Horridculture – True Colors

P90821Bearded iris can bloom in almost any color. It is expected of them. There is not much they can do to surprise us.

Dahlias exhibit a remarkable range of both color and floral form. Only a few colors are beyond their range.

Roses, gladiolus, freesias, tulips, hyacinths, petunias, pansies, primroses and several of the most prolific bloomers are expected to provide many choices of color.

Other flowers are not so diverse. Forsythia blooms only in bright yellow, or perhaps a lighter hue of yellow. Mock orange blooms only in white, either single or double. Until recently, before purple was invented, the common species of lily-of-the-Nile were either blue or white. We tend to appreciate such flowers for their simplicity, and do not expect anything more from them.

Decades ago, hydrangeas were either white or pink or blue. I say ‘either’ because what seems to be three choices is actually only two. White hydrangeas were always white. Pink or blue hydrangeas were the same, but were pink in alkaline soil, or blue in acidic soil. Blue hydrangeas planted into alkaline soil turned pink. Conversely, pink hydrangeas turned blue in acidic soil.

In the slightly alkaline soil of the Santa Clara Valley, pink hydrangeas were common. Blue hydrangeas were fertilized regularly with aluminum sulfate or some sort of acidifying fertilizer.

In the more acidic soil of the West Coast of Washington, pink hydrangeas would have been blue without lime.

Some more recently bred cultivars of hydrangea excel at either pink or blue. It does not take much to convince them to exhibit their preferred color in less than conducive conditions. These cultivars made it easier to grow blue hydrangeas in the Santa Clara Valley, or pink hydrangeas on the West Coast of Washington.

Then breeding got ridiculous. Hydrangeas were bred to bloom reliably in rich shades of purple, red, or dark blue, with minimal sensitivity to the pH of the soil. They are appealing to those who like these unnaturally rich colors; but to those of us who expect hydrangeas to bloom in white or traditionally soft hues of pink or blue, they are just too weird.


Horridculture – Stumpy

P90814Among pines, firs, redwoods and most excurrent trees (with central leader trunks), stubs or stumps of limbs that were shed are common and more apparent than they are among decurrent trees (which branch into many main limbs). The older lower stubs slowly but eventually decay and fall away as the trunks compartmentalize (heal over) where they were formerly attached.

However, wild trees are rarely completely without such stubs. As the older lower stubs are shed, newer stubs develop higher up. The worst of their stubs get pruned away only when more refined landscapes are developed around such trees, and they get pruned accordingly. If the trees get groomed regularly every few years or so, not many new stubs get a chance to develop.

When pruning out viable limbs, they must be cut cleanly from the trunk or supporting limb, without stubs. Since they do not deteriorate slowly before falling away, the trunk or supporting limb has no time to start the process of compartmentalizing (healing) over where such limbs were attached. Cutting away cleanly eliminates as much obstruction to that process as possible.

Pruning necrotic stubs from trunks of excurrent trees is not quite so important because the trunks have a tendency to start the process of compartmentalization as such stubs are decaying, and can actually constrict and crush stubs if they do not fall away efficiently enough. Nonetheless, necrotic stubs get pruned out when trees are groomed, just because they are unappealing.

So, no matter what, stubs should not be left when pruning. It is not complicated. It is actually easier to control a saw when it is up against a tree trunk or main limb. Yet, many who do not know better, and many who really should, more often than not, leave trees looking like this fir tree.

Horridculture – Stinky Flowers

P90807Wednesday is my day to rant. However, I neglected to get out to find a picture or even a topic to rant about. Instead, I found this ugly little . . . what I believe to be a dormant rhizome. It looks more like a tuber or a tuberous root, and very well could be. Someone at work brought it from his home garden, where countless more naturalized and became aggressively invasive.

I do not know for certain what it is. I only know that it is some species of Arum. We refer to it as the ‘death arum’ because, while in bloom, it smells like death. Yet, it seems to be immune to death. It is extremely resilient. All attempts to eradicate any of it have only angered it, and accelerated its migration into other formerly uninfested parts of the garden. Now we have it here.

