Another Johnny Appleseed

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Just to be clear, I earned the title of Johnny Appleseed before my colleague Brent Green did. While Brent was secretive about our tree planting projects in Los Angeles, I was not so about our similar projects in Los Gatos. While Brent’s neighbors wondered where their new street trees were coming from, mine read about their new park trees in the Los Gatos Weekly Times.

In fact, the exposure from that article is how I started my weekly gardening column in the same newspaper just a few months later, in October of 1998. Los Gatos is a smaller town than Los Angeles is. Secrecy was not an option. Sadly, our projects in Los Gatos, and then in Scott’s Valley, did not continue. We concentrated our urban tree planting efforts in Mid City Los Angeles.

The tree planting projects that I am referring to are our Birthday Trees that I wrote about last January. As I explain in that article, Brent had been wanting to plant trees in the formerly blank and broad medians of San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles. I just happened to be able to supply such trees from those at the farm that got a bit too past their prime to be marketable.

I do not intend to be redundant to that article, but want to share this video, Johnny Appleseed. As much as I hate to admit it, Brent is much more entertaining than I am. (I should later share one of my old videos from Gardening By The Yard, so you can compare.) I should probably look through more of Brent’s old videos to see if there are others that would be interesting.

If I had more time, I would write more about Brent’s work to improve the urban forests of the Los Angeles Region.

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Suckers For Street Trees

P90804This grand sycamore has likely been here since the third day of Genesis. A few of the top branches got broken off when Noah’s Ark floated over. When I was a little kid, it was on the edge of a vacant field where road debris was dumped, and older kids rode their dirt bikes. Now it is on the western edge of the parking lot of Felton Covered Bridge Park. I write about it sometimes.

California Sycamore‘, ‘Hanging Gardens Of Babylon‘, ‘Nature Is Messy‘ and ‘Tufts‘ are some of the articles that feature this exquisite specimen. The last three of these examples describe some of the difficulties of old age for sycamores. Something that I may not have mentioned in these article though, is that such mature sycamores eventually develop root suckers.

I use the term ‘suckers’ loosely. For those of us who grow grafted trees, ‘suckers’ are stems that develop from below the graft unions of grafted trees, even if above the roots. They are from the understock below, so are genetically different from the scions above. Unusually vigorous stems above graft unions or on ungrafted trees, including the roots, are known as ‘watersprouts’.

For all other intents and purposes, ‘suckers’ really are just vigorous stems that emerge from roots, which is what we have here. Because no one was here to graft this grand sycamore on the third day of Genesis, these ‘suckers’ are genetically identical to the main tree. Unfortunately, their appearance indicates that the tree is finally acknowledging that it is slowly deteriorating.

Many trees do it, especially old riparian trees. When they know that they will not be around much longer, but still have some time to do so, they divert resources into their own replacement. Suckers are expected to mature into new trees after the original is gone. They recycle the mature original root system until they eventually replace it with younger and more vigorous roots.

Arborists may try to interfere with this process by removing suckers and watersprouts, and diverting resources back into older stems. This is actually helpful for trees that are distressed, but not yet decaying. For trees as mature as this sycamore, removal of vigorous suckers and watersprouts is mostly cosmetic, because thickets of such rampant growth becomes unsightly.

As violent as it sounds, it is best to abscise suckers like these when they first appear, and any that appear afterward. That involves literally tearing them from their roots to remove some of the callus growth from which they emerged. Cutting them at the ground not only leaves the callus growth to develop into distended burls, but also stimulates more vigorous sucker growth!

Now that these suckers have been cut down repeatedly over the past several years, simple abscision is no longer possible. Callus grown has expanded and fused into broad subterranean burl growth. Removal of such extensive burl would severely distress and possibly contribute to the destabilization of the already distressed tree. Suckers can now only be cut down to the ground.

Several years ago, when the first of the suckers started to appear, they were much easier to abscise. The process was delayed until winter dormancy. The small defoliated suckers were then abscised along with much of their associated callus. It did not accomplish much for the massive tree, and only delayed the inevitable for a few years, but generated an interesting byproduct.

