Fast Growing Trees for Shade

Midsummer heat can be brutal. Without shade from trees, the sun can turn a garden from an oasis into a spot not fit for man or beast.  If you need to plant a tree that grows really fast and will provide shade quickly consider one of the following. They’ll sprout 2-4 feet in a single year with good care.

Tropical looking trees not only provide shade but have a look of coolness about them. Their large leaves ripple in the slightest breeze and beg you to enjoy an icy beverage below their canopy. Catalpa’s are among the few hardy deciduous trees that can complete in flower and leaf with subtropical species. Purple Catalpa has all the bells and whistles. Their huge heart-shaped leaves are 10-12 inches long. Young leaves emerge deep blackish-purple, then turn purple-toned green in summer. Large upright clusters of trumpet-shaped 2" wide pure white flowers are lightly speckled with yellow and purple and bloom in late spring and summer. This tree grows 30-40 feet in sun or light shade and needs moderate water.

What do you get when you cross a catalpa with a chilopsis tree from the desert? You get a  Chitalpa – a rapid growing 20-30 ft. tree that combines toughness with beauty. From late spring through fall, clusters of frilly, trumpet-shaped pink or white flowers appear. Chitalpa’s like full sun and need only little to moderate water.

If you want a good lawn tree that casts light shade, I have two suggestions:  Silk Tree and Golden Honey locust. Albizia – aka Silk tree- aka Mimosa grows fast to 40 ft. tall with a wide canopy. Often it is kept pruned to 15 or 20 ft so it’s pretty powder pink flowers that appear in summer can be enjoyed up close. Birds are also attracted to the flower clusters. Silk trees are especially beautiful when viewed fro an upper deck or window.

Golden Honey locust has beautiful fern-like golden-yellow new foliage which is showy against the deep green of the more mature leaves. Foliage casts filtered shade allowing growth of lawn or other plants beneath its canopy. Fast growing to 35-70 ft. This variety has few or o seed pods and is thornless.

California pepper trees are beautiful in the right spot with gnarled trunks and light, graceful branchlets. Give them room to spread away from paving and other plants. This is a great tree to shade a play area or gravel patio. Fast growth to 25-40 ft. This tree requires little to moderate water.
 
Other fast growing trees are Raywood ash, Evergreen ash, Purple Robe locust and Chinese evergreen elm.

Remember, most trees grow fast when young, then slow down as they mature. Encourage this growth spurt with deep watering and regular fertilizing.

Layering Plants for Wildlife

I confess , I’m a lazy gardener.  In July, my idea of working in the garden consists of removing seed pods from the fuchsias and trimming a few parsley and basil springs for dinner. I don’t have to spend time spraying for harmful insects and diseases because the birds and other creatures I encourage in my garden provide natural pest control. Having wildlife in the garden saves time and money, too.

A wildlife garden doesn’t have to be messy. It just requires the right balance between form and function. Areas close to the house can look more refined because they get more attention. Spots farther away from the house can be a little more relaxed because they are seen at a distance.

Plant in layers, providing a canopy or tree layer, a shrub layer and a ground cover layer. This provides the greatest range of sheltering, feeding and nesting sites for birds and other creatures. Towhees, black-headed juncos and robins like to stick to the shrub layer but are frequently found foraging in leaf litter on the ground where they find insects for food. Warblers and chickadees tend to search for insects in the canopy layer. 

Many native plants provide essential food and foraging areas for wildlife. Plants from similar climates like the Mediterranean region also have benefits for wildlife.

Coffeeberry are a favorite for many birds. This native grows in full sun or partial shade and aren’t fussy about soil. Established plant need no irrigation but will accept regular gardening watering unlike many other natives. They make up for small inconspicuous flowers with large berries than turn from green to red to black as they ripen. Use this 4-8 ft. shrub for your middle layer.

If it’s summer color you’re after, look to Vitex agnus-caste. This large shrub can be trained as a multi-stemmed small shade tree if you like. Fragrant lavender-blue flower spikes cover this plant summer to fall. Even the leaves are aromatic with handsome lacy, fanlike leaflets. Vitex thrives in heat with moderate water and is deer resistant.

Pacific wax myrtle is another shrub to use in your middle layer as a screen.  This 10 ft evergreen can also be trained as a small 30 ft tree. It’s one of the best looking native plants for the garden with aromatic glossy dark green leaves. Clusters of tiny berries are a favorite food source for several species of birds, especially warblers.

Other natives for the middle layer include Howard McMinn manzanita, Ray Harman ceanothus, bush anemone, western redbud, snowberry, pink-flowering currant and philadelphus. Native plants for the ground cover layer would also include Emerald Carpet manzanita and Yankee Point ceanothus.

You don’t need a lot of land or a huge garden to use the layering principal. Even the smallest yard can have all three layers that offer beauty and shade for us and nesting sites, food and foraging areas for wildlife.

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.

Drying Herbs

Many people are growing their own vegetables these days and probably have some favorite herbs growing in the garden, too.  There’s nothing like fresh herbs to bring flavor to a favorite recipe.  Out in the garden, few things beat the wonderful aroma of basil, rosemary or thyme as it infuses the air as you gently rub the leaves between your fingertips.  When your herb plants grow faster than you can use them, it’s time to harvest some for drying. Regular pruning encourages new growth.

