Category Archives: trees

National Arbor Day 2010

National Arbor Day was founded by J. Sterling Morton in 1872 and is celebrated on the last Friday in April. This year it falls  on April 30th.  The simple goal of this day is to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.  So whether you’ve been thinking about planting a fruit tree to feed the family, a shade tree to save on summer cooling, a flowering tree to attract pollinators, or some trees to hang the hammock on this is a good time to plant as well as nurture and celebrate all trees.

Trees are remarkable in how they grow and adapt to their environment.  Some trees, like crape myrtle, sycamore, madrone and cherry have especially beautiful bark. This is the tree’s protection from the outside world. Continually renewed from within, it helps keep out moisture in rain and prevents the tree from losing moisture when the air is dry. It insulates against cold and heat and wards off insect enemies.

The inner bark, or phloem, is the pipeline through which food is passed to the rest of the tree, It lives for only a short time, then dies and turns to cork to become part of the protective outer bark.

The next layer in is the cambium cell layer which is the growing part of the trunk. It annually produces new bark and new wood in response to hormones that pass down through the phloem with food from the leaves.  These hormones are called auxins and stimulate growth in the cells.  They are produced by leaf buds at the ends of branches as they start growing in spring.

Inside the cambium layer is the sapwood or xylem which moves water from the roots to the leaves. Sapwood is new wood. As newer rings of sapwood are laid down, inner rings lose their vitality and turn to heartwood.

Finally, the central supporting pillar of the tree is called heartwood. Although dead, it will not decay or lose strength while the outer layers are intact. A composite of hollow, needlelike cellulose fibers bound together by a chemical glue called lignin, it is in many ways as strong as steel.

Leaves make food for the tree. Their shapes help them reduce wind resistance, shed rain that could decay the leaf if left standing and produce chlorophyll. The narrow needles of a Douglas fir, for instance, exposes as much as three acres of surface to the sun.

There is a tree to please everyone. Don’t have much space for a fruit tree? Consider a Garden Annie dwarf apricot, a dwarf Garden Prince almond, Compact Stella cherry, dwarf Red Sunset nectarine or a Garden Delicious apple.

Rather not have fruit to contend with? How about a flowering crabapple, cherry or plum? Want a deciduous shade tree that grows fast? Red maples with blazing fall color fit the bill.

Need to screen a neighbor quickly? Then plant a honey locust or catalpa. Another fast growing,deer resistant tree is the silk tree.   It’s flat topped, spreading canopy make this a good patio tree and is especially beautiful when viewed from above, as from a deck or hilltop.  If left unpruned it will become a multi-stemmed tree but with training can be grown as a single trunk 10-20 foot umbrella.   Fluffy pink flowers like pincushions bloom in summer.  Grow it in full sun to partial shade.  With regular water it grows fast.  They are attractive to birds, too. 

Be kind to your trees. They are a valuable asset to your home and our environment.

How to have a Sense of Place in your garden

Recently I got to enjoy this beautiful October weather walking among the redwoods, mixed oak woodland and open fields watching hawks soar overhead and listening to migrating warblers in the trees.  I was not here in Santa Cruz county, however, but Pt. Reyes National Seashore-a similar but different environment. What struck me was how the gardens of the local residents reflect where they live.  There was a sense of place to the landscaping. 

Our gardens reflect where we live, too.  What can we learn from our surroundings that will help us in our own gardens?

Look to the horizon.  Check views from every possible angel. Borrow scenery if it’s attractive or screen eyesores and distract the eye from them.

Highlight existing features. Develop designs that retain and enhance elements on site like interesting rock formations, meadows, existing trees and native woodland plants.

Consider all aspects of your outdoor space. What are your favorite flower and plant foliage colors?  What patio materials do you like -flagstone, wood, gravel, pavers? What is your favorite season- spring flowering trees and bulbs or fall foliage and berries?  How many hours do you spend enjoying the garden-  sitting, reading, working, relaxing or entertaining?

Whatever landscape design elements you use in your garden, remember they can be broken into smaller parts to make them more manageable- paving this year, planting trees next year, then shrubs, perennials, garden art. Installing a garden is about the journey.  There is never a finishing point.

Important in any design is your choice of trees. More than any other living feature in your landscape, trees contribute to your sense of place. Imaging how different this area would look without the redwoods, spreading oak trees or tall ponderosa pines.