The bare suckers with their bit of callus were ideal for growing into copies of the same tree. Most were plugged back into the riparian area nearby, but later killed by necessary vegetation management. A few others were canned (potted), and grew into small sycamore trees that were planted, with other sycamores, into broad medians and parkstrips in Mid City Los Angeles.

It is a long story about how those few trees ended up in Los Angeles, and were added to the fifty or so Birthday Trees that we plant annually on January 18. Sadly, their identities were lost in the process. If the other sycamores are genetically identical clones of each other, it may eventually be possible to distinguish genetic variations of those that were once root suckers here.

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 – 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+

Mayten

60309It does not grow fast, but by the time it gets old, mayten, Maytenus boaria, might be tall enough to reach upstairs eaves, and nearly as broad. The main trunk and limbs are nicely outfitted with uniformly checked grayish bark. Smaller stems are so very limber that it is a wonder that trees are able to gain any height at all. These stems arch gracefully, with their wiry tips hanging vertically.

Almost all modern maytens are of the cultivar ‘Green Showers’, which has slightly larger leaves. Yet, the evergreen leaves are so small that it is not easy to discern much difference from the slightly yellower leaves of older trees. Ironically, older trees seem to be more resilient. Newer trees seem to be more sensitive to rot if watered too frequently, particularly if soil does not drain adequately.

Pruning and grooming is not as simple as it might seem to be from the outside. If the very pendulous stems around the edges get cut like bangs, bunched stems accumulate and lose their softly pendulous texture. They need to be thinned too, so that they can hang more softly. Dead stems should be groomed from within. Main stems are not likely to regenerate if cut back too severely.

GreenArt

p90120p90120+It seems that I have been negligent about writing about my colleague Brent Green and some of our crazy adventures in horticulture. I said I would do so when I started writing my articles here way back two Septembers ago. It is easy to get distracted from such topics, particularly since we do such different types of work. Brent is a renowned landscape designer and proprietor of GreenArt Landscape Design in Southern California. I am just a horticulturist and arborist who really should get back to growing horticultural commodities in Northern California. For all of our similarities, there just might be as many differences.

After posting that old video of the Birthday Trees yesterday https://tonytomeo.com/2019/01/19/birthday-trees/, I thought that I should also write more about what Brent does for the urban Forest of Los Angeles, which is probably more interesting than our crazy adventures. I really want to find the old news article about how he busted tree rustlers who were stealing mature Canary Island palms from the embankments of the Santa Monica Freeway, which is pictured above. It is still a sore subject because we know that it continues, and that the trees that were stolen were not returned as promised.

I could write a separate blog about the work that GreenArt does if I were more involved with it. I just do not enjoy design like Brent does. Actually, I am no good at it. I just work with the horticultural aspects of it, and growing material for it. In the future, I will probably be more involved with projects that are not directly affiliated with GreenArt, such as initiatives to maintain and protect trees in public spaces of Los Angeles.

For now I have only this brief and outdated video of the landscaping of Brent’s home, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2IwcuU3KEo .

Birthday Trees

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The big wide medians of San Vicente Boulevard in western Los Angeles had been lacking trees since the Red Car Streetcar rails were removed decades earlier. My colleague, Brent Green, had been wanting to add trees to the medians since he was a little kid, and then became intent on doing so after he became a renowned landscape designer in the region.

At about the same time, I was a nurseryman. In my work, it was not uncommon to dispose of a few items that were unsaleable. Sometimes there were entire crops of unsaleable plants; and in 1997, I needed to dispose of a group of coastal redwoods that had very minor kinks in their trunks.

That gave Brent an idea.

He wanted me to bring some of the trees to Los Angeles to plant them in the medians of San Vicente Boulevard just south of the Miracle Mile District. We were sort of skeptical about their ability to adapt to the climate; but were willing to give it a try, and possibly give the trees a second chance. We planned to install thirty coastal redwoods for Brent’s thirtieth birthday on January 18, 1998.

