The Awesomeness of Raintree Nursery


When I moved to Eureka, the first order of business was to buy an apple tree.  We may not be able to grow tomatoes in the fog, but we sure can grow some apples. 

I didn't know anything about apples.  I called Raintree Nursery and was treated to a long and well-informed discussion of chill hours, pollinizers, and the strange and exciting possibility of planting two trees in one hole.  (In response to comments on this subject, there are no special instructions that I know of on exactly how to plant two apple trees in one hole.  Dig a hole.  Plant two trees instead of one.  That's how I did it, anyway.)

I recently placed another order with Raintree for more fruit–perennial fruit being the food crop that is easiest to grow considering my climate and my lifestyle.  (Plant a tree.  Wait a year.  That I can do.)

Although I didn't buy all of these, here are a few of their more interesting offerings,which will give you a sense of why I like them so much. (photos courtesy of Raintree)

Johnny The Johnny Appleseed Apple–grafted from one of the only remaining trees known to have been planted by John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed.

Flower of Kent Apple–grafted from the tree that is believed to have dropped an apple on Sir Isaac Newton's head, inspiring his laws of gravity. Described as "green, pear shaped, mealy, sub acid and used for cooking." You just have to be a Sir Isaac Newton fan to want one.

The low-chill combo apple, a 3-in-1 that produces fruit in southern California, Arizona, Florida, and other such non-apple climates. Mirabelle

Mirabelle de Nancy plums, a type of sweet yellow plum found in farmers markets across France and made into brandy.

Aronia Fruits I've never even heard of, like medlars, which apparently taste of cinnamon apples and are soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, and  aronia, a fruit native to the eastern US but bred and improved in Europe. It is, apparently, the next cranberry. Or blueberry.  Or something.

You get the idea.  The fruit trees Raintree sells are not just fruit trees; they are historical artifacts, exotic oddities, vacation souvenirs, adventures.

I love them for that.  I am ripping other plants out of my garden to plant more of Raintree's fruit trees.

And I was very pleased to get an email from Raintree's Sam Benowitz–which I believe he sent out to a bunch of garden writers–emphasizing the need to get people good, accurate information about fruit trees if they are going to plant one.  Here's a bit of what he had to say:

As you know, the cutbacks in funding for the Agricultural Extension Service in most states is hindering gardeners' access to valuable information. This has put more of the onus on garden communicators and nurseries to provide even more information to gardeners….

Ironically, I think that nurseries and magazines are doing a disservice to beginners by pretending that plants are easy to grow. Buying plants is not like buying other consumer goods where you plug it in and watch it work. It’s more like bringing home a new baby. If you bring home a new baby and sit it within your sight and do nothing to care for it, to say the least, your baby won’t make it.

So, I think it's better if people realize that with plants, they are embarking on a life-long scientific experiment where they need to record what they do and learn from their successes and failures. They need to go to successful neighbors for help too….

There's more to it, but those are the bits that make me appreciate Raintree so much. They don't pretend that there's nothing involved in growing fruit trees.  I'm learning that the hard way with my poor, miserable indoor citrus trees.  It is important to buy a variety that will thrive in your particular climate, survive your local diseases and pests, and have a mate nearby if one is required to set fruit.  There are some things to know.  But as Sam here points out–and as Michele says so eloquently in her new book–neighbors?  Local nurseries?  Great sources of information.  It's all do-able.

In their catalog, which just arrived for 2011, Sam goes on to say more about this.  He says: Look at your fruit garden as a private scientific experiment. Learn from your own mistakes. Develop some skills and pass them on to your children and neighbors as your neighbors are now, I hope, helping you.

Lovely thoughts, and a lovely catalog.  Do go check them out.


  1. It’s risky to plug any nursery or garden supply source when you’re a garden writer. They know who you are and they give you top service and the best products possible. They really, really want that positive publicity.

    I always recommend people check Garden Watchdog before buying plants. There you can get the real scoop on mail order sources.

  2. I have been using the “2 trees in one hole” technique ever since I saw a 20′ tall dogwood blooming with both white and pink flowers. Close inspection revealed two trunks cheek-by-jowl and the branches inter-twined so it looked like one multi trunk tree with two flower colors.

    Have since seen the same technique used with japanese maples–one with red leaves in fall, the other with bright yellow autumn color. A real visual knockout.

