Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree

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Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree is mostly camouflaged by the surrounding forest.

Steven Michael Ralls got his Memorial Tree this morning, three years after he passed away on May 2, 2017. The circumstances that coincided for this event were impossible to ignore. Just like the other Memorial Tree, which was installed to replace an oak that was missing from a parking lot island, the Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree also has a practical application.

The small tree is a young Monterey Cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa, that needed to be removed from one landscape, and was waiting in the recovery nursery to be installed into another. Of course, a Monterey cypress in no easy tree to accommodate. It is too big and too dark to be compatible with most of the landscapes into which we add smaller and mostly deciduous trees.

However, it happens to be ideal for obscuring undesirable scenery, just like a row of five Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica, will be expected to do when installed along a busy roadway. Furthermore, it just happens to grow bigger faster than Arizona cypress, so is even better for the low end of the row where a bigger tree is preferred. The row really needs six trees anyway.

The location of the tree just happens to be ideal as well. With all Arizona cypress spaced evenly along the roadway, and the Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree strategically situated around the lower corner of the fence, it is located precisely where Steven Michael Ralls camped while homeless late in 2012. I could not have selected a more appropriate location if I had planned it.

The new tree will need to be watered by bucket occasionally through summer, but will need no intervention after the rain starts next autumn. It knows what it needs to do to get established and become an evergreen asset to the forest.

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It was easier to see before it was planted.

silver dollar gum

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There are actually a few different eucalypti known as silver dollar gum. The most familiar and largest is Eucalyptus polyanthemos. Mature trees that were popularly planted through the 1960s are about forty or fifty feet tall. Some stay smaller. A few that compete with taller trees are more than sixty feet tall. Trunks and limbs are somewhat sculptural, with fibrous bark.

Grayish foliage on limber stems forms a billowy and rounded canopy that blows softly in the breeze. Juvenile leaves are nearly circular, and more silvery gray than adult foliage is, like silver dollars. Ovate adult leaves are about three inches long and half as wide. Tiny flowers with prominent white stamens bloom amongst the adult foliage in spring and summer.

Smaller trees are often pruned aggressively or pollarded so that they continually produce the more desirable juvenile foliage without bloom. The problem with this technique is that it must be repeated every few years or even annually. Otherwise, vigorous secondary growth can get too heavy and break away.

Aleppo Pine

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Aleppo pine thinks it is native.

From coastal regions around the Mediterranean Sea, the Aleppo pine, Pinus halepensis, came to be right at home on and near the coast of California. Once established, it can survive quite happily on rainfall. Trees that get too much water can actually get too heavy with foliage, and may eventually get disfigured if limbs break.

Shade under an Aleppo pine is not too dark. The light and sometimes yellowish green foliage is rather wispy, comprised of thin paired needles that are about three inches long. The sculptural trunks almost always lean to one direction or another, and often divide into multiple trunks once they grow out of reach. Bark is light gray with light brown striations.

Young trees can get big rather fast. They tend to be somewhat conical, or at least upright, until they get to be about forty feet tall. Then, they tend to shed lower stems and develop irregular branch structure with rounded tops as their growth rate slows. Only a few old trees in ideal situations slowly get to seventy feet tall. Seedlings sometimes appear where they are not wanted.

Evergreen Trees Have Their Place

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Evergreens are sometimes the best choice.

Deciduous trees that were bare all winter are now foliating and making shade. They sure will be appreciated when the weather gets warmer through summer. They will defoliate next autumn, in time to let warming sunlight through while winter is cool. Their lifestyles are naturally compatible with those of the people who live with them. They really have the system down.

Evergreen trees are good at what they do as well. They obscure unwanted views and provide privacy all year. If given adequate space and located far enough away from the home and neighboring homes, their shade should not be a problem. Like any other feature in the landscape, properly selected and strategically placed evergreens are quite functional.

There are certainly more to evergreen trees than the coniferous (cone-bearing) evergreens like pine, spruce, cypress, cedar and juniper. Any tree that retains foliage throughout the year is evergreen, including camphor, Southern magnolia, carob, California pepper, coast live oak, fern pine, all palms and all eucalypti, just to name a few. There are really too many to list.