A tree that looks good and thrives in many types of gardens while requiring little summer water once established is the Strawberry tree or arbutus. A relative of the madrone, this evergreen tree is interesting year round. In the fall and winter, clusters of small white or pink, urn-shaped flowers hang from rich, reddish-brown branches with shedding bark. Fruit resembling strawberries ripen in the fall and attract birds. The handsome glossy green leaves emerge from red stems and contrast nicely with the bark, flowers and berriies. Growing to about 25 ft tall they accept full sun or part shade. What’s not to love about a tree with ornamental bark, dainty flowers, decorative edible fruit and handsome foliage?

Another tree to dress your garden for fall is Prairifire flowering crabapple. Birds love the berries and the 1/2 inch fruit remains on the tree for a long time after leaves drop providing food well into winter.  Many of the popular crabapple varieties of the past were highly prone to fungal diseases but this one is among the new disease- resistant varieties now available. Prairifire bloom later than most crabapples with long lasting bright red flowers. Even the red leaves lend color to the garden when they emerge in the spring. If your looking for a small 20 foot ornamental tree with spring flowers and fall berries, this is a good choice for your garden.

Let your landscape express a sense of place to your garden.

Watering, Fertilizing and Weed Control

Whether you grow a full-blown vegetable garden or a few herbs and edible flowers in containers, celebrate this Fourth of July by serving a menu created with produce harvested from your own garden. It may be too early for your corn or tomatoes to be ready but peas served with a touch of basil would be delicious. A fellow gardener recently told me that she loves steamed baby zucchini cooked with a small pinch of lavender flowers. I haven’t tried this myself but it sounds interesting, maybe garnished some some edible nasturtium or viola flowers.

Actively growing vegetables and flowers need a boost from They use a lot of nutrients, especially nitrogen, at this time of year. Add water soluble fertilizer to your drip irrigation system or apply it through a hose-end sprayer. Sprinkle dry fertilizers over the soil around the plants or apply in trenches next to the rows. Water deeply afterward.

Remember that weeds compete with vegetables and flowers for moisture, nutrients and sunlight. Weeds can also serve as alternate hosts for disease and pest problems. You can prevent weeds from getting out of control by using the "half-hour" rule. Weeding for just half an hour every couple of days will save you hours of hard work in the future. By staying ahead of the weeds, you’ll grow more healthy produce and flowers.

If you battle dandelions and don’t want to use chemical weed killers around pets and children, get out the white vinegar from the cupboard. On a hot sunny day spray straight white vinegar directly on the weed. This method will kill whatever it touches so direct the spray carefully. If the dandelion is in the lawn, wait a week, pour some water on the dead spot to dilute any lasting effects of the vinegar. then pole a bunch a holes and drop in some grass seed. Sprinkle a bit of fertilizer where the seed is planted and keep the area moist. In three weeks you won’t remember where the dead spot was and the dandelion will be long gone.

Trees are the most important living asset on your property. They cool your house and offer shade and protection for your plants. They provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. Summer heat can take a toll on trees. Fruit trees, citrus and flowering trees need a deep irrigation every other week. Less thirsty established trees like Chinese pistache and strawberry tree need irrigation about once a month. Newly planted trees need water regularly. Gradually reduce frequency after a year or so.

There are ways to maximize the efficiency of the water you apply.  Drill several 4" wide holes about 24-30" deep around the drip line of the tree, being careful not to damage large roots. Fill the holes with compost and water.   Or you can use a soaker hose on the surface to slowly water the tree.   Mulch heavily all planting beds. Do not use rocks or gravel as a mulch because hey add heat to the soil and moisture evaporates faster.

Happy Fourth of July.

Planning this Summer’s ‘Staycation’

Picture yourself this summer with your family outdoors  during your  "staycation" – relaxing, cooking on the barbie, entertaining, playing with the kids or maybe just reading in the shade. Maybe you need to make some changes to truly have a relaxing backyard.  Now is the perfect time to plan while the yard is still a bit bare and you can see the space for what it really is.  Here are some ideas to get you started on your backyard makeover.

Make sure you have enough shade in your garden to keep everyone comfortable in the hot summer. We usually get a heat wave in May so be prepared early.  National Arbor Day in the last week of April but each state sets its own day of celebration. California celebrates this week, March 7-14, as the week to plant a tree.

