Your Guide to Easy Fruit Tree Care

Episode 49: Luther Burbank's Garden of Invention

At the turn of the 20th Century, Luther Burbank was possibly the most famous gardener in the world. Born in1849 in Massachusetts, Burbank became a plant breeder. Over his 55 year career, he developed hundreds of new and improved plants including peach and plum varieties (including a hybrid "plumcot"), a multitude of vegetables, and perennial plants including the Shasta daisy,  

In this episode we explore the story of Luther Burbank and we'll see how his discoveries still live on in our edible gardens today. My guest is Rachel Spaeth, the garden curator of the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa, California. Rachel oversees 35 volunteers who tend the 1.6 acre living museum dedicated to the life's work of Luther Burbank.

Rachel also serves as the Secretary for  the Redwood Empire Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers, is adjunct faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department, and is currently working on a PhD in Historical Plant Breeding and Genetics from UC Davis.  In her spare time, she enjoys multi-grafting fruit trees and identifying insect specimens.

What you will learn about Luther Burbank during this show

  • 5.20 Who was Luther Burbank and what made him so special? What were his most famous inventions? 
  • 7.00 How did Luther Burbank develop new plants? 
  • 8.37 What made Luther so famous? Why do we still know about him today? 
  • 10.00 Who were Luther Burbank's famous friends? They include Thomas Edison and Hellen Keller.
  • 11.16 What was the world of plums like before Burbank started breeding plums? 
  • 12.30 How Luther Burbank was different from classically trained scientists at that time. 
  • 13.30 Why Luther Burbank imported plum trees from Japan. 
  • 14.24 Have there been any movies produced about Luther Burbank's life? 
  • 15.41 Which plum cultivars did Luther Burbank develop? And where can you buy them today? 
  • 18.00 What is the different between a plumcot and a pluot? How did Luther Burbank create his plumcot? 
  • 19.15 What do plumcots look like? What is an "aprium"?
  • 20.25 Listener comment about Apex plumcots. What are other plums that will do well in California? Where can you get scions of Luther Burbank plums in California? 
  • 20.11 What problems did Luther Burbank have in breeding dahlias?
  • 23.18 Why was Luther very interested in grafting as a way to speed up the process of developing new plants? 
  • 24.06 Rachel tells us about her multi-graft apple tree with 40 different cultivars grafted onto it. 
  • 35.34 Why Luther Burbank's quince varieties were popular at the time but they're not too popular now. 
  • 32.44 Which were the new berries that Luther Burbank invented? 
  • 33.37 What do white blackberries taste like and where can you get Snowbank white blackberries today? 
  • 34.51 Himalayan blackberries are delicious but also invasive. Was this a positive or negative plant invention for Burbank? 
  • 37.00 Are Himalayan blackberries bramble canes? How do these canes spread? 
  • 38.00 How to find out more about the Luther Burbank Home and Garden and what can you see there?
  • 40.09 Are there recommended plum or peach cultivars that would grow well in Central Ontario?
  • 47.15 When did Rachel learn about the story of Luther Burbank? 
  • 49.19 Why are McIntosh apples the "Chicken Soup" of the apple world? 
  • 49.59 Advice on why a peach tree isn't thriving in Arizona and why you might consider grafting different types of fruit on an underperforming tree.
  • 54.41 How does genetically modifying plants differ from what Luther Burbank did during his career? Would he have approved of genetic modification and the CRISPR technology. 

The host of the Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast is Susan Poizner of the fruit tree care education website and the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards. You can listen to previous episodes of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast at and you can subscribe to the iTunes podcast.

Tune into The Urban Forestry Radio Show LIVE by going to on the last Tuesday of every month at 1.00 pm Eastern Time and email your questions in during the show to [email protected] This show covers fruit trees, food forests, permaculture and arboriculture. After the live broadcast, archived podcasts are available at 

The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast is brought to you by our Gold Sponsor, Stark Bro's Nurseries and Orchards . Our bronze sponsors include Whiffletree Nursery, Earth Alive, Acti-Sol and Mark's Choice.  

Click below to listen to this episode or to subscribe to the podcast. 

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Susan Poizner of Orchard People

Speaks at conferences and symposiums across North America about fruit tree care, urban orchard design, fruit tree cultivars and more.
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At Orchard People we are careful to select sponsors who offer quality products and services for fruit tree growers. Click their logo to learn more about them!

Earth Alive
"Microbial Technology-based Products for Your Growing Needs"

WhiffleTree Nursery, Canada
"Cold Hardy, Disease Resistant Fruit Trees, Shrubs and More"

Peaceful Heritage, USA
"Pawpaws and Superior Hardy Edible Plants"

Mark's Choice
"Garden Products Approved by Gardening Guru Mark Cullen"