Arborvitae

Arborvitae is mostly tall evergreen shrubbery.

During the Colonial Period of America, American arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis, was one of the first native species to become popular for home gardening. It is native as far south as the Great Smoky Mountains, and as far east as Minnesota. Wild trees can be fifty feet tall, with trunks as wide as three feet. They might grow larger to compete with other trees.

Of course, the oldest cultivated varieties, as well as relatively modern cultivars, are much more compact. Many modern cultivars are hybrids. Some are different species. They are densely evergreen shrubbery that work well as hedging. Their distinctly ruddy or grayish brown bark is barely visible. Their bloom is unimpressive. Foliage is their primary asset.

It is quite an asset. Although arborvitae is conducive to shearing, its billowy foliar texture is too appealing to compromise by frequent shearing. Scale leaves are barely more than an eighth of an inch long, like those of junipers, but are more pliable on soft and flattened foliar sprays. Such sprays are delightful coniferous evergreens for wreaths and garlands.

Live Christmas Trees Eventually Mature

Most conifers are not so compact.

Christmas trees grow on farms. They are an agricultural commodity. Their unnatural and intensive cultivation is no asset to any associated natural ecosystem. Their harvest does not deprive ecosystems of natural components. Live Christmas trees are at least equally as unnatural. Their cultivation involves more synthetic materials and unnatural irrigation.

There should be no shame associated with the procurement of cut Christmas trees. They are merely cut foliage that is significantly more substantial than that which accompanies cut flowers. Furthermore, live Christmas trees are not an ecologically responsible option. They are merely potted plants that can be difficult to accommodate within home gardens.

That certainly should not invalidate the appeal and potential practicality of live Christmas trees. With proper maintenance, other potted plants, such as houseplants, can grow and perform for many years. Since live Christmas trees are coniferous species that get rather large, they demand more attention. All are not necessarily totally unmanageable though.

Some compact conifers, such as dwarf Alberta spruce and compact cultivars of Colorado blue spruce, can remain within pots for many years. They need either larger pots as they grow, or occasional root trimming if they stay within their same pots for a few years. Their roots outgrow pots as slowly as their canopies grow. They also require diligent watering.

Unfortunately, the most common of decorated live Christmas trees that are available from supermarkets are also the most problematic. Most are either Canary Island pine or Italian stone pine, which grow surprisingly large for such seemingly innocent small evergreens. They very often go into compact gardens, where their bulky roots displace infrastructure, such as pavement and turf grass.

Contrary to popular belief, planting live Christmas trees in the wild after Christmas is not a practical option. Because their roots were confined to pots, they rely on irrigation while they disperse roots into the ground. They can not survive without irrigation after the rainy season. Besides, trees that are not native could be detrimental to the native ecosystems.

Deciduous Evergreens

Sadly, the bald cypress of the last illustration here was removed to relinquish space for outdoor dining when social distancing limited use of indoor dining facilities.

Tony Tomeo

P91201Well, that is certainly a contradiction of terms. One might say it is an oxymoron. Decades ago, it really was how we classified what we now know more simply as ‘deciduous conifers’. There are not many of them. Ginkgo is a gymnosperm like conifers are, but is not really a conifer. Otherwise, there are only five other types of deciduous conifers, which defoliate through winter.

Laryx is a genus of about a dozen species that are known collectively as larch. Taxodium includes two species known as bald cypress, as well as a third evergreen species. Pseudolaryx amabilis, known as golden larch, Glyptostrobus pensilis, known as Chinese swamp cypress, and Metasequoia glyptostroboides, known as dawn redwood, are all three monospecific genera.

Some species of larch are common within their respective natural ranges. So are the bald cypresses. The others are quite rare. However, dawn redwood became a fad…

View original post 153 more words

Rainy Season

Although the rainy season started nearly two months ago, it is still gratifying to remember the later beginning of the rainy season three years ago.

Tony Tomeo

As I mentioned this morning, the first storm since spring delivered a bit more than an inch and a half of rain before dawn on Wednesday, ending the fire season. The second storm is here right now. It is expected to be followed by a continuous series of storms that will provide rain through Monday, showers through Thursday, more rain on Friday, and showers . . . forever!

It is now the rainy season.

