Most shrubs and many perennials get larger than the diminutive mugo pine, Pinus mugo. The most common type grows very slowly as a dense and rounded mound only a few feet tall and maybe twice as wide. Only a very old specimen might reach an eave. The paired dark green needles are about one or two inches long. The symmetrical brown cones are a bit shorter. Mugo pine is also known as Swiss mountain pine and because of a misprint in the eighteenth century, mugho pine. Although native to mountains in Europe, mugo pine is most popular in Japanese gardens and for bonsai. Because it grows so slowly, it can be happy in planters and large pots. In large urns of regularly changed flowering annuals, it can be a nice permanent and evergreen centerpiece.
Cut foliage is a common ingredient of ready-made mixed bouquets. Bundles and individual stems of cut foliage are available with cut flowers from florists. Cut foliage is the primary component of most wreaths and garlands that are now so popular for Christmas décor. It is another horticultural commodity like cut flowers, bulbs or nursery stock. Cut foliage is like vegetables that no one eats.
Cut Christmas trees are extreme cut foliage. They just happen to be much larger than stems of cut foliage that become wreathes and garlands. They grow on plantations like other crops. Contrary to a rather popular belief, Christmas trees are a renewable resource. Furthermore, cut Christmas tree production is less detrimental to the environment than the production of live Christmas trees.
Time and space are the only advantages of live Christmas tree production. As they grow, they occupy less space for less time. Obviously, cut Christmas trees need more space and time to grow. However, they do not consume proportionate quantities of water and fertilizers. Nor do they necessitate the consumption of the various plastics and synthetic potting media that potted trees need.
Regardless of the best intentions, few live Christmas trees come home for Christmas after their first. They often get too shabby through warm and dry summer weather to bring back in. The small and inexpensive sort with attached decorations rarely survive potted for more than a few months. If live Christmas trees were less perishable, their consumptive production could be more justified.
Whether they retire after a single Christmas or several, live Christmas trees must recover from previous shearing. Only dwarf Alberta spruce are naturally densely conical. Pruning other species to strict conical form is unnatural and disfiguring. As they recover, live Christmas trees need space to grow. Many, such as Italian stone pine and Canary Island pine, get far too big for urban gardens.
Experienced arborists concur that many problematic trees were originally small and seemingly innocent live Christmas trees.
It is difficult to know how big any of the various cultivars of English yew,Taxus baccata, will eventually get, and how long they will take to get that big. Most can get almost as tall as thirty feet. Some can get nearly twice as tall. However, they can take more than a century or several centuries to do so. Old specimens around Europe are significantly older than two thousand years. Slow growth is an advantage for formal hedges that get shorn only annually. English yew prefers regular watering. Partial shade is not a problem.
Irish yew is actually a cultivar of English yew with densely upright growth. The various golden yews have yellowish foliage. Otherwise, most English yews have finely textured dark green foliage on angular stems that resemble those of redwood. Individual leaves are very narrow, and only about half and inch to an inch long. The peeling dark brown bark resembles that of large junipers, but not quite as shaggy. English yew is toxic.
If Hetz blue juniper grew as a tree, it might look something like Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica. The evergreen foliage of modern cultivars is almost as blue as blue spruce. Older trees that grew from seed (not cloned) can exhibit significant genetic variability, and are more grayish green than blue. Some are stout and shrubby. Taller specimens might exhibit sculpturally irregular form.
In the wild, Arizona cypress is even more variable, with as many as five distinct varieties. Some varieties are sometimes classified as separate species. Shorter types may get no taller than a two story house. Taller types get twice as tall, and as wide as thirty feet. Trunks can get two feet wide. Smooth Arizona cypress has patches of distinctively flaking bark over shiny chestnut brown bark.
Arizona cypress are best where they can develop their natural form. They prefer no more than minor pruning of awkward stems. Although, none seem to mind grooming to eliminate dead or aging stems. Modern cultivars are more conducive to minor pruning than older trees. Some cultivars supposedly make nicely dense shorn hedges. Furthermore, shearing enhances the blue foliar color.
Nowadays, the delightfully aromatic foliage is familiar primarily in garlands at Christmas time. Most of the foliage of old trees is too high up for direct contact. Young trees with low foliage are rare. Incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, is unfortunately not as popular as it was a century ago. At that time, it was as utilitarian as it was appealing for spacious but minimally irrigated landscapes.
Incense cedar wood made good shingles and laminate for closets and cedar chests. The wood is aromatic enough to repel moths from woolens and furs, which were still popular then. It was less expensive to import than Eastern red cedar. It grows wild relatively nearby, in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains. Incense cedar fence posts might resist decay as well as redwood posts.
If the wild, where they compete with other trees for sunlight, old trees can get almost two hundred feet tall. However, well exposed old trees in Victorian gardens are less than half as tall after more than a century. Their canopies are generally conical. Large limbs can curve upward like extra trunks. Flat foliar sprays resemble those of arborvitae. The deeply furrowed bark is cinnamon brown.
Some junipers that were so popular in the 1950s are now somewhat rare, or redundant to modern cultivars. Although not as common as it once was, Hetz blue juniper, Juniperus chinensis ‘Hetzii Glauca’ is still practical for modern gardens. Most junipers with such bluish gray foliage are either low and sprawling, or upright and tall. Hetz blue juniper exhibits an elegant outwardly flaring form.
Mature specimens can get taller than six feet, and as broad as ten feet. The dense evergreen foliage is not quite as blue as that of blue spruce, but is nonetheless striking amongst deeper green. Straight stems point sharply outward at about the same low angle, but in all directions. Removal of lower growth from old and overgrown specimens might reveal peeling bark and sculptural limbs.