    I’ve use the technique with fruit trees that benefit from cross pollination, like paw paws and with decidous hollies that need a boy and a girl to set fruit. Happy fruit tree gardening. 🙂

  3. One of the major barriers to homeowners growing apples and other fruit trees is the need to understand that most of those trees need a preventive spray program; hopefully organic. Until recently that has been a tough sell; really complicated – no more. Actinovate will protect apples from all their dreaded fungal diseases above and below the soil line. Spinosad will take care of most of the serious apple insect pests and Azamax will take care of the rest. Actinovate and spinosad are bacterial so the products don’t have to be applied so frequently; those little microbes patrol the leaves and fruit on their own. Nurseries need to pull togther those three or four new and effective products and help new fruit growers be successful with much less hassle than was previously the case.

  4. I think there are growers in Southern California that grow 4 to a hole! not actually four trees in one hole but four planted very close together. They also have broken most of the rules about pruning. Their mission is better flavor and a manageable tree size and crop size for the home grower.

    Unfortunately most of the technical info coming out of universities is geared towards commercial growing so it can be hard to get good information that relates to home gardening. Mingling with your neighbors sounds like the quickest way to success.

  5. I <3 Raintree Nursery. I've used them twice now. Last year I ordered that Johnny Appleseed tree, a Medlar, an Aronia, plus a whole slew of oddball plants (fruiting mulbery, quince, etc.). This year I ordered more stuff, this time for our front yard. Their customer services is great. I highly recommend them.

  6. Jeff–I think that with the right fruit tree, no spray is required, organic or non-organic. I have never sprayed anything on my trees and barely even bother to fertilize them. I have a neighbor with over 100 apple trees that he does nothing at all to. It does mean really choosing the right tree, however.

  7. Amy,
    True if you choose the right apple variety AND have good soil maintenance practices and even consider using mulch. 90% of homeowners have no clue about building soil and using mulch, and planting any apple tree in lousy soil will put that plant in permanent stress and a spray program will be all that keeps the fruit from being ruined. You know and love the true gardener. I try to help the 40 million yardeners who don’t know what roots do.

  8. Ooooo – I’ve been looking for a gooseberry, but most mail order sources offer one, maybe two varieties. Raintree has more than a dozen ! And paw-paws, pluot crosses … I’ll be perusing their site for a while !

  9. Mirabelle plums are a favorite of mine! And relatively trouble-free, of all the fruit trees we grow (I’m in zone 7-ish, Cascade Mountains in Oregon). The biggest problem so far (12 years into growing them) seems to be that birds like them. The thorns on the branches seem to keep deer, elk, bear and other local critters away (but they are not too bad for us humans to work around).

  10. In late summer/fall Raintree will let you sample their fruit. Their nursery is a bit out of the way but a fun excursion. If you are not sure that you will like some novel variety, you can test taste it before buying and investing your effort. Wonderful people.

  11. I’m not a garden writer, and I’ve always gotten good service from Raintree. In Seattle, I have issues with cool summers, so their advice on which varieties will ripen here is invaluable. I’ve gotten figs and persimmons from them. They’re the only place I know to get some of the early ripening types. They’re also relatively local.

    I like Dave’s garden watchdog, too, and do consult it before ordering from unfamiliar nurseries.

  12. Planting more than one tree in a hole is called spleaching. Google or YouTube it for instructions. I’m currently braiding 3 varieties of grapes together in a tree form. I can’t wait to see how the trunk turns out!

  13. I’m also a repeat customer of Raintree — good service, decent plants, great variety of edibles, two thumbs up!

    I have slight guilt having them ship to me cross-country, but have had some issues with a nearer specialty nursery.

  14. I sent this correspondence to Raintree Nursery on Wednesday. I still haven’t heard anything back.


    Dear Raintree Nursery:
    I notice that your photo of Eucalyptus gunnii is one that I took in 2001 in my garden and is not
    properly credited. I would like to request that you either
    1. remove the photo from your site, or
    2. properly credit the photo as “Copyright, 2001, Ian Barclay, The Desert Northwest
    Should you opt to credit the photo as described, you also have my permission to ‘borrow’ one of my
    photos of E. pulverulenta for your use, if you want, with credit given in similar fashion.

    Thank you,
    Ian Barclay
    The Desert Northwest, Hardy Eucalyptus Page, etc.

  15. I also recently discovered Rain Tree…they sell tea plants, which apparently will grow in Willow Creek 🙂 Now how cool is that.

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