Most herbs should be harvested before the plants are about to bloom. That’s when the leaves are at their peak flavor. Pick a sunny day and harvest in the morning when the oils are strongest and morning dew has evaporated.

is easy- either hang them in bunches or lay in a shallow basket or on a screen in a well-ventilated place out of the sun.  If you’re drying on screens or in baskets, remove large-leaved herbs from their stems and spread them out.  Smaller leaved herbs like thyme, savory or rosemary can be left on their stems to dry. Depending on the weather, it may take a few days to a few weeks for your herbs to dry fully.

A dried herb should crackle and crumble when rubbed between your fingers. Once the herbs are dry, gently strip the leaves and pack them into clean, dry jars with tight fitting lids. Pack the leaves whole to retain the best flavor. Crushing the leaves releases their essential oils, so don’t do that until you use them. Store away from light and heat. They are best if used within a year.

Give True Geraniums a Chance

I feel sorry for them. They are the wallflowers of the nursery. Shoppers barely glancing their way before moving on to attention getters like dinner-plate dahlias. In the garden, though, they shine. They are the work horses of the perennial border. I’m talking about true geraniums– those hardy, versatile, long blooming plants for edgings, borders and ground covers.

Most people use the common name geranium to describe what is actually a pelargonium. Ivy geraniums, Martha Washington pelargoniums  and zonal geraniums and are all pelargoniums. , also called cranesbill, look very different. Leaves are roundish or kidney-shaped and usually lobed or deeply cut. Flower colors include beautiful blue, purple, magenta, pink or white and often completely cover the plant with color. I’ll bet if you visited a garden on a tour or admired a picture in a garden magazine it contained true geraniums.
Here are just a few strong performers available among the dozens of species.

Geranium maderense grows best in shade. This dramatic native of Madeira is the largest geranium with huge 1-2 foot long leaves shaped like giant snowflakes. Clusters of thousands of rose tinted flowers form on a 3 foot trunk. This perennial is short-lived but self sows freely. Add some of these architectural plants to your border for color and structure.

Blue flowers in the garden are always a hit as they combine so well with other colors. Geranium Orion‘s abundant clear blue flower clusters bloom over a long season. Use this 2 foot spreading plant in sun or part shade in a mixed border or as a groundcover.

Another fast growing variety is geranium Incanum which covers itself spring through fall with rosy violet flowers. Cut back every 2-3 years to keep neat.  This variety endures heat and drought better than other types but needs some summer water. It self seed profusely which might be exactly what you want as a groundcover in a problem area.

If pale pink is your color, plant geranium Biokova. This excellent groundcover spreads slowly. The numerous one inch flowers are long lasting and cover the plant from late spring to early summer. Their soft pink color is indispensable when tying together stronger colors in the border and the lacy foliage is slightly scented.

Give a hardy geranium a place in your garden.

Pacific Dogwood & Plants with Seasonal Interest

Driving east to Yosemite recently, I was reminded of how diverse botanically and geologically is the state of California.  Leaving the redwood forest here, I passed tawny grasslands and oak studded foothills to a mixed evergreen forest up in the Sierras. Many of the same plants grow here- buckeye, solomon seal and western azalea. I was hoping the native Pacific dogwood would still be blooming and was not disappointed. Huge white flowers, resembling butterflies, covered these small trees. I last saw them a couple of years ago when they wore bright red fall foliage. This got me thinking. What other plant are interesting in more than one season?

    

 

                            Here is a table of trees and shrubs to add to your garden

name flowers? fruit berries? Fall color? interesting bark?
Dogwood yes yes yes yes
Golden Raintree yes yes yes yes
Maple no no yes yes
Crape Myrtle no no yes yes
Redbud yes no yes yes
Fringe tree yes no yes yes
Katsura yes no yes yes
Crabapple yes yes no no
Persimmon no yes yes yes
Nandina yes yes yes no
Japanese barberry no yes yes no
Smoke bush no yes no yes
Blueberry yes yes yes no

Other plants that make a bold statement in the garden are big-leaved perennials. If one of your garden beds or borders need something to quickly enliven the scene, look to giant leaves to give contrast. Often a planting will have too many similar flower or leaf sizes and end up looking fussy, overly detailed and chaotic. That’s when large architectural plants come to the rescue.

Ligularia dentata form 3 ft. clumps in partial shade. From midsummer to early fall, 3-5 ft. stems bear 4" wide orange-yellow daisy-like flowers. Their leaves are the most striking feature. Othello has deep purplish green, kidney-shaped leaves almost a foot across while Desdemona has leaves with purple undersides and green upper surfaces. Ligularia clumps can remain undisturbed for years and stay lush and full from springtime through frost.

For borders in the sun, cannas add drama. They stand bright and tall with huge leaves on 4-6 ft. stems. Some like Pretoria and Tropicana have striped leaves and others have bronze leaves like Wyoming and Sunburst Pink. Flowers range from orange, red, pink, yellow, cream and bicolor. Canna leaves are useful in flower arrangements but the flowers themselves do not keep well. In the garden border, canna foliage, backlit by sunshine, positively glows.

Red bananas are grown for the impact of their beautiful leaves which range in color from deep claret brown to re-purple to green. Plant them in full to part sun in an area protected from the wind to avoid shredded leaves. Ornamental bananas grow fast to 15-20 ft and make a bold tropical accent in any garden.

 

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