Tag Archives: Landscaping

Why Topping Your Trees Is Harmful

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This is what your tree should never look like. This is the result of the abysmal practice of topping. Other names for topping include: heading, tipping, hat-racking, and rounding over. Besides the ugliness of the topped tree and the cost of having someone come do it every year, there are other reasons to not ever do this to your tree.

The International Society of Arboriculture states: “Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet, despite more than 25 years of literature and
seminars explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice.”


There are several things that topping your tree does to harm your tree:

Stresses the tree – Making large cuts can remove more than 50% of the leaf bearing crown of the tree. In an effort to recover, the tree produces rapid growth of new leaves. As a result you leave a weak tree with large pruning cuts which provides a perfect situation for diseases and pests to attack the tree.

Decay – Correct pruning of a tree allows the tree to compartmentalize the wound and close it. Topping leaves no way to close the wound created by leaving no branches nearby to carry resources to the point of the cut.

Weak Limbs – Due to the stressful production of new branches after topping, the newly formed branches are much weaker than a properly formed branch. This increases the risk of breakage through windy conditions.

While topping is still commonly practiced, it is not necessary. If you need clearance from utility lines you can prune in a responsible way to satisfy clearance and still provide a way for the tree to heal itself. Proper planning of tree species and placement will help you to avoid these problems in the first place.

Fruitless Mulberry trees have a lifespan of 50 years, but generally only live for up to 25 years due to topping. Topping is much easier than properly pruning a large tree and provides yearly income for those performing it, but properly pruning your tree will result in a healthy tree for much longer.

Gopher Plant – Euphorbia Rigida

This plant has many names. I can be known commonly by Gopher plant, Milkweed, Gopher Spurge, Spurge, or Upright Myrtle Spurge. Incase that isn’t thorough enough, it has two scientific names as well: Euphorbia Rigida and Euphorbia Biglandulosa.

I recently had a client order 100 Euphorbia Rigida plant from me. I had to do some solid searching to be able to find them in Southern California. The color and growth habit of these intrigued me so I decided to do a bit more research on them. After learning that they self seed freely, are very drought tolerant, flower profusely, deter rodents, handle almost any soil, attract bees, and are being researched as a form of biofuel, I was floored that they aren’t being used more.

Xeriscaping and drought tolerant plants are being more popular for varying reasons. This plant fits in a category that few other plants do, the “What can I plant that I don’t have to water and keeps the weeds away and looks nice?” category. I have come to the conclusion that people only don’t have it because they don’t know about it.

This plant has a fast growth rate. The follower plant was grown from a cutting in just 2 years. It fits perfectly in USDA zones 7-10 and has no problems with the wild fluctuations that the High Desert typically deals with.

If you’re looking for a drought tolerant plant that thrives in the High Desert and fits perfectly into your xeriscaping project, look no further.

Why Your Yard Needs Mycorrhizal Fungi

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A mycorrhizal fungi is a symbiotic relationship between a plant and a fungi. This network of mycorrhiza can span miles and miles within one small cubic foot of soil.

Why Does This Matter?

This symbiotic relationship allows plants to draw nutrients and water that the root system itself would be incapable of. It also allows for the plant to resist disease and toxins. Mycorrhizal fungi can also be a great factor in drought tolerance, yield of fruit or flowers, prevention of soil compaction, ability to withstand the sowing process for seeds or transplantation, and overall microbial activity in the soil.

How Do I Encourage Mycorrhizal Relationships?

Here is a list of things that harm mycorrhizal relationships:

  • Erosion
  • Road and Home Construction
  • Leaving Soil Bare
  • Tillage
  • Fertilization
  • Fumigation
  • Chemical Treatment of Soil
  • Removal of Topsoil

These things can completely eliminate the mycorrhizal relationship in your soil.  This can leave plants in your landscape with a significant need for maintenance and upkeep.

You can add mycorrhizal fungi to your soil by using organic fertilizers that contain the correct fungi, or you can use a mycorrhizal inoculant such as those found at www.mycoapply.com .

Continued practices of not using chemicals, covering the bare ground that you can with mulch or other plants, and not tilling or leaving the soil to erode will keep the mycorrhizal fungi at home and not disturbed.

Having mycorrhizal fungi in your soil is the cure to a problem you didn’t know you had. These little guys will be personal caretakers for your plants so you can direct all your energy somewhere else.

 

How To Properly Plant A Tree

Properly planting your tree is critical to maintaining a healthy tree for years to come. Incorrectly performing one or more steps can set your trees growth back years and might eventually lead to its death.

  • To start you’ll want to make sure you aren’t digging into any utility lines beneath the soil.
  • Follow that up by checking for mature tree size and make sure to give it enough room to grow vertically and horizontally without any interference.
  • Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and 2 to 3 times img_3237as wide as the root ball. 
  • Check the drainage to ensure this is a good planting site. If necessary modify the hole for better drainage or change the planting site.
  • Remove the tree from the container and place the tree on the ground.
  • Remove soil from the top of the root ball until the top of the main root system is visible. You should see several pencil thick roots emerging from the trunk. You may have to remove up to 4 inches of soil.
  • Remove any small roots above this point and any roots that circle around main roots as they can cause significant damage in the future.
  • Backfill the hole to this new soil line with the root ball placed inside with 50% native soil and 50% soil amendment.
  • Assure that the root ball is not covered with soil above the top of the root ball.
  • In the High Desert be sure to stake the tree.
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There can be several inches worth of soil before finding the root flare.