The video above shows what rain does. It gets things wet. It is, after all, composed of water. It falls mysteriously from the sky, which, as you can plainly see, is occupied only by a mostly monochromatic gray cloud cover. Seriously! There is nothing else up there. There is no one on the roof with a hose or anything of the sort. All that water just falls from the cloud cover above.

I could not get…

View original post 276 more words

Six on Saturday: New Photinia

Renovation of an old photinia hedge on the main road at work has been more work than it should have been. It was too overgrown for simple shearing. I pruned it up as a row of small trees, with the intention of eliminating their upper canopies as basal watersprouts grew upward from the newly exposed trunks below. Well, water sprouts did not grow as readily as I hoped for. The trees were cut down while the hedge below was still scrawny. As planned, I layered a tall water sprout as a replacement for one of two missing shrubs, but needed to replace the other with the naturally layered specimen from another hedge. (Layers develop roots where they touch soil, while attached to their original specimens.)

1. Rain! The first storm of the season came and went about two weeks ago. The drainage pond flooded about two feet over its spillway! This duckweed was left on a nearby fence.

2. Controlled burns resume now that the beginning of the rainy season is also the end of the fire season. There has been no more rain since the first storm, but forests are damp.

3. Damp ground and cooler weather facilitate planting within areas that lack automated irrigation. This layered photinia stem got relocated from one old hedge to patch another.

4. It was not enough though. To compensate for lack of another, I simply made a second layer by bending over and mostly burying a vigorous water sprout of an adjacent stump.

5. A new photinia can now grow where the tip of the mostly buried water sprout emerges from the soil. I am very pleased with the very uniform spacing of all specimens involved.

6. Meanwhile, I plugged a rooted sucker of an ungrafted historic flowering cherry within the decayed center of the stump of the now deceased original tree. It could replace itself!

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Bald Cypress

Although very rare here, bald cypress is prominent enough in the South to be the state tree of Louisiana.

There are very few coniferous (cone bearing) trees that are deciduous; and because most prefer cooler winters, very few are ever seen in local gardens. The bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, happens to be one of the few deciduous coniferous trees that really could be more popular than it is, since it seems to be right at home in mild climates. It is native to coastal riparian regions from Maryland to Florida to eastern Texas, and up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers as far as Indiana.

The soft foliage resembles that of coastal redwood, but is more finely textured. It is still mostly light green, but will soon be turning paper bag brown before trees go bare. The tiny individual leaves are shaped like flat pine needles, and are not much more than half an inch long. The ruddy or grayish brown bark is finely shaggy.

In the wild, mature bald cypress trees can get more than a hundred feet tall with trunks more than five feet wide. Some of the largest trees have buttressed trunks as wide as fifteen feet! Trees in swamps develop distended growth from their roots known as ‘knees’, which can stand several feet tall! Fortunately, bald cypress rarely get half as tall or develop such massive trunks locally.

Bald cypress is one of the few deciduous conifers; so the finely textured light green foliage will soon be gone.

Getting an early start to winter pruning may have certain advantages

Without specialized pruning, fruit trees become sloppy and unable to sustain all of their fruit.

As long as it gets done well before buds begin to swell late in winter, the meticulous and specialized pruning that deciduous fruit trees and roses require during winter dormancy does not need to be done immediately. Here where the climate is so mild, some roses may still be blooming. The main advantage to getting an early start is that those of us who have many fruit trees and roses in need of pruning have more time to get them all done within the proper time.

If it helps to start pruning early, it is best to prune fruit trees and roses in the same order that they go dormant and defoliate. The ‘stone’ fruits (those of the genus Prunus, that have large pits known as ‘stones’), like apricots, cherries, nectarines and peaches typically defoliate earlier than the ‘pomme’ fruits, like apples, pears and quinces. Modern ‘carpet’ roses may not defoliate completely, so can be delayed until after all the bare roses get pruned, but may eventually need to get pruned while still partially foliated.

The specialized pruning that deciduous fruit trees and roses need is serious business. Those who do not know how to do it properly should learn about it before actually doing it. Improper pruning of fruit trees can inhibit production and damage the trees. Roses are not so easily damaged, but will get overgrown and not bloom as well if not pruned aggressively enough. (This sort of pruning will be a topic later in the season.)

