Tag Archives: trees

Why We Love Trees

When you look out your windows into your landscaping what catches your eye first? Maybe the hydrangeas are looking beautiful about now covered with giant flowers in sky blue, dark pink or white. Maybe it's the purple and red spikes of your salvias that both you and the hummingbirds enjoy. But I'll bet the most majestic and inspiring sight in your garden are the trees that frame your house giving it a sense of permanence, welcoming you home and providing a haven for songbirds that serenade you on a spring day.

cornus_capitata_closeupLarge or small trees make the world go round. They produce oxygen and act as a giant filter that cleans the air we breathe. A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.

Trees clean the soil by absorbing dangerous chemicals and other pollutants that have entered the soil. They can either store harmful pollutants or actually change the pollutant into a less harmful form. Trees can filter sewage and clean water that runs off into our streams. They can absorb and lock away carbon dioxide as wood so it is not available as greenhouse gasses.

If you live near a busy street trees can muffle the noise almost as effectively as a stone wall. They also act as a windbreak during windy and cold seasons reducing the drying effect of the wind and keeping it from blowing  precious topsoil away.

Trees slow storm water runoff helping to recharge our Santa Margarita and Lompico aquifers. On top of all the cool things trees do for us they provide shade and cool us in the summer. In the winter they break up the wind reducing heating costs. Trees increase property values.

If you've been thinking about adding a few trees to your own property here are some of my favorites. Some don't get enough recognition and some are classics. All make great additions to the garden.

Early in spring the flowering plums and cherries let us know that winter is over and a new season has begun. Then the dogwoods start to bloom and we're awestruck. Maybe you know of an especially beautiful specimen that gets your attention each year when it blooms. There are a couple varieties that I like to include in designs that are easy to grow and live for many decades.

Introduced to me by Barrie Coate, the renowned arborist and horticultural consultant, the Evergreen cornus_capitataDogwood, Cornus capitata, is also known as Himalayan flowering dogwood and lives up to its name in every respect. This under used tree is breathtaking in late spring and early summer with large flower bracts over 3" across.  A friend has one in her garden and it is the showiest tree on her property for several months. This variety is slow growing reaching 20 ft tall in sun or partial shade after about 25 years. After flowering, red fruit provides a treat for the birds.

Another dogwood variety that makes a wonderful addition to the garden is the Venus dogwood. I've heard it said that some consider it even showier than the Evergreen dogwood but I like them all. It's a fast growing deciduous hybrid with white flowers as large as your hand. Summer flowers give way to strawberry-like fall fruit as the leaves turn color. It's highly resistant to disease and drought conditions.  What's not to love? I also recommend Cornus Eddie's White Wonder for it's beauty and disease resistance.
Cercis_Forest_Pansy
If you would like a tree in a certain spot but don't have lots of room, consider  a Drimys winteri, commonly known as Winter's Bark. This evergreen, slender tree from Chile has aromatic mahogany-red bark which cured sailors in past centuries from scurvy and leathery fragrant leaves. Small clusters of jasmine-scented, creamy white flower appear in winter and spring. It grows to only 20 feet tall.

Other trees that are favorites of mine include Forest Pansy redbud for its stunning red foliage and Sango Kaku Japanese maple for its year round interest. Arbutus Marina, Oklahoma Texas redbud and Tristania laurina Elegant are also wonderful trees for the landscape.

Plant a tree for yourself and future generations.
 

Saving Trees by Removing Ivy & other tips

Well, it’s that time of year again when all things seem possible. Hope springs eternal –  the spring will be warm and the veggies will get off to a good start this year. That torrential rains won’t knock off the fruit blossoms and that all will be right with creatures big and small.  The narcissus are blooming already signaling the start of the new season.

An important thing to remember is that garden is a verb as well as a noun. It’s the act of gardening that’s important not so much what your garden looks like. So relax a little and enjoy it. With that in mind here are some tips to improve the health of your garden.