Larger modern homes on smaller parcels are a bit more challenging to evergreen trees than more traditional homes that have more space around them. Average fences do not maintain privacy for upstairs windows that are too close to neighboring homes. However, there is less space and sunlight for trees, and additional shade can be a bother for lower windows.

It seems that smaller trees are often the best fit for bigger homes. Sometimes, a large evergreen shrub, like one of the various pittosporums, can do the job of an evergreen tree, but fits better where space is limited. As silly and passe as they seem to be, Italian cypress are narrow enough to fit into tight spots, at least until they get too big.

Contrary to popular belief, most evergreen trees are messier than most deciduous trees. They drop only minor volumes of foliage, but they do so throughout the year. Deciduous plants drop most or all of their foliage within a limited time about autumn. Only those that drop flowers, fruit or both in spring and summer are messier than evergreens.

California Pepper Tree

00101It has been naturalized in Southern California long enough to seem to be native. California pepper, Schinus molle, is actually endemic to Peru and adjacent arid regions of South America as far south as Central Argentina. Furthermore, although its small pink fruits with hard black seeds are sometimes used for culinary purposes, it is actually not related to black pepper, and is mildly toxic.

California pepper is as at home here as the name implies. Established and naturalized trees can survive on annual rainfall. They are better foliated if watered a few times through summer, and do not mind average landscape irrigation if their soil does not stay too damp. When they are not dropping a few leaves, they are dropping floral frass or dried berries, so their mess is considerable.

Old trees can eventually get forty feet wide, and almost as tall. Young trees grow rather aggressively. Growth slows with maturity. The distended and irregularly structured trunks and main limbs are picturesquely gnarly, with handsomely flaky tan bark. Foliage and outer stems are delightfully pendulous. The pinnately compound leaves are finely textured, and about three to six inches in length.

Blue Spruce

91225For a tree that is native to the upper elevations of the Rocky Mountains, blue spruce, Picea pungens, does surprisingly well here. It only wants to be watered a bit through summer to compensate for the lack of rain and humidity in chaparral climates. It does not seem to miss a more pronounced chill through winter. Disease and insect infestation are uncommonly noticeable or damaging.

Garden varieties are impressively variable. Some are like big shrubbery that stays below downstairs eaves. The biggest do not get much taller than thirty feet, and take many years to get so tall. Most but not all are stoutly conical. Color is variable as well, ranging from grayish green to silvery bluish green. The evergreen foliage is very dense. Individual needles are only about an inch long.

Blue spruce demands patience, planning and room to grow. Pruning for containment compromises their naturally appealing conical form. Therefore, even compact cultivars that do not need much space will need enough to mature completely. However, because they grow somewhat slowly, blue spruce may take a few years to actually occupy much of their space, and function as intended.

Spruced Up

P91214KSpruce happen to very compatible with the landscape style here. They fit in nicely with surrounding redwoods, but are more proportionate to sunny spots of some of the refined landscapes. We intend to add a few into some of the landscapes as they get renovated. They will stay branched to the ground, like big dense shrubbery, with the personality of distinguished forest trees.

Several dwarf Alberta spruce, which is a very compact cultivar of white spruce, have been incorporated into landscapes that were renovated during the past few years. They really are dinky though, and stay smaller than most shrubbery. Some of the very compact cultivars of blue spruce that we would like to add next will eventually get significantly bigger, but do not grow fast.

A few spruce that grow more like tree rather than shrubbery would be really excellent. The taller blue spruce with more open branch structure are no longer available from local nurseries, but could be ordered. I particularly want to try any of the white, black, red, Engelmann or Sitka spruce that are endemic to North America, although I know some might not be happy here.

Sitka spruce just happened to become available. A colleague brought these eight seedlings back from the coast up near the Oregon border, and will probably get a few more. They are prolific there, and get pulled like many other weeds. At the rate they are growing, they could get planted into a landscape even before we get any blue spruce! I am already very pleased with them.