I am told that the deciduous rhizomes . . . or whatever they are, remain dormant through summer, and then regenerate foliage once the rain starts in autumn. Their visually unimpressive but olfactorily objectionable flowers bloom by late spring or early summer. Foliage and bloom shrivel in warm summer weather, and the remaining seeded stalks collapse shortly afterward.

The thin rubbery leaves are intricately lobed and spotted, which is very distinct from foliage of other arums. Each thin bloom is comprised of a sickly greenish white spathe and a comparably sickly pale tan or yellowish spadix. Seeds are contained in tiny round fruits that resemble capers, that linger briefly on top of the spotted stalks of faded blooms. It all is as weird as it sounds.

I will can (pot) the rhizome . . . (let’s just leave it at that) before autumn, and see what it does. I certainly do not want to plant it into the ground where it can get established and proliferate. Perhaps I will just grow it as a potted foliar oddity, and snip off floral stalks before they bloom. Perhaps I should send it to my colleague in Los Angeles, three hundred and sixty miles away!

Like many of the genera in the family Araceae, what we know as the death arum exhibits an objectionable floral fragrance because it is pollinated by flies. It does what it must to attract the pollinators whom it relies on. The technique is obviously effective, because seeded fruit develops, and the seed within gets dispersed farther and faster than the rhizomes ( . . . ) can migrate.

Horridculture – Microtrees

P90731We arborists happen to like trees. That is why we are arborists. Most of us also understand that trees are not appropriate for every situation, or where they are not appreciated. There is no point in planting a tree where it will just get cut down by someone else who does not like it. We want trees to be happy. We also want those who live with them to be happy with their trees.
Trees are ‘generally’ desirable over parking lots and roadways. They provide shade that cools the pavement during hot summer weather. Arborists naturally prefer trees that get big enough to make substantial shadows. It is also important for such trees to get high enough to be pruned for minimal clearance above the biggest vehicles to use the roadways or paring lots. They should also be pruned above streetlamps and signs.
Clearance of signs is a serious problem in strip malls and commercial districts, where trees are regularly disfigured by those wanting to keep them below their signs rather than above. It takes a few years to prune trees upward, and many merchants do not want to wait that long. There is also a concern that substantial trees will make substantial messes, and damage concrete curbs, gutters and sidewalks.
Microtrees are not always the answer! They are a cop out! For many situations, it is better to contend with the problems of larger trees than to pretend that microtrees are somehow better.
These dinky crape myrtles will never be proportionate to the roadway to the left or the parking lot to the right. They will not get high enough to be pruned for adequate clearance, so will instead be mutilated for confinement. They will likely get shorn into nondescript globs that rarely get a chance to bloom, and that pedestrians will need to duck under.
Crape myrtle is the most common of the microtrees that so commonly end up where other trees would be better. That is why so many arborists sometimes misspell ‘crape myrtle’ without the first ‘e’.

