Garden Detective

Oranges show signs of drought stress

Please advise what may be the cause of these navel oranges splitting open. It appears that the orange is growing but the skin is not. Another concern is the leaves; some are green, some are yellow, and a huge amount have fallen off the tree.

Bob Annecone, Carmichael

After tree stress (including drought), rinds often split at the bottom of fruit. When hot weather is combined with high winds, navel orange trees become drought-stressed and begin to take water from the young fruit. The fruit softens and the leaves form cups. If the tree is then irrigated heavily, the dehydrated fruit swell, causing them to crack.

Young trees or dwarf varieties with small or shallow root systems, or those grown in porous soil, may be more susceptible to fruit splitting.

Summertime weather forecasts need to be carefully monitored. When hot winds are forecast, check soil moisture. If soil is dry, water deeply since citrus root systems are usually several inches to 2 feet deep.

The yellow leaves may be a sign of an iron deficiency. That can be treated with chelated iron, which can quickly reverse leaf yellowing. But the leaf fall may be another side effect of our area’s lengthy drought.

Q: About a decade ago, I pulled up and hacked away the ivy covering my west and south fences and I planted a few sprigs of creeping fig. Creeping fig now covers those sections of fence. For the first time, the creeping fig is bearing fruit – figs, figs, figs (or at least they look like figs) all over the place. Are they edible?

Ronald E. Reafs, Sacramento

A: According to UC master gardener June Bleile, the fruit on your creeping fig (Ficus pumila) differs from the fig commonly harvested from a fig tree (Ficus carica). The fruit of your creeping fig is not edible like a common fig (you can’t just peel it and eat it fresh). However, creeping fig is used in some Asian countries, where it grows native, to create a jelly-like dessert or the base for a refreshing beverage. The fruit is picked very ripe, put into a porous bag, then squeezed to yield juice. That juice is then cooked and cooled to form a jelly. That jelly is thinned with water and mixed with sugar, syrup, lemon juice or other flavorings to make a drink.

Or the jelly is served cubed and cold as a gelatin-like dessert (sort of like fig Jello). Some Asian markets sell this prepared creeping fig dessert as “Grass Jelly” or “Ai-yu Jelly.”

Contrary to popular believe, creeping fig fruit is not toxic. The publication by the University of California, “Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants,” lists the common fig as a cause for dermatitis; however, it does not reference Ficus pumila.

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