Like fruit trees and roses, other trees and shrubs that need pruning prefer to be pruned while dormant through autumn and winter. Deciduous trees and shrubs are obviously dormant while bare, but realistically, are ready to be pruned when their foliage is no longer green.

Evergreen plants are not so obviously dormant, but will be as dormant as they get through winter. This would therefore be a good time to prune to eliminate pine limbs that are too low. If pruned a bit early, the pruning wounds will get weathered more through winter and consequently bleed less through spring.

Horridculture – Multi-Grafts

You know, as much as I dislike multi-grafts, I feel compelled to prune the multi-grafted roses in such a manner that one scion does not overwhelm another.

Tony Tomeo

P91116+++Bare root fruit trees will be available in about a month. It is probably my favorite time of year for going to nurseries. (Since I grow just about everything I want from bits of landscape debris, I do not often go to retail nurseries.) It is also rather frustrating to see what sorts of bare root material are popular nowadays, and what sorts are not. Horticulture has gotten so ridiculous!

Most of the formerly common cultivars of fruit trees that I remember are no longer available. They were common for a reason. They perform well here. Retailers used to select cultivars for their respective regions, instead of pimping out weird new but unproven cultivars, or just taking the same faddish cultivars that get sent to other stores within a vast chain of big box stores.

One of the weirdest of fads are multi-grafted fruit trees and roses.

Multi-grafts are certainly…

View original post 328 more words

Firethorn

Firethorn is a familiar wintry berry.

Its name says it all. Firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea, produces an abundance of fiery red berries on unavoidably thorny stems. A few old fashioned cultivars produce equally fiery orange berries. Cultivars with fiery yellow berries are now rare. Berries ripen for autumn, in time to feed migratory birds. Late berries can last longer after migratory birds are gone.

The rigid and wickedly thorny stems of firethorn work well as impenetrable hedges. They are rather difficult to prune and handle without impalement though. Unfortunately, simple shearing deprives formal hedges of some of their new growth that blooms and fruits most abundantly. Selective pruning is tedious and more hazardous, but might enhance bloom.

Shrubby cultivars of firethorn can grow higher than first floor eaves. Mature and vigorous hedges with hefty interior trunks at such height can generate spirelike growth that almost reaches second floor eaves. With pruning, some cultivars that sprawl close to the ground can stay quite low. Without pruning, some slowly form thickets that are several feet deep.

Winter Berries Attract Migrating Birds

English hawthorn is like deciduous firethorn.

Bloom and colorful foliage provide most of the color besides green within home gardens during spring and summer. Deciduous foliage becomes more colorful for autumn. Winter berries and a few other lingering fruits become more colorful as deciduous foliage sheds through winter. All this color adheres to precise schedules within a collective ecosystem.

Many plants exploit wildlife. It is how they compensate for their immobility. Many provide incentive for the services that they desire from the wildlife that they exploit. For example, after enticing pollinators with fragrance or color, flowers happily exchange extra pollen or nectar for pollination. Many plants provide edible fruits in exchange for seed distribution.

It is no coincidence that so many different winter berries ripen through autumn for winter. They provide sustenance to many migratory birds who rely on them. Overwintering birds who compete with migratory birds appreciate their efforts as well. Such winter berries are small but abundant, for ‘grab and go’ convenience. Bright color is the best advertisement.

Some people appreciate how winter berries attract birds and squirrels into their gardens. Some appreciate the seasonal color of such berries more than the wildlife. Unfortunately, wildlife decides the outcome, and such outcomes are variable. It is impossible to predict if berries will disappear as they ripen, or linger as they deteriorate through most of winter.

Firethorn is likely the most familiar of the winter berries here. It seems to be more prolific with its brilliant red berries than any other species. Some old fashioned cultivars produce bright orange or perhaps even bright yellow berries. Some sorts of cotoneaster resemble firethorn, but with subdued rusty or orangish red display for less refined woodsy gardens.

Toyon, or California holly, is most prolific with winter berries where it grows wildly without pruning. It gets big though. Real hollies, which are more popular in other regions, do not produce many berries locally, particularly since male pollinators are uncommon. English Hawthorn is a small deciduous tree that displays berries that resemble those of firethorn, but on bare stems.