I received an email from a reader asking that I please advise people to save the life of their trees, including redwoods and oaks, by removing the ivy that grows up the trunk. Ivy can kill trees by tightening its hold on the trunk while both of them grow and can eventually stop the supply of nutrients and water from the roots to the branches. Trees supporting heavy ivy growth can be uprooted or broken by wind. The environment ivy creates is also harmful to trees. It keeps moisture against the bark of the trunk, creating a state of constant wetness which attracts insects. It covers up any developing problems with the tree. Many tree diseases and decay became major problems because they were hidden by ivy growth.

If you have a tree with a lot of ivy coverage, there are a few simple steps you can take to remove the ivy. Go around the tree and cut out a vertical section of ivy about 1-2 feet wide around the entire tree. A large screwdriver or forked garden tool can be used to pry and snap the cut section away from the trunk. The lower portion of ivy will need to be pulled and cut off periodically to prevent further growth from the base. The upper ivy will die on its own and can be removed much later when it’s easier to pull.

What else should we be doing to enjoy our gardens more?
    Use plants that bloom over a long season, have colorful leaves and attractive bark and berries.

    Garden on a small scale using containers and small, easy to manage plots for organic vegetables, flowers     and herbs.

    Add low voltage, LED or solar lighting so you can use the garden after dark.

    Furnish your patio during the warm season with pots, furniture,a fire pit and a patio heater.

    Add water to your garden with a small recirculating fountain or pondless waterfall.
gold, chartreuse, variegated or burgundy colored foliage in the     garden. Abelia Kaleidescope paired with Purple Smoke tree is one of my favorite combinations.  A combo     to try for the shadier parts of the garden is Black mondo grass with white variegated Jack Frost brunnera.     Look at your garden as a series of small vignettes and pair new plants together you haven’t tried before.
    Go through one of your seed catalogs and see what’s being offered in these tones.

Remember that garden is a verb as well as a noun. It’s the act of gardening that’s important not so much what your garden looks like so don’t sweat the small stuff.    
   
 

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.

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.
 

How to Plant a Garden that will look like it’s been there forever

 

 I love to read those articles in gardening magazines with titles like "How to Create a Complete Backyard in a Weekend"   or   "This Front Yard in Just one Year".  If you’re like me you think  " Can I really do that " ?   There are some short cuts that can make this happen and fall is the perfect time to try out some of them.

Start by making sure you have paths where you need them.  Simple flagstone set in sand or soil work fine for meandering through the garden.  A more formal and permanent path is needed to lead guests to the front door but stepping stones are quick and easy in other areas.  Hardscaping like paths, walks and fences establish the framework for everything else to build off of.

If you want your garden to fill in quickly choose key plants that grow fast and are suited to your conditions: sun exposure, soil type and water availability.  Plants given their preferred conditions will grow and flourish more quickly.  Designate irrigated areas for must-have plants and use plants that like it dry in your other areas.  Most important, if you are going for high impact quickly, choose plants that perform right away instead of those needing a few growing seasons to grow in.

Begin your planting by choosing trees and shrubs for structure, especially in the winter.  Fast growing trees include chitalpa, red maples, mimosa, birch, raywood ash, flowering cherry and purple robe locust.  Shrubs that fill in quickly are butterfly bush, bottlebrush , choisya, rockrose , escallonia, hydrangea, philadelphus, plumbago and weigela.

Next come perennials that mature quickly and make your garden look like it’s been growing for years. is one such plant and blooms summer through fall if spent stems are removed.  Their intense violet-blue flower spikes cover plants 18" tall spreading 2-3 ft wide.  They look great in wide swaths across the garden or  along the border of a path and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.  Walkers Low catmint is another perennial that keeps going and growing.  This vigorous spreading member of the mint family blooms profusely with little spikes of 1/2" periwinkle blue flowers from late spring through fall.  Catmints are easy to care for.  Shear plants back by half at the beginning of the season and after flowers fade.  They are drought tolerant, too.

Where you need a big clump of color to fill in a space. penstemon, crocosmia, cardinal flower, mondarda, purple coneflower and yarrow all put down deep roots and mature quickly.    

Be sure to include combinations that bloom in different months. 

 

 Yes, creating a garden slowly over many years is satisfying, but if you need to fill in a new area quicky, draw on some of these tips and your bare dirt will be full and beautiful in no time.