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Gardening : Jujube Gives Luscious Fruit, Needs Little Care : Garden: The handsome tree from the Middle East may be ripe for planting roots in Southland soil.

March 24, 1991|BILL SIDNAM | Sidnam has written garden columns and features for The Times since 1975

According to Roger Meyer, a nursery owner who specializes in subtropical fruit trees and plants, the jujube (pronounced ju-JU-bee) is a tree for all reasons.

Consider its attributes: The jujube is a handsome tree, it bears copious quantities of delicious fruit and it thrives in most landscaping situations, even on lawns, with very little care.

It was cultivated in Middle Eastern orchards more than 4,000 years ago, Meyer explains, and remains popular today in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, China, north Africa and Korea. It is little known in this country, but its qualities could make it a favorite tree in Southland yards, he adds.

With its glossy, green leaves that turn a dramatic yellow in the fall, the deciduous jujube makes a beautiful addition to a landscape. It is even attractive in winter, when it is bare of leaves, as it has an unusual gnarled bark. The tree is small and slender, reaching a height of about 20 feet when mature. It is amenable to radical pruning during its dormant season.

Unlike many of the exotic fruit trees grown in Southern California, the jujube will tolerate frost and very cold temperatures. Although the tree is fairly drought-resistant, it will also do well watered frequently as a lawn tree. Jujubes thrive in a wide variety of soils; Meyer says it loves the alkaline soils so prevalent in the Southland.

The small apple- or pear-shaped jujube fruit is harvested from late summer through early fall. The fresh fruit is somewhat like a very sweet, crunchy apple. The dried fruit has a date-like taste.

According to Meyer, there are two main jujube varieties, the \o7 li \f7 and the \o7 lang, \f7 with the \o7 li\f7 bearing the better-tasting fruit. In addition, Meyer is evaluating more than 20 other varieties, and he will soon be marketing several of the superior strains.

The fruit is produced in huge quantities over a six-to-eight-week period. Fruit production begins when the trees are quite young, a year old in some cases. To dry, simply leave the fruit on the tree until it turns dark brown and wrinkles, then pick and place it in the sunshine.

Once established, the tree is very easy to care for. It will grow satisfactorily with little water, but for good fruit production, Meyer recommends regular watering. A fruit-tree fertilizer applied in early spring will be beneficial. The jujube is also an organic gardener's delight as it never needs spraying. Birds are about the only pests that bother it.

With all its attributes, does the jujube have any disadvantages? Yes, says Meyer. The branches are somewhat spiny, and care must be taken when picking fruit. In addition, the roots spread out horizontally from the tree for quite a distance, sprouting suckers that push up from the soil and cause pain when stepped on by bare feet. This is especially a problem if the tree is planted in a lawn. Regular mowing, however, will alleviate the problem. Elsewhere, simply cut the suckers with clippers.

If removed and replanted, these suckers will grow into other trees, but they will not run true to variety and the fruit will probably be of inferior quality.

Jujube trees are not easy to locate. The Meyers have a good supply at their Valley Vista Kiwi Nursery, located at their home, 16531 Mt. Shelly Circle, Fountain Valley; (714) 839-0796.

Other Southern California sources for jujube trees: Pacific Tree Farms, 4301 Lynwood Drive, Chula Vista, (619) 422-2400; Tropic World Nursery, 26437 N. Center City Parkway, Escondido, (619) 746-6108; Exotica Nursery, 2508 E. Vista Way, Vista, (619) 724-9093, and Atkins Nursery, 3129 Reche Road., Fallbrook, (619) 728-1610.

GARDENER'S CHECKLIST

\o7 For dedicated gardeners, here are suggestions from the California Assn. of Nurserymen on what to do in the garden this week:\f7

* Worms that appear in apples or pears are codling moth larvae. Consult a California certified nurseryman about chemical controls.

* No room for a vegetable garden? Use containers in full sun locations. All sorts of vegetables can be planted in them.

* Whether planting vegetables or the flower bed, be sure to dig down deeply and add organic matter to improve the soil.

* Hedges do not need to be all trimmed and proper. You can plant an informal hedge that flowers. Gardenias, hibiscus, roses, quince and abelia can be used.

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