There are so many good choices for our area.  First, determine how wide and tall you want your tree to grow. Next, know your soil and growing conditions.  Those who live in sandy areas might consider a strawberry tree, chitalpa, crape myrtle, Grecian laurel, fruitless olive, Chinese pistache, Purple Robe locust, California pepper tree or native oak.  Good choices for those who live with clay soil are arbutus ‘Marina’, western redbud, hawthorn, gingko, Norway or silver maple.  If you have quite a bit of shade but still need a bit more for the patio area, think dogwood, strawberry tree, Eastern redbud or podocarpus.

What would entice everyone out to the backyard after dark when it’s cooler? How about a simple metal fire bowl set on gravel, with brick or pavers?  If a piece of crackling firewood throws any sparks, they fall on the the gravel and expire.

How about a hidden getaway to read or just sit and relax? All you need is a quiet nook carved out of the larger garden.  Place a comfortable chair or love seat on some flagstone pavers, add a table and a dramatic container planted with flowers or colorful foliage and your retreat is complete.

After you’ve planted your tree and planned your hidden getaway take advantage of the moist soil to fertilize your garden .  Lawns and groundcovers are beginning their spring growth spurt and new leaves on trees, shrubs and perennials are starting to emerge. Spread compost, manure, or organic fertilizer to help plants get off to a strong start.  If you need to move any plants in the garden, now is a good time.  Plants are full of growth hormones and recover quickly from transplant shock. Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Think of weeding as free gym time. The last frost of the season is approximately March 15th.  Spring is on its way.
 

Indian Summer in the Santa Cruz Mountains

We tend to think of September and October as ‘Indian Summer‘  because the weather is balmy,  even on the foggy coast.  The actual definition from the American Meteorological Society describes  ‘a time interval, in mid or late autumn of unseasonably warm weather, generally with clear skies, sunny but hazy days and cool nights.’
Several references make note of the fact that a true Indian Summer can not occur until there has been a killing frost or freeze.  And while we may expect wintery weather to arrive in November or December, here in this part of the world we consider this time of year our Indian summer.

The term ‘Indian Summer’ dates back to the 18th century.  A Frenchman named John de Crevecoeur wrote in 1778 about  ‘an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer, it’s characteristics… a tranquil atmosphere.’   No one know if is has anything to do with Indians, either.  It has been speculated that cargo ships in the 1700”s did much of their sailing over the Indian Ocean during the fair weather season in ‘Indian Summer’.  No one theory has been proven and since it’s been centuries since the term first appeared, it will probably rest with it’s originators. 

One thing we do know, fall is the best planting season of the year.  The soil is still warm encouraging root growth, the nights are cooler and days shorter which helps to conserve water, too.  This is a good time if you’re looking to add a new tree to shade the south side of your home, or perhaps start a hedge to screen the road.  If you want to add perennials to a border or start cool season annuals this is the time.

There are lots of deciduous trees to choose from that provide shade in the summer while letting the sun warm the house in the winter.  At this time of year trees with fall color come to mind. 

Maples like October Glory, Autumn Fantasy, Red Sunset and Autumn Blaze have gorgeous crimson red, magenta pink, or scarlet fall foliage,  Growing fairly fast to a mature height of 40-50 ft, they are large enough to provide that much needed summer shade.    Provide them with occasional deep watering and periodic feed to help keep roots deep. 

What about a hedge that screens the neighbor while also producing fruit?  Strawberry guavas can be grown as a 20 ft. single trunk tree, or a 10-15 ft multi-trunked tree , but are more often seen as a shrub 8-10 ft high.  Their 1 1/2" fruit is dark red or nearly black when ripe, with whiteRose of Sharon Red Heart flesh that is sweet but tart.  It can be harvested green and ripened at room temperature and is good eaten fresh or used in jellies, purees and juice drinks.  Even the bark of this evergreen shrub is a beautiful reddish to golden brown.  If you’re looking to add more edibles to your garden this is a good candidate.

Another shrub that would make a good addition to your garden is Rose of Sharon.  This hardy member of the hibiscus family blooms from mid summer until frost.  When dry summers have taken a toll on the rest of your border let this tough plant provide you with spectacular flowers.