Horridculture – Fruit Theft

70726thumbGrowing fruit trees is quite a bit of work. While producing, some of the fruit trees need nearly as much attention as annual vegetable plants in the vegetable garden. Then, while dormant, they need meticulous and specialized pruning. Some fruit trees get damaged by insect or disease infestation, or severe weather. Some fruit can get taken by wildlife. Yet, for most of us, the reward of fresh fruit is worth all the hard work that goes into growing it.
Unfortunately, most types of fruit, especially the stone fruits, ripen simultaneously within their respective seasons, and are suddenly and briefly too abundant to be consumed while still fresh. Unless shared very efficiently with plenty of friends and neighbors, some of the fruit must be canned, frozen or dried for later consumption. Then, as suddenly as it started, the season for the particular type of fruit is done. There will be no more until next year.
That had never been a problem us, even though some of the fruit trees produce quite a bit. There was one particular summer, about 2004, when we were expecting an unusually abundant crop of unusually big peaches. We got all the jars out and cleaned on Friday afternoon. All the big pots and utensils that we would need for canning were out on the counters. We must have purchased ten pounds of sugar, and even got some pectin for jam.
Early on Saturday morning, we went out to collect the peaches while it was still cool, and found them GONE! It was as if they had never been there. All the work of pruning and pampering the tree was for NOTHING!
Now, I know that when I was a kid, we shared abundance with neighbors. We children were expected to take brown paper grocery bags of produce to neighbors who lacked the trees for particular fruit. For example, I delivered cherries to those who lacked cherry trees. I delivered apricots to the few who lacked apricot trees. Neighbors sometimes stopped me on the road to give bags of fresh produce for my parents or other neighbors.
Also, I know that there was nothing wrong with taking a few fruits from a neighbor’s tree. We often went behind the Charles Residence to get a few oranges when we got out of school. We sometimes got apples from the back yard of the Richmond Residence. Of course, we first asked if we wanted more than a few for a recipe or something. No one really minded because the system was respected, and none of the trees were exploited.
That was a long time ago. By the time I was in high school, we started hearing about fruit trees getting stripped of every last bit of fruit while no one was around. Over the years, it became progressively common. Some neighbors had me cut down fruit trees from their front yards because there was no point in all the maintenance if they could not get fruit from them. It was saddening, wasteful, and so contrary to our formerly idyllic lifestyle.
When it happened to the peach tree that I had taken such good care of in the garden next door, I was furious! What made it even worse is that we knew who did it! The so-called ‘gardener’, who was supposed to ‘maintain’ ONLY the front lawn stopped by the prior evening, just after I checked on the fruit. I sort of wondered why he was there so late, and why he was in back, but gave it no more thought than that.
He later told me that no one wanted the fruit, and that it was just going to fall on the ground and go to waste. Really, I would not have minded if he had taken a few peaches. I would not have minded if he had taken several or even most if he had asked before we got ready to can them. It would have been better for someone or several someones to enjoy them fresh than to can them as surplus.
About a year and a few months or so later, the fig tree in my back yard was stripped by the so-called ‘gardener’ who supposedly ‘maintained’ the landscape next door on the opposite side of where the peach tree lived. There had been no preparation to dry the figs yet, since I had planned to leave them on the tree a bit longer. Also, there was not as much fruit as there was on the peach tree.
The theft of the fruit was not the worst of the problems in this situation. The main problem was that the tree was so severely damaged in the process. I had pruned the tree so meticulously for several years, both for good (late crop) production, and also for clearance above a parking space. I did not mind the slightly elevated canopy; but the guy who stole the fruit without a ladder broke the limbs so that he could get the higher fruit!

Horridculture – Street Tree Neglect

P90717Many municipalities enforce tree preservation ordinances. Whether we agree with them or not, these ordinances are designed to preserve significant trees that are assets to the community. For the greater good, local governments have made it their business to limit what we can do with our own trees on our own properties. There are many advantages. There are many disadvantages. We arborists see it all.
Street trees, by general definition, are those that are close enough to a curb to shade a roadway and parked cars. In suburban and urban neighborhoods, many street trees are within parkstrips, which are the narrow spaces between curbs and sidewalks.
Neighborhoods of tract homes are typically outfitted with uniform trees of only one or two cultivars, that were all installed at the same time, as the homes were completed. Some neighborhoods of homes that were built individually are also outfitted with conforming street trees that were installed as parcels were subdivided. Most of such trees were installed as contingencies to development of the sites.
Since such trees were required by the associated municipality, they used to be maintained as such, just like any other trees in parks, medians or other public spaces. Municipalities that lacked tree preservation ordinances protected street trees as the public property that they were considered to be. Those who owned homes that were outfitted with such trees were not allowed to cut them down or even prune them without permission.
In some ways that sounds like a pretty good deal. The problem was that for many municipalities, it did not last. As the maintenance of maturing trees continually became more expensive, resources that used to be allocated for the maintenance of street trees were diverted to other projects. Although they do not like to talk about it, many municipalities no longer maintain their street trees, or do so selectively.
The aging trees remain. Many get cut down secretly by property owners who get frustrated by the lack of maintenance. Most are well maintained, but at the expense of those who own the properties where such trees live.
Most of us probably do not mind paying to have our street trees pruned when necessary. However, it is frustrating for those of us who must contend with some of the more problematic trees, and trees that are unusually expensive to maintain. Furthermore, property owners must assume the expense of repairing sidewalks, curbs and driveways that are damaged by roots, as well as damage to anything that limbs fall onto.
Municipalities that once required the installation of street trees, and that should still be encouraging residents to protect and appreciate their urban forests, are no longer able to assume the liability associated with street trees.
These pictures show two large limbs that fell from a big Canary Island pine onto two parked cars in Leimert Park of Los Angeles. A concerned citizen had contacted the Los Angeles Department of Public Works a few times about the tree, because one of the two fallen limbs had broken off quite some time ago, and was entangled with the other limb that broke and fell shortly before these pictures were taken on Sunday morning.P90717+