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This is after removal of the fine roots above this final soil line.

 

Removing the soil is a critical step to providing your tree with the highest chance of survival years down the road. Failure to do so can result in roots choking each other out when the tree ages like the tree below.

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Misleading High Desert "Hardiness Zones"

In the High Desert we can range anywhere from USDA zone 8a to zone 9b. The 2012 Sunset Western Garden book currently places us at Sunset Zone 11, though we had previously been placed at zone 10 in the 2001 version. This leads to plenty of confusion when choosing plants to beautify our landscapes. I hope to demystify this widespread confusion.

USDA Hardiness Zone Southern California

What does “hardiness zone” mean?

A hardiness zone is an estimated amount of days that a location experiences a certain level of cold temperature. A plant with a hardiness zone of 7 means that it will survive the cold winters of areas that have been estimated as zone 7.

What “hardiness zone” does NOT mean

Hardiness zones do not take into account the high temperatures that the zones might experience. This is where the High Desert is an anomaly. We experience high temperatures like any other desert, but we also experience freezing temperatures in the winter. This makes for difficult interpretation of plants ability to survive.

AHS Heat Zone Map

The American Horticultural Society has begun the implementation of a heat zone map to indicate a plant’s ability to handle a certain amount of days over 84° F. While not currently available, this will be the indicator that makes plant selection more accurate for us. You may see this mentioned on a few selection of plants sold by Monrovia Gardens at big box stores.

Microclimates and what to consider when growing “borderline” plants

If a plant is in USDA hardiness zones 3-8, you can deduce that they can get very cold, but heat might be an issue for us in the High Desert. This might not be a fantastic plant to place in the middle of your dirt lot with no protection from the afternoon sun or the harsh wind. This would be a plant that would benefit from afternoon shade from a building or larger tree.

On the flip side, if you have a plant that is great for USDA hardiness zones 9-12, you can deduce that heat and sun shouldn’t be a worry, however cold tolerance may be an issue. This can be handled by planting it near a building that retains heat. South facing walls, retaining walls, bricks, asphalt, etc. can retain a significant amount of heat that will help nearby plants to deal with the cold nights. Mulching the plants can help as well. As a last resort, covering or protecting plants on nights that might drop below the prescribed cold tolerance can help the plant to make it through the colder nights throughout the winter.

Microclimates in the High Desert that kill borderline plants

The High Desert has plenty of climate issues that keep plants from growing that might otherwise thrive. Here is a list of things you might want to think about protecting your plants from:

  • Wind

  • Afternoon Sun and Heat

  • Cold Nighttime Temperatures

  • Alkaline Soil

Wind can be dealt with by sheltering plants with a windbreak (plants, fences, walls, buildings, etc.)

Sun and heat can be dealt with by planting under trees, balconies, overhang on house, pergolas, etc.

Temperatures can be dealt with through planting near buildings, south facing walls, asphalt, brick, retaining walls, and porches.

Alkaline soil can be handled by amending the soil at planting time with peat moss and acidic fertilizer, and by fertilizing regularly with acidic fertilizer throughout the growing seasons.

Specific Plants and Their Needs

Japanese, Silver, Autumn Blaze, Trident and Red Maples all need wind protection and if possible some sun protection

Azalea, Hydrangea, Camelia, Japanese Maples, and many more need acidic soil and sometimes sun, wind, and cold protection.

Plants that break the hardiness zones

Here is a list of plants that supposedly do not grow here based upon hardiness zones. I have witnessed all of these trees growing in the ground in Apple Valley, CA in several locations.

The High Desert zones as stated by USDA Hardiness Zone Map and Sunset Western Garden Book:

USDA Zone: 8b – 9a

Sunset Zone: 11 (previously listed as 10)

California Pepper Tree

  • USDA zones: 8-11

  • Sunset zones: 8, 9, 12-24

Coast Redwood

  • USDA zones: 7-9

  • Sunset zones: 4-9, 14-24

Deodar Cedar

  • USDA zones: 7-9

  • Sunset zones: 3B-10, 14-24

Crape Myrtle

  • USDA zones: 7-10

  • Sunset zones: 2-10, 12-24

Colorado Blue Spruce

  • USDA zones: 2-7

  • Sunset zones: 1-10, 14-17

Lantana

  • USDA zones: 8-11

  • Sunset zones: 8-10, 12-24

Pineapple Guava

  • USDA zones: 8-10

  • Sunset zones: 6-9, 12-24

Lily of the Nile – Agapanthus

  • USDA zones: 8-10

  • Sunset zones: 4-9, 12-24

American Arborvitae

  • USDA zones: 3-7

  • Sunset zones: 1-9, 15-17

Sadly the hardiness zones are not much of a help for us High Desert folks. The hardiness zones cause more confusion than competence. This requires a higher understanding of our plants to have success in growing plants that are more than capable of growing here.