Established Hetz blue juniper with warm and sunny exposure is nicely undemanding. Occasional irrigation through the warmest summer weather maintains color and foliar density. However, color naturally fades slightly and slowly through summer. If possible, selective pruning should completely remove obtrusive stems from their origins. Otherwise, stubs might compromise the natural form.
Juniperus, which is the entire genus of juniper, had been languishing in a bad reputation for too long. The problem likely began nearly three quarters of a century ago. More people than ever were enjoying leisurely suburban gardening. Many appreciated the resiliency of juniper cultivars. At that time, a few species of juniper were gaining popularity. Evolving cultivars sustained new demand.
Unfortunately, these modern and once distinctive cultivars of juniper eventually became passe and too common. As practical and resilient as they truly are, they collectively shared the stigma of a minority that were problematic. Their problems were disproportionately evident merely because of their commonness. Many matured at the same time, so developed problems at the same time.
Realistically though, the majority of the garden varieties of juniper that grew during that time were quite practical. Those that started in the 1950s, but developed problems in the 1990s, performed satisfactorily for four decades. Not many other types of plants perform as reliably for as long. Many problems resulted from selection of cultivars that were inappropriate for particular applications.
Although all junipers are evergreen foliar plants that provide no obvious bloom, they are remarkably diverse. The most popular sorts are low and dense shrubbery. Others are lower and sprawling ground cover. Some are small trees. A few species grow more than thirty feet tall! Branch structure is mostly densely compact, but can be sculpturally irregular, rigidly upright or gracefully arching.
Foliage is generally rich deep green. Some cultivars exhibit yellowish new foliage that fades to green through summer. A few are variegated with creamy white. Several popular cultivars are gray or bluish gray. Leaves of almost all popular cultivars are scale like. Some have needle like leaves. A few have both. Even without prominent bloom, a few cultivars produce appealing tiny berries.
It is time for the many cultivars of juniper to grow beyond their former bad reputation and turn a new scale or needle.
Port Orford cedar is a grand tree. It is native to the southern coast of Oregon and the very northwestern corner of California. Mature trees in the wild are more than a hundred fifty feet tall. Some of the older big trees within landscapes are more than forty feet tall. However, the cultivar known as bird nest cypress, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Nidiformis’ is remarkably diminutive and shrubby.
Bird nest cypress grows slowly, and may never get more than five feet high and wide. Individual plants are mounding with rather flat tops. A row of plants eventually becomes a low informal hedge. Distinctively flat sprays of slightly grayish evergreen foliage exhibit a soft feathery texture. Unless pruned otherwise, abundant dense foliage obscures main limbs with fissured reddish brown bark.
Most cultivars of Port Orford Cedar, including bird nest cypress, are uncommon here. They actually prefer cooler and moister climates. Locally, they are sensitive to harsh exposure and wind while the weather is warm. A bit of partial shade is no problem. Established plants do not need much water, but should not get too dry for too long. Selective pruning, not shearing, sustains natural form.
No one wants to cut down this little blue spruce. What is worse is that no one wants anyone else to cut it down either. We all know it is ugly. We all know that it can not be salvaged. We all know that it really should relinquish its space to the healthy and well structured coast live oak next to it, in the lower left of the picture. Yet, it remains.
It was planted amongst a herd of gold junipers in about 1980 or 1981, shortly after the construction of the adjacent buildings. An abandoned irrigation system indicates that it was likely irrigated for some time afterward, although it is impossible to know for how long. Otherwise, it and the junipers were completely ignored for the last four decades.
When the vegetable garden was installed nearby, brambles, weeds and trash that had been accumulating for forty years was removed from the area. A few of the most decrepit junipers that were not worth salvaging were removed too. The young and feral coast live oak that grew next to the spruce should have been removed as well, but is actually in very good condition.
Furthermore, the coast live oak is a better tree for the particular application. It is native, so does not mind neglect. The spruce was never really happy there, which is why it is so puny and disfigured now, with the lower two thirds of the trunk bare of limbs and foliage. Obviously, the spruce should be removed so that the oak can continue to develop as it should.
We just like the spruce too much to remove it directly. Even though it would look silly if the bare trunk were exposed by the removal of the oak, the bit of foliage on top is so pretty and blue and familiar. I mean, it looks like we have a spruce in the yard; and everyone likes a spruce!
The plan is to subordinate it to the oak. As the oak grows upward and outward, the lower limbs of the spruce will be pruned away to maintain clearance. Eventually, the spruce will look so silly that the landscape would look better without it, and we will not mind cutting it down so much. It will be unpleasant, but it will be better than interfering with the development of the oak.
There is significant traffic right outside. It is one of the three busiest roads around. No one here really minds, because we are mostly too busy with something else while we are here. We are accustomed to it as part of the ‘scenery’. The noise sometimes makes it necessary to shout to each other, or take a telephone call somewhere else, but is not too much of a bother otherwise.
However, the scenery that those in the traffic see from the road might be slightly less than appealing. Industrial buildings surrounded by pavement, building materials, work vehicles and all sorts of associated items are all that are in here. Next door, there is a herd of dumpsters! It is a view worth obscuring. Bay trees and box elders that used to screen the view are too tall now.
I should have planted these five Arizona cypress in a row along the road last autumn. If I were to plant them now, I will need to water them occasionally until next autumn, not that I would mind. After their first winter, they would be happy on their own. They would start to obscure the view within only a few years, and unlike box elders, would stay evergreen through winter.
They really should have been planted a long time ago. They have been in the same cans for so long that the medium within has decomposed and collapsed. Without staking, their lean trunks became disfigured in confinement. They really would not have needed to be staked if they had been planted sooner and been able to grow more vigorously. Fortunately, they should recover.
A Monterey cypress will be planted at the low end of the row next Saturday, even if these Arizona cypress are not planted until autumn. I will explain later.