Horridculture – Parking Lot Islands

P80120kWhat a waste of space! What a waste of water! What a waste of time for the mow-blow-and-go ‘gardener’ who charges money to mow and edge it, but are too inept to suggest planting something that might actually be pretty, or shade the parking lot. There are a few of these between parking spaces marked for ‘compact’ cars, because it is cool to discriminate against full size cars that can not pull far enough forward to get out of the way.

Even between a Buick and a Chrysler, it is nothing to look at. It looks like something went seriously wrong with a grave site that was supposed to get a slab ‘over’ it (not ‘around’ it). It could be a Chia Pet litter box. There are much better spots to picnic at the park down the road. Whatever it is, it is not much better than the swales that are required in modern parking lots. It has potential to be a tripping hazard, but is not quite as dangerous.

I would make one of only two suggestions.

1 Pave over it. If there is not some building code that limits the area that can be paved, this might be thee most practical long term solution.

2. Landscape it responsibly. Yes; ‘responsibly’. Turf grass is just lame. Those trendy carpet roses that mow-blow-and-go ‘gardeners’ typically plant snag the clothing of those coming and going from the cars they park there. Since parking lots get warm, I would recommend shade trees with complaisant roots that are compatible with pavement. Such shade trees also should get tall enough to not obscure the signs on the buildings.

Parking lot islands contain some of the most deplorable landscapes. Trees commonly get hacked down below signs rather than pruned up and over them. Even if they get properly pruned with up-dos, their canopies must be carve around security lighting. Most problems result from negligent maintenance. Some problems result from design glitches. Realistically though, parking lot islands are very difficult to landscape well.

Horridculture – Tree Removal Permits

P90703There are mixed emotions about tree removal permits that so many municipalities need to issue in order for a ‘heritage’ tree to be cut down legally. Most of us want to believe that in America, we have certain rights to do what we want to on the properties that we own. Obviously, that makes the most sense. However, if it were that simple, many more prominent trees that are collective assets to the larger communities would be removed.
As an arborist who writes the reports needed to procure these permits, I see it both ways. There are many trees that are worth preserving for the Community, and there are probably many more that must be removed for the safety of those who live around them.
I sometimes hear of common homeowners who get fined for removing a tree without a permit, just because they were not aware that it was protected by an ordnance. Most have lived in their homes longer than such ordinances existed. Most planted the tree that they were fined for removing.
Conversely, I also hear about developers who just remove whatever trees get in the way of their developments, and then just pay the necessary fines. It is nothing to them because they make so much money from the development.
The picture above is a site that one of my former employers worked on just before I left my job because it was too morally challenging. You can see that there are no significant trees. The tree crew removed all of them.
I was not aware of it of course. The Home Owners Association did not want to pay for my inspections and reports, or for the permits to remove all the big sycamores in the front gardens there. Nor did they want to replace the removed trees with something more proportionate, as the local municipality would have required. They were not worried about getting caught, since everyone there wanted the trees gone.
Now realistically, I would have had no problem writing reports recommending the removal of all the trees, because they were ridiculously disproportionate to their particular application. You can see how tiny the front gardens are. It was just easier and less expensive to cut the trees down illegally, and then not be required to replace them with trees that would have later died ‘accidentally’ anyway. (The tree crew excelled at that too.)
In the end, it is disgraceful that the trees that were required as a contingency when the site was developed years earlier are now completely gone, and will not be replaced, . . . and that no one seems to care.