Well, the trees were not happy there, and did not last long. However, they were the first of what became an annual tradition of planting trees on Brent’s birthday, January 18. The number of trees is determined by Brent’s age for the respective year. For example, we planted thirty coastal redwood trees on his thirtieth birthday, and then planted thirty-one manna gum trees, Eucalyptus viminalis, on his thirty-first birthday, and so on.

After a few more years, there was not much space on San Vicente Boulevard, so Brent started planting street trees in the parkstrips of streets that could use more trees. The original trees in San Vicente Boulevard needed to be removed for the installation of the Metro Rail, but they were nice while they lasted.

This short video is about what the tradition has become now that Brent will be planting fifty birthday trees.

 

Long leafed Yellowwood

60113+Of the various specie of podocarpus, and as the name implies, the long leafed yellowwood, Podocarpus henkelii, has the longest leaves. They can get about six inches long, and hang elegantly from upwardly curving branches. This glossy evergreen foliage can be quite dense. It is dark green in full sun, and can be a slightly bluish in partial shade, particularly as new growth develops.

Mature trees have the potentially to get a bit taller than second story eaves, and nearly as broad, but are typically kept shorter. Most grow as big fluffy shrubbery or as informal hedges. Long leafed yellowwood can be pruned (but not shorn) into a handsome formal hedge, or even espaliered against a fence. It prefers somewhat regular watering and well drained soil. It might be unhappy in dense soil. Fertilizer can improve color and density if foliage gets distressed.

Horridculture – Clearance

P90102Many arborists mark certain lengths on their pole saws and pole pruners. When stood upright, these marks designate the standard heights for minimal clearance pruning. Not so many need to mark the height of minimal clearance for walkways, since they will prune away anything that is within reasonable reach with hand tools from the ground. The minimal clearance above parking spaces is not so easy to guess at, so is more likely to be marked on poles. So is the minimal clearance over roadways, where the lowest limbs must be high enough to be out of the way of campers and freight trucks.
Clearance to the sides is determined by the location of the curb, but even that might need to be modified at sharp turns, or where the roadway slopes significantly away from the center. Clearance must similarly be a bit higher over dips in a roadway, where the height of long freight trailers would be affected by the elevation of the wheels in front and back (outside of the dips). Clearance around street lighting, roofs, utilities and such is determined by the object that requires clearance, so no marks must be made on the poles for such work. (Clearance pruning of high voltage cables is only performed by those who are qualified to do so.)
Clearance pruning is serious business for arborists. They do not want their trees to hurt anyone, or to damage vehicles. Nor do they want their trees to be damaged by vehicles. Obtrusive limbs can be torn away by freight trucks. Even if not torn away, limbs that are regularly battered by freighter trucks are rather unsightly.
As someone who used to drive the delivery truck, I can tell you that clearance pruning is also important for some of us who use the roadways.
These three young Italian stone pines are healthy specimens that are probably well structured inside all of the outer foliage. It is hard to say, since I can not see inside through all the disfigured lower foliage that has been continually battered by truck traffic. They probably only need to be pruned for clearance above and away from the traffic. If pruned to establish a minimal ceiling just two feet or so above the obvious damage, and to remove all the lower growth to the side, they would be excellent street trees for many years. They will eventually need to be pruned again, as maturing branches sag from their own weight, but that is to be expected. The main trunks and bulky limbs within would probably be quite sculptural if they were to be exposed by pruning that is necessary anyway. It really would not take much.

Evergreen Pear

61005If it were not so seriously susceptible to fireblight, the evergreen pear, Pyrus kawakamii, would be a practical evergreen shade tree for small garden spaces. Mature trees do not often get much taller or wider than twenty five feet. Aggressively pruned trees that do not bloom much are less susceptible to fireblight. Regularly groomed trees can live with fireblight for many years or decades.

The nicely furrowed bark and irregular branch structure give evergreen pear trees the distinction of larger trees. Lower limbs will probably sag low enough to need pruning for clearance. Clusters of small white flowers, like those of other pears, bloom in spring, but are partly obscured by the evergreen foliage. Distressed trees bloom more profusely and are not so densely foliated in bloom.