There are dozes of varieties from double flowering forms to those with a contrasting eye.  Some reach 10 ft tall but can be pruned to shape.  One smaller one that I particularly like is called‘Red Heart‘.  It blooms with large white flowers with a burgundy eye, grows only 3 ft tall and looks beautiful when combined with the wine red flowers of chocolate cosmos.  Another favorite is ‘Blue Bird’ , a rich lavender blue variety with a deep red eye.  This one grows 3-5 ft tall and fits into the smaller garden, too.  Hibiscus syriacus are easy to grow.  They prefer full sun and tolerate some drought.  They are hardy to -10 degrees so our winters are a picnic for them.

Take advantage of Indian Summer to plant something new.

Planting under mature trees

lush plants under mature trees

We live under oaks and are surrounded by redwoods. We know the value of trees in the landscape. Trees shade us in the summer. Their showy blossoms herald a much awaited spring and their colorful foliage in the fall quietly marks the end of the growing season. You can hang a hammock between two of them or tie a rope swing for the kids from a large branch. Yes, trees are our companions, but how can you create a garden under one of them?

Planting under a mature tree can be a challenge. Caution is required to avoid damaging their roots and the plants will need to cope with dry soil, shade, root competition and ever-changing moisture and light conditions. You want both your new plants and your tree to thrive.

Meet your tree’s needs first. Some trees are more agreeable than others about giving up some of their ground. You can still plant beneath trees that are sensitive to having their roots disturbed, but you’ll need to make a few concessions. When purchasing plants to grow under trees, think small. Small plants require a smaller planting hole and this will minimize disturbance to the roots. You may have to buy more plants but you’ll have an easier time tucking them among the roots.
Don’t alter the grade of the soil or change the soil pH very much. Even adding a layer of soil that is more than 2" deep can reduce the amount of moisture and oxygen available to the tree and hinder gas exchange to existing roots, causing trees to suffer or even die.

Only the toughest plants have a chance of surviving among the surface roots of shallow rooted trees. Be careful when disturbing sugar maples, elms. cherries and plums, dogwoods, magnolias, pines and oaks. The majority of a trees roots are small woody roots and fine hair roots that grow within the upper 12-18" of soil and extend far beyond the trees drip line. These roots are responsible for absorbing water and nutrients from the soil.

If you encounter a root larger than 1 1/2 – 2" in diameter while digging a hole for a plant, move the planting hole a few inches away to avoid slicing through the root. You will sever mats of small tree roots when digging, but they’ll regenerate fairly quickly.
To avoid wounding the bark, which may cause insect and disease problems, start planting at least 12" away from the trunk. Oaks, remember, shouldn’t have any plantings closer than 6-10 feet from the trunk and those should be drought tolerant. After planting, water to settle the soil and spread 2-3" of mulch to conserve moisture and keep weeds down. Be sure to keep mulch at least 12" away from the base of the tree. Mulch can hold moisture against a tree’s bark and cause rot and disease.
Trees that will tolerate some disturbance to the root zone include Eastern redbuds( both the green-leafed species and the purple- leafed Forest Pansy ) and red maples ( also a good lawn tree. ).
Common trees that are easy going about planting underneath are crabapples, ginkgos, hawthorns, honey locust, poplars, silver maples and willows.

So what plants will transform your bare patch of hard earth and knobby roots into a shady nook? If you’re going for a lush look, consider hostas and ferns, paired with the hardy geranium Biokova. Other good companions are astilbes with their feathery flower plumes and variegated euonymus fortunei with bergenia or digitalis mertonensis.
Trees with branches limbed high look good with small shrubs planted underneath. Red-leaf barberry can brighten up this spot and also provide fall color. Small nandinas like Harbor Dwarf make a good ground cover and their foliage takes on an orange-red color in winter. Fragrant sarcococca grows well in this situation, too.
Low groundcovers make a simple statement under the crown of a tree. Ajuga, pachysandra and sweet woodruff all grow well here. Or you might like the look of the shade tolerant grass-like plant , cares morrowii ‘Evergold’. This stunning sedge makes a beautiful clump 1-2 ft. high and 2-3 ft wide with dark green leaves and a central band of creamy white.
You can have a beautiful garden under a mature tree by following these tips and conquering this challenging site.