Horridculture – Metasequoia glyptostroboides

P90626The easier name is ‘dawn redwood’. I just used the big and fancy Latin name because that is how landscape designers with something to prove say it. If the big name does not impress clients, an explanation of how rare it is, and that it is one of only a few deciduous conifers, will likely do the job. Even back when it was still a fad, I got the impression that was its main function; to impress clients.
It is not even a particularly practical tree. If it gets too big for its situation, it is difficult to contain without disfiguring the canopy. Because the priorities for most were conformity to a fad and to dazzle a client, not much thought went into their appropriateness to their respective landscapes. Consequently, many went into landscapes that were not big enough for them.
Although deciduous, dawn redwood does not even get good color in autumn. It just turns rusty brown, and quite frankly, looks dead.
It is true that there are only a few deciduous conifers. However, the dawn redwood stopped being rare shortly after it became a fad. I mean, how rare can it be if every landscape designer with something to prove gets to plant one?! Isn’t that what happened to the formerly rare yellow clivia after it became a fad?
The only one that I work with now happened to be planted before dawn redwood became a fad. I suppose that makes it okay. It is quite tall now, and has plenty of space to mature. However, I can not help but notice how silly it looks with all the other surrounding coastal redwoods. Although very different, it is similar enough to look like a coastal redwood with some serious problems, especially when it seems to die every autumn.

Horridculture – Security Clearance

P90619A well designed landscape should be an asset, not a liability. It should beautify and enhance the function of outdoor space, while harmonizing with associated indoor spaces. In order to continually do so, even a very well designed landscape requires maintenance so that it does not become so overgrown that it becomes unsightly and obstructive.
Some landscapes require less maintenance than others. There happens to be very few that can be allowed to grow wild, but only because their components are allowed the space they need to do what they do naturally. It is not fair to incorporate plants merely because they are appealing, and then expect them to conform to unnatural constraints without some degree of intervention.
As an arborist, I often see trees that must be pruned for clearance from roofs, gutters, walls, windows, lighting, utility cables and roadways. It is normal for trees and large shrubbery to encroach into such features. Furthermore, it should not be much of a problem if such trees and shrubbery are maintained properly.
The landscape in the picture above contains several desirable plants that could, with a bit of effort, be maintained within the very limited space; New Zealand tea tree, Chinese wisteria, golden bamboo, Heavenly bamboo (Nandina), star jasmine, Spanish lavender, fleabane, oxalis and a small juniper. Some of these might not have been identified correctly, and there may be more in there, but it is impossible to distinguish from this picture.
The golden bamboo and Chinese wisteria are probably a bit excessive. However, there is a nice arbor above that would be ideal for the Chinese wisteria if someone would be willing to put the effort into pruning and containing it. It takes serious commitment to contain golden bamboo, but it is possible, and might perhaps be justifiable to retain a more tolerable quantity of its handsome form outside the window that it is in front of.
One of the most obvious problems with this landscape is that it is so crowded that the various components are barely indistinguishable from each other, and lack the space to perform as they would like to. This is about clearance though. As you can see, the collective plant material has been pruned only to maintain clearance from around the lower part of the doorway, and from the pavement of the parking lot. So much more is needed.
Anyone getting out of or into a car parked next to this landscape must duck under the New Zealand tea tree or Chinese wisteria. The upper part of the doorway is not much better. Vertical clearance needs to be restored and maintained. The New Zealand tea tree seems to have some serious potential anyway, and would likely be very appealing if pruned to expose the main trunk and limbs.
Furthermore, there are windows behind all that mess! Unless someone really wants privacy and dislikes curtains, those windows should be exposed to allow sunlight in. All this obscuring vegetation darkens and cools the interior, which increases reliance on electrical lighting and some sort of heating. Besides, it just looks trashy.
Not only does the vegetation inhibit sunlight coming into the building, but it also inhibits light coming out from the building. The lighting that is barely visible at the top of the pillars flanking the doorway is there to illuminate the parking lot at night. Another doorway outside the left margin of this picture, is for ATM machines, so is outfitted with security lighting, which is almost inoperative because of the lack of pruning for adequate clearance.