Berries in Your Backyard.
Trees and Shrubs: Continue planting bareroot roses, fruit and nut trees early this month. See “Temperate Tree Fruit and Nut Crops,&rdquor in the California Master Gardener Handbook. Berries and grapevines can also be planted now. Select container-grown camellias and azaleas while they’re blooming and re-plant in rich, acid soil.
Ornamentals: Plant seeds of annuals such as alyssum, aster, cornflower, calendula, carnation, coreopsis, columbine, cosmos, delphinium, forget-me-not, hollyhock, impatiens, lobelia, lupine, marigold, pansies, petunia, violas, and native wildflowers. Tip: sweet pea seeds should be sown before Valentine’s Day.
Bulbs: For early spring bloom, plant agapanthus, anemone, amaryllis, caladium, calla lily, dahlia, iris, gladiola, and tuberoses. Tuberous begonias can be planted either indoors in small peat pots, covered with no more than ¼&rdquor of soil, or outdoors in filtered shade.
February is usually our rainiest month. It’s best to stay out of your garden when the soil is wet, especially around planted areas, to avoid compaction. If necessary, lay down pieces of plywood to walk on instead of directly on soggy ground. Tip: take your houseplants outdoors during the rain for a nice, deep, cleansing soak.
Pruning: Finish pruning dormant roses, fruit trees, berries, grapevines, and summer and fall-blooming shrubs such as abelia, brugmansia, budleya, salvia and toyon. Remove dead limbs from hydrangeas, but wait until all danger of frost is over before pruning more tender ornamentals to help protect emerging new growth. Deadhead perennial flowers to encourage increased blooms. Cut back perennial ornamental grasses to 4-6&rdquor above ground, dig up and divide clumps for transplanting.
Apply dormant spray to fruit trees after the buds swell but before the blossoms open. Timing is critical to achieve the intended protection from peach leaf curl. See UC IPM Pest Note 7426.
Control snails and slugs with organic bait, but only after removing sources of shelter, food and moisture. See UC IPM Quick Tip. Treat Aphids by spraying with a strong stream of water to remove them from the plant, or treating with non-chemical insecticidal soaps or oils. See UC IPM Quick Tip. Earwigs can damage tender young growth but they are also fierce predators of aphids and other unwanted insects. Trapping in rolled-up newspaper is one of the most effective controls. See UC IPM Pest Note 47102.
Pull weeds now before they can flower and set seed, and while the soil is workable. Winter annual weeds springing up include clover, crabgrass, cheeseweed and purslane. Get rid of them now and they’re gone (at least until next year), while perennials like Bermuda grass, nutsedge, bindweed and oxalis will just keep coming back unless roots are removed intact. Weed Photo Gallery is a helpful tool for weed identification and management.
Fertilize groundcover, perennials, shrubs, and trees with organic materials that release nutrients slowly, such as bone meal, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion or well-composted manure. Tip: don’t fertilize right beforeit rains in order to keep the nutrients and/or chemicals from washing away into storm drains and creeks.
Clean and sharpen spades, shovels, hoes, rakes, trowels, hand pruners and loppers in preparation for the busy gardening season ahead. Soak rusted tools in oil for a few hours, scrape with a wire brush or steel wool to remove rust, then sharpen blades with a whetstone or hand file. Tip: cleaning tools after each use and hanging them up in a dry spot will make them work better and last longer.
FYI: The Santa Barbara area is located in Climate Zones 9 & 10 according to the USDA system Plant Hardiness Map and Sunset Zones 21-24 Los Angeles Region Map.
If you want peaches to make into pies or cobblers or to can, a freestone peach is likely best for you. The pit in a freestone peach is easy to separate from the flesh, notes Ohio State University Extension. and the pit sometimes falls off by itself. The flesh of traditional freestones becomes juicy and soft as it ripens, but the flesh of some newer cultivars, called non-melting, stays firm when it is canned.
Freestone peaches, almost all yellow, ripen from late July until mid-August, depending on the cultivar. Newer hybrid peach cultivars that have characteristics halfway between freestone and clingstone peaches are called semifreestone peaches.