For a while, I grew each of the six North American spruce, but only in cans. Since these Sitka spruce arrived, I have been wanting to get the other five. White spruce is ‘sort of’ here. Blue spruce will arrive soon enough.

Italian Stone Pine

P90102Even though it can get about fifty feet tall and wide, Italian stone pine, Pinus pinea, often gets planted as a small living Christmas tree into confined urban gardens. It gets so big so fast that it can get to be a serious problem, as well as expensive to remove, before anyone notices. It is really only proportionate to large public spaces such as parks or medians for big boulevards. The bulky trunks typically lean one way or another. The long limbs spread laterally to form an unusually broad and flat-topped canopy.

The paired needles are about four to six inches long. However, small living Christmas trees are still outfitted with juvenile foliage that looks nothing like adult foliage. Juvenile needles are single, very glaucous (bluish) and only about an inch or an inch and a half long. Adult foliage may not develop for a few years. The four or five inch long cones mature slowly for three years. Squirrels and birds like the big seeds, which would otherwise be known as pine-nuts if people could get them first.

(Apologies for this inadequate illustration of Italian stone pines damaged by traffic. It was the only picture of Italian stone pine I could find.)

Evergreen Trees Drop Leaves Too

IMG_20141004_153228As the deciduous trees that will soon be coloring for autumn defoliate for winter, the evergreen trees will become more prominent. Some evergreen trees will drop some of their foliage along with deciduous trees through autumn and winter. Many drop some of their old foliage as new foliage develops in spring, or later in summer. All are on distinct schedules, but are never completely bare.

That certainly does not mean that evergreen trees are not messy. To the contrary, some happen to be significantly messier than some deciduous trees are. They are only evergreen because they do not drop their old foliage until it is replaced by new foliage. Whether individual leaves last just slightly longer than a single year, or for several years, they eventually shed and fall to the ground.

In fact, evergreen trees may shed small but pestering volumes of foliage for a few months or even constantly throughout the year. Some deciduous trees defoliate so efficiently within a very limited time once the weather gets cool, that all of their fallen leaves will be raked away within only two or three weeks. Of course, some trees, both deciduous and evergreen, drop flowers or fruit or both.

Not only do most evergreen trees shed for a longer time than most deciduous trees do, but most shed foliage that is not so easy to rake away. Cypress shed minute and finely textured leaves that are impossible to rake from lawns, but toxic if they accumulate. Juniper and arborvitae are easier to accommodate only because the trees are smaller. Fir, spruce and cedar have bigger needles.

Broadleaf evergreen trees are very different from coniferous trees. Their leaves are considerably easier to rake. They are generally more substantial than those of deciduous trees though. Some may not decompose so readily in deep groundcover. Southern magnolia leaves are notably slow to compost. Instead of producing cones, some broadleaf trees drop acorns or other messy seed.

Nonetheless, where there are compatible with their landscapes, evergreen trees are as practical as deciduous trees are.

Coastal Redwood

91106Of all the Official State Trees, the coastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, of California is the grandest. Seriously, it is the tallest tree in the World, so it really ‘is’ the grandest! The tallest is 380 feet tall! Although the related giant redwood of the Sierra Nevada develops bigger trunks, the bulkiest coastal redwoods are thirty feet wide at the base! The oldest are more than 2,000 years old!

All that sensationalism is not so practical for home gardens though. A thirty foot wide trunk on a sixty foot wide city lot would likely be a serious obstacle to gardening for whoever lives there 2,000 years from now. Although, those below the thirty-fifth floors of adjacent buildings might appreciate the foliage. Redwoods are exquisite evergreens in the right situations, but need plenty of space.

Cultivars are more compact than wild trees are, with more strictly conical form. ‘Soquel’ is the most popular. Redwoods are incredibly stable, but as they age, can eventually drop limbs from great height. Trunks are nearly vertical. Limbs are nearly horizontal, and sag with age. Leaves are less than an inch long, but messy as their flat browned tufts shed